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.

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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.

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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 dot.com 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.