Water, starch and clock reactions.

I started distilling water yesterday because chem guy needed my supply because his ran out. So i turned on the still, put my 5 gal tank on the spout and completely forgot about it.

Then, morning came.

Aside from the fact that I left my office key at home (physics guy's key opens my lab as well, lucky enough), I almost made the alarm go off due to my forgetful nature. Then I noticed a weird feeling and I asked myself, why is my sock wet? And then I saw it, about 50L of distilled water on the floor. First thing i thought was that I would get caught no matter what because i'm on a 4th floor and there's officed beneath my office. So I went downstairs to check for water damage.

Luckily, my floor is sealed with silicon, some weird polymer and layers and layers of floor wax so I think no water got through to the third floor below. Or I hope so, but there weren't any signs of water damage on the ceiling of the office below my lab.

I had to clean it up, but how?.

The problem is that my floor very uneven, thus water doesn't flow to the drain that's right in front of my sink, but to a particular spot in front of the acids locker. And the source of the the spill, the neck of the 5 gal tank, was about 10 inches from the drain. So I had to figure out a way to get rid of all the water before any electrical damage happened and most importantly, before anybody noticed.

It was 7:15am and nobody had arrived yet. I decided to sneak into the maintainance closet down the hall to get the mop bucket and the mop. I proceeded to scoop up all the water, periodically emptying the bucket into the sink and after about 20 minutes I managed to scoop all the water up. I mopped the floor dry, set my fan on high to further and quickly dry the rest and i placed the mopping equipment back into the closet down the hall. I don't think anybody knows noticed, another sneak op done right.

Hours of idle came about... nothing.

Then my boss came, chemistry guy. He asked me to prepare another demo. It's the end of the year at the school, so any experiments left undone by the students must be done via demo by the teacher. This demo is one I particularly hate because it involved starch.

You see, startch is a bitch to make properly. Yesterday I made a 2% solution for biology woman, and that took a while to mix. Today it was only 1L of 0.02% solution, pretty quick to make.

There's 2 schools of thought on how soluble starch solutions should be made. One says that the total amount of dry starch should be made into a sticky goop by adding a few drops of room temperature water and then pouring considerable volume of boiling water on the goop. I find this method to be a pain in the ass because:

1- it doesnt always work since clumps of goop have to be small in order to dissolve properly, any large goop clumps will remain goopy in solution.
2- it takes way too long and is more work because you have to boil the water first
3- the solution must cool down to room temp before you use it, adding to reason #2, and if you have 1L or more of it you're in for a loooooooooong wait.

My method is far simpler. I set the approximate volume of water needed for the solution in a beaker (today it was a 1000mL beaker), I added a magnetic stirring pill and reved up the magnetic stirrer. Once a vortex is formed due to the pill spinning, which is immediately, i add the starch little by little. And I mean LITTLE by LITTLE. If you add too much at one time, clumps will form. It might be tedious, but it's way quicker and no hot water involved. You let the stirring continue for about 15 minutes and done. You got a starch solution.

The demo in question is the hydrogen peroxide/potassium iodine clock reaction. If you know this reaction, you also know it used glacial acetic acid (mighty concentrated vinegar, a.k.a. ethanoic acid). And if you know vinegar smells, multiply that by a million and you have the smell of glacial ethanoic acid. So my lab stinks right now, but i've opened windows, started fans and extractors and it's way better now. The acid is added to the starch solution and then you add in this order the following: sodium acetate, potassium iodide and sodium thiosulfate. All at once, no need to wait for one or another. Stir to dissolve, label with a big "A", serve on a bed of romaine lettuce.

For the rest, this demo uses 1L of 3% hydrogen peroxide as solution "B", i.e. what you mix "A" with.

Both solutions are colourless. When you mix them, wait 10 seconds and boom, it turns blue. Classic.

There's a long weekend coming up. In pooradise, May 1st is the day workers are celebrated. Yes, just like commies, we celebrate May Day. Most of the world celebrates may day. I think americans started it actually, with a big riot in chicago. May 1st was the day labourer's rights were established and the world famous 8 hour crunch was established as the benchmark of employee exploitation time frame. However, americans don't celebrate may day, they celebrate labor day, in november right?

Anyway, long weekend is coming up and I have to clean up and lock tight everything in my lab. In a little bit i'll go home to get my keys and then I'll go to the bank to see why the hell a check of mine bounced if there's money in the account.

Have a happy weekend.


April 27 - another dull one

The whole week's been weird. I guess all the days off we got in the last 3 weeks really worked a lazy mood on me. I'm still dealing with ordering chemicals for my lab. Turns out that to buy acetone or ammonia I have to acquire special permission from a police force similar to that of the FBI. I guess it's a valid point, since a person could build a meth lab or make bombs with that stuff. And our dear govt doesnt want to have people with bomb making materials.


