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Monday, May 1, 2017

Fail fast, fail often ~ experiments do fail; thermocol puts TN Minister in meme top

In 1941, researchers in Dow's Chemical Physics Lab found a way to make foamed polystyrene. Led by Ray McIntire, they rediscovered a method first used by Swedish inventor Carl Georg Munters. Dow acquired exclusive rights to use Munters' patents and found ways to make large quantities of extruded polystyrene as a closed cell foam that resists moisture.Polystyrene (PS)  is a synthetic aromatic polymer made from the monomer styrene. Polystyrene can be solid or foamed. As a thermoplastic polymer, polystyrene is in a solid (glassy) state at room temperature but flows if heated above about 100 °C, its glass transition temperature. It becomes rigid again when cooled. Polystyrene is very slow to biodegrade and is therefore a focus of controversy among environmentalists.

Styrofoam is a trademarked brand of closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam currently made for thermal insulation and craft applications. It is owned and manufactured by The Dow Chemical Company.  Dow is no strange to controversy  ~ they were in news recently and were subjected to so many memes – you will realize this when you connect that a tradename for polystyrene foam is Thermocol !

Science experiments often go wrong but a lot of these turned out worse than you would imagine. Some scientists don’t shy away from using extreme methods such as electricity and large doses of hypo-tropics like LSD. Scientists may  evenuse animal cruelty or abuse humans to prove a hypothesis.  The great Thomas Alva Edison worked on many experiments throughout his life, but this is one he’ll never forget as he experimented on the effects of xray. Clarence Dally an American glass-blower and Edison assistant was poisoned in 1895  by the effects of the X-ray. In 1900 Clarence was suffering radiation damage to his hands and face, and had to leave work. All of Clarence’s multiple treatments were unsuccessful, Clarence lost his left hand, and eventually died of Medicinal Cancer. Edison then abandoned his work on X-ray !

Elsewhere, in the World of Computers, Silicon Valley runs on failure. Its unofficial motto, after all, is “Fail fast, fail often,” and it is the region that gave birth to FailCon, where stories of entrepreneurial failure are badges of honour, wrote a leading magazine. Wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare. This gap is not due to a lack of commitment to learning.

In Tamil Nadu, Cooperatives play a prominent role in the day to day affairs of the common man. They help the farmer to improve agricultural production by providing crop loans and by supplying agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and insecticides. They also enable the farmer to store and market his produce. In most districts, cooperatives run the fair price shops which provide the rural and urban poor essential commodities at highly subsidized prices ~ it was the turn of the Minister for Cooperatives to hog limelight for wrong reasons and become centre of media memes.

Many parts of the State are under severe drought that requires immediate attention and scared of being accused of failing to take any measure, the government is out of slumber.Tamil Nadu Co-operatives Minister SellurRaju had a creative idea of setting afloat sheets of thermocol taped together on the Vaigai dam to prevent the water from evaporating.Sheets of thermocolreportedly worth Rs 10 lakh were used to cover an area of 10 square kilometers. The plan was to hire many coracles, take the sheets on it, stick them together with tapes and let it float atop the river. And the plan was okayed by the ministers and two district collectors. It was launched with big fan-fare with Minister and officials coming in a convoy of vehicles.

Alas, it could not last for minutes -  whole lot of thermocols, drifted away within minutes to the shore just making the ministers and authorities embarrassed.  Some reports suggested that authorities tried to copy a method where 4 inch plastic balls called 'shade balls' were used to avoid water from evaporating in California's Sylmar Lake reservoir.

Immediately the media was full of meme ridiculing the effort – one magazine wrote that the Minister in his Physics class at school, had forgotten to read the chapter on wind velocity.  To those assembled at Vaigai and the media, it  turned out to be a comedy show with Tamil Nadu threatening to become 'Thermocol Nadu'. As Raju and Rao (Minister and Collector)  found their experiment going down the drain, concerns that thermocol which is made of polystyrene beads, would harm marine life were expressed. Science journals point out that experiments to prevent evaporation have been conducted with thermocol but they have been on ice or static water in farm ponds, not on running water in an open area. Even though Raju may claim political immunity by saying he was taking on the rising sun, the symbol of the Opposition DMK, his carelessness in dealing with public money has proved to be an embarrassment.

Clearly, very clearly, experiments do go wrong ! ~ today’s wrong could later become success stories .. .. but, such experiments are not launched with so much of fanfare.  The initial reports stated of 10 lakhs odd rupees being spent, the Minister himself appearing in a TV show on the same day, put the value at much less @ Rs.8000/-

Sad state of affairs !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
28th Apr 2017


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