Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Melamine and Milk

Milk scandal, as they call it on the news these days, should not be too much a surprise to anyone. We have seen enough of these tainted products from China that we should still keep in mind that regulation in China is still questionable for quality control on many products. We had the pet food recall in 2007, toys with lead, and I have even seen rumor that someone added newspaper in meat buns as meat substitute.

This time, somewhere along the supply chain, milk suppliers added urea or melamine to boost the products apparent protein concentration so they can sell diluted milk for more profit. Melamine itself is about as toxic as sodium chloride, or salt, but the problem is that melamine can bind with cyanuric acid (another relatively non-toxic chemical) to form kidney stones. Cyanuric acid can come from drinking water treated with disinfectant. Many infants have been diagnosed with kidney problems after prolonged exposure to these baby formula or powdered milk.

It is not clear to me whether the milk suppliers added melamine directly or urea, which is a fertilizer and cheaper than melamine, and then the high heat process in pasteurization turned it into melamine. In any case, the diluted milk would be less nutritious and the high level of melamine may be the reason behind kidney problems in the infants.

In China, the police has arrested some people engaged in making and selling protein boosters based on melamine to milk producers and suppliers. They said they had been doing this since the second half of 2007, which coincides with the time major milk powder manufacturers started to receive complaints in Dec. 2007. They were not allowed to bring the news to light due to the Olympic Games in the summer.

Many products containing milk like cookies and coffee have been recalled, and countries around the world are testing products for melamine, but I think no one really knows how much melamine is safe for consumption. Plus, we get melamine from certain food packaging as well.

More information can be found on the World Health Organization website

A post about the same thing on The Economist

Monday, September 29, 2008

High Emotion and High Stake

Today the news is that the federal bailout package for Wall Street was shot down in the House of Representatives by a small margin of 13 votes. Bush was disappointed, and I think many common people are relieved, for now. Listening to NPR, the word on the street is mostly against the bailout package, and the ones supporting it are saying it because they believe the bailout is necessry for US to avoid a bad depression.

The S&P 500 were down 8.77% today, which is a big drop for a one-day period. Based on media coverage, I felt that this thing is overly hyped and maybe there are many people who went ahead and sold their holdings because of these negative opinions. Maybe I can buy up a little more of these lower priced shares.

On another front, last week the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) held an auction for green house gas emission allowance for the 10 states in the Northeast region. The states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This is the first time a cap and trade system is implemented for carbon dioxide, which is believe by some people to be contributing to climate change. RGGI is aimed to hold the current emission of CO2 at the current level until 2014 and then lower it by 10% by 2018. The hope is that it can serve as a model for a national cap and trade system. The price for electricity and other things is expected to go up as the utilities pass the burdon to consumers.

This year the auction sold 12.5 million tons at $3.07 per ton. My apartment uses about 2000 kWh per year, that's about 4000 pounds of CO2, or 2 short tons. Will I see a $6 increase in my annual utility bill?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The World Around Me Today

In the past few months, I spent my days with Jenn and we are having a great time. Perhaps it is the best times of our lives so far. Jenn used to be bored when she comes home and so she takes up activities like organizing social events or other similar leadership roles. Now she just comes home and relax, because it is fun for her to relax now. We watch TV for some entertainment. We don't have cable, so there is only one channel: NBC. I like this channel; it is entertaining. We watched the Olympics, Deal or No Deal, Heroes, Friends, America's Toughest Jobs, America's Got Talent, ER, Office, The Biggest Losers, Knight Rider, and sometimes local news at 11pm. TV is pretty addicting, and it messed up our plan to sleep by 10:30.

Recently I have gotten more interest in houses. I keep an eye on the local housing market to see how the supply of residential homes change, and what kind of houses are available for sale. We go to open houses on Sundays when we see some we liked. I also got interested in the principles of green and sustainable building techniques. I like to have a house that is energy efficient and built to last. Many of the houses built today are not built to last. Some doesn't even last as long as their 30-year mortgages. What a shame. In my area, even the luxury homes of 500 to 1000k are not impressive. They seem to try to include many amenities and use high quality materials, but I would say they are only above average for me. Another trend I see is that high end homes are usually big in square footage, like 3600 sq. ft. and such. They are often better built and use nice hardware, but they are not suitable for young couples or small families. The movement of green building has not come to this part of the country yet. There is one reputable solar installer in the area, and the NYSERDA is working on renovating properties to be LEED certified, but I think it's still far from mainstream. I wish more people know about the value in orienting their house for southern exposure to benefit from natural sunlight and heating. After we moved to the new apartment in July, the unit faces south, and we now come home to naturally cool rooms in the afternoon, as opposed to toasty room back in the old west facing apartment. We only turned on the AC once from July to now, and we find the morning sunshine enjoyable when we step outside. Many homes I see are oriented in an inefficient way and that's the first thing I use to filter out the homes I will consider.

Another interesting topic this summer is how do I go about building my own house? There is a good website at www.byoh.com for Build Your Own House. There it tells you the things you need to know to start building a house. It makes good arguments for doing it, but I can imagine it will be a lot of time commitment. If I can, I would like to build one. The reason that they don't build houses to last is probably the price they can sell a house for does not depend on how long the house last and more on what they look like now, so the kind of house I am looking for is not popular or is less profitable to builders. For now, I am pretty happy with our apartment, and if we get a house, I would like one that is less than 2000 sq ft and built with good craftmanship. Oh, and the front should face north with south facing backyard for growing vegitables.

More recently I have been hearing about the turmoil in Wall Street and the collapse of some financial firms. I wonder how are those people working in those firms are faring now. These bad news got many people concerned, even researchers in technology companies. I do see my retirement mutual fund at an all time low since I started investing last year. My account is 12% lower in value than when I put it in, but I believe in the long run, it will be okay. I just wish I have more cash to invest now that the price is lower.

The presidential election is coming up in a few weeks, and I am not hearing as much coverage as the financial crisis. I think these problems are bigger than the president can handle but I will go out and vote on Nov. 4. I have checked up the candidate for the different offices I can vote for in this district, and one thing I saw was that the candidate I wanted didn't win the primary! I was disappointed because I didn't put in the effort to vote in the primary. The remaining running candidates are less ideal for my ideals so I won't be voting for either of them in one of the elections. The issue I care the most about is how to become energy indepedent. I believe that being a large importer of foreign fuel is the biggest issue that affect our national security, our economy, and our lifestyle. The fossil fuel is not a renewable source of energy, and the fact that it is limited will drive counties to ever more conflict. Maybe so much so that counties will destory each other before this resource is fully depleted. We must invest in renewable energy in a much greater way for a bright future.

Fall is Here

Yesterday was my last day of my internship. I spent the day wrapping up documentation of the work I have done, and said goodbye to some of the people I know. It was a good ending to the summer. The internship was a total of 17 weeks and I have learned a lot in this time. I have also gotten a job offer to come back next year when I finish school. Everything went well this summer. I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to have this internship and meet these people. Now my path has been set before me, and I will follow it to see where it will lead me.

I have gotten positive feedbacks from my colleagues and boss about my organization and planning skills and being punctual, what I need to work on is developing my technical skills and establish a good reputation among my peers so I can define and steer future technological developments in my area of expertise. All this sounds good to me and I will take these advice and develop my career in this phase of my life.