Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I have a ride to the airport.
I have a flight out of Afghanistan.
I have a flight that brings me back Stateside.

It all starts tomorrow morning, I can't wait!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Water Update

So we performed our experiments.
We put 2 thermometers in the freezer overnight, nestled between 2 water bottles.
This morning, the thermometers both read 23 degrees. That is not a typo...23 degrees.
And the water in the bottles was not frozen.

We were able to take a water bottle out, un-cap it and it would stay liquid. We put in a thermometer to check the temperature of the water and crystals immediately started forming on the thermometer...but the water was at 23 and then started climbing when crystals started forming. The thermometer wasn't at a different temperature than the water, but the introduction of the thermometer was enough to disturb the fragile state of the supercooled water and start the crystal growth.

So 32 degrees is not the freezing point of water! I did a quick internet search and found out about some "scientists" in Israel that were working on this.


Scientists in Israel?!? A bunch of morons in Kabul did the same thing.

I'll be in MN in a couple of days, free to take meetings with any scientific institutions that are looking to add this big-brain to their staff. Nothing less than a senior management role, of course...and stock options.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nerds and Water

Ok, this is going to get really nerdy, really quickly...fyi.

There is an interesting thing that happens in our office related to water bottles. We have a mini-fridge where we store water bottles and other stuff. The top part of the fridge has a little freezer part. It can be seen in the photos below.

The freezer is at such a temperature that the water gets nice and cold, but the water does not freeze. However, sometimes I can take a water bottle out of the freezer, bring it to my desk, set it down and the water inside will freeze and crystallize without me doing anything. I do not open the water bottle so the seal is intact the water just freezes. Some photos of this can be seen below...the water always freezes from top to bottom...most of the time. It may not look like it...but the water is freezing to slush.

Other times, the water will not freeze up...however, if I take the water bottle and lightly bang it against the side of the table or shake it...this action starts the crystals forming. I think that if I smack the water bottle on the edge of the desk, the point of impact will be the location at which the freezing starts...but I'm not sure. Experiments forthcoming.

Again, this is all without opening the water bottle.

Ok, as a bunch of nerds, we're trying to figure out WHY it happens. Initially we considered that there is a change in pressure from the fridge to the office because we're at altitude...6000 ft. We debunked this for a couple of reasons...the fridge is not a "pressure vessel" but also because the pressure inside the water bottle can't change that drastically because the seal does not get broken and the bottle does not noticeably change in size.

The mechanical engineers believe the whole process is somehow related to dissolved gases in the water. Since I don't know what this means, I have to disagree with their theory. This is a very common response from scientists...if you don't understand something, it must be wrong. I've vehemently disagreed and went so far as saying that it is the dumbest thing I've ever heard...they knew I was joking.

Coming from a chemistry background I think it has to do with activation energy...the energy required for a reaction to take place. For example, with water if you add enough heat to it...it boils. If you remove enough heat...it freezes. My thought is that the action of shaking the bottle releases enough "heat" from the system to start the water freezing.

The mechanical engineers also believe that the water is somehow already below the freezing point temperature when it comes out of the freezer...but for some reason it doesn't freeze.

We're having and experiment tomorrow at 0700. We will put 5 bottles in the freezer tonight so they will be nice and cold by tomorrow morning...and we're going to try to figure this out. We have thermometers and everything all ready...very methodical.

It may be tough to sleep tonight...my adrenaline is pumping...the excitement...you can cut the tension with a knife around here! Good thing that we're getting "danger pay".

2 more days of work until R&R!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rockets, Mortars, and Water Heaters

So a couple of weeks ago I got the following email...

"...would like for a structural engineer to come over to their villa and check out damage from an explosion (not from insurgents). They would provide transportation.
Not sure what exploded"

I got to go check it out, kind of exciting. It turns out that a water heater in a back bathroom exploded. The force of the explosion was pretty amazing. It blew 2 large wardrobes that were in the next room through the window and out into the yard. It also blew doors off their hinges that were 4 rooms away. Pretty intense shock wave. Structurally, the building was fine..the force tried to blow the roof off, but instead travelled down the hallway and caused some smaller damage.

It turns out that water heaters in the States have both pressure and temperature valves. Water heaters are supposed to stop heating when the water reaches a certain temperature...if they malfunction the water inside keeps getting hotter and hotter and eventually superheats and explodes...which is what happened. In the States the extra valve releases the pressure or turns off the system so no explosion happens. That is not the case here...no pressure release and temperature sensor failed...so...BOOM!

I also got an email yesterday about a police station that got hit by a mortar...and they inquired about structural damage and repairs. Picture is below.

The mortar hit the roof and blew some of the roof away. Surprisingly, the mortar did less damage than the exploding water heater. But this way, you can see what an Afghan police station kind of looks like.

I also got a email yesterday that a rocket hit a construction site somewhere else in the country and damaged a steel beam. It blew a section out of the beam and we have to design a fix based on some pictures.

A flurry of stuff to deal with, kind of exciting couple of days...breaks up the monotony of desk work.

Less than a week until R&R, I'm excited to get out of here for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Train Museum

So since life over here is pretty boring...I've decided to write about something other than Afghanistan.

