Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Kindle

Something happened to me this Christmas morning that changed my life, and while I wish it were a deep spiritual experience, instead it was a KINDLE.

Yes, the e-paper based reading gadget from Amazon has zoomed into my life, and changed it forever.

I quickly reconnected to the novel I was reading on my ipod -- "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, and finished it. It was just as good and probably better on the Kindle.

The best part is getting the newspaper. It simply shows up there in the morning, and while I can get to abbreviated versions of the newspaper online directly, the download to the Kindle is much easier, cleaner and faster. It shows up via a built-in, prepaid wireless service that Amazon has contracted for, dubbed Whispernet. (Whispernet is will be the subject of a follow-up post.)

The Kindle is light and easy to read from. It is physically light, but not lighted. Like paper, one needs to read it in a lighted room. It would be nice if it were backlit, but I can easily read it in a brightly lit car or outside -- can't do that on an Ipod or laptop.

I downloaded the New York Times on Monday, and I liked it real well. I subscribed to the Detroit Free Press because I need to get my local news somewhere. I will probably subscribe to one national paper like the NY Times or maybe USA Today.

I know what you are thinking, I should have waited for the new Apple Tablet which is coming out on January 26 -- I know I told my DW to wait, but she didn't listen. The Barnes & Noble Nook is probably technically superior because it has limited color pictures, but it has been sold out since Thanksgiving, and won't be in stock until February.

Anyway, reading on a electronic screen is great. Since I cancelled the paper last summer, I am so happy I don't have to retrieve it every morning.  I am so past paper -- fat, heavy books.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

I'll be a road trip for the next few days. I have a few blog posts saved up, but I expect to be off the grid. Check back later.

I plan to have a good Christmas Holiday, and you should too.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kenosha Police Sing The Twelve Days of Christmas

Hometown Kenosha Wisconsin made the news for its musical police force with a funny Twelve Days of Christmas video.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Green Energy Tax Breaks Threaten To Destroy Green Soaps and Paints

The tax breaks created to combat greenhouse gases and reduce oil imports are killing age old industries. Encouraging industry to burn wood-by-products threaten to destroy age-old industries based on pine tree pitch. C and E News' Michael McCoy notes that God told Noah to "make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out," [Gen 6:14] so using tree pitch is an old industry.  

Today, tree pitch is purified used to make turpentine, tall oil and a number of chemicals including pinene. The photo is solid tall oil rosin. The pitch is made from the stumps of trees that were cut down to make paper. It is an example of using the whole tree and not wasting anything. Tree processor Arizona Chemical is trying to make the case to congress.

Similarly burning beef tallow or converting it to biodiesel prevents the soap and detergent industry from using a raw material that people have used to keep clean since antiquity.

During the 2005 oil crisis the price of agricultural by-products that were previously used in paints and coatings suddenly became expensive as people began using them for fuel. Most notable were the coal tar extracts which suddenly became unavailable.

Today, there are significant tax breaks for burning animal byproducts (because they are not fossil fuels and do not increase greenhouse gases) but animal fat has been made into soap forever.

I address some of these topics in my presentation "Coatings in a High Petroleum Cost World." This is the first substantive posting on my depthofprocessingchemistry blog.

In the case of soap, Wal*Mart may move to importing soap in another example of how subsidies create distortions.


See my previous posts on green chemistry.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What is more sleazy Pro Wrestling or Banks?

It used to be I would look over my mail and email for the real companies and the fake scammers. Recently my bank JP Morgan Chase  -- known to regular people as Chase Bank-- has started scams as bad an any pro wrestling promoter.

They send me sleazy payment insurance plans, and gauge me for cash advances.

The banks used to have a reputation as conservative and helpful members of the community. It used to be the my local banker looked out for my best interest. Now the large banks are predators that try to steal money with misleading bills, biweekly credit card payment dates and unreasonable charges for anything extraordinary.

Interstate banking together with the go-go wall-street culture has wrecked trust with the bank.  I trust most any company more than Chase bank now.

I suppose that makes it time for a credit union.


The picture at the top is by Stanley Donwood.

Donwood says: "I've got nothing against goats, I've just discovered that if I draw a goat, give it the mouth of a rapacious carnivore then dress it in the suit and tie of a disgraced banker or politician it looks fucking evil."  Donwood may be familiar from the  band Radiohead's artwork.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How Much Would It Cost to Turn the Thermostat Up 2 Degrees?

