Friday, June 23, 2017

A House Built from Plastic Bottles

Plastic beverage bottles are considered by many to be a bane of modern society, but their durability and strength has an appeal that some people are able to take advantage of. In Argentina, there is a house constructed from these bottles. Not just the exterior walls
but also the bed

While this may seem like a novel idea, a little digging shows that it is not. Such houses exist around the world. Just don't expect to see one in my yard soon however. I suspect that my wife, the neighbors and the City of Woodbury would disapprove.

All of this demonstrates many of the strengths (literally) of water bottles. While most people focus exclusively on what only during its brief life in the hands of the consumer, I've mentioned before just some of the many requirements that a water bottle needs to meet, many of which the consumer is not directly aware of. Having a long life before it degrades can be good or bad, all depending on the application.

These houses are new to me, although the use of plastic water bottles in construction isn't. I wrote in the past about the use of water bottles in roofs, either as a light source or as a thatching material, all of which shows further the limitless of human creativity. I doubt that this is the last new use we will see here for such bottles.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Plastic rice and other fake foods

One story that seems to never die on the internet are claims of "plastic rice" (1, 2 and 3.) I find the endless claims very strange, not only because of their endlessness, but also because the whole idea of making rice from plastic in the first place is pretty idiotic for more than one reason. As was noted in the Bangalore Mirror article,
'Rice is being sold at Rs 40-Rs 50 per kg while if at all one has to make plastic rice [sic], the cost would be somewhere around Rs 200 per kg. So, I don't think there is any logic in this.'
Further, plastic rice would be immediately obvious to the consumer with the texture being extremely different from real rice, (assuming the rice was cooked even close to properly).

What really hits me as funny is all the "testing" that the articles do to ascertain if rice is plastic or not. Burn some with a match and you can easily tell the difference.

I'm old school enough to remember kits available for purchase that relied on this technique for quick-and-easy plastic identification. While the kits no longer seem available, the information still is. And anyone who has spent much time in a plastic processing plant will rapidly be able to tell what resin is being run just from the aroma in the air.

But getting back to the costing of creating fake food, rice (and eggs) and other low cost food items are worth the bother. If your are going to create fake food, go for something expensive. Fake caviar would be a good starting point. Hydrogels are readily available. and already used in bubble tea. Add a little bit of fish flavor, salt and color - voila! cheap caviar, and most people wouldn't even know the difference - PLUS, there would be much bigger profit margins available. But alas, it's already been done.

Ok, so that idea didn't work out. How about something else, like fake cheese...

Friday, June 16, 2017

From Magma to Wildebeests to Smartphone

Today's post is going to cover a wide range of topics, starting with magma rheology, and connecting to that wildebeests and smartphones. It might be too much for a Friday, so if you hold off reading this until Monday, that's just fine.

This rambling journey all started a post from Atlas Obscura (a really great site for wasting huge amounts of time on fascinating, relatively unknown items from around the world). It mentions a unique volcano in northern Tanzania, Ol Doinyo Lengai, which spews carbonatite lava instead of the usual silicate magma.

Magma is still magma - hot, molten rocks, but the lack of silica in the magma is very unusual. This is the only active volcano in the world that has carbonatite magma (more on the inactive volcanoes in a minute). Silica, as you may know, is capable of forming long chains thereby increasing the viscosity of normal magma. It also increases the temperature at which the magma needs to be heated in order to flow. Carbonatite magmas cannot form such long chains, so their magmas can be of lower temperature (500 oC vs. 1100 oC) and viscosity. (At 500 oC, the stuff isn't even glowing red!) And it appears to freeze pretty quickly, leading to some exotic formations:
This is not your father's lava

The Atlas Obscura article is pretty short, but some more digging turned up some further fascinating connections. The Wikipedia page for the volcano states that
"The carbonatite ash spread over the surrounding grasslands leads to a uniquely succulent, enriched pasture. This makes the area a vital stage on the annual wildebeest beast migration, where it becomes the nursery for the birth of several thousand calves."
And further digging led me to this article by a Dennsion University Professor. The whole basis for some volcanoes being silicic and others being carbonic is still unresolved. Weirder yet is that Ol Doinyo Lengai used to be silicic and only recently has become carbonic. And still weirder yet is that carbonic magmas are associated with deposits of rare earths elements. The largest rare earth mine in China as well as the rare earth mine in the US are both located in carbonic deposits, and rare earths are crucial components for smartphones, supermagnets and other items of modern technology.