Chemistry guy requested chemicals weighed in and 10% sulfuric acid made to demo oscillating reactions. KBrO3, MnSO4, malonic acid and H2SO4. Blunderful. I didn't have much malonic acid, and he wanted to do the demo 3 times. The demo required 9g of malonic acid pero trial and I only had a 25g bottle, so we decided to cut everything in half in hopes of saving up on our little bit of malonic acid.

While weighing in the chemicals i discovered something's wrong with my brain. I had to make 4 sets of labels for the stupid chemicals because i kept screwing up. In the end I got it and delivered it. He also wanted a 1M solution of cobalt II chloride, didn't know what for and didn't car much either.

Anyway, the whole point of oscillating reactions is that the ratio of one product to the other varies for a while until the end product stabilizes. In this case, the mixing of the 3 chemicals in the acid will make a red product that will last for about 5 minutes, then turn to clear again for 2 minutes, red for 3 minutes, clear 3 minutes, red 1 minute, clear forever. It'd be more fun to watch if it happened a bit faster... but it's still alright.

Yesterday I bought a fish for the biology fishtank and today I went to visit it: a tiger striped plecostomus, and a pretty one at that i must say. Everybody should have these in their tanks, it'll reduce the workload on your filter making it last longer, plecostomus eat algae, tons of it.

I entertained myself today with the centrifuges and the spectrophotometers. I had a few enzymes left over in my fridge from an old lab and figured I could separate them with fractionation and then measure the absorbance of the stuff... i did this last time in 2002, the details were a bit foggy but it turned out ok. I mixed, centrifuged and voila! BSA galore. Spectrophotometers, specs, are cool in what they do. Yet they can be quite boring if you already know what you'll get... sigh. Then I took out my gameboy and played mario for a while more, until I sat at the computer and finished the car article and started this one.

Later I will clean up the chemistry demos and then go home to prepare for my grandmother's birthday which will be at my house. She's turning 86, now that's an achievement. She still drives, plays bridge 4 times a week and goes to the beach almost every weekend. I wish to be like that when i'm her age.


The car

One of the greatest aspects of my life is my car. I have a long history with this particular car and it is the one object that brings me the most joy and the most grief in my whole life.

I own a Volkswagen Jetta III GLX VR6

Witness The
Almighty Jetta

Mine's white but it has the standard BBS rims just like the car on the page has. Now you need to understand that this car is a fantastic car. It has the same amount of power as a Jeep Wrangler and the acceleration of a BMW 325i. And it's a joy to drive. Sweet and subtle steering, responsive braking and accelerating, silent, and you can really nail the pedal to the metal.

I first met this car from its original owner. Before I moved up north I went to university for engineering, here in pooradise for a year and a half. I met the owner, a girl of german upbringing, that btw I ended up obsessed about for a short time but i think mainly because of her car (come on, i was 17, give me a break), at the university through a friend of mine. We quickly became friends due to our similar backgrounds and i often went to house parties at her place.

I admired her car and a few times she gave me rides in it, it was so powerful and gorgeous. At the time I was driving a 1988 toyota corolla, 1.6L and 80hp. That car might have been a bit of a junker, but it never gave me any trouble, it was a noble car. But driving around in that tin can really made me wish I had a bigger and better car, i'm only human.

I knew she used the Jetta to race around the city (since there's nobody policing the streets and highways, it's pretty much up to the driver how fast he or she wants to go, there's laws that prohibit stuff, but nobody enforcing them thus street racing is a daily event here, only in pooradise). I also knew that the car had some issues but nothing too bad. But soon after I moved up north i lost pretty much all contact with this girl and didn't hear from her or the car for the following 4 years.

When I returned from the north and found myself with the need to have a car to survive in the city, i drove around in my mom's car for 4 months until finally it was decided that another car was needed. And so the search started for an affordable, good quality car.

This country is weird, property seems to lose value but certain vehicles only seem to gain value the older they get.

Two months passed and due to little time to look nothing came up. Until one day the son of a friend of my family announced that he was moving to the states and he wanted to sell his car for cheap. I asked to see the car.

And guess what, there it was, the '95 pearl white jetta. I was unsure whether this was my friend's former car at first, given that the VR6's are exotic in pooradise yet not completely alien, so I hesitated on wether this was my friend's former car. But it turned out it was because her name was all over the old documents.

She had sold it to a man I know who had it for 3 years in safe keeping and treated it better than he trated his family, and he was nice to his family. After a while he realized and got sick of what I hate abotu the car, and sold it to my family's friend's son, an affluential man who at the time was president of the pooradise's local hq of a well known luxurious yet sporty auto maker's branch. The man obviously knew what he was buying and did it filled with joy, or so he said.

