Monthly Archives: January 2014

Petroleum Jelly, more interesting than you’d think

You might be surprised to find out that some of the posts on this site are literally a result of me seeing or hearing something random in a day, googling it, reading the wikipedia article and deciding that it’s interesting enough that I think it’s worth sharing.

Today was one of those days. I was surprised by how interesting the story behind petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline) is! From WikiPedia:

The raw material for petroleum jelly was discovered in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, United States, on some of the country’s first oil rigs. Workers disliked the paraffin-like material forming on rigs because it caused them to malfunction, but they used it on cuts and burns because it hastened healing.[citation needed]

Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist whose previous work of distilling fuel from the oil of sperm whales had been rendered obsolete by petroleum, went to Titusville to see what new materials had commercial potential. Chesebrough took the unrefined black “rod wax”, as the drillers called it, back to his laboratory to refine it and explore potential uses. Chesebrough discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel. Chesebrough patented the process of making petroleum jelly by U.S. Patent 127,568 in 1872.

Chesebrough traveled around New York demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product. He opened his first factory in 1870 in Brooklyn using the name Vaseline.

See, part of why I googled it is because I wondered if it was made from petroleum. It’s in the name afterall. This guy really went to bat for his product, willfully burning himself to prove his healing agent worked.

Physical properties

Petroleum jelly is a mixture of hydrocarbons, having a melting point usually within a few degrees of human body temperature, which is approximately 37 °C (99 °F).[2] It is flammable only when heated to liquid, then the fumes will light, not the liquid itself, so a wick material like leaves, bark, or small twigs is needed to ignite petroleum jelly. It is colorless, or of a pale yellow color (when not highly distilled), translucent, and devoid of taste and smell when pure. It does not oxidize on exposure to the air and is not readily acted on by chemical reagents. It is insoluble in water. It is soluble in dichloromethane, chloroform, benzene, diethyl ether, carbon disulfide and oil of turpentine.[1][3]

Because they feel similar when applied to human skin, there is a common misconception that petroleum jelly and glycerol (glycerine) are physically similar. While petroleum jelly is a non-polar hydrocarbon hydrophobic (water-repelling) and insoluble in water, glycerol (not a hydrocarbon but an alcohol) is the opposite: it is so strongly hydrophilic (water-attracting) that by continuously absorbing moisture from the air it produces the feeling of wetness on the skin, similar to the greasiness produced by petroleum jelly.

There are not many phrases that I love more than “common misconception”. It’s like a beacon for my eyes and brain. “I’m about to learn something!”. Also, the article lays some science on you. Glycerine sucks moisture out of the air and condenses it on your skin? That’s cool.

So today we learned where petroleum jelly came from and how it works. For more on the other uses, head over to wikipedia. This was just the parts I found most interesting.

Beat procrastination – gamify productivity?

A friend of mine just posted about this website/program/game called HabitRPG. I haven’t actually played it but I’m thinking about giving it a try. I don’t feel like I really need motivation – I seem to be pretty good in that department – but who knows, maybe this will still help.

From the website:

The problem with most productivity apps on the market is that they provide no incentive to continue using them. HabitRPG fixes this by making habit building fun! By rewarding you for your successes and damaging you for slip-ups, HabitRPG provides external motivation for completing your day-to-day activities.

Instant Gratification

Whenever you reinforce a positive habit, complete a daily task, or take care of an old to-do, HabitRPG immediately rewards you with experience points and gold. As you gain experience, you can level up, increasing your stats and unlocking more features, like classes and pets. Gold can be spent on in-game items that change your experience or personalized rewards you’ve created for motivation. When even the smallest successes provide you with an immediate reward, you’re less likely to procrastinate.


Whenever you indulge in a bad habit or fail to complete one of your daily tasks, you lose health. If your health drops too low, you die and lose some of the progress you’ve made. By providing immediate consequences, HabitRPG can help break bad habits and procrastination cycles before they cause real-world problems.


With an active community, HabitRPG provides the accountability you need to stay on task. With the party system, you can bring in a group of your closest friends to cheer you on. The guild system allows you to find people with similar interests or obstacles, so you can share your goals and swap tips on how to tackle your problems. On HabitRPG, the community means that you have both the support and the accountability you need to succeed.

If this sounds like it would be fun for you and might help you get more stuff done, it’s worth checking out yes?

Also, I had forgotten about this one:


HabitForge – This simple program helps you build habits that will improve your life. We’ll send you a daily reminder of your goals and help you keep track of your progress.