Prior to this, I never new that there were such variations in magma, let alone that they would have such profound impacts for those of us living on the surface of the planet.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Two Worlds Collide in 1 Photo

This is one strange photo:
So many questions. So many. Staged photos (and yes, this obviously is one) will often do that, but this one seems to have gone off in a third dimension.

This was on the walls last month for a 50th class reunion so the age of image, the clothing and other fashion items are not what's strange. Nor is the lack of PPE, giving the time the original photo was taken. The biggest question to me is why is the instructor holding a condenser(?) with the tip just few inches away from the throat of the student? It's looks like the poor lad is being force to read a signed confession or otherwise threatened. The round-bottom flask in apparent isolation is also odd.

The writing on the chalkboard is equally strange. Not the the left side, where you have the conversion between Fahrenheit and Celsius - that's fine. Rather it's the (repeated) equation in the middle that is the head scratcher. It's a formula for cutting speed and it's used with machining equipment.

Two worlds colliding - machinists and chemists. I strongly suspect that at the very least, the instructor had no chemistry experience. The same would be true of the photographer. And certainly no one thought that the photo would be preserved for 50 years. I haven't been able to find any further details; it's just an old photo kicking around that was made into a poster. Keep that in mind next time you take a photo. It may end up being a poster somewhere where you least expect it and no backstory to explain it. Rather frightening, huh?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Catching up with the Activist Investors at Dow and Dupont

It's been quite a while since I wrote about the activist investors at Dow and Dupont, Daniel Loeb and Nelson Peltz, respectively. I figured the merger of the two companies would be the end of it, particularly since the merger would be immediately followed by splitting the company into three parts in order to satisfy regulatory bodies. And that splitting was what both activists desired when they initially took up their positions (that plus a seat on the company's respective boards). But as the merger has dragged on (it was first proposed in December of 2015(!) and still isn't done), it's time to update what Loeb and Peltz are up to.

Peltz first. His position is easy to describe. He's sold off most of it so that he can be now bug Proctor & Gamble, GE, Sysco and Mondelez. That's truly shocking. As one writer stated,
"[c]orporate executives might want to think twice before relying on hedge fund matchmakers. It appears they are not even patient enough to stick around for the wedding."
Loeb on the other hand, seems to be getting rather impatient and the longer he waits, the bigger of a slice of wedding cake he expects. He is asking why cut the cake into 3 slices when you can cut it into 6 slices, and we all know 6 is bigger than 3, right? (Just like an amp that goes to 11 is better than one that goes to just 10.) And in making the additional slices, everyone gets an extra $20 billion dollars.

If that math doesn't make sense to you, well, I've noted in the past that Loeb has the math skills of a high school student (1 and 2), and a lousy student at that. Having lots of money and wealthy friends doesn't make you intelligent, but it will get you access to a microphone, strangely. If Loeb really believes that the combined value of the new company cut 3 ways is worth an extra $20 billion, then the market will quickly realize its mistake and value the companies appropriately with a larger stock price. And if that still isn't fast enough, then I suggest that Loeb get some of his rich friends together to buy the undervalued companies and split them yourselves. It's an old idea, but I believe it's called "putting your money where your mouth is".

Monday, June 12, 2017

Plastic Bottles and Terror Attacks

The Metropolitan Police released photos yesterday of some of additional "tools" used in the recent terror attacks on London Bridge. Surprisingly, they included plastic water bottles.
The bottles had been covered with duct tape to create an element of mystery or the unknown and were attached to a belt worn by the attackers. They weren't filled with anything, but I have to admit if I saw a group of knife-yielding attackers wearing such equipment (assuming I could completely overlook the knives), they would look real enough for me.

I'm assuming the bottles looked in better shape prior to the attack, and upon closer examination in an environment in which no one's safety is a concern, the lack of visible wires makes the devices look suspiciously fake. Even after the attackers were "neutralized", the bottles would still need to be considered a serious bomb threat until decided otherwise which leads to more concerns for authorities even after an event looks to be over. I don't know if this is the first time "duct-taped-water-bottles-as-real-looking explosive devices has been used, but I would expect to see more of them in future attacks around the world (a statement that saddens me to write).

All of this really emphasizes that "the belts made the bravery of those who took on the attackers even more remarkable".

