Help Me Write A Better Blog?


#1

TL;DR: Do you find the topics below interesting?

So I write a blog, like a lot of people. I’m not looking to monetize it or really make any money off of it, though I figure some Amazon affiliate links here and there aren’t going to hurt anyone. I would like it if it paid for itself (right now it’s free but I want more flexibility than Blogger can offer and I’ll have to pay for hosting.) Also, Disqus sucks.

My message is relatively simple: Chemistry and science are pretty cool. Think critically. And being a student of these things is less than straightforward. Also: Random crap I think is cool. I don’t have as big a readership as I once had, but I’d like to build it back up. I know people are reading it, even as I neglect it, because I got a very nice email from someone saying she really liked the blog. (Also: Stats, but that’s not as much fun.)

So here’s what I need to generate: Quality content. I’m trying to build up a backlog of posts to give me the ability to keep up with a posting schedule. This is where I’m hoping my fellow Happy Mutants can give good advice. I’m particularly interested in people who don’t know much about a science book. Do you find any of this interesting? What would be interesting?

Topics I have in my pipeline (I’m actively writing at least one piece in each category at the moment):

  • Some popular science book reviews: Is this book too simple, too
    technical, bunkum, authoritative, of interest to a lay-reader, etc.?

  • Artificial sweeteners and the science of tasting sweetness: This
    topic is huge and is going to be broken up in several posts. There
    is a cultural history to sweeteners that is really quite fascinating.
    (Anyone who uses turbinado (“raw”) sugar might be interested to learn
    that they’re being charged a premium for an older sugar refining
    technology that became obsolete last century. It retains some
    molasses but not very much. It’s actually a comparatively good
    refining process. The color and crystal size is your biggest
    difference.)

  • What’s In [Blank]?: This is a series of posts where each one features
    a chemical technology you’re (reasonably) likely to encounter. The
    first is a Radon test kit, followed by things like certain household
    cleaners, engine oil, etc. Considering going the infographic route
    for this series.

  • The Elements: While this theoretically gives me 118 posts, it’s
    easier to talk about classes of element for some things and have
    dedicated posts for certain specific elements. Carbon alone is worth
    an uncountable number of posts, while most of the noble gases are
    pretty boring.

  • Simple Home Experiments/Life Hacks: For the DIY crowd. Debating
    how hazardous (not dangerous, there is a difference!) these can
    be. But some things are simple. Like making your own “Clorox
    Clean-Up Cleaner” in ten seconds rather than paying what is well and
    truly an absurd amount of money for it.

  • Things We No Longer Do (& Why): Ingest radium, use heavy metals in
    makeup, let people sell patent medicines (okay, we sort of still do
    that), drink root beer made with actual sarsaparilla root, drive cars
    with leaded gasoline, etc.

Feel free to visit and make general comments about what you think might improve the blog.


#2

Well, I think you know my wheelhouse.

  • coding secure database driven apps
  • the effect of NPK on plant development
  • history of brewing and vinting
  • what is a culinary gel, emulsion, suspension, and the effects of temp on carbs

Let me know if you need any articles :slight_smile:


#3

Actually some molecular gastronomy might be fun, though I wouldn’t want to be the Second Coming of Alton Brown.


#4

I have not clicked thru yet, but What’s In _, the Elements, and Things We No Longer Do all sound interesting to me. (I was an okay highschool chem student, it was honors-level and the teacher was really good though. other than that, my only contact with any chemistry is Breaking Bad, BoingBoing posts, and @shaddack comments. oh, and I used to mix photochemistry in my college darkroom, but that was just following the directions on the box, though.)


#5

I love Alton,but I think even would argue he isn’t the first coming :slight_smile:

Pick a topic and I’ll write… 600 words and four photos. The harder the better.

  • Make Fig Newtons!
  • Twizzlers, now!
  • Nova lox. No cheating. Salt, capers, fish, cheese, and bagels. No. Cheating.

okay, also:

  • make a flute, and show how perturbed bores work
  • set up a honeypot
  • solder a pipe freestyle

#6

i’ve been a regular reader of “in the pipeline,” a chem and pharma blog written by a pharmaceutical research chemist. i particularly enjoy reading his posts tagged “things i won’t work with.” he’s getting ready to relocate to another host but you might enjoy it yourself if you haven’t previously run across it.


#7

As a humanities guy, not a hard science guy, I really appreciate a topic being broken down in an accessibly way, and writing about how science should matter to me. Lots of people find science cool and interesting, but (given my own interest in culture, history, and more philosophical topics) why should it matter to me?