Not long after he bought the car a chance to move to the states to work came and he took it, forcing him to sell the car. He owned it for less than 5 months and had he kept it he would have faced all the problems i faced since i bought it.

So my own vanity and stupidity I obtained the amount of cash, $7500 to be exact, and bought the beast. It took some coordination and cooperation between me, my family and the seller to get the car to me, but eventually I got it.

And the ordeal began.

First day I had it, i was going on a little uphill part of a highway south of the city and the heating radiator burst, letting all the water vapour from the engine into the cabin of the car. The mechanic said since it was never used, water didn't circulate through the part too much and thus rust formed and accumulated weakening the material and well... poof!. Since heaters aren't a necessity here at all, i proceeded to authorize my mechanic to bypass the heater and forget about getting a replacement part. Replacement parts for that car are a huge bitch to find, mainly because it's an exotic car, the only JettaIII in the country as far as I know (there's many GTIs and VR6's, but only one JettaIII), and thus the parts have to be brought over from the states or germany.

The car ran fine for another 2 months like that, and then it started leaking water. I had to refill the expansion tank once every 2 weeks at first. Over a month it came to be 1 week.... 4 days.... 3 days... took it to the shop, again. The mechanic points out that the side supports of the radiator, which are made of plastic (who the hell designs with plastic in mind for a radiator... what a jackass) were cracked at the top hose hookup point. But wait! There's more! In the inspection he noticed that the oil filter housing cap was cracked and leakign oil (hmmm... no wonder I had to pour 1L of oil to the engine every month). Also, the oil pan gasket was past its pride and also leaking oil.

The mechanic couldn't find the parts himself, so I had to look for them from US providers and hope that there would be some way to bring them. The only supplier on the internet was one that did not ship ouside of the states, and only shipped to the paying customer's credit card's mailing address, as to avoid credit fraud and so on. But this presented an extra challenge, and my aunt who lives in the states offered to help. Anyway, long story short, my aunt had to ask her husband to find the parts from parts retailers in the area because the internet people wouldnt send the parts. So the parts were shipped to miami and an uncle who lives here and was visiting miami picked them up and brought them over. Total time transcurred from the time the mechanic told me my car's a piece of shit until the parts were received: 2.5 months.

Now we're talking what has happened since April 17, which is when I got the parts. On the 18th I took the jetta to the mechanic who had it all done by the 21st. And aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh... I have my baby back. I swear once it came out it was running smoother and stronger. Saturday and sunday were ecstasy... i drove everywhere.

And monday came. As I was driving to my girlfriend's house to take some bank documents to her, I heard a pfffffffffffff sound and the "gimme water" light on the dashboard started blinking. I thought: "crap". Luckily the engine was not running too hot at the moment and I was almost at my girlfriend's house. I entered the building, parked the car and swore for a little while, vigorously hitting the car with my head and kicking the wheels. Of course that did very little to fix it. I opened the hood and saw vapour everywhere.

Not again.

I left the car there and my girlfriend drove me home. Next day I picked up the mechanic dude from the shop and took him to see the car, I had hoped it was just a loose hose or something. But no! The radiator hose that feeds water to the engine had a hole in it. The hypothesis is that since the hoses are old and since they were running on a lower pressure for a while because of the busted radiator, the rubber gave way and POP! the whole was created.

So for now, the car rests comfortably in the visitor's parking of my girlfriends place and my mechanic is figuring out a way to get a new hose. As soon as the hose is installed I'll put the car up on sale.


The players

I work directly with 4 teachers. Each with its own subject. Since i'm not naming names, I'm going to stick with the following criteria from now on.

the chemistry guy (my supervisor)
the biology woman
the physics guy
the general science guy

Chemistry guy:
nice guy but he can be somewhat of a pain in the ass sometimes. Still, he's the only one that sticks to procedure and submits experiment requests in advance. I get along with him on a strictly professional context.

Biology woman:
she's nice. We get along fine. Sometimes i think she's kind of weird but I guess that's the way she is. She's a complicated person, she worries about stupid stuff and keeps losing her keys and locking herself out of her office and so on. But otherwise, she's the only one that currently keeps pet fish in her classroom and they're neat to look at. She is now the only one, general science guy used to keep fish too, but due a mistake i made, she's the only one now...

See what happened with the fish, click here and scroll to March 10th through the 13th.


Physics guy:
He's the one I've worked with the most. He has this grade 10 chemistry class that is absolutely hilarious, and also requires about 1 experiment per session. He's the most real person I work with, i've learned much from him and know him pretty well. He is sharp and sarcastic, i´ll tell you that much. But in a nice way. He's pessimistic just like I am and sees the world as the devil´s toilet, enjoys looking at the local women and he finds this country fantastic, of course, he can leave if the shit hits the fan and we go cuban style. He enjoys his job, but he denies it. He yells at students, but they don't take him seriously and his classes are usually funny, tense, relaxed... all in one.