Curious about geology? Listen to this.

So, geology is something I have an interest in, at least to understand various aspects of it a little better. I was going through my phone deleting podcast episodes to free up space and found that I had downloaded an episode called “Extreme Geology” from The Naked Scientists podcast.

2 really interesting tidbits from the episode (which runs just under an hour), is that the mega-earthquake that eventually caused the Fukushima disaster, was SO powerful that it moved 50 metres of the sea floor (which scientists had previously not believed was possible), and you may have heard that it actually changed the earth’s rotation by a very small amount. This isn’t something that we can actually perceive but scientists are able to measure the change in the earth’s wobble.

The other interesting bit was that the way that scientists know that the earth’s poles have flipped in the past is that as tectonic plates shift and grind together, they imprint a magnetic signature (kind of like the stripe on a credit card) pointing toward the current poles on the rocks that grind between them, and scientists are able to basically read those magnetic signatures to determine where the poles were at what point in time. There’s something you won’t learn in a creationism classroom!

This is my first time listening to this podcast but I’m pretty happy with this episode. If you’re interested in learning more about earthquakes, tornados/hurricanes, plate tectonics, volcanos  and that sort of stuff, go have a listen.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Similarly to the post about things mentally strong people don’t do, here’s a post about tough things that successful people force themselves to do, even though they don’t want to.

From “19 Hard Things You Need To Do To Be Successful”:

  • You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.
  • You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.
  • You have to give more than you get in return right away.
  • You have to care more about others than they care about you.
  • You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore.
  • You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.
  • You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.
  • You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is.
  • You have to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.
  • You have to grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.
  • You have to deliver results when making excuses is an option.
  • You have to search for your own explanations even when you’re told to accept the “facts.”
  • You have to make mistakes and look like an idiot.
  • You have to try and fail and try again.
  • You have to run faster even though you’re out of breath.
  • You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you.
  • You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.
  • You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.
  • You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you.

I have seen several variations of the advice above but it all basically comes down to “you have to be willing to do what few others are”. For me, I think the biggest hurdle I have overcome in my life was social anxiety and awkwardness. What helped me do it was realizing that there were a lot of things I wanted, and if I could learn to speak more clearly, confidently, and to a range of people and personalities, I would have a much better chance at reaching my goals. It’s not about being loud, it’s not about always being right or funny. It’s just about doing it bit by bit in different scenarios until you figure out what works and what doesn’t.

The implications are far reaching – job interviews, dates, when you meet someone famous you might be less star-struck (but not necessarily).

And I can say that when you’re out there pushing forward past everyone else, pushing towards your goals, even if those goals only make sense to you, people see that and respect it. It’s always encouraging to see someone really trying to make a go of it. If they can do it, maybe you can too, right?

Consciousness and Music

I just found this video, featuring Adam Golding (who runs the Cognitive Seance event I’ve written about a couple of times here), talking about (primarily) consciousness, and I really enjoyed it so I wanted to share it with you.

I think he does a good job of breaking down the concepts for the average viewer (since I’m not a cognitive scientist, I need that!).

I will take this as an opportunity to semi-formally announce that I am rebooting my old podcast Noise in my Head, and I have spoken to Adam about doing an interview with me, it’s just a matter of working out the timing.

Not your average book club

I attended my first session of the Center for Inquiry’s Science and Philosophy book club on Monday night. It was very interesting, and while unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the whole thing (I was exhausted from work), I did pick up one really mind bending bit from the discussion that I wanted to share here.

One of the attendees was talking about the idea of “nothing” or “nothingness”, and how we know that as a concept it means there’s nothing there, no dust, no air, pure empty vacuum. Nothing is the absence of something.

Yet, if you think about it (to paraphrase), “the bulk of the weight of the Universe is made up of nothingness”.

That one stopped me for a few moments. I was like “whoa… that’s true!”.

The idea being that “nothingness” is kind of an imperfect concept to us and while we use it, it doesn’t always mean what we think it does. How can nothing have weight? But this was in relation to the idea of dark matter or anti-matter.

I love getting my mind bent like that.

The next book club meeting is in May. I recommend checking it out if you’re in Toronto around that time. You don’t actually have to have read the book, you can just go to listen to the discussion. That’s probably what I’m going to do, since I barely have time to read even the books on my own shelf presently.

