Friday, February 13, 2015

Quote of the day: "If you dinged yourself badly, it was no disgrace."

A favorite quote of mine from "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain:
We considered ourselves a tribe. As such, we had a number of unusual customs, rituals and practices all our own. If you cut yourself in the Work Progress kitchen, tradition called for maximum spillage and dispersion of blood. One squeezed the wound until it ran freely, then hurled great gouts of red spray on the jackets and aprons of comrades. We loved blood in our kitchen. If you dinged yourself badly, it was no disgrace; we'd stencil a little cut-out shape of a chef knife under your station to commemorate the event. After a while, you'd have a little row of these things, like a fighter pilot. The house cat - a mouse killer - got her own stencil (a tiny mouse shape) sprayed on the wall by her water bowl, signifying confirmed kills. 
This approach to chemical safety would be wrong. But I suspect the esprit de corps would be high! 


  1. It could be worse, like working at the CDC. Each time you are exposed to or lose a pathogen, you could get a stencil of a ziploc bag at your workstation.

  2. The stencils are a noble idea. Alas, in the Work Progress Labs the progress is self-evident as all ejecta etch their traces on the walls. The degree of dinging is also self-evident. It is witnessed by the pattern of apparently missing etching on the wall opposite to the work place. This has come to be known as the "shadow" and tells the story even of the chemist can't do so in person.

    Windows are not as reliable recording devices as walls are. Some witnesses reported window panes becoming emancipated and leaving the building. None have been seen since.

    As to cat-vs-mouse issue, I have seen mice in labs, but never a cat. Perhaps cats do better in kitchens. The mice in the labs were easy to notice late at night as they glowed purple in the dark long after the lights went off. The glow may have had something to do with the absence of cats.

    P.S. The most memorable post-event picture I have seen in lab safety training was a hood after a 2L THF still released its stored energy. The camera focused on a somewhat ejecta-dinged coffee cup in the middle of the hood and still half-full with coffee (mostly). Couldn't tell if the coffee was still warm. I remember now to put coffee down on my desk before it gets dinged.

  3. This approach to chemical safety would be wrong.

    It would just be very short-lived...

  4. You'd have to shift the focus from wounds/maiming/death to something a little more positive. E.g. for synthetic chemists, for every new compound synthesized or published, a stencil of a benzene ring or other notable molecule; an analytical chemist, perhaps a burette or pipette for every method or paper; physical chemist, maybe a Parr pressure vessel.

    1. You are right. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative.
      Back in the day when I worked for a Large Corporation right after working for a Very Large Corporation there were systems of incentives from small cash prizes to a nice bottle of wine etc. Any employee could nominate another and request a $20 or $50 award as long as the requester wrote a meaningful, work-related justification. Quid pro quo was not allowed.
      I remember that when I got that e-mail with appreciation it felt a lot more significant than any other recognition.

    2. I do know someone (a synthetic chemist) who was keeping a tally on the inside of his hood of the number of columns he ran during his PhD. When I was last in that lab he was on around 200...

    3. Just two hundred? I've got at least 1,000 reactions and I'm certain that that's at least a 1,000 columns- for every reaction I could distill or crystallize there's another that required multiple columns.