General science guy:
i've worked very little with him, he keeps to himself, doesnt bug anyone. But he's nice, he takes his job seriously and he loves it. He owns a car similar to mine (of course mine's cooler, faster and stronger hehe, but he has his in nicer shape and has put on some outstanding body kits on it).

So that's the 4 of them.

There's 3 other people on the floor, all 3 math teachers. One of them, the guy next to the washroom, i think he hates me. It's either that or he's dry with everybody, or maybe he´s just dry with me which doesn't really lead me anywhere. The other 2 are ok i guess, relatively young, one of them's been here for a decade. The other one just 1 year, but he's alright, we play catch with dodgeballs in his room when there's nothing to do.

I have a number of bosses. Of course the chemistry guy, the highschool sub-principal, the chief of staff and the principal of the school.

Then there's the other 300 people or so that work here as well... i'm getting to know them as i go along.

Now you know everybody.

Summary of activities, Feb 6th until today.

My office, a.k.a. the preparation room (preproom) is about 200 sq ft. It has a big bench in the center, lots of cabinets, 3 locked hazards storage lockers, and my desk with a computer.

When I got here, this place was like a 3 year old took it, shook it and then put it back down.


Feb 6 - 17: preproom cleanup
This was an.. exciting... phase. I spent 8 hours a day just organizing, inventorizing, cleaning and chucking out garbage. Oh boy the garbage. Last time anybody had cleaned in this room was june 2005. (total 60 hours)

Feb 9: made some copies (15 min)

Feb 14: st valentines, got a friendship rose from the staff. How corporate is that?

Feb 28: Prepared measuring the caloric content of a peanut experiment for biology. (1hr)

Mar 3: cleaned fishtanks, demonstrated DNA extraction and electrophoresis. (that was kinda fun). I also prepared a yeast fermentation lab. Finally! a busy day. (all day)

Mar 6: set up the yeast lab. (20min)

Mar 7: since monday had been boring and cleanup was done, I decided to do a proper inventory of the chemicals in my cupboards. and so it went, taking up about 3 hours a day. Finished Mar 13. (15h)

Mar 8: distilled water was running a bit low, so i distilled 50L. Good thing we have a wall mounted still that works with the sink eh?! I wonder how it would go to distill cheap wine. Nah... imagine the deposits.

Mar 9: prepared an acid base titration lab, first time I braved the concentrated acids bottles.

Mar 8: prepared a halogen experiment using sodium salts of iodine, chlorine, bromine and so on... (0.5h)

Mar 10: cleaned general science guy's fishtank. He had a beatiful, huge cichlid in it. To do this, i had to move his fish into one of the biology woman's tank, which I prepared and conditioned beforehand for the fish's arrival.
Since I started doing that late in the day, I finished cleaning and reassembling the tank and left the fish transfer for monday. (2h)

Mar 11: On saturday I get this email from biology woman who went to look for some stuff in her room, she noticed the cichlid was no longer swimming in the tank where he was supposed to be and couldn't see him anywhere. We thought perhaps someone took him home.

Mar 13: Of course monday came and this wasn't the case, murphy is always on the dot. I found the poor dried up cichlid next to the window behind some books. General science guy took it well but i'm sure he was pissed. Now I know to keep cichlids with a lid on them so they can't jump out and meet their fates. Other than that, on the 13th i made copper sulphate for electrolysis experiments for physics guy, supervised biology extra lab hours because some kids hadn't finished their yeast experiments and took care of some paperwork. (3h)

Mar 14: set up electrolysis in physics guy's room. (10min)

Mar 15: an exciting opportunity! General science guy was to do a demonstration of science experiments for the parents of grade 9. This gave me the opportunity to show him some cool, flashy demos he could do as well (his were kind of boring). I set him up with the invisible ink sign (paper painted with dilute FeK(CN2)3 sprayed with FeCl, the reaction makes blue ink (prussian blue i think)), salt burning flame tests, supersaturated solutions with sodium acetate, making nylon... he set up some spectroscopy stuff which was also neat.

Mar 16: parent demo. (1h)

Mar 17: i cleaned up everybody's labs. (3h)

Mar 20: cleaned up my lab, it was a mess. I also imitated charts from pooly copied journal. They came out alright and the bio students got the point of the exercise. (2h)

Mar 21: got some radioactive pills for the 22nd. Physics guy was doing radioactivity and he felt appropriate to show the students how radioactivity (beta and gamma) worked. So I set up the laptops with their vernier labpros and radioactive probes. (1h)

Mar 22: helped running the radioactivity lab. Although the sources were weak Sr and Co isotopes, you never know how it's going to affect you, so I made sure the lab was safe and clean. (1h)

Mar 24: did some photocopying apparently. (5min?)

