February 28th, 2005

baratron again

The Story Of The Baratron

"baratron" is not my nickname. It's in no way, shape, or form my name - it's just my login name. Why do I have a login name that's not my name, and what does it mean? Here's the explanation, now (finally!) written up as an entry by itself :)

What is a Baratron?
A Baratron (R) is a piece of equipment used to torment students in physical chemistry laboratories. If you value your life and/or sanity, do not participate in Temperature Programmed Desorption of Ammonia. You have been warned.

Seriously - in my final year at university, I did a term of physical chem lab. One of the experiments I was required to do (had no choice about it) was called "Temperature-programmed desorption of ammonia". The basic idea was that we got a zeolite, which is like a molecular sieve (they use them in washing powders to get things clean, f'rex), put it in a vacuum chamber, and then added ammonia gas. Switched off the gas supply, put it under vacuum, to see how much came off. The basic idea was to measure the amount of adsorption the zeolite could handle at a variety of temperatures, and use this to estimate the surface area of it. I think (it was quite a few years ago, now).

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Why I use baratron as a login name when it is in no way, shape or form my name...
Try setting up an account on any busy website. Even assuming you want to use something based on your real name, you'll find most variants of your name and/or initials have long since been taken. Naming yourself after your favourite band, singer, author, book character, cartoon character, video game, video game character... is probably likewise impossible, unless you want to be known by a "humourous" misspelling of it, or are happy to insert random numbers, _s or Xs in to try to ensure your uniqueness. Even then, you'll probably go through 5 or 6 attempts at least before you find something unused.

The ideal thing is to pick something weird that no one else would think to use, and then you'll know that whatever new site you go to, the name is likely to be free. Right?

The fact is that being a fairly arcane piece of laboratory apparatus, no one else would ever think to use "baratron" as a login name. I mean, even a really dedicated surface scientist probably wouldn't name themselves after the meter they use to measure vacuum pressure, would they? Search for "baratron" on Google and you'll get links to MKS themselves and people who sell vacuum equipment, and then links to things by/about me. MKS are probably wondering who on earth this helen-louise person is, and what she has to do with them.

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