Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Kyle Explains #8: Alcohol


Kyle Explains #8: Alcohol

I attempt to explain complicated things

Alcohol is defined by its chemical structure but not all alcohols are the same. Alcohol is used for a variety of purposes from cleaning to food flavoring to drinking. Drinking age restrictions vary by country, some have no restrictions on alcohol at all, while others prohibit alcohol completely. 

Alcoholic drinks are a tradition in some areas of the world and recipes can date back thousands of years, while bottles of drinks like wine, rum, and whiskey are known to be aged before selling. 

Alcohol is made by distillation or fermentation.  Distillation is a process of heating a mixture of water and vegetables, grains, or fruits to collect the evaporated steam. The steam is then cooled and processed and becomes the alcohol. Each alcohol is made with a recipe, for instance, vodka from potatoes and whiskey from grains. Vodka, gin, tequila, rum, whiskey, and brandy are some common alcohols that are distilled. Fermentation is the process of adding a chemical reactant, usually a type of yeast, to the fruit, vegetable, or grain mixture to chemically break down the mixture into alcohol. For wine, this is done with grapes. Beer, wine, cider and sake are common alcohols that are fermented. 

There are thousands of drinks that come from mixing alcohols and various juices, flavorings, plants, and food. Wine, bourbon, or other drinks are sometimes used for cooking or baking. Some alcoholic drinks are traditional to certain regions, such as beer to Germany, vodka to Russia, wine to Greece, France, and Spain, sake to Japan, or bourbon and whiskey to the United States. 

Alcohol is not only used for consumption. Methanol, ethanol, isopropyl, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, glycerol, and menthol are all types of chemical alcohols. Chemical alcohols are used for various purposes. Methanol is added to gasoline in some countries. Ethanol was used for rocket fuel in WWII. Isopropyl alcohol is used for cleaning and hand sanitizer. Glycerol is used in E-cigarette liquid or vape juice and antifreeze. Propylene glycol is the other ingredient in vape juice as well as antifreeze. Ethylene glycol is another alcohol used in antifreeze. 

Alcohols come in different concentrations called proofs. Proof is measured on a scale of 1 to 200 and is twice the alcohol’s percentage by volume. For instance, 80 proof vodka is 40  percent alcohol by volume. Alcohol that is 200 proof is 100 percent alcohol by volume or simply a container of alcohol. Regulations differ by country what proofs can be sold and served. 

Note that I am not a medical professional or chemical professional and am not qualified to give medical advice. Beware that alcohol used for chemicals is not always safe for human consumption and to only consume things labelled for human consumption. While chemicals like glycerol and propylene glycol are commonly used in foods, this does not mean they are safe to eat in large quantities or in other forms found outside of foods. 

Alcohol has a complex and interesting history and a wide range of uses. It has been around for nearly 10,000 years and is an important chemical used for many purposes. 


What are your thoughts on Alcohol? Comment below! 

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Kyle Explains #7: Precious Metals


Kyle Explains #7: Precious Metals

I attempt to explain complicated things

Precious metals are rare elements found on the planet. Their value is high because of their rarity and lack of abundance. Precious metals are often used in finance for trading or for their chemical abilities in things like microchips or mufflers. Precious metals and rare metals, or rare earth metals,  are both valuable but rare earth metals are something different completely. 

Gold is probably the most well known precious metal. Although not the most expensive or rare, it is the most widely used. From computer chips to jewelry, gold can be found in many things. Gold is used in coinage, bullion (bricks or coins held as value), art (gold plating), dental fillings, jewelry, watches, electronics, and for computer chips. Gold can be found in different concentrations or ‘carats’ marked by a K. 24K is pure gold, 22K is 91.7% gold, 18K is 75% gold, 14K is 58.3% gold, 12K is 50% gold, 10K is 41.7% gold, 9K is 37.5% gold. The most common are 24K, 18K and 14K. When gold is not 24K it is usually mixed with silver, copper, and other metals to keep its color or create other colors like rose gold or white gold. 

Silver is also used for a lot of common things. Silver used for bullion, mirrors, dental work, electrical components, in paints used on electronics, solder wire, batteries, jewelry, and for decoration and tableware. For instance the term silverware comes from silver and means any tools, usually cooking utensils, made from silver. Silver also comes in a variety of concentrations, 999 and 925 are the most common, while 900 is usually the grade required for bullion. The grade is simply 999 is 99.9% silver commonly referred to as fine silver, 925 is 92.5% silver commonly referred to as sterling silver, and 900 is 90% silver commonly referred to as coin silver. The other part is usually copper or nickel to keep its shiny property. Other types of silver fall between 92.5% and 99.9% silver, and are usually used for jewelry. 

Platinum is less known but has a wide variety of uses. It is used for catalytic converters in cars, magnets, electrical components, medical or lab instruments, sometimes in jewelry, for decorations, or dental work. Platinum is known for its ability to conduct electricity and for its lower price than gold. Silver and copper tarnish, or rust, while gold and platinum are strong conductors that don’t rust as easily. 

The other precious metals are known as the ‘platinum group metals’. Six metals that have similar physical and chemical properties. In periodic order they are: ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum. They are all used for similar things, mostly for causing chemical reactions in catalytic converters, except palladium is also used for dentistry and jewelry. 

Precious metals have been sought after since the beginning of time for their shine, rarity, and chemical or physical abilities. Their prices are very expensive, and still today they are not easy to come by. They are used in small amounts in many places, and large amounts of any of these metals is of great value. The Earth has limited resources and these surely have earned their title of precious. 


What are your thoughts on Precious Metals? Comment below! 

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Kyle Explains #6: Currency Collecting


Kyle Explains: Currency Collecting

I attempt to explain complicated things

Currency collecting is the hobby of collecting rare coins and paper money that are worth more than their face value for a multitude of reasons. Currency collecting is referred to as numismatics, stemmed from Old French and English words roughly meaning ‘coins’. Collectors often seek rare paper money or coins based on a low amount made, the age of the item, manufacturing defects, forgeries, or collectability reasons such as arcade tokens which hold no face value but are still sought by collectors. 

Currency collecting has been around as long as currency has been. One of the first coin collectors is widely accepted to be Agustus, the first Roman Emperor who gave old coins as gifts. While it’s subject to say he was a collector, the fact is true that he held value in old currency. This is what the basis of collecting currency is. Some collectors focus on one specific currency or category, while others have a wide collection of varying rare items with many types of historical importance. 

Some collectors focus only on paper money. The U.S. dollar bill is very collectible for many reasons, many are based on the serial number. U.S. dollars print a star note when they have to reprint a bill, these notes have an asterisk or star instead of a letter in the serial number. These bills are often rare due to the fact that there are fewer of them printed, some years less than 50,000 of these bills are printed. U.S. dollar bills also have a ‘twin bill’ where the serial numbers match. This is because they come from different printing facilities, and it is a rare occurrence. Serial numbers that are called ‘super repeaters’ are also very rare. When the serial number is 12345678 or 55555555, there’s a low chance that one bill came out with one of those numbers and they are highly collectible. 

U.S. coins are also very collectible. Old paper money is not found in circulation since it looks so different, some bills were red and you won’t see those in your change. Old U.S. coins on the other hand look very similar to new ones and can sometimes be found in your change jar. Wheat pennies are a collector item that are simply pennies made before 1958. They feature wheat grains on the back of them and look very similar to today's pennies. Another rare penny is the steel penny from 1943 and 1944. These pennies are silver in color and were made out of steel since brass and copper was used for the war efforts during those years. A 1944 wheat penny can go for more than $50,000 due to its limited production of only 50. Mercury dimes were produced until 1945 and feature the head of Lady Liberty, but were confused with the Roman goddess Mercury and given the name Mercury Dime. These too are still circulated on rare occasions.  

Other important collection items are forgeries. A good forgery can be worth more than an original item. This being said, I’m not telling you to start forging money. An expensive or rare forgery gets its value from the person who made it, not particularly the item in question. A fake dollar bill is worth nothing, a fake dollar bill made by Banksy is worth a lot - regardless of quality. Another Item that people collect in the currency realm is tokens. It’s not a perfect answer to what these fall under. A vintage arcade token may be worth more to someone who collects arcade equipment, while a vintage poker chip might be more valuable to a gambler, while a Big Mac token may be valuable to a Mcdonald's collector! Regardless, all three are types of currency that have historical value.   

Collecting currency is a pastime for many people, and the hardcore collectors can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for one item. Old items are historically important and currency will continue to be produced every year making old items continually more valuable. The more you know about it, the more you’ll be checking your change at the grocery store! 


What are your thoughts on Currency Collecting? Comment below! 

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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Kyle Explains #5: Cryptocurrency

Kyle Explains: Cryptocurrency

I attempt to explain complicated things

Cryptocurrency is a currency created by solving algorithms. The currency is produced by an algorithm that gets more complicated each time it gets solved. The more people who solve the algorithm, or more technology used, the faster the problem is solved. Once an algorithm is created, it becomes slowly harder to obtain a currency, making the currency stable due to limits in technology and workers. 

The process of solving these algorithms is called mining. An algorithm is split into chunks and then reassembled to solve the equation. This is called blockchain mining, each user solved a percentage of the chunk or block or the algorithm, and then receives equal payment for their work. The work is simply a computer running a program that solves the algorithm. As the algorithms become harder to solve, the more computer power it takes to solve the algorithm. 

Companies have begun to use warehouses full of computers simply for mining cryptocurrency. These warehouses are usually located in sunny and/ or cold places to use solar power and natural cooling to their advantage. Computers usually consist mainly of multiple graphics cards that are all wired to one computer. These graphics cards are high powered and eliminate the need for multiple computers, it simply uses the power from all of the cards. Some specially developed mining rigs have emerged that are specifically engineered for mining cryptocurrency as well. 

There are multiple thousands of cryptocurrencies. Some currencies fail and without enough people solving the algorithm, are not used or lost. Other currencies are sought after, like Bitcoin, which has been known to sell for over $30,000 USD per coin. Cryptocurrencies are seen as an investment that will never decrease in value as long as people continue to trade them, and their value is solely based on investors, not in any form of physical value besides how much of the currency is traded and its value based on that. 

I cannot give financial advice, given I don’t have any qualifications in the financial or investment industry to do so. But I will note that cryptocurrencies are not backed by anything, and are seen as an unstable investment. While many claim to have made lots of money from cryptocurrency trading, there are also stories of people who have lost lots of money, and all traders should acknowledge that since cryptocurrencies value is based solely on how much is traded, there will be losers and winners, unlike the stock market which shares can be held and go up in value as a company goes up in value. 

Cryptocurrency offers a unique and anonymous way to hold and give money, but volatility in the market is a huge downside. Not to mention the fact that they are not backed by anything feasible besides a computer program whose value is determined by the technology used to solve it. While my personal opinion is ‘buyer beware’, cryptocurrency is still a neat new way to manage money and will remain popular as a way to generate income and invest in the online community.  


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Kyle Explains #4: Hydrogen Power

Kyle Explains: Hydrogen Power

I attempt to explain complicated things

Hydrogen power is newer technology. While introduced only recently to the car world, this alternative fuel may be the future. There isn’t a lot of hydrogen readily available on earth, but the process of extracting energy from it produces water which is a huge difference from what generally comes out of cars' tailpipes. Not to mention large quantities of hydrogen are not hard to create, while hydrogen is not readily available, it is the most common element on earth. This means that we can use more of it at a time and have a lower effect on the planet. 

A hydrogen fuel cell is a pretty neat piece of engineering. It uses hydrogen and oxygen to create water, electricity, and heat. The hydrogen is pushed out of a pressurized tank into a platinum screen which strips the hydrogen of its energy. When the hydrogen tries to grab the energy from the oxygen atoms they bond together and create H2O, yes, water. The energy produced from this process can be captured and used to power an electric motor. 

Hydrogen isn’t something we can just stockpile, we have to find things that have hydrogen in them and take the hydrogen from them. This process can actually be done without hurting the earth. The process of taking hydrogen from water is called electrolysis. Electrolysis is done by adding energy to water, which splits the hydrogen and oxygen from each other. The electricity can be gained from solar power, and the results of the process are hydrogen (which we capture) and oxygen, which is good for the environment.  

Safety is another factor that can be at play. Luckily hydrogen is lighter than air and, unlike car fuels, does not pool up on the ground and take hours or days to evaporate while part of it seeps into the ground. Burning gasoline is a major factor in car accidents, while a small accident can cause minor injuries, a burning engine or car can send someone to the hospital. One of the benefits of hydrogen is that, while flammable, it floats away from the car. The pressurized tank means that the hydrogen will shoot out potentially faster than it can burn, and most likely leave an accident scene safer than a scene where gasoline is involved. 

You might wonder how you fill a pressurized tank at the gas pump. That’s not something to fear at all, there are already several hydrogen refueling stations and several hydrogen cars on the market today. It’s the same as filling a gas tank, except with an actual gas as opposed to gasoline. 

Hydrogen power has come a long way and will continue to grow. While California is leading in hydrogen-powered vehicles and hydrogen pumps, many manufacturers are pushing for the technology due to its safety and feasibility. Electric cars may have not reached their peak, but hydrogen cars have been outperforming them in their beginning and will only continue to improve as they gain popularity and become a more connected network. 

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