Mar 27: since the radioactive pills were borrowed from another school, i was to return them, and so I did. (3h) I prepared solutions of various salts for flame tests for that afternoon. (20min)

Mar 28: did some copying. Prepared a magnesium burning mass change experiment for biology. (30min)

Mar 30: set up the mass burning experiment. (10min)

Mar 31: cleaned my hazards cupboards. I have 1 flammables locker, 1 reactives locker and 1 acids locker. A particularily hazardous job, i was mighty careful to dilute everything in plenty of water and then cleaned everything up. There were drops of acid eating up the pans of the acids cupboard but nothing a little calcium carbonate couldn't handle. (4h)

Apr 3: did some copying, cleaned fishtank filter, and prepared an exothermic/endothermic reactions experiment for physics guy. (3h)

Apr 4: filled spirit burners with all kinds of fun, incredibly flammable alcohols and alkanes for a chemistry practical. (30min) Set up the exo/endo experiment.(10min)

Apr 5: a miracle, chemistry guy assinged me a task. Sadly it was short lived. He felt all labs should have safety manuals, well they do, but GOOD manuals with MSDS sheets and such. The school uses the school science resource company and I got the manual from them. 93 pages. Made 5 manuals. Took me like 2 hours. Then I cleaned up my lab and acquired from general science guy the van de graaff generator for physics guy who was teaching electrostatics. (1h)

Apri 6: easter week was coming. The week after this one the school closed in observance of everybody wanting to go on vacation er... ehem... religious festivites of the lord. I like to make sure my lab is clean and safe before i leave so i cleaned and idiot proofed the whole place. (30min)

Apr 7: finished idiot proofing the lab and did some copying. It was my girlfriends birthday so I had to go buy her a gift (holy mother of all bracelets i gave her... $150... but price is not an issue, she has a feel and taste for everything that is impossible to find. Anyway, the lab was clean and secured, the science laptops were stored in it and the alarm was set (did i mentioned my room is protected by a motion detector burglar alarm system? There's a lot of money in equipment here, plus a cart with 8 laptops which are brand spanking new). (day's work of 2h maybe)

April 8 - 16: proceeded to sleep late, get drunk every night, get together with friends and so on.

Apr 17: noticed my distilled water was running low so i turned on the still and made some 25 L of it. I also prepared a mass/volume concentration lab for physics guy, a copper sulfate burning lab (to find out hydration of CuSO4, which btw is usually 5H2O, industry standard). Oh and I made copious amounts of sodium thiosulfate for a chemistry lab... it's not so much making it, because that's easy. It's the distributing the damn liquid into like 40 little bottles, it's just a pain in the ass. (6 hours!)

Apr 19: national holiday, day off... boohoo. Got drunk.

Apr 20: prepared a weird lab to determine the atomic mass of magnesium. I didn't read it so don't ask, all i know is that it involved an upside down burete, 1.5cm of Mg ribbon and 2M HCl. So that's what I provided. Biology woman set it up. (30min)

Apr 21: did a bit of cleanup. nothing too bad. (30min)

Apr 24: went into town to look for resistors, 5, 10 and 15 ohm ones, for physics class. Of course, the most I could get were 10kohm ones... so no good. Physics guy decided to pass on that experiment due to lack of time anyway. (4h)

Apr 25: my car broke down. one of the radiator hoses popped and all the coolant evaporated. Took the car to the shop, it's getting fixed, hopefully they find and install the hose soon. Otherwise, i cleaned up the thiosulfate lab in the chemistry room and cleaned up my lab, again. Amazing how dirty this place gets. Oh well, keps me busy.

That's that until today. Noticed the time gaps some places? Some are weekends, but the ones that aren't weekends, you guessed it, didn't do anything. I don't have MSN messenger on my computer here, so when i'm bored, i do stuff like this blog. now you know why it exists and what purpose it serves.

Obtaining jobs is harder than training ants - how I got the job

There's this little story about how I got the job. Ineptitude sometimes is quite frustrating.

Back in September 2005 my mother asked me if I was still interested in working in science because she had heard about a position at a prestigious school that has a monster science budget (yeah, Can't complain about that).

At the same time, while teaching english at this academy, I met a woman, namely a student of mine, who worked at the school. I casually and very much intentionally asked her if she had heard about the job and how I should approach the school and apply. She offered to bring my resumé in and boom! a week later I get a call for an interview. And thus the nightmare begins.

It was September 23rd, around 11am. My cellphone rings and i answer. A woman's voice asked me if I had submitted a resumé for the lab technician position at the school. I said of course and she invited me for an interview with a man, whom I later found out would be my supervisor. Of course I agreed and then proceeded to write down the details such as phone numbers, names and dates. This is a praphrased version of how the crucial part of the conversation happened...

