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Category: Commentary (Page 1 of 13)

Commentary on most any topic.

Saran Wrap Isn’t What It Used To Be

In the 1960s, I used to help my mother in the kitchen and learned how to cook. I used Saran Wrap to cover plates and bowls, and I noticed that this material was sort of magical. It stuck to what I wanted it to stick to and wasn’t much inclined to stick to itself. What is this sorcery? You could pull it back to access something in a bowl, then seal it back up again. I was fascinated because it seemed like it was intelligent. I had studied some chemistry but not yet enough to guess the cause for this marvelous behavior.

So what was this wonderful material I was working with? In 1933 a chemist at Dow Chemical was trying to develop a new dry cleaning solvent. He noticed that certain beakers and glassware were hard to clean. They had a residue that was hard to scrub off. Investigation revealed a new substance, a new polymer that was named polyvinylidene chloride or PVDC.

It was found that, among other things, PVDC made a tough and durable clear coating. During World War 2, virtually every U.S. aircraft was coated with PVDC to help protect it from the elements. At the end of the war, hundreds of companies in the U.S. got busy looking for commercial applications for the countless marvelous things they had developed for the war effort. Somebody at Dow realized that PVDC would make an excellent food wrap. And excellent it was, as you will see later. Production methods for forming PVDC into a very-thin film were developed. The CEO of Dow decided to name it after his wife and daughter, Sarah and Ann: Saran.

The product was introduced in 1949 and was an almost overnight success. This is the stuff I was using in the 1960s. Towards the end of the 1960s, Dow’s patents expired and other companies began producing PVDC food wrap, like Glad Wrap. They were all just copies of Saran Wrap.

From the 1990s forward, I didn’t use much plastic food wrap until I began to work in a restaurant in 2012. There, I used plastic food wrap all the time and immediately noticed that it behaved differently from what I remembered. Sure, it worked, but it frequently refused to stick to some things and it was eager to stick to itself. This is not what I remembered. After opening and closing a covered bowl, the plastic wrap would become wrinkly and refused to stick to anything. I covered a mixing bowl full of diced onions with this plastic wrap and placed it in the cooler. Soon, the cooler smelled strongly of onions. What? That’s not supposed to happen. What is this stuff? Maybe some kind of cheap imitation of Saran Wrap?

Time passed, I finally did some digging on the Internet, and immediately found the answer. Through the 1990s, chlorinated polymers like PVDC became an increasing environmental concern. In 2004, all the makers of PVDC plastic wrap switched to ordinary low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Polyethylene is cheap and easy to make into a thin film. But there are problems. Big problems.

First of all, polyethylene is a low-friction, non-stick kind of polymer. This is why milk bottles are made from it. Polyethylene film doesn’t stick to anything, nor itself. Today’s polyethylene plastic food wrap is coated with a moisture-activated adhesive to make it “cling”. At best it clings to certain things but not others, and it eagerly sticks to itself, making it hard to work with.

Secondly, the adhesive quickly wears out so opening and reclosing a bowl covered with modern plastic wrap is something you might be able to do once but not repeatedly, like you can with PVDC film.

Thirdly, polyethylene film is around 3,000 to 4,000 times more permeable than PVDC film. Oxygen is the main culprit that causes food spoilage. For every one molecule of oxygen that a given area of PVDC film lets through, polyethylene film lets through 3,000. The consequences of this are obvious. This also explains the experience I had with onions stinking up the cooler. That wouldn’t have happened with PVDC film. In fact, certain meats are still packed with PVDC film because polyethylene film can’t do the job.

The bottom line for me is that I was pleased to discover that my memories from the 1960s were pretty accurate. However, I was not pleased to discover that the plastic film I use today is inferior in terms of performance and user friendliness, and there’s no way to fix it.

Today’s plastic wrap looks like classic Saran Wrap, but it ain’t. It’s not even close.

Mayhem At Walmart

I took a few photos of the mayhem left by the hoarders. Paper goods, milk and dairy, disinfectants like Lysol, wipes, and hand sanitizers were all stripped bare. Below are some photos.

Toilet paper and paper towels gone

Milk section, stripped

Dairy stripped

My Vote Counts More Than Yours

In presidential elections, not all votes are equal. Wait. What? But, this is a democracy — one person, one vote, right? No.

Two hundred years ago, the founders designed a presidential voting system that gave rural farmers and ranchers in states with low population more voting power than people in urban areas. Among other things, the Electoral College was designed to try to avoid a tyranny of densely populated urban areas over other, less populous, areas of the country. It worked okay through the 1800s and most of the 1900s. But, the founders never imagined an organized, scientific effort to take advantage of the voting power imbalance in order to seize power.