I was cold this morning, and I wondered what would happen if I turned the thermostat up.

The graph is from First Choice Power. It shows that a two degree increase in the thermostat will increase energy consumption by 12%. This site is in Texas, so they assume a milder climate.

The EPA has a more sophisticated discussion of fuel use; especially in the appendix. The effect of the thermostat change is smaller, about 10%. The appendix shows that the main effect is the difference from the outside temperature and the inside temperature. The milder it is, the less the temperature setting matters.

There is an easier to use equation is on the MGE (Madison WI) site, which has a Java app.  I can dial in my conditions, and see the savings. A one degree change is about 12%. 

If I turned it up 2 degrees on a very cold day for twelve hours, it might cost about fifty cents. On the other hand, it would cost me about $30 for the whole month. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Randomness and Herds

Economists used to believe that market prices were determined by all available information, and this was the most efficient way to do so. This is called the rational market hypothesis. I used to believe this, and it is nice because it gives us a kind of utopian world where zillions of "rational actors" guide the economy in the most efficient way via a  "magic hand." Thus, the markets may bob and weave, but they are not actually random -- actually the opposite, completely determined by billions of bits of information.

I don't think the old-time economists really believed this, but it formed a theoretical basis for economics that lasted for many years. I liked it because it was tidy.

On the opposite side are the technical analysts, who are like numerologists, studying the trends of the prices in an attempt to make money. These guys don't think about basic value, just analyze the market movements. It is the opposite of rational markets.

Other people argue that the stock market makes a random walk between more giant market crashes or big run-ups. This math is  called a Levy Flight. See diagram at right.  Empirical evidence shows the Levy flight model is a little more extreme than reality, but it fits better than the random walk does.

I like this because it has a lot of randomness followed by occasional bouts of rationality.  (Of course, it could be randomness followed by irrational panic too.)

The modern treatment is that the markets depart from rationality in a few known ways. One of these is herd behavior, which is the notion that buyers and sellers all think the same way. That is the club of buyers and seller is too homogenous. It seems US stock traders are more homogenous than European ones.

Anecdotes are easy to find. Recently everyone believed that real estate could go up in value forever. In the 1990's the boom & bust was also group-think gone mad.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Decorating for Christmas

We won't be at home on Christmas this year, so it is hard to justify spending a lot of time decorating a Christmas Tree.

Last year, I bought a fake tree, so it was easy to got to the attic and stand it up. Every other year, it would mean to time consuming trip to get a tree, and haul it in, and then clean up all the needles. Plus my fake tree  has all its lights.

It took 20 minutes to put up, and I had all the lights on in another 10 minutes.

I was tired of the trees that I've done in the last few years with all the glass balls and silk flowers. The tree stood there like that for a few days, since there are a ton of lights on the tree, and it was unclear to me whether adding more stuff would make it better or worse. The lighted tree with the red LED's and white incandescent lights looked pretty good by themselves.

Lights look good at night, but during the day, it is too dull. One can't see the decorations at night, and one can't see the lights during the day.

I decided yesterday -- during the day, that all lights is too boring, so I put a few stuffed animals and nutcrackers on the tree -- just to be silly.

The fake tree is stiff enough to hold them. A real tree couldn't do that.  I got a few more $3 Christmasy animals.   I also put up a few glass ornaments to fill it out. They are too small to see on the photo.

So here is the 2009 tree, non-traditional, but fun.

Textiles and Venetian Blinds Photo

The sun was shining through the Venetian Blinds on to Jenny's yarn that was drying. I got this picture, cropped it tight, inverted it, and brightened it.  It is interesting how rotating a picture can change it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Twig on the Evolutionary Tree

Over Thanksgiving daughter Michelle showed me a different, (and new to me) evolutionary tree. We have all seen evolutionary trees. There is one in Darwin's notebooks from 1834.

Some of us are familiar with using DNA to determine parentage of domesticated plants, animals, or indeed children, for example finding the parents of prized wine grapes by sequencing them.

Classic evolutionary trees were drawn by Haechel, and there are several on Wikipedia.

I was surprised to see how different a quantitative tree like the one at right is from a qualitative one or the traditional one from grade school.