"If you can, we'd like you to come in on the 28that 9am"
"Next week?"
"No, in October"
"That's Friday the 28th, right?"
"9m, Friday October 28th"
"Oh, ok. I'll be there"

It struck me as odd that they'd ask me in for an interview a month in advance, but I didn't think it would be impossible since I would do something like that as well. I thought perhaps they're interviewing a lot of people... perhaps the guy i'm going to talk to is very very busy or perhaps even out of town until then. Whichever the reason, i prepared, read up on biology, chemistry, biochem, microbio, physics and all. The month provided me with the chance to study up and get in shape for the interview.

So on October 26th I called in just to confirm that the interview was still on.

"We were expecting you last month"
"wow, wait, I have it written down, it says 28th of october, a friday"
"Let me see"
"Your interview was scheduled for the 28th of September at 9am"
"But that was not even a friday, I remember distinctively that I was told to come on a Friday, I wrote it down"
"Well ok, i recognize that I missed my chance, but isn't there any other possibility?"
"I'm afraid not"
"Very well then, thank you for your time"

I was crushed, it wasn't like me to do stuff like that. I felt the weight of failure and of chances missed.

After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I started thinking. I couldn't have been my mistake because I wrote it down as I spoke with the woman on the phone. I decided in my mind, although still nowadays I sill don't know whose fault it was, that it was her fault because she spoke poor english and although I offered to speak spanish to her she kept on speaking english. So I stopped feeling sorry for myself and I kept looking for work while working in the english teaching business.

Months went by with nothing.

In January 2006 the same woman who told my mother about the job asked why I wasn't hired, she found it a bit odd. My mother explained what happened and the woman, very much surprised, said that the position has been left open and nobody had been hired.
The kind woman offered to intercede on my behalf and I was called by the chief of science to be interviewed. On January 16th I went and was interviewed by him and the biology teacher.

It wasn't much of an interview, it was clear that the had already decided to hire me and wanted to meet me just to make sure I wasn't some kind of freak. They showed me around, introduced me to a couple of people and offered me the job. I accepted.

I came in for an interview with the chief of staff of the school on the 17th and signed the saw the contract. A pretty lenient one, no term clauses, the pay was a bit better than my previous salary (around 500USD now, compared to 400USD teaching english).

I was asked to come in for another interview on the 23rd, just to meet the top dog of the school, the almighty principal. I departed and that very same day I introduced my resignation to my boss at my old job as english teacher, and worked the full 2 weeks notice.

On the 23rd i met the principal and got along just fine with her. On the 25th I signed the contract and on the 30th I got my security pass, keys and clearance. I was set.

So I worked my 2 final weeks teaching english. I must say, that job was probably the most fun i've ever had. I met new people every day, there were lots of good looking women all around (mostly desperately bored yet moderately hot housewives that have nothing to do other than hit the gym for 4 hours and then land in an extra 2 horus of english lessons while their kids are at school).
But anyway, there were also children learnign english, and they were a riot to teach. Always playing games and stuff, it was awesome. They're like little sponges, they learn amazingly fast. I miss that aspect of the job.
Then again, I was working all-day until 9pm 4 days a week and saturdays too, only sundays off, it was driving me mad. Plus it's a very fast paced job since this academy had an open all day schedule, students could come in whenever they like or can for lessons; it was always incredibly busy and there were virtually no breaks. Never a dull moment. And teaching is exhausting, it figures too eh? I tortured my teachers as I grew up and now I recognize how badly it sucks to be tortured by your students. It's tiring, physically because you're standing all day and running around getting stuff done, and mentally because you are always thinking on the run.

After finishing my notice period on the 3rd of February me and my girlfriend treated ourselves to a daytrip to a group of beatufully isolated tropical islands off the coast of our little "paradise" (see previous posts). It was a day of relaxing fun in the sun and you would not believe the sunburn. It was awesome. Plus, my girl looks great in a bikini. I love that girl.

In comparison, as a lab tech, I don't do even 1/10 of what I did before. It's so relaxing... AND! I have tons of cool toys to play with. Making pointless redox reactions and reacting indicators for no reason never gets old...


embezzle the country - background to the paranoid tendencies

After many many years of corrupt governments, a relaxed attitude towards the law and the constitution and a severe lack of anybody to stop it, the riches of the country went to hell.

That's what they taught me in history class anyway.

The country's main activity has always been oil. It sells oil, period. Nobody cares about the country as long as it sells oil. It's been that way for almost 100 years and it'll keep being this way for many more.

