Sunday, March 22, 2009

Detroit House Prices

Detroit House Prices Reach Ridiculous Low

Living just 15 miles from Detroit, this data literally strikes close to home.

I understand that the education, crime, city-government and other issues that drive property values -- nonetheless, this is an alarming loss of wealth. With prices at this level houses are moving again. I wonder what will happen with prices so low. There have been communities revitalized by new blood drawn to cheap housing. That is searching for a silver-lining that may not be there.

I am more inclined to see this as the financial crisis striking the weak and vulnerable the hardest.

This is from Michael Perry's blog, who tapped the Michigan Realtor's for the data. I went to the realtor's site, and only found data for January. I don't know where Prof. Perry got his historical data.

Molecules with Silly Names

I came across a collection of silly chemical names while looking up something else. It was compiled by Paul May, who also has a book form.

There is a predictable blend of puns and profanity. I thought the example of penguinone was clever.

The structure drawing looks like a penguin. It's real name is: 3,4,4,5-tetramethylcyclohexa-2,5-dienone.

If you don't like this one, then you won't like the others. This is as good as chemical name puns get.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Southern Society for Coatings Technology Meeting In St. Simon's Island Georgia

I attended the Southern Society Meeting, and got to meet a lot of wonderful people. It was a nice location, and although it is tween seasons, it is nice to be outside in the sun. In fact, I got sun burned yesterday afternoon.

There were a few good papers on natural coatings, and the best was by Stuart Williams from Rohm and Haas, who gave the keynote. He hit many of the same themes that I did in my talk. He said R&H and "Ceres" were working on a bioroute to methyl methacrylate, which would be a big advance if successful. There is Ceres Company that does energy crops, and Ceres consortium that promotes environmental causes -- I don't know which it is. Getting a solution for propylene based building blocks is a major issue in the field.

This afternoon, we had a nice presentation on REACH, the European chemical regulatory system, that seems to be a far more complicated version of TSCA, or more accurately the Canadian DSL. REACH has worthy goals, but it is wildly expensive.

Happily I did get a few minutes to jog on the beach this afternoon, before heading to the awards dinner Tuesday night, and the 4:30 AM departure to the airport Wednesday morning.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Coatings in a High Petroleum Cost World

I worked on green and natural coatings for a year in 2004. It was motivated by raw material shortages at my old company Johnson Polymer, but there were a lot of raw material shortages that year. We were thinking about making industrial polymers (for coatings and inks) from agricultural feedstocks. The world learned in 2007 and 2008 that this was a bad idea, because the agriculture prices depended on petroleum prices, and actually we were not gaining freedom -- just a different kind of dependence.

This Tuesday March 24, I will present a paper on what I learned.






Bio-acrylic from lactic or


acid and esters furfuyl alcohol, itaconates, many others

Main polymer

Bioacrylic = acrylic

Not all copolymerize well

Terpene/maleic & terpene/maleic esters

Dicyclopentadiene, limonene or
similar copolymerized with maleic anhydride/esters

Main polymer, Thickener/


Hard, often yellow

Limited supply


Water soluble proteins: casein, soy protein isolate, whey
protein concentrate, gelatine,

Main polymer, support resin

Can be tough, clear & crosslinkable.

Pure grades are expensive.






Used today and in the past

>propoxlated, ethoxylated,


Modifier & thickener used in paper and in adhesive,

Highly modified grades address limitations in solubility
and water resistance – at added cost

Natural polyesters

Vegetable oil polyesters, fumarates

Used today and in the past

Main polymer

Great range of properties; Natural ones are hard to


Aqueous solutions of carrageenan,
xanthan, pectan, guar,
agar or chitosan

Modifier, support resin, main polymer

Mainly thickeners; Chitosan
– a biocide, used on paper


Used today and in the past

Modifier, surfactant

Hard, yellowish


Natural rubber, shellac, lecithin



Vernonia oil,

A naturally epoxidized oil

Supply issues

Crosslinking coatings

Good toughness

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kuebler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief --Applied to our Rec/Depression

Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross's wrote a famous model of grief involving the five steps below. These have been mischaracterized and popularized. Most notable is the view that "acceptance" is a positive state when it is more like the docile and stoic state on the far side of depression.

Diana Garneck picks up on the more pop notion of the 5-stages with this bridge from the depressing, "Let's buy canned goods and ammo" (see my posting of 7-March) to an realistic & constructive condition.

I have come to think the way to approach death is with your personality still well-integrated with your past self.  In the economic example, we need to stop fretting, and start being realistic. Let's think about the future, and start planning for the two decades it will take to rebuild that 401k. 

Today, I had a business meeting where we talked about our less-than-stellar business results--results that in any normal time would have been shocking. The positive thing is not being shocked and starting to act on what I/we can do to make it better.

Five Stages of Economic Grief -- according to Garneck

Stage 1, Denial: "I should throw away my 401K statement without even opening it." Or, "If we suspend mark to market accounting, everything bad will go away."

Stage 2, Anger: "Why did this happen to me? It is unfair that Wall Street benefited at my expense." Or, "Why the f*ck is AIG's bailout money going to its counterparties like Goldman and Deutsche Bank?"

Stage 3, Bargaining: "Just give me one relief rally and I can make it all back and sell."

Stage 4, Depression: "The market sucks, no one is hiring anywhere. Why should I bother?"

Stage 5, Acceptance: "It's bad but these things don't last forever. I'm going to work on my career and portfolio to be prepared for the opportunities when they do come."

Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart tussle -- reported by Jeanie Moos

This is an amusing video from CNN on the spat between Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart. I sympathize with Cramer. Stock shows have many bad picks, and it is not fair to sort out the bad ones. Secondly, Jon Stewart is a comedian, and he is just trying to be funny -- not to make a point. 

There  is the idea that by the time something makes it onto CNBC, its value to help your stock portfolio is gone. Too many other people see it at the same time. As mentioned below, Nassim Taleb is of that opinion.  In my view that is exaggerated, there has to be a value to being well informed. The problem is over-reaction to news. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Canned Goods And Ammunition

The market is down 20% this year, and almost 60% since its peak -- counting the Nikkea, Hang Sang, and the DAX like I do. 

The idea that a better investment is in canned goods and ammunition than stocks and bank accounts has begun to gain some jokey credence. I heard this from Megan McArdle on the Marketplace podcast. The phrase has been bouncing around the blogosphere for about a year. Someone put up a site on it. 

A good link is from Brad McMillian, who says things keep getting worse and worse. We are beginning to see people saying that there will be social unrest in America by the end of the year. This strikes me as a little odd, since cities overheat during the summertime. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Knot Interesting

We all know that knots form in christmas tree lights or ipod earphone cords spontaneously. 

I thought that the longer the string, the greater the chance of knotting. It turns out that this is not true. The chance of knotting plateaus after a while. At right we have real data from Raymer and Smith at UCalf-San Diego. They shook pieces of rope in a box and counted the knots. They are mathematicians so they topologically categorized the knots. 

The intuitive notion is that there are only two rope ends, and as the rope gets longer, the number of ends stay the same. Any knot must start at the end.

In polymer physics there is the notion of reptation theory which describes the motion of a long linear polymer in the midst of other long linear polymers, as a snake slithering though a snake-pit like in Indiana Jones. Key is the prediction that the motion scales with the molecular weight cubed, which does not fit well with out knot theory.

The Raymer/Smith experiment contradicts the Frisch-Wasserman-Delbruck conjecture which says the chance of a polymer chain being knotted goes to one as the chain increases. And in fact, this has been proven mathematically using a random walk model. This has practical importance in electrophoretic separations. 

I think that the difficulty with reconciling the experiment and the theory is that the infinitely long chain needs an vastly longer time to become knotted. In a practical experiment with fixed tumbling time, there would be a plateau effect. However, at molecular scales polymer probably get tangled faster than common ropes. Secondly, one could speed tangling and knotting by raising the temperature via a time-temperature superposition effect. Third, the theoreticians were considering a rope on a large lattice, and the practical experiment was in a box of fixed size, where longer ropes took up a greater fraction of the free volume -- restricting rope movement. 

An interesting variation is a T-shaped rope. The extra end should increase the number of knots by at least 50%. On the other hand, the decrease in viscosity for T-shape (and higher star chains) is well established. A second contradiction. 

Of course my ipod earphone cords are actually T-shaped, and the theory of T-shaped chains has some practical appeal. I have taken to hanging my earphones instead of coiling them.