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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Bleach + Ammonia is Dangerous

You’ve probably heard that you should never mix household bleach with ammonia.  With a little research I’ve discovered the reason why.  Bleach is a solution of sodium hypochlorite, and sodium hypochlorite and ammonia react to form a number of products, depending on the temperature, concentration, and how they are mixed.  To be more precise, in bleach sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) dissociates into its ionic components

NaOCl → Na+ + OCl-
OCl- in turn reacts weakly with water to form:
OCl- + H2O → H+ + Cl- + HOCl, in which the H+ + Cl- portion is just hydrochloric acid.
Stronger reactions are:
NH3 + OCl- → OH- + NH2Cl
NH2Cl + OCl- → OH- + NHCl2
NHCl2 + OCl- → OH- + NCl3

The OH- produced in the last three reactions are probably more than enough to neutralize the hydrochloric acid made by the second reaction.  More importantly, the NHxCly compounds produced by the last three are severe irritants of the eyes and mucous membranes and are also toxic. NCl3 can also be explosive, in high enough concentrations. There still other reactions that produce toxic chemicals, but this alone should account for why mixing bleach with ammonia is such a no-no.
I think I understand me. If you think about things -- you know, life, the universe, and everything -- too much, you'll start freaking out. Unfortunately, that's exactly what I do. Life at the edge has its advantages too, however.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The direct comparison of DNA and genes to their counterparts in computers has been done often, and with great success.  Looking at life at the level of digital information is a fruitful plantation which we've probably only begun to explore.  It can get evolutionists into trouble, however, and in a very specific way; it is odd to me, however, that no creationist (Intelligent Design Proponent, or IDP) seems to have hit on it.

A random error in a piece of computer code has, for all intents and purposes, precisely zero possible positive outcomes; it is almost certain to crash the program, or cause some other irreversible error, rendering the program useless.  Of course bugs do creep into software from time to time, but that just just strengthens the point:  how many times do you see a bug make software more useful or efficient?  Invariably, it leads either to recalls or quick "patches" being sent out to users.

So, reflecting on the digital nature of DNA/RNA, the IDP maybe believes he's spotted a fundamental flaw in evolutionary theory, at its most basic biochemical roots.  Mutations are the result in changes to the digital information in DNA (a change in a pair of bases, e.g.); an analogy to the digital nature of computers should suggest that a mutation with a positive outcome is as virtually impossible for the resulting organism as it is for a computer program.  Hence, the death of Darwinian theory.

Darwinian proponents should, I think, jump to two problems with this analysis.  The first problem, they might note, is that the DNA code is not created by a designer, for any specific purpose.  Truly random code might very well lead to improvements.  Actually, it should have equally probable positive and negative and neutral results.  Even code just non-random enough to yield living things might lead to enough positives to provide a plausible rebuttal to creationist-type thinking.

Although that, I believe, is a good objection, there is a much stronger one that can be made.  But to make it, we must abandon the all digital model of DNA and its products.  Those products in fact are quite non-digital, read analog, meaning varying by continuous degrees instead of in discrete steps.  The products are proteins.

Proteins are "macromolecules"; they have a very high molecular weight, because they are the results of many (often thousands) of small molecules called "amino acids" being chemically bonded together.  The exact sequence of amino acids (there are twenty of them used in biology) is determined by three successive base units in DNA, called trinucleotides.  These nucleotides are what are subject to random mutations, with the results being filtered through the sieve of natural selection.

If you're following this, you see that the exact chemical composition of a protein is determined by the sequence of trinucleotides in the DNA that wrought it.  But now you have to understand how proteins work.  Amino acids are very "sticky" molecules and cause all sorts of folding and modelling in the protein they comprise.  That folding and modelling (and size) is key to what each protein does and how it can do it.

So: what happens when a mutation occurs?  In its simplest form, a mutation simple swaps one amino acid in a protein composed hundreds to thousands of such acids for another amino acid.  With what affect for the protein's function?  Probably very little.  With most proteins, you can probably swap out dozens of amino acids with others, and the net result is nil; the protein's size and shape aren't significantly affected.  Even if it isn't nil, it's usually so small that it has almost a good a chance of being positive as negative.

Now that is prime fodder for natural selection to work on, especially when it has thousands to millions of years of differences in survival and reproduction to work on.  The whole setup couldn't be better for "evolutionists" (I really mean scientists here) to understand the subjects they study.

I think that is enough said about this subject.  Perhaps it's not as important as the attention I've paid to it suggests.  But I do think it provides good insight into evolution and how it works at the biomolecular level.
Are red pandas related to raccoons? The similarities are there. But not to the giant panda, which is a true bear. Maybe they both eat bamboo? Must be some reason they're both called pandas. Love to hear theories on this.
Here's what Wikipedia says (if I may borrow such a large quote):
"The red panda (Ailurus fulgens, or shining-cat), is a small arboreal mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.[2] It is the only species of the genus Ailurus. Slightly larger than a domestic cat, it has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs. It feeds mainly on bamboo, but is omnivorous and may also eat eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day.

"The red panda has been classified as Vulnerable by IUCN because its population is estimated at fewer than 10,000 mature individuals. Although red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries, their numbers in the wild continue to decline mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression.

"The red panda has been previously classified in the families Procyonidae (raccoons) and Ursidae (bears), but recent research has placed it in its own family Ailuridae, in superfamily Musteloidea along with Mustelidae and Procyonidae.  Two subspecies are recognized.

"Now Since the Procyonidae include raccoons, there is some (distant) relationship with the red pandas. The similarities must be due to convergent evolution, as members of Procyonidae show a large disparity in appearances (not so much is size, however)."

And that's the biology lesson for the day.  Only question left is, do red pandas have an additional "thumb" (really a modified wrist bone) or other appendage to help them strip bamboo, like their (very distant) giant panda cousins?  According to National Geographic Wild, they do, but I haven't (yet) found out whether it is the same wrist bone that is modified.  It would have to be another case of convergent evolution, and an amazing one at that if the same bone is modified (well, I shouldn't be so hasty to say so because the bone in question might be almost ideal for the modification).  Still, I'm going to look more into this subject because it's already amazing!

Next Steps

Here's my status:  I've registered for two courses at the Montgomery County Community College, paid for them, done and done.  The irony may hit you:  I have an MS in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania (1988), BS from Drexel University (1986), and oodles of work experiences involving computer programming and other technologies.  So why am I going back to school?

Because I have been living off of disability the last few years, over an illness I couldn't control and which I feared many times would end my struggles.  Now that that illness sees finally under management if not full control, my goal is to find the best way back into the job market.  Getting degrees or certificates -- even just Associates' degrees -- has got to help, I believe.  So here I go.  Wish me luck!