Initially, governments built a great nation of plenty. Poverty was almost non existent and everybody was living la vida gorda. It peaks around 1955. Then some greedy men came and started stealing the national treasure. People thought, hey, they're doing it, so we can do it too. And thus the mentality of the classic South American fat cat. No te pido que me des sino que me pongas donde haiga... (I am aware that this is poor Spanish language, but FYI, it's a request for god to not provide this man with sustenance, but to place this man where there's plenty)

So slowly things went to hell. The governments instead of educating people and making social programs for the creation of a lucrative economy and such, they just provided people with whatever they needed and thus generating a culture of government funded national charity, where people didn't have to work because they could live off whatever they could obtain from social programs, kinda like welfare gone wild.

And so, around the year that I was born the economy started taking a massive dive that hasn't stopped ever since. Imagine that in the 70's you could buy 1 US dollar for 4.30 of the local coin. Some 36 years later, it's 1 buck for 2150... and that's only because 3 years ago the government had to regulate money exchange, because otherwise the coin would keep losing value in the international markets and thus be at around 4000 instead of 2150. I wish I knew more of economics. Mind you, this is my interpretation, not necessarily the way things happened.

So back in the early 90's this crazy low ranking military dude tries to overthrow the second most corrupt government in the history of the country. He fails, gets stripped of his rank and dishonorably kicked out of the army, gets thrown in jail, the country goes through like 4 presidents in 4 years and eventually a really old man takes up the challenge to run the place. Old man, for some reason that is still beyond anybody's comprehension, grants a full pardon for the crazy ex low ranking military dude for his attempted overthrowing the govt, his disloyalty to the country and other crimes and so on and crazy dude goes free.

1998 comes and the old man's presidential period ends, crazy ex military dude runs for president promising social change, the end of corruption and blah blah blah the usual crap, people believe him and he wins. Not 2 years go by and he manages to establish the country's most corrupt government so far. Imagine that his team has managed to steal, embezzle and squander 5 times more money in 7 years than the bad guys before him did in 40 years. And I’m talking trillions here.

So dude manages to charm the lower classes and accuse the upper classes for the lower classes' crappy life, creates mistrust on both sides and sparks hatred of the poor against the rich and creates a massive social rift. We're talking about a 25 million people country with 95% of the population in critical poverty. So that makes about 22.5 million angry resource lacking people against a small middle class and a medium size upper class.

Don't get me wrong, although I studied abroad (i.e. not in this heavenly paradise I’m describing), I had to pay for most of my stuff there and my parents worked their asses off to pay for some of my stuff. My family is middle working class; my parents are well beyond retirement age (above 60 each) and are still working because otherwise we don't eat. Having a degree and all the skills I have, I earn less than $500us a month, ok? So spare me the rich kid comments.

So the ones that are actually rich left because of the accusations, violence and such and because they have the money to leave. Meanwhile the middle class is stuck in the country with a 20 something million people targeting them as the source of their troubles because there's nobody else left to blame.

Meanwhile the government is enjoying higher oil earnings than ever before and using that money for the regime team's retirement and to buy other neighboring countries' into spreading this social revolution of the crazy ex military dude.

So now there are many versions on what happened next happened. The opposing parties say as much as 80% disagrees with the govt and the govt says 80% is loyal to it. Tough thing to estimate for real because people are now afraid to talk but in any case, massive protests against the regime began and lead to a strike back in 2002. Government lashes out sending troops against opposing protestors, people allegedly sympathetic to the government kill people at protests, govt creates little mercenary armies to defend the govts interests and begins an intimidation campaign worthy of Stalin. Hell, my grandparents lived through Hitler's regime and they say it wasn't that bad compared to what they are seeing today and they predict this to get much worse.

Mind you, when I say lived through Hitler I don't necessarily imply they supported that regime. Something that most people don't know because they've never been in a situation like it is that not all Germans during WWII were supportive of their government, actually many were against yet powerless the government. This is because, well I’m sure you've read history, of the repeated bombings of their cities (i.e. Hitler declaring war on everybody else and him getting what he deserved, and killing many innocent people in the process) and the fact that it was either fight for Germany or get some free torture, courtesy of the SS and other state run police forces. People back then had no choice but to say they agreed with the government forget crappy deals for not doing so.

So back to the story. While the shit was hitting the fan with the violence, protests and strikes, I was studying in a different country thus I missed the opportunity to breath in fresh tear gas, get shot at by other people and have my human rights trampled on and laughed at by those in power. Crazy dude was toppled in 2002, but he returned to power not 3 days after. It is said that this was a staged overthrowing in order to flush out pretend supporters of the govt, which worked like a charm because those who were pretending turned against the govt soon after crazy guy was toppled. Of course, those that couldn't run away on time when crazy dude came back were all arrested and thrown in jail.

So it's been like that ever since, oppose the govt, go to jail without and await trial for some bogus crime. Well, sometimes crimes are committed under suspicious circumstances and after an "investigation"; turns out that it's always the criminals are those who speak out publicly against the regime. Classic eh?