So, exactly what are the numbers? The power of a voter in Wyoming is almost four times that of a person living in Texas. Whether this is fair and appropriate is for you to decide. See below for how much your vote counts.

Presidential Voting Power in Each State

 

Understanding Whipped Cream

I use cream for cooking and also make whipped cream for desserts, a quart at a time, about once a day. Sometimes I make it several times a day. These are sweetened with sugar and flavored with vanilla, sometimes banana, lemon, or chocolate.

Doing this for years with a hand mixer, I’ve noticed big differences between brands and types of cream. My favorite that I use the most is Glenville Farms Heavy Cream. It whips fast, becomes very stiff, and is stable. You can quickly ice a cake with it and it stays put. It never creeps or sags. This cannot be said of any other brands I’ve tried, and I’ve tried all kinds.

If you make things with whipped cream, you might like to know why Glenville is the best I’ve found and what to look for. Cream is cream, right? It’s the stuff at the top of raw milk. Not exactly. It varies.

What varies is the fat content. The higher the fat, the faster it will whip and the more stiff and stable it will be. Fat is expressed as a percentage. Finding out the percentage can be challenging because it’s usually not printed on the carton or bottle.

The minimum fat content needed for it to whip at all is 30 percent. Some brands get by with even less by adding a thickening agent like carrageenan. Look for it in the ingredients. You can recognize this as it flows out of the bottle as a very thick gloppy liquid. Real cream is thick but still flows smoothly like a liquid. The result of low-fat-content cream will be okay for some purposes but will be soft, light, less stable, less flavorful. This is often labeled “whipping cream”. A better result occurs with fat content of 37 to 38 percent and this often labeled “heavy cream”. Glenville has 40 percent and its superiority is evident in the result and flavor.

I was going to publish a list comparing different brands, but accurate info is difficult to get hold of, so I decided not to, for now. What I found, however, was something to beware of if you are a dieter or paying close attention to nutrition. I found that several nutrition sites on the web do not show accurate information. Some sites allow you to search products by brand and type. I found that the information they publish for all brands and types of cream is identical. They just copy-pasted the exact same information on every brand and type — the same calories per tablespoon, the same grams of fat per 15 ml. We know that’s not true.

Consistent Forecast Temperature Error

A weather forecasting question:

For the past two months we’ve had one heat wave after another here in West Virginia. It’s been awful. High temperatures in the low 90s (Fahrenheit) with humidity giving a heat index around 100F. These conditions are 15 to 20 degrees above normal. Sometimes, it goes on for four or five days at a time without a single break. Then, there’s a one or two day break in the 80s, and then another heat wave. It’s now the middle of September, almost fall, and it continues. The forecast shows another heat wave next weekend, after the first day of fall.

An odd new thing I’ve never seen before that’s happening this summer is that forecast temperatures, both highs and lows, are consistently four or five degrees lower than the temperature actually reached. The forecast says 90, but it reaches 95. The forecast is 87, but it reaches 92. An error the other way around never happens.

As an engineer, I know that true errors are like noise and vary randomly to either side of the correct value. If the error is consistently to one side or the other, then there’s a systemic problem or calibration error.

Here’s the question. As an amateur meteorologist for over 50 years, this got me thinking. Long ago, before the powerful computer weather models of today, the historical average temperature was factored into a weather forecast. I don’t know if that’s still the case today. Might it be that I’m observing one of the effects of climate change? The climate is changing, today’s temperatures are above normal, and the historical weather data is biasing the forecast several degrees too low? Is that what’s going on?

I invite anyone who might know the answer to comment below. Thank you.

Monday Holidays are Useless

Monday holidays are worse than useless — for me, anyway. For some reason, Congress has placed every holiday over which they have control on a Monday. My work week runs from Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday and Monday are my normal days off. Monday holidays do nothing for me. I get no extra day off.

And it gets worse. Monday is the weekday I have for taking care of errands and appointments with businesses that are open Monday to Friday or Saturday. When a Monday holiday hits, those businesses and banks, and post office are closed. I don’t get a holiday and I lose the usefulness of my Monday.

A Tuesday to Saturday schedule makes sense in the restaurant business. But as time goes on, I’ve noticed more and more small businesses like clothing stores and hair salons switching to a Tuesday to Saturday schedule, probably to take advantage of those Monday holidays. Why give those extra days off to your employees when you can just shift your schedule and erase them from the calendar?

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