I sort of feel as if we should all be making cases for why our particular fields of interest matter to the wider world… That’s what generally pulls me in as a reader for science stuff.

Critical thinking seems like the obvious connection here. I tend to think of history in terms of context and debates about particular topics, rather than just a set of events… I think that’s interesting when applied to discussions on science too.

The artificial sweeteners stuff seems perfect. You mention that there is a culture history there - meaning that it’s not just about “science”, but how science is shaped by historical forces…

Either way, I always enjoy reading your comments here, so I’ll try to read your blog more!


#8

I know it well, and “Things I won’t work with” always proves a fun read. I don’t yet have the requisite practical experience to hold forth on that particular topic, though I’ve had my share of home and student lab mishaps. Mostly home mishaps with electronics and crafts. I’ve been shocked, pinched, burned, gassed, and had a table saw hurl a 2X4 into my arm. I’m generally more careful with chemicals, which leads to hilarious moments when I realize I’m treating something like sodium iodide (they put it in table salt) like it would explode if I used it wrong. Still, good habits are good habits.

I thought he was the first coming of bringing sensible non-folklore cooking advice to your average foodie. More than that would probably be too much credit, much as I love the guy. I admit making my own Twizzlers intrigues me…

Well this is kind of my main goal. I don’t want everyone to go off and become a scientist (it’s bad for my own personal job security.) I just want people to know things like that “environmentally friendly” cleaner your using may or may not be that environmentally friendly, or that it may have an undesirable trade-off. I spent last semester working to assess stream health in my area and testing for various contaminants, and I learned a lot about water issues. A lot of people think a Brita filter will make up for shitty infrastructure- it won’t. While I’m far from an expert in environmental chemistry, I do want people to understand that well, Um, Shit’s Complex, Yo.

I also want people to be informed as consumers. There’s a lot of “chemical marketing.” So soaps and shampoos usually lather more than is necessary because people think that bubbles clean things. Look at the brand name “Scrubbing Bubbles,” it hooks into that odd instinct we have about bubbles. At least that can be fairly benign, but people have been parted from their hard earned money to have their tires filled with nitrogen because it “leaks less” because the molecule is bigger. In truth it’s a waste unless you’re going to fly your car and land it on a runway, or if you’re an F1 race car driver.

Oh, I’m planning something you might really like for when I discuss the Radium Girls, then.

Aw shucks… I’m going to start updating it semi-religiously (at least once every two days) starting, hopefully, on Wednesday.


#9

Nice one, it seems.

The antifreeze article, the ethylene vs propylene glycol information should be maybe closer to the beginning. Possibly with the toxicity mechanism (ethylene glycol -> oxalic acid -> kidney damage, in addition to the propylene glycol -> lactic acid -> harmless), and possibly a mention that oxalic acid is commonly present in many foods in small amounts. Dose is what makes a poison. And that propylene glycol itself is common in baked goods as a humectant, and as a carrier vehicle for flavourings and colorants. Possibly point out the similarity to glycerol. The propylene glycol alginate itself is however a related compound, as if the bonds get hydrolyzed it will be liberated from the material.

For experiments, you may like to stress out the scaling factors. The same thing that generates no temperature rise in a test tube (because what heat it makes dissipates quickly) and only a modest one in a round flask may pack enough punch to do a thermal runaway in a 1000-gallon reactor unless you cool really well. Especially important where these effects can be dangerous (thermal runaway leading to explosion if scaled up) or important (the runaway that would cause self-ignition we desire won’t happen because we were too cheap and the scale was too small).

For safety, there are some military field manuals that deal with medicine. A nice picture of an acid burn is here, sadly without a description of the case: http://www.operationalmedicine.org/TextbookFiles/FMST_20008/FMST_1402.htm

Do not forget to leverage the power of Youtube. There are many MANY cool resources, namely the Periodic Videos channel. And many various posts with home chemistry both tame and not so.

And feel free to poke me anytime with any question.


#10

Yeah, I’ve seen some pretty bad acid burn images while researching the topic. The word “deglove” came up once… *shudder* Makes me wonder why I ever toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor.

I love the idea of teaching people how to make rocket candy, but people don’t intrinsically have the instinct to know that shoving a pound of it into a metal pipe with an end cap screwed on isn’t a good idea.

I’ve binge watched it. Poliakoff’s hair keeps me coming back.

I will! Thanks.


#11

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