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Big Bread Clip

I've never given much thought to bread clips, those small plastic devices used to seal bread bags. I admit that I've never been overly impressed with them, preferring to twist the end of the bag tightly and then tuck it under the loaf. But I was somewhat surprised that there is a bread clip monopoly. Yep, Big Bread Clip exists and it affects us all. Its existence is not because of a strong patent position (the original patent having expired decades ago), but instead because the company making them, Kwik-Lok, is able to sell them at a price high enough to be nicely, but not excessively profitable. If Kwik-Lok were to suddenly try and gouge the customers, competition would soon follow.

Polystyrene (PS) appears to be the resin of choice, and that seems to be reasonable given the brittleness of them. Cheaper raw materials exist (any of the olefins for instance), but the cycle time for molding with PS makes it a winner. PS becomes almost watery when heated, so you can pump it into the molds very quickly and with little pressure, and when you have a bazillion clips to make every year, speed is essential.

Kwik-Lok is headquartered in the small town of Yakima, Washington. If you had nefarious intent and wanted to cause worldwide panic amongst consumers fearing that they could be facing a long-term future of stale bread, take out Yakima, Washington. And there's one man that is up to the task:
Let's hope that the government has recognized the strategic importance of this area and is taking appropriate measures to protect it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Bag Ban gets Banned

The City of Minneapolis passed a plastic bag ban last year that was supposed to kick in on June 1, but that never happened. The Minnesota legislature got involved and passed a state-wide ban on bag bans. This article has over 230 comments as of this morning, most of which are the predictable back-and-forth that we expect from the grand-and-glorious internet, but I'm going to comment on them rather than rehashing the pros and cons of a bag ban (and bag-ban bans!).

Consider this from marpie:
"It appears a lot of people making comments don't care about the incredible amount of time it takes for plastic to break down in our landfills. I didn't realize that we will never run out of space for our garbage.
While this may be true in a general sense, it is not true here. In Minneapolis, the garbage from the city (and greater Hennepin County) is taken to the incinerator downtown and burned (the thermal output being used to generate electricity). This incinerator is common knowledge (backing up against Target Field), widely discussed and was even mentioned in the article. For marpie and others to make comments about the horrors of landfilling plastic bags shows a profound ignorance about the local environment. And it's not just Minneapolis. The trash generated in St. Paul and its surrounding suburbs is also incinerated at a similar facility outside of St. Paul.

But just as importantly is what is not discussed in the comments: having the city accept plastic bags as part of their recycling collections. It's done in Washington County where I live. You take all the plastic bags and dry-cleaning films and such, put them into another plastic bag, tie it up and drop it into the (unsorted) recycling bin with the cans, bottles, paper and plastic containers. Creating the "bag-of-bags" makes it easy to separate it from the rest of the recyclables. Loose plastics bags would be a nightmare on general recycling equipment. Their high molecular weight makes them plenty strong (try stretching one with your bare hands) and the large surface area practically ensures that they will wrap themselves around moving mechanical parts, bringing the machinary to a halt. But that same high molecular weight makes them plenty appealing as a feedstock, so having a easy way to separate out bags and films is a real benefit and something that Minneapolis, St. Paul and other cities need to adopt.

But it is kinda amazing how us suburbanite eco-terrorists are able to take the lead on this issue, huh?

Monday, June 05, 2017

Will the Patient Survive?

NURSE: Doctor! The blog! It's been in a coma for nearly 9 months, but it's starting to come to. What should we do?
DOCTOR: Nurse, give it 50 cc's of Ringer's lactate. STAT!
NURSE (looking incredulously): Uhhhh....why? The blog's electrolyte's are just fine.
DOCTOR (irate): Because that's what they always did on "Emergency". Besides, it's just a crummy little polymer blog with no health insurance filled with alternative facts. Nobody will miss it except his mom. (Hi Mrs. Spevacek!) It's not an important one like Derek Lowe's or Chemjobber's. Let it go. If it pulls through, fine, but I'm not spending anymore time on it.
NURSE: You never did in the first place. But I'll show you. I'll care for it and give it love and be the second person reading it on a regular basis besides his mom (Hello again, Mrs. Spevacek). And then someday when it is big and famous, I hope it denies you the plastic for the plastic surgery that you so desperately need for that big ugly nose of yours - the one that you can never find because it is always lodged up the Chief of Medicine's ...{/censored}...