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How To Clean Silver

Silver reacts with sulfur compounds in the air and tarnishes. First it turns yellow, and then black. Tarnish is not dirt, and dirt must be cleaned off with jewelry cleaner or soap and water before you remove the tarnish. Silver cleaner, liquid or paste, is designed to remove tarnish, and it does so almost instantly. Never soak silver jewelry in silver cleaner for more than a few minutes (an overnight soak will turn it black). After removing the item from the silver cleaner, flush thoroughly with water. If the chemical is not removed from all the nooks and crannies it will bleed out over time and leave black streaks.

Do not immerse soft gems like coral, shell (mother-of-pearl, cameos), pearls, malachite, or turquoise in silver cleaner. Dip the corner of a paper towel in the silver cleaner and paint around the stone. Marcasite will not be harmed by silver cleaner, but be careful if the jewelry is antiqued, i.e. blackened in the recessed areas. Antiqued items should be dipped for only a few seconds and then rinsed off immediately or the silver dip will remove the black and leave an unsightly grayish-white color. A concoction called liver of sulfur (yuck!) will restore the finish.

Sometimes, if the tarnish layer is thick, the silver underneath will have become depolished and will look grayish-white. Then the piece will have to be polished on a buffing machine by a jeweler. Discoloration caused by contact with chlorine compounds (bleach or swimming pool water) will not be removed by silver cleaner. The jewelry will have to be buffed on a wheel.

For jewelry with smooth surfaces and not many nooks and crannies, a silver polishing cloth will shine it up. Also, dry baking soda rubbed over the piece with thumb and forefinger or a dry toothbrush will shine it. You can make an old penny into a new penny this way with about 45 minutes of hard work. Flush thoroughly with water when you are done or the piece will turn black.

Gem Identification

The refractive index of a gem is a measure of its ability to bend light. This measurement is is critical to gem identification. An instrument called a refractometer can precisely measure refractive index. A gem is placed on the glass of the instrument with a drop of contact liquid and light from a monochromatic yellow light source (not shown) enters the back of the instrument. Some of the light enters the stone and some is reflected off of it. This creates a dark/light boundary. The reflected light is directed onto a scale. The higher the refractive index, the higher up the scale is the dark/light boundary.

In this demonstration a golden tourmaline is used. Tourmaline belongs to a class of crystals that splits a beam of light which then takes two paths through the stone. Each ray has it’s own refractive index. A polarizing filter fitted over the lens of the instrument can pick out each ray separately when rotated slightly. The low reading of 1.62 and the high reading of 1.64 are clearly seen in the photographs, right ,and conclusively identify the gem as tourmaline. The bottom left photo is the reading from an amethyst, quartz, at the low reading of 1.54 (the high reading is 1.55).

The limiting factor of the instrument is the refractive index of the contact liquid, which has to be higher than that of the gem. Unfortunately the only liquid that won’t poison you or burst into flames has a refractive index of 1.81 and so limits the range of the instrument to that or below. This covers most gems but excludes diamond (2.417), zircon (1.96), and cubic zirconia (2.15-2.20 depending on composition).

Ad Nauseum*

If the flying didn’t didn’t make you sick, the barf bag will. Spirit Airlines has ads on its dishonorable discharge containers. If you want people to remember your product every time they get sick it’ll cost you $30,000 per quarter to put your ad on 150,000 barf bags.

For $60,000 per quarter for 350,000 the wretched retchers can tidy up with your bespoke napkins. Stewardess aprons, cups, boarding passes, and ticket jackets will also tout your product.

But why not go all the way with a flying billboard? Get a plane wrap for $400,000 per quarter for 1 one plane.

People collect barf bags, too. A Dutchman holds the Guinness record with 5468 of them.

And, of course, there are designer barf bags. In 2004 Virgin Atlantic “introduced  20 limited edition sickbags designed by artists from around the globe.” I like this Japanese design.

* This irresistible title was gleefully stolen from the New York Times Magazine May 4, 2014. Runner up was “Queasy Rider” which I saw somewhere on the Internet and which was also stolen, from a 2003 King of the Hill episode.

Big Brother is Tweeting You

The CIA opened a twitter account.

• We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet..

• No, we don’t know your password, so we can’t send it to you.

• Remember reports of unusual activity in the skies in the ‘50s? That was us.

• Knife skills are important! — Oops, that  was from the Culinary Institute of America.

Celestial Navigation

You can now get the voices of Star Wars  on your Tom-Tom GPS. Darth Vader, Yoda, C-3PO, and Han Solo will guide you if you aren’t Jedi enough to use the Force.

“I am altering the route. Pray I do not alter it further.”

“Turned wrong you have. A u-ey hang  you must.”

“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating the New Jersey Turnpike is approximately 3720 to 1!. We’re doomed!”

“The light turned  yellow — jump to light speed!”

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