And I say "investigation" because it's like this: recently 3 kids, sons of a somewhat wealthy man were kidnapped along with their driver on their way to school one morning. Months go by and the police find nothing. Not long ago the kids and driver were found dead, executed to be more precise, with clear signs that they were mistreated and tortured while captive. There's massive public outcry, justice is requested by many authorities and organizations. The investigation reveals that they were kidnapped at a fake police checkpoint by people dressed like police officers.
Turns out a person comes forward and testifies that he went through the road checkpoint at around the same time the kids were kidnapped and he identified 2 of the men at the checkpoint as real active police officers. The government officials quickly denied these claims and said that they were not police officers. This happened 2 days after the bodies were found.
So there's confusion, lots of lying, accusing and denying. Suddenly, 5 days after the bodies are found, 3 suspects are nabbed. Next day another 2. And so it goes. Now tell me if this is not fishy, months go by while the kids are held captive and the "investigation" leads to nothing. Bodies are found, there's public outcry, witnesses come forward implicating the police in this affair and suddenly suspects are caught? Come on...

So anyway, it's a constant state of paranoia here, and there's nothing anybody can do, checkmate. The country keeps the regime and it's doomed to a Cuban style dictatorship (crazy dude is like Castro's little clone, and good friends with Cuba and its authorities too!, oh well, at least we can get decent cigars here now) and if we remove the regime then there's a good chance of civil war and power struggle. So either way it's a lost cause.

How does this affect me? Well, in no way really, aside from endangering my life because of crime and possibly oppression, I guess its same old. At least I can still move out of the country but it'll be bad when that privlege is revoked by our dearly beloved leaders (shouldn't be too long, i'd say by 2007 we shall be prisoners here).

Then again, the lack of proper management of resources has brought the economy to the manure pile and the science and research sector has indeed become not existent. So, no real well-paying science jobs available for me = me disliking this.

But, if there's anything I've learned, is to keep my views neutral and my mouth shut. I neither agree nor disagree, mainly because the leaders of the opposing parties are the same fat cats that allowed this country to get into the mess it's now; and the current regime, well, you make up your own mind about it.

Personally, for all I care, both sides can all be dragged by the ears into a giant pit full of snakes. Meanwhile, I'll keep working and trying to save up to get out of here.

Call me a defector, but I'm not dying for this or any other regime. My genes must succeed (read Richard Dawkins if you wanna know why)

about the author

I recognize that not all lab technicians can be as bored as I am, so please spare me the comments if your job actually keeps you busy.

A bit about the author.

I was born in a tropical paradise turned sour by decades of ill governance (especially in the last 7 years) and stupidity aplenty. I grew up, lived, studied, did many irresponsible things and drank myself to slur in this paradise for most of my life. I never quite liked it. It's a hard thing to grow up with a social role model of irresponsibility and laziness and a parental role model honest to that of uptight European standards.

After 19 years of suffering it became time for me, thanks to much support from my parents and my never ending efforts to make ends meet, to head to the capital of the world's second largest country to study at what many still call "last chance U", albeit many efforts from this organization to release themselves from this reputation; which by the way they brought upon themselves.


I think the thing I did the least during university was actually study. I spent a lot of time writing lab reports for the courses that had labs, oh precious memories. After 3.5 years, some 20920 waking hours, 2 failed courses, many Ds and Cs, I managed to obtain my bachelor's in biology and effectively ruin any chance for grad school anywhere in the world.

So, my visa ran out, I broke up with my psycho ex and headed back to the paradise on March 7th 2005. Not knowing quite what to expect, I remained optimistic that things wouldn't be so bad.

But as optimists are often hit with huge brick walls, I found that it was actually worse than I thought. I kept searching for a job in the science industry and found that they are reserved for people with master's degrees and more. By June I gave up and started teaching ESL. Wasn't too bad, but I kept looking for the science.

I became so obsessed with working in science that I started collecting bugs, thinking that this would somehow make me a biologist. Then I took up an unpaid internship with a biotech lab to work as a lab assistant. That experience lasted about 3 weeks and it led me understand further that science is reserved for assholes with Master's degrees and their bosses. I was quickly discarded.

So I kept teaching English.

After a few months I learned of this position at a high school. The ad was simple and clear, they needed a lab technician that spoke English, knew science, needed a job badly and would settle with mediocre pay. Check, check, check and check. So I sent in my resume, I was called for an interview, given the wrong date and finally missed my chance for that job.

Funny how things work out that the position remained open for months. A person on the inside agreed to intercede on my behalf and I got a second interview. Words were spoken, contracts were signed and thus I became a lab technician.

I started this blog because I have too much free time. I started thus blog almost 3 months at the job.

I had never imagined it'd be like this...