KSJ Tracker May 5, 2014

(Clarified Clarification**) Phil. Inquirer: A home chemistry kit that can't burn the house down

**Second Clarification: A brief passage at the bottom of this post is devoted to a story at the Philadelphia Inquirer unconnected to the main topic (modern chemistry sets). I, Charlie Petit, so screwed up the small second section via haste and assumption that I owe both the Inquirer and Kaiser Health News a better apology and clarification of intent than was provided in an earlier effort.

Here is what happened. Upon seeing this second interesting story in the Inquirer as I was finishing the post on chemistry sets I made reference to the additional piece. The core of the remark still stands and remains, below. Which is that staffer Robert Calandra wrote a nice story on one example of how the Affordable Care Act, as it penetrates the US health care edifice, is changing the minds of many initial skeptics. In adding what was intended as a bonus to the post, I caused however distress to some good journalists who do not deserve it. First, while I never intended to malign Kaiser Health News and in fact declared it an honorable outlet, it was a gross error to mention in the same sentence KHN's  arrangement with the Inquirer to share news resources with a condemnation of newspapers that disguise press releases as news. KHN is a reliable source of honest journalism. Second, I inferred without checking that if the Inquirer is augmenting its coverage via such arrangement, it is probably shorthanded on medical and health staffing. Not so - an editor there informs me the paper has five reporters on that beat, which is a lot these days. Plus, it employs a science writer and an environmental writer. Third, Calandra proposed and did the story entirely on his own initiative. It was edited in-house. He was no mere collaborator as I first said in sentences which have now been deleted from the post. I read an ambiguous tag line on the Inquirer that said the story was done in partnership with Kaiser Health News and took that - which means I made up an interpretation - to mean KHN staffers helped put the story together. The Inquirer assures me this story was all Inquirer. The tag line is merely to recognize that the paper is among many news outlets with news-sharing agreements with Kaiser Health News. "We partner with Kaiser to extend our reach even further," I am told.

  Returning to the top of the original post....

While incanting "Gilbert Chemistry Set", which I remember well, I just loaded a new app on my iPad to see for myself what this is about:

  • Philadelphia Inquirer - Tom Avril: Making chemistry intriguing - on an iPad ; 3rd graf has the gist: "Lamenting the rarity of chemistry sets with serious, eyebrow-singeing chemicals these days, officials at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia commissioned a virtual equivalent. And it is smoking."

  Many of us have read that parental and legal worries about what happens when son or daughter overlook safety when pushing the borders of exothermia (flash bang and you are so-o-o-o grounded) have made most home chemistry sets too tame to push much beyond the baking soda and vinegar test when it comes to adventure. Avril has a local outfit to plug (the app IS free) but reports that the product hardly needs his help - hundreds of thousands of copies have been downloaded. Mostly the takers are outside the USA, which merits some explanation why that might be. We don't get one.

   Instead one gets an insight into the frustration felt by veteran chemists and other tech industry old timers as they realized so few kids these days are experiencing the joy they felt when dissolving metals and acids while eating holes in the carpet - and making noises and odors that had the cat skittish for a week. Avril handles this reporting job nicely, reviewing a bit on the history of chemistry sets and telling readers exactly who put up the money and spent the time to produce this app.

   I loaded it up. Found it a little bit boring, actually, and could not figure out why the game makes one pungle up credits just to fill a water beaker pronto. I never made it out of the opening round of experiments that do just one thing: show what happens when one adds stuff to water (such as calcium, strontium, lithium). They bubble is mostly what they do - and an energy meters measures the vigor of the reaction in Kcal. Beaker run dry? One can wait a minute to fill it with water immediately, or spend part of one's game stash. That is really frustrating. But the thing is sort of cheerful. I left it on the iPad. One of the grandkids might be able to tell me how it works when a young mind messes with its reagents.

   While at the Inquirer site I happened to spot another story. It is a sort of medicine piece, nicely done. 

  • Robert Calandra: Once opposed to ACA, now a convert ; Y'see, there was this stubborn-as-a-mule logger who believed everything that the likes of Fox News's commentators say about Obamacare. Then he got dreadfully sick. Signed up, changed his tune. Nice story.  [Error and misapprehension stew of subsequent verbiage that followed deleted.]


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