The quantitative tree comes from analysis of the 16s rDNA which is an important ribosome enzyme. Its function has been preserved since before the latest common ancestor of all existing plants and animals, and deviations in it provide a measure of evolution.

On this chart one change per base pair is about 8 centimeters along the line.  This is from "Tree of Life" published by Norm Pace in 1997. See this site. Pace is at U of Colorado where Michelle studies.

People are covered under homo as in homo sapiens and are on the bottom hook near the left. We are right next to coprinus, which is a kind of mushroom, and zea which is a family of grasses that includes corn (maize). Other mammal species are going to be even more closely related.

The implication is that a great deal of evolution occurred prior to the differentiation between plants, animals and fungus.

Cynical biologists assert that yeast or oak trees are just as evolved as people, but simply for different things. I say, why not put people on top of the tree? Something has to be on top, and most everyone is going to try to find homo sapiens -- put them on top to make it easy.

The second point is that mammals and "higher" plants are getting a lot of differentiated performance out of some fairly similar genes.

This makes me wonder about saving rain forests for genetic diversity.  There is probably more genetic diversity in pond scum than in a forest of trees.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flower Based Medicines such as Bach's Rescue Remedy

Our vet is a "holistic vet," so when we asked for something to calm down our cats for a drive, she recommended Rescue Remedy. I would rather have had a real medicine, but too late.

England's Bach Flower Remedies makes Rescue Remedy. it contains heliathemum nummularium, clematis vitalba, impatiens glandulifera, prunus cerasifera, ornithogalum umbellatum in 80% glycerine and 20% water.  Generally these are common plants that look good in the garden. I had a hard time finding any of them that cause drowsiness. Most are harmless, but one is a mutagen, with a wide range of medicinal uses.

Heliathemum nummularium is the common rock rose which is native to Europe. It does not especially have any medicinal uses.

Clematis vitalba: I can't find medicinal uses except in Rescue Remedy itself. I used to grow clematis in the garden, and it is a nice enough flower. One site regards clematis vitalba as an invasive weed.

Impatiens grandulifera is another common garden flower. It causes indigestion, and it should not be eaten in large quantities because it has a high mineral content and may cause kidney stones et al. It is most commonly used topically for poison ivy or bee sting, not internally.

Prunus cerasifera or the cherry plum is a tree. One site says when dissolved in water it gives off hydrocyanic acid, which is poisonous. I could find no mention that it causes sleepiness.

 Ornithogalum umbellatum, or Sleepy  Dick, is the biggest problem.  It is thought to be a mutagen and poison. No animal eats it in the wild. It probably should not be given to animals. Herbalists use it for everything from depression, to ulcers, to flatulence.

The glycerine is the carrier, and it is sweet to taste. It is used in some medicine as a soothing agent, but not a medicine.

All in all,  I am pretty worried about this witch's brew of herbal extracts. Unless this is used in homeopathic quantities, it is probably more harm than good. The label mentions homeopathy, so perhaps it is more of a placebo for the pet owners.

Supporting the homeopathy idea are the label dose instructions for 4 drops for each animal, and this product is recommended for lots of animals including HORSES and BIRDS. The idea that a horse could take the same amount of medicine as a parakeet is pretty funny. Only an ineffective & harmless medicine could make that claim.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Happiness and Artificial Intelligence: Sci-Fi Part 2

In my first post on happiness and artificial intelligence, I tried to be fact-based and talked about artificial intelligence programing. In this post, I want to about artificial intelligence in "literature," (which sounds so much more substantive than in "Science Fiction".)

I became interested in this topic because I am reading the 1992 book  Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams, where hero Ford Prefect hotwires a security robot so that it is always happy. The happy robot is so content that it stops chasing him and cheerfully cooperates.  This got me thinking that even if people could build a self-aware robot, why would it want to do anything?

The epitome of bored science fiction AI is Marvin the Robot from Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy. He is so smart that everything that happens bores him, and he has lived so long that he has seen it all before. [At left is Marvin from the 2005 movie.]

 Ray Kerzwell considers that societies advanced enough to venture to earth might not be motivated to do so.

"this thinking might explain why we haven't found extraterrestrial life yet: intelligences on the cusp of achieving interstellar travel might be prone to thinking that with the galaxies boiling away in just 10^19 years, it might be better just to stay home and watch TV".