A couple of years ago, just before the boys turned 3, I took them to the Washington State Historical Society museum as they were having a big model train exhibit. The boys were train crazy at that time. We had a DVD collection called Toy Trains and the boys LOVED it. So when they were having a couple-day exhibition of model train set-ups, I decided to take the boys. Model train clubs from all over the Northwest came and set up their lay-outs for everyone to see. These layouts were intricate and amazing...trains of every type/size were going to be on display. My friend Jesse and his kid, Sam, went also...dads and their boys...what could go wrong?

We drove to Olympia and paid our admission to the museum. It was a really neat museum...4 floors of displays and amazing/intricate train lay-outs. These lay-outs were all built and paid for by local clubs and model train enthusiasts. Most of the members of these clubs were older gentlemen. The standard height of these layouts is about 48" off the ground. A nice height for some old guys to work on their model trains...not a nice height for crazy toddlers that want to see what is going on. Only one or two train lay-outs had step stools for kids to watch...the rest of the time parents had to pick up their kids. It sure would've been nice to know this before we went...we would've brought our own little steps for the boys. Since I let Kristi have the day off, it meant that I had to hold both boys...at the same time...all the time. I got tired really quickly.

The boys were so excited about all the train stuff that they were running between the train set-ups. They were loving it.

One of the best rooms was a city of playmobil trains. The set-up was amazing, very creative. This was a personal lay-out of one guy and he was so nice, he would talk to the boys and show them some stuff and he didn't freak out if the boys wanted to touch some of the pieces...he was very generous and kind. The display had a rope in front of it to keep people back a little bit, but he didn't freak out when the boys ducked under for a closer look. He had a 5 foot tall plastic Playmobil figurine as part of the display. When I asked him about it, he told me that those were very rare and hard to find. It was a really neat layout that we came back to visit several times.

Finally we made it to the 3rd floor...through about 2/3 of the train exhibits. I was already getting tired, the boys were not. Sam was running down one of the halls wind-milling his arm round and round...he used to do this, run and just swing one arm round and round like a windmill. It was adorable and very care free...I wish I had a video of it, he doesn't do it anymore...and it was one of my favorite things for awhile. It always made me smile. Anyway...running down the hall...I noticed that Sam was only wearing one shoe. I asked him, "Sam where's your friggin' shoe???" He looked down at his socked foot, back at me, shrugged and went back to running. Now I had to keep tabs on two crazy kids and also try to find a lone shoe somewhere within the thousands of square feet of museum that we had already seen.

So that I could formulate a game plan, we went back to the Playmobil exhibit. When we got there, Sam ducked under the rope and went around the side of the display. Since I figured that this would test the patience of the very generous owner, I crawled under to go get him. At the same time, Matt noticed that the big Playmobil statue had an orange construction vest on. As he loved everything orange (and still does), he wanted to give the guy a hug. Of course, he knocked over the "very rare" 5-foot tall Playmobil guy. The owner was visibly rattled...luckily there was no real damage to the statue, but that was our last trip to the Playmobil exhibit.

Sam still was missing a shoe, though. In a stroke of genius I went to the info desk near the front door and asked about it. They had people all over the museum with radios. They put out an APB and the shoe was located in a matter of minutes...chalk up one point for dad!

We went and saw the trains in the basement and then took a break for lunch. My friend, Jesse, could see that I was pretty tired...he recommended we take a little time walking through the museum exhibits to take a break from the trains.

This started out seeming like a good idea...there was lots to interact with and see...giving me a welcome break from the chaos of trains. We spent some time at this exhibit that, if I remember correctly, was a covered wagon and pioneer exhibit. Then I noticed that there was a blue flashing light on top of the exhibit and a high-pitched chirping sound. I couldn't figure out what that had to do with the pioneers...no other displays had blue lights. Then I noticed that Sam was holding a wooden apple from the display...back to the blue light and chirping sound...back to Sam. Oh, CRAP...he set off the alarm on the exhibit!!! Needless to say, we did not stick around. We acted very nonchalantly as we passed security guard heading for the display.

I was tired, boys were not...I was pretty close to the end of my rope.

We went to one other exhibit. This one at least had a metal railing to keep people away. It was a display of Native American masks or headdresses. The boys both immediately dropped to their knees to crawl under the railing. I was able to grab them each by the ankle, but not before they set off this alarm also.

This ended our trip to the museum. I let Jesse and his kid stay at the museum for a little while but the boys and I were done...we stayed outside for a bit and then waited in the car. I was so tired.

All in all, I don't regret the museum trip. It provides a nice story to tell, but I was a wreck by the time the day was over.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Living in Oregon, we've had earthquakes from time to time...but I've never felt them.

Here they are more frequent than in Oregon, but I still never feel them.
We got a jolt yesterday that I felt. Actually, we had 2 yesterday...a 4.5 and a 4.3.
I fell the 4.5, it rumbled the building a little bit. The 4.3 came and went without me even knowing.

It was over before we knew it. No time to weep, hide under our desks, or even have our lives flash before our eyes.

No big deal...just another day in Afghanistan.