I came across this interesting piece on the blog of Stephen Fry (actor, comedian, presenter) about travelling in the US. He talks about the differences between European and US ideas of polite argument. It’s very long and you need to trawl most of the way down to the end (21 paragraphs) to find the heading “Getting Overheated”.
November 2007 Archives
Are you racking your brain for what to buy that special chemical person in your life for a birthday, retirement or seasonal present? Look no further – the ICIS Fashion Editor is back to help with those difficult choices once again.
I once bought a paint-your-own-cow kit (remember Cow Parade?) from the firebox.com website, and now they have come up with another surefire winner, with this season’s must-have present - the Borat swimsuit. You’ve seen it on the big screen. Now watch your loved one’s face light up as he unwraps this special token of your affection. As Borat says in the online catalogue: “Beach ladies will love you and laugh happy happy if you wear on holiday special time.
It reminds me of when I went to a retirement party at SABIC in Kerkrade, Netherlands, last year, and his kindly colleagues had mocked up a picture of the retiree in the Borat swimsuit to be shown on the screen with the farewell presentation. Just an idea for when you’re organising that next leaving presentation.
(The swimsuit first featured in the 2006 film "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan".)
ICIS folk are no strangers to the world of the rich and famous. At the Royal Opera House to see L'elisir d'amore on Saturday, my colleague Linda told me that a friend of hers, Professor Jacek Rostowski had just been made Polish finance minister. And today she phoned to say that she saw Emilia Fox (actress film star) in the garden centre.
Chris Wilson at ICIS has met top footballers Damien Duff (Newcastle, ex-Chelsea) and Mark Bright (England team), and Brian Moore (rugby legend and commentator), and has the photos to prove it.
And Rebecca Smith found herself in a petrol station with notorious MP George Galloway.
Fertilizers editor Rebecca Clarke has met numerous rugby stars and even been to the home of gardening celeb Alan Titchmarsh. And our own olefins expert Ed Cox in his Oxford days met Maureen Lipman (actress comedienne), Jerry Springer (talkshow host) and Audