This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Power of TV

One of the advantages of a “career transition” is that it allows one to watch alarmingly high amounts of TV during the day (while doing Internet job searches, of course). And while I appreciate having been granted this boon, it’s probably not worth the I.Q. points I’ve had to give up for the privilege. Lately, my wife has developed the habit of watching HGTV (Home & Garden TV) whenever she finds nothing else worth watching. Unfortunately, this means we have HGTV on at least 6 hours a day.

(Yes, we are one of those families where the TV is on almost continously all day, even if no one is watching. Frankly, the silence generated by turning it off scares the hell out of me.)

Long time readers know that I’m into gardening (garden link here), so I used to enjoy HGTV, but lately they’ve been ignoring the garden aspect and concentrating solely on houses. Remodeling houses, appraising houses, selling houses, buying houses, swapping houses -- it doesn’t take a genius to realize that all these shows are going to look the same. I realize the housing crisis has led to a renewed interest in how to sell your house -- or how to remodel it if you can’t -- but you can only remodel a kitchen so many ways. You can only gasp at poorly decorated homes so many times. You can only laugh at a homeowner’s first experience with a hammer so many times. And that, basically, is a summation of about 80% of the shows. The other 20% involves laughing at the tacky artistic remodeling touches added by the show’s designers, which would never see the light of day if the owners were actually paying for them.

However, what really drive me crazy are the “What is my house worth?” shows. First of all, either these shows were taped 2 years ago or else the realtors who supposedly “appraise” the houses are incompetent fools, or liars, or incompetently foolish liars. In almost every case, the “supposed” appreciations of these houses are outrageously high. It’s not uncommon for an owner to have purchased a house 3 years ago for $300k, added $100k in upgrades, and then being told it’s now worth $800k. Even in the housing boom, that would have been remarkable. But these days? Who are they kidding? Obviously there are certain locations within in the United States where housing prices are climbing (at least, so far), but unless these shows are only filming in those specific areas, there is no way these prices are real.

What really appalls me though, is the reason for these appraisals. When the owners are asked the reason behind the appraisal, the most common answer is that they are considering a major renovation and want to know if the house has appreciated enough to pay for that upgrade. Morons! Either you have the money or you don’t! Using a “supposed” increase in the price of your house to pay for a renovation is like pulling money out of your savings account and thinking you just made a profit. Don’t these people realize that it was this kind of “logic” that got us into the housing crisis in the first place. Basing financial decisions on artificially inflated values of real estate is stupid.

Seriously, some of these people need to be kept out of the gene pool!

I feel better now.

Tomorrow -- Real Science: Nostradamus on the History Channel!

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