Browser extension to stop clickbait headlines

You’re probably all too familiar with Upworthy and ViralNova by now. Post titles that scream at you to be clicked due to their wording. Well, now there’s a browser extension to fix that called Downworthy.

We’ve all seen them – the clickbait headlines that websites like Buzzfeed, ViralNova and UpWorthy use to drive traffic, especially through social networks. Even Huffington Post has jumped on the bandwagon of endless recycled listicles and bombastic titles.

Downworthy replaces hyperbolic headlines from bombastic viral websites with a slightly more realistic version.

They have several examples on the page, but basically this will help you save time and not drive tons of traffic to these sites. Personally, whenever I see something good on these sites I repost the actual youtube link or image itself, not the buzzfeed/upworthy link. I recommend you do the same.

EDIT: forgot to say, it’s currently Chrome only (as of end of Jan 2014)

Some interesting ways to hack your home

Just found an article called “33 Amazing Ideas That Will Make Your House Awesome”, and while I don’t know that they are all awesome, some of them are definitely neat.

Of course, most of these are probably only within the domain of rich people, but still cool to think about.

You can’t re-invent the wheel, but you can re-invent table tennis

Here is an example of someone who makes every effort to have fun and entertain people. He’s so entertaining that he even gets his opponent to join in, and eventually gets the scorekeeper to crack a smile.

The clip is 16 minutes but it’s entertaining the whole way through.

Casual Love

Several of my friends linked to this blog post yesterday, called “Casual Love”.

It talks about the idea that we as a society have defined “love” as something very specific, where love can only mean the type of love that leads to marriage – i.e. serious romantic feelings that make you want to commit to one and only one person for the rest of time.

Some would argue that this is an outdated idea and a very small box to try and stuff the wide array of human feelings into.

As you are probably aware, we say “I love you” not just to our partners, but also to our family, to our best friends. It’s sort of like we know love isn’t just one thing, but we make a big deal out of it like it is.

The author writes:

The kids today are having a casual sex revolution. “Hookup culture” is akin to “free love”, but with more condoms and fewer hallucinogens. And I’m for it! In case you haven’t heard, I like casual sex. It’s my observation that as casual sex becomes more acceptable behavior (for men and women), it lessens the shame and anxiety associated with the sex that people are having anyway (and have been having since the dawn of time, and are going to keep having). I’m thrilled that young people are beginning to feel they have the option of exploring sex, safely and consensually, outside of the boundaries of long-term commitment.
But why not have the option of exploring love, too, with or without a side of commitment? If we can agree that our bodies are not inherently dangerous, can’t we do the same for our hearts?
I suggest we take a page from the casual sex book here. Let’s lift some of the weighty grandiosity off the shoulders of love, and allow it to be what it is: a sweet, ephemeral, exciting feeling to experience and share.
Imagine if you could say to a casual partner, “I love you. It’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean you’re The One, or even one of the ones. It doesn’t mean you have to love me back. It doesn’t mean we have to date, or marry, or even cuddle. It doesn’t mean we have to part ways dramatically in a flurry of tears and broken dishes. It doesn’t mean I’ll love you until I die, or that I’ll still love you next year, or tomorrow.”
Then later, perhaps over brunch, you could tackle the question of whether there’s anything to do about it. All of the aforementioned – dating, marriage, cuddling, etc – are options, and there are an infinite number of other options (Skee ball, sailing around the world, double suicide). These are all things you can now choose or not choose, as two conscious adult human beings. The important distinction is that none of them is implied just by saying the word “love”.
I like this. I like that it gives us more options, takes shame out of the equation, and doesn’t pressure anyone into doing anything they don’t feel comfortable with.
I had a conversation last night with a friend of mine who is a “Sexuality Empowerment Coach”, and I was asking her how do you even say to someone that you’re interested in them sexually – without sound creepy – when you’ve only just met. She gave me some great insight. She said to phrase it in a way that allows them to “opt in”.
Instead of “stating your desire/intent”, you just make a suggestion that they can accept or reject.
For example, you would say “if you’re up for it, I’d be interested to spend some time exploring your body”. Pretty clear statement of interest/intent, but allows the person to say “no thanks”. This is as opposed to saying simply “I really want to explore your body”, which is kind of awkward and makes it about you. Subtle but important difference.
But yes, I like the idea that the article presents – if you like someone, just be honest and cool about it. It’s not a bad thing that you think someone is really awesome. And it may just brighten their day for you to tell them. We have more than enough hangups in society, I am certainly in favour of whatever helps un-hang some of them.