He introduces a future dystopia called  "A "societal fixed point" [that] might be defined as a state that self-reinforces, remaining in the status quo--which could in principle be peaceful and self-sustaining, but could also be extremely boring--say, involving lots of people plugged into the Internet watching videos forever."

Kerzwell's society has reached a high state of material prosperity, citizens don't really need to do anything productive.

You are probably are familiar with "Problem of Evil." Why does a good God allow suffering in the world? One of the answers is that pain serves a purpose, for example painful swelling helps a wound cure or a painful burn helps children to avoid touching the stove again.  Similarly sadness, anxiety, paranoia, need and desire, like hunger and lust get people up off the couch and doing things.

This shows up in The Matrix where Agent Smith says:

Agent Smith: Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

Many people have observed that happiness is temporary, with stories like  "I thought the new red sports car/new boat/new house/new wife would make me happy but after a few weeks/months, I got bored and wanted something more."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Federal Budget is Worse Than You Think

I came across this figure from the US Treasury via scottgrannis's blog that shows how imbalanced the Federal Budget is. The budget was having a problem in the mid 2000's, and now the recession and the Wars have knocked it again. Spending is up and tax revenue is down.

I have to point out that Scott made the y-axis logarithmic, so the true state of affairs is worse than it appears.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happiness and Artificial Intelligence: Part I

Designing an artificial intelligence gives insight into the way people think, and creating an AI that feels happiness seems a long way off. AI's are not motivated by a desire to be happy, at least not yet. There does not seem to be many people working on motivation.
AI designers of video games give "agents" in the games fairly simple motivations by coding it in, and in fancier agents, the motivations can change. For example, a character can get hungry and look for food. In my mind, these game motivations are not real emotions or motivations, Just like a chess program that is trained to take an opponent's rook is not feeling emotions.

Other AI programs create motivational algorithms that can be fairly complicated, and the planned actions of the "agent" are subject to evaluation by an elaborate goal function, and its actions are determined finding an optimum outcome, perhaps using a Monte Carlo approach.

Artificial intelligence works can make machines that simulate emotions, and game makers can create programs that fictionally kill people or conquer the world, but these program simply act out programming, and don't have any reason or need to do these things. Animals from earthworms to people are built to eat when they are hungry, and have a will to survive.

An interesting AI program would be self-aware enough to want to understand and justify its internal valuation function. Simply coding it makes a soldier than can follow rules, not a general to lead them.

I recall the old Star Trek robot villain Roc  said, "Survival cancels programming! That! is the equation." Before he goes bezerk and starts bashing heads. Meaning that survival caused him to set aside his motivational algorithm, and go bezerk.  [Somebody help me find which episode this is. Leave a comment.]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

IGS Energy - I Signed Up

IGS Energy is an Ohio Gas utility that contracts to supply gas to other utilities. I put a post up about whether it is a scam or not, and that is one of my most popular posts. I also got an interesting reply from the company.

At the time, I was worried about some kind of Enron-style scam where a sleazy fly-by-night company promises bargains, but actually ends up charging far more. Well, time has passed, and it seems this IGS Energies is a regular company that can help me.

Anyway, I signed up for their latest offer. It is a 13.5% discount on natural gas from $0.798 per cubic foot of gas to $0.69. My regular utility is DTE Energy.   It is important to remember that this only applies to the gas portion of the charge, and I still need to pay DTE Energy to get the gas to me. This should save me about 10% on my total gas usage this winter. Maybe $40-50.

I signed up on the website, and it took about 3 minutes. It has taken longer than that to write this post on it.

I will let everyone know how this experiment in capitalism goes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Maps of Life Expectancy

The third in my series on global health has maps on life expectancy. [First post] [Second post]  I found this data while looking up the previous stuff, and it is interesting on its own.

The first map is first because it is the flashiest. It also shows the US only, and is a good place to start. Basically life expectancy is lowest in the south and highest in the midwest. It is nineteen years old data though. It is hard to find similar data on the county level. There is a four year old map at the state level here. It shows that we all should move to Minnesota, and South continues to lag.

I think this is interesting, because when I go South, the only thing the restaurants have is fried food and the people are fatter too. I also wonder why sitting inside all winter makes people healthier, but it seems to.
University of California at Santa Cruz has a fascinating site where they show how life expectancy has changed over the last half century. I have put two of the maps here, but there are three more on their site. (I could have pasted all four of them here, but I thought that it was sleazy to swipe their whole page. The key is on next map.
You can see how life expectancy has advanced everywhere, but China has nearly jumped to first world standards and how Africa continues to lag.

Life expectancy has increased over time. Wikipedia says that ancient peoples may have had average life expectancy of about 18 or so. It seems that people who made it to adulthood often lived much longer to fifty or so.

The graph at right is for females, and it shows the oldest people that were found in the population, presumably by poking though graveyards. This is from the US National Institutes of Health.   These numbers are a little suspect since the curve is so smooth. It seems to show the world culture evolved uniformly.
There is a lot of analysis on the relationship of life expectancy and per capita GDP. The graph at right is from Oxfam.  Small increases in GDP really increase life expectancy, but then it stops mattering so much. Life is not good until one gets to $7000 per year or so.
Finally, since the H1N1 Swine flu is around, I thought I would put up this data on how the flu of 1918 reduced life expectancy. The info is from Nature Medicine 10, S82 - S87 (2004). The epidemic was more significant than either world war. This is pretty scary since it shows how serious an epidemic can be.

!See the other posts on global health:  [First post] [Second post]!

Friday, November 13, 2009

World Maps of Disease

Following up on the causes of death post, I found interesting graphics from Anna Barford and Danny Dorling from the Geography departmenr at the University of Sheffield. They made maps of the deaths in different regions where the areas are proportional to the occurrence of the disease. The maps make for some very distorted country profiles.

The top one is actually for poverty, and it shows a huge overage in India with the United States very small and Canada invisible.

Even more extreme is the map for childhood diseases which seems to occur primarily in Africa, India and Pakistan.

On the other hand, the map for lung cancer shows America far larger than Africa, which shrinks to insignificance. China and Japan have grown as well probably because so many people smoke.

See the next post in the global health series.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Global Causes of Death

I was discussing with wife Jenny about how the number of suicides when I happened on this data on the causes of death in the world. I thought it was interesting so I graphed it out.  It is surprising that lung diseases (even not including lung cancer) equals heart disease.

The World Health Organization published the number of deaths by cause in 2001. I have combined some catagories and used common language. I did not change the strange spelling "diarrhoeal," but the label "diesease" is actually a mistake.

In developed countries causes of death are moving from acute diseases to chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. In developing countries, infant deaths, malaria, tuberculosis and sadly measles are still big problems. This is illustrated in this graph from the University of California at Santa Cruz

I always thought that accidents were a bigger cause of death than they are. It would seem that buckling my seatbelt is not that important :-)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Coldgear: For When It's Cold

I was at the sporting goods store, looking for sweatshirts and cold weather running stuff, and I came across this unintentionally funny slogan:

Coldgear - for when it's cold.

It is from the sportswear company Under Armour.

Under Armour had dumbed down their marketing pitch. "For When it's Cold" seems comic to me.  Do you suppose that people could figure out what Coldgear was for without the clever tag line? May be they could have used it for some thing better like  - comfort in the cold or something, but I suppose the Under Armour elite athletes are too tough to be comfortable.

This reminds me of the Levi "Nice Pants" campaign, where they included the tag line "Nice Pants" in all the ads so that their slower customers could figure out what they were advertising.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Creepy Artificial Skin - Not Quite in Time for Halloween

Intercytex is a biotech company best known for the nobel effort to help bald men regrow hair -- hard for me to be against that.

They have branched out into the creepy trade of growing skin.  They are growing little bowls of skin that are later stitched onto burn victims.

The fake skin is more basic than regular skin, it only has two layers, and is grown from a skin cell concentrate spread over a matrix of non-woven fabric.

In contrast, the hair growth treatment involves injecting the patient's scalp with new hair follicle cells.

Despite their new fake skin, the company has hit hard times, and had to lay off workers earlier this year.

One would think with all the popularity of zombies, the market for fresh skin would be booming.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Favre The Viking

Just watched Favre's triumphant return to Lambeau Field. The Vikings with former Packer star, Brett Favre, playing quarterback beat the Packers soundly on their home field. The Packer faithful felt betrayed. The full story about why Favre left Green Bay may never be known, but fans have already chosen sides.

Although I was born and raised as a Packer fan, I can't help but cheer for Farve and his boyish enthusiasm. After the last touchdown he was jumping up and down like it was high school homecoming.

The Vikings did not blow the Packers out, and if the Packers have fewer penalties it might have ended differently.

The saga of one man and his determination to win at his sport is a great football story, and just a great story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Push of Politics into Global Warming

It is with great sadness that I have witnessed the push of politics especially from pro-business and libertarian groups against the science of global warming.

People that I respected in economics or business have been irresponsible in their approach to climate change. They have let their political views or perhaps intellectual laziness color the facts about global warming.

While there may be debate about the solution to global warming, it is completely clear that the world is warming extraordinarily fast. It is quite clear that carbon dioxide emissions are a significant cause.

It is not clear at all what to do about it. The science does not say how to fix the problem, or even if it should be fixed.

My foundation for my scientific conclusion is the American Chemical Society statement on global warming which I think is a well considered, balanced and even conservative reaction to global warming. Of course I have been a member of ACS for sometime, and I consider them to be sound organization, that is not taken to extremism. It is a political lobbying organization, but in this case its position paper does not support its short term best interests.

The ACS statement is based on the less prescriptive statements by the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.  There is even a statement of eleven national academies of science including the AAAS supporting the scientific consensus on global warming.

Climate change is well-estabilished like the atomic theory, or that the earth is round or that the moon orbits the earth. I am concerned that the equivalent of flat-earthers or those who believe the moonlanding was a hoax, have too much credibility in this debate.

In the face of this unified statement of the scientific community, we find rogue economists like Freakonomics authors Levitt & Dubner spinning professional economics with pop science into a disheartening politically prescription.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oxygen and the Flavor of Wine

I opened up the 2008 Merlot Wine now that it is one year old. I have not tasted this wine in six months, and when I took the first sip, it tasted thin, and while alcoholic, I thought it lacked flavor.

I decanted the wine into gallons and only decanted a few bottles for drinking. Later when I tasted it again, it was better, fruiter, and more flavorful. I tasted the same bottle the next evening, and it was much more fruity. Now it tasted like a young wine that needed more aging.

I just think it is fascinating that the flavor changes simply due to reactions with the air. It is so tangible & taste-able, and also I worry since I don't want a whole batch of wine that tastes bad.  Maybe no one else thinks this is interesting, but I do.

What is so interesting to me is how rapidly the flavor changes. It seems that oxygen rapidly reacts with the chemicals in the wine.  Some enologists/wine chemists (Cacho et al) say that iron and manganese are important to how the flavor changes, presumably because they catalyze the oxidation reaction. Peuch (et al) say that the oak heartwood from barrel aging is critically important to the flavor changes. This turns the light on oak tannins -- which are a whole class of phenol/sugar compounds.

The large compound above is an elligitannin. You can see there are lots of different oxidation pathways for it -- reaction of the aromatic hydroxyls to form double bonded oxygen, for example.

The interaction of oxygen in wine, or elsewhere, is measured in terms of the redox-potential, which is a simplified pH electrode, where one electrode is simply a platinum wire. You can measure it with a regular pH meter, and the special electrode.

Wine chemicals can undergo a continuous array of oxidations and reduction reactions, and the equilibrium between them can be measured by the redox potential. An aerated red wine has a potential of 400-450 mV, but an non-aerated wine has a potential of 200-250 mV. In this sense a higher number indicates more oxygen exposure (and paradoxically that the wine has a greater potential TO oxidize.)

One way this impacts the flavor is the behavior of thiols, which are --S-H groups. These smelly compounds affect the flavor of the wine. As shown in the figure, exposure to oxygen couples up the thiols into disulfide bonds, which have 24 times less odor. This makes the wine taste better.

One group of researchers (Tomlinson in New Zealand) found that redox potential correlates with pH for 24 different wines. This is not surprising for young wines which are saturated with carbon dioxide, which would contribute reducing power, but also would drop the pH. This will save me money since I only have a pH electrode at home.

Several people have noted that the bottom of the barrel has more reducing power presumably because strongly reduced materials have floated down to a muck at the bottom, and because subsequent exposure to air at the top of the barrel/tank would remain at the top. This introduces the idea of creating a wine battery with the potential difference between the top and the bottom. It might be a few tenths of a volt, probably not enough to power the household, but enough to light an LED perhaps, or win a bet at the bar.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Neolithic Housing and Wattle & Daub Fireplaces

This all started with Thursday's (Oct 22) Survivor where those poor people spent five days huddled in the rain in wet clothes, mostly shivering.

Of course, Fall has come to Michigan and the leaves are filling up my yard which is wet with rain. Perhaps that is why I could not stop thinking about the sorry shelters that these people were in.

 I thought they should build a fireplace with a little chimney. I did not know how to do that, but  the BBC  had a whole posting on how to build a wattle and daub fireplace.

The network of sticks is the wattle, and the mud is the daub. More advanced daubers put straw or hair in their mud. Even better was a little plaster or cement.

If these are outdoors, they usually did not have chimney's, but one could put in a chimney and put it closer to the house.

Wattle and daub has an long history extending back to Neolithic times.  This is a Native American wattle and daub home.

It is interesting to think about how primitive people live, but I know that it is a whole lot more comfortable in 21st Century America. I suppose I'll pick up that theme at Thanksgiving.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Windex Makes People Nicer: Scientific Proof from Bringham Young University

Many people believe in aroma therapy, and that fragrance affects mood. One experiment that proved that involved Windex.

Windex, the famous blue Window cleaner, is a simple cleaner with a little blue coloring and some fragrance. It is made by former employer, SC Johnson. The story was that marketers wanted it to smell like ammonia so that people could tell it was working.

Recently researchers studied the effect of Windex and its odor --actually the limonene-scented citrus version-- on the behavior of people. Limonene is the famous natural solvent extracted from citrus fruit peels. It has a nice citrus scent. The Windex probably also smelled like ammonia, and an alcohol probably isopropanol. The study was published in Psychology Science of 2009.

Katie Liljenquist and coworkers sprayed Windex in the air of test room, then volunteers played games involving trusting each other. Rules of that game are described here:

... participants engaged in a one-shot anonymous trust game (Berg, Dickaut, & McCabe, 1995) involving two parties: a sender and receiver. In a typical trust game, the sender is given money that he can choose to keep or "invest" with an anonymous receiver. Any money sent is tripled, and the receiver then decides how to split the tripled money. For example, if the sender passes all of the money and the receiver reciprocates this trust by returning half of the tripled amount, both would be better off. However, sending money can be risky if the receiver chooses to exploit the sender and keep all the invested money (Camerer, 2003).

People in the Windex scented rooms returned 2.6 times more money than people in the fragrant-free room. This means that the sense of Windex clean-ness made people more generous, or at least more trusting.

In a second experiment, volunteers were asked to donate money, and 2.33 times more people volunteered.

Thus Clean Scents Motivate Clean Behavior.

The thought is that clean scents, like clean surroundings, promote a sense of order and well-being that leads to trust and generosity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hello Kitty's Slightly Disturbing Internal Organs

I was at the store on Saturday getting a my Mom her birthday gift, and I happened across the Hello Kitty merchandise.

There were two teens there buying greeting cards, and they said to each other, "You should get the Hello Kitty card because everyone likes Hello Kitty." She said that everyone loves her face.

Now the world can see what makes Hello Kitty works -- and it is not clever marketing -- it is cute internal organs.

Medicom Toy, a Japanese toy company in cooperation with Dr Romanelli are introducing a cute and slightly disturbing version of Kitty with her heart showing. I can't find a satisfactory link to Medicom Toys -- maybe if I could read Japanese.

As I should have expected, she has very cute organs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Autumn Foliage and Red Baneberry

Here is an autumn scene from my backyard, and yes, actually a lot of my neighbor's yard too.  I have been working to get the ornamental grass in the foreground to grow.

At left is Red Baneberry, actaea rubra. I have been wondering what it was, and I finally found it. It has these showy red berries that look like they might be edible or valuable.

But no, actually the berries make you sick, happily few people die from them because they taste so bad. Supposedly two berries could cause a heart attack in a young child. Other people say the worst effects are stomach-aches.

Red Baneberry contains two chemicals commonly found in the buttercup family, ranunculine and its degradation product, protoanemonin. It forms much like allicin forms in garlic when the plant is damaged and an enzyme is released -- see my previous post.  Protoanemonin like allicin is an antimicrobial, specifically an antifungal.

There are a lot of interesting plants, as well as potential pesticides right outside the backdoor.