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.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cute Albino Hedgehog

Harriet is an albino hedgehog.  I haven't posted any cute animal pictures lately, and she is undeniably cute. If you don't like her, try fupenguin instead.

She happens to be a cancer survivor, and she may have better health insurance than many Americans, but that is another story.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Insanity is doing something over and over, and expecting different results.

"Insanity is doing something over and over, and expecting different results." This was said by author Rita Mae Brown, who rose to notoriety for writing a mystery novel, that really was a thinly disguised memoir, about her life as tennis star Martina Navratilova's girl friend. She created a furor about lesbianism in woman's tennis in 1984. She said it in "Sudden Death," page 68. (No I haven't personally checked the reference, but I have it from several sources.)

The insanity quote is almost always attributed to Albert Einstein, who would not have said it.  Einstein's earliest work was in diffusion theory, where he made progress in developing a theory for Brownian Motion. A particle in Brownian Motion moves randomly. Secondly, at the end of his life, he was deeply involved in quantum theory, where events are probabilistically determined -- his better attributed quote about god not rolling dice, not withstanding.

This quote attracted me because I don't agree with it. It is pretty common to try things over and over again, like how I try several times a week to do ten pull-ups, but never quite get there. It seems to me it is sometimes used to encourage people to give up when they should persevere. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is used to encourage people to change, who really need to change.

The quote is also sometimes called an "Ancient Chinese Proverb." This is funny because insanity is a modern idea, and what would an ancient chinese person have thought of that? Confucius valued rote consistency, and would have not developed a proverb encouraging people to think for themselves.

I agree with blogger Visitacion who said that this is a proverb 1990's era "marketers, life coaches, and sofa philosophers" use to get people to make changes.

This proverb would not bother me so much if sometimes doing something over was not the most sensible thing to do.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Garlic, Allicin, and Does Garlic Gets into Human Perspiration?

The aroma of garlic develops when the garlic plant (alliaceae sativum, et alis damaged. So if a garlic plant stem is cracked or bit off by a rabbit, the adjacent crushed plant cells form allicin from alliin. Allicin is the primary ingredient in garlic extract. Alliin is stockpiled in the garlic cells for just such an occasion, and an enzyme is ready to oxidize the alliin when needed. Allicin is shown below right.

Allicin is an antimicrobial material, and presumably kills microbes which might damage the injured plant. The flavor of the allicin may or may not keep the rabbit from eating more.

Of course, garlic and the allicin within are important gastronomically, but it is also an anti-oxidiant, and an anti-microbial material.

Allicin gets into the blood stream, and it has a half life of 16 hours there.  Allicin also degrades in acid conditions, so don't mix garlic with your lemon juice.

Most people feel it gives them bad breath, and I think that is beyond doubt, but I can't find anything credible confirming that allicin gets into human sweat and makes one smell like pizza while exercising. I have looked pretty hard. There are some personal care sites that want you to simplify your whole diet and include garlic with onions and peppers.  [If anyone can find something on garlic in human sweat, please leave a comment.]

There is the mosquito argument.  One dubious article from Australia that says that allicin causes mosquitos to bite. On the other hand, StableKare produces Garlic-Eze, which is a garlic based mosquitto repellent for horses -- so they think the opposite.

Polymer chemists might note that the double bonds are conjugated with the sulfurs, and may be free-radical polymerizable. Some polymerization occurs in nature, and in fact in the sauce pan -- if you take the allicin and mix it with oil, you can encourage the formation of ajoene - which is an oligomer of allicin. Ajoene is most abundant form when crushed garlic is mixed with oil. Ajoene is an anticlotting agent and broad spectrum anti-microbial. [Ajoene is usually pronounced like a Spanish word with the "j" being an "hg."]

Interestingly ajoene inhibits lipase from metabolizing fat, so potentially more fat will pass though the body undigested. There is one patent on polymer grafted ajoene (and other cysteine blockers) to reduce fat absorption in the body.

Another patent uses ajoene and allicin in polymer coating for arterial stints. No covalent bonding to the matrix polymer though.

==========================See my 20-October-2009 post on Red Baneberry which similarly generates anti-microbials when damaged.===========================================

The World's Biggest Hamburger

Southgate Michigan's own Steve Mallie of Mallie's Sports Bar on Northline and Allen has made the world's biggest hamburger. Video of the burger is here.

It is 185.6 pounds and is in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was announced in London in at an event promoting the new Guinness Book edition.

It's called the Absolutely Ridiculous Burger, and it is on the menu for just $2000. (The online menu has it at its old humble 150 lb size -- also a Guinness record in the past.) You need to preorder by 30 days, and pay in advance. If you and 29 of your closest friends can eat it in less than 1 hour its FREE! Also available for HOME DELIVERY.

The hamburger bakes for 15 hours before adding the condiments of cheese, lettuce and tomato. The bun bakes for eight hours. I wonder how he made the bun stiff enough to hold a 182 pound hamburger up.

I always thought this restaurant was called O'Mallies, because there is a big "O" on the sign in front.  I have never been to Mallie's, but maybe for the next blacked out NFL game . . .

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2008 Escape Hybrid Oil Change

My Escape Hybrid made it to 15,000 miles, and it was time to change the oil. Last time I took it to the dealer, but this time I decided to do it myself. I bought some oil and an oil filter.

The first clue should have been when the oil filter was an odd size. I couldn't find it in stock in Fram or Motorcraft, the first two manufacturers I looked at. This is odd because it used to be the Fords always had the same oil filter.  I did manage to find one in a third brand.

I got home, and looked under the car for the oil plug and oil filter. No luck.

So I fired-up my browser, and quickly found pictures of a standard Escape, and the location of the oil plug which faces the back of the car.  I saw the white plastic oil filter too, and I memorized where it was.  I quickly found the oil plug just slightly toward the passenger side facing the back. It has a 13 mm head.

After I while, I am getting tired of looking, and feeling a bit frustrated, so I broke out my ramps, but put the car up. I got my mechanic's creeper out. I still could not find it. At this point, I open up the oil filter box to get an idea what it looked like, and . . .

Surprise! It did not have a plastic housing -- it was just a filter element. First I thought it was some sort of flow through filter, and then I decided to pound the internet somemore. I found someone who said the filter was in the front center and facing straight down. Some one else said you needed a special wrench to open it.

I went back outside, and found this:

That picture is looking up at the car from the floor. If you look closely you can see the familiar markings of an oil filter wrench on the black plastic housing. [I wanted to put in a picture of the location since I am sure it is the only one on the internet.] 

So I opened the drain plug and empties the oil, and turned my attention to the filter.

Well, happily it was not on too tight, and I loosened it. It did not turn freely once I turned it because it had an "O-ring" inside. The O-ring drags on the housing  a long time, and it takes more torque than you'd think to get it free.

Actually, I put an Allen wrench in the drain screw and cranked it off that way. It is an odd size, but later I found I had a powder screwdriver bit that fit (#6 hex.)

I thought I was lucky that the whole housing came off instead of just the drain screw unscrewing from the housing, until the oil inside spilled all over. Messy.

The inside of the filter is pictured here:

You can see the blue Viton O-ring.

I filled the car up with actual Motorcraft brand "synthetic blend" oil. I think that only a Detroit area auto store would actually stock Ford'd Motorcraft brand. I wonder how little synthetic oil is really in there. 5%?  I got it though, since I intend to wait for 10,000 more miles to change it again, since that is what the manual recommends for the 2008 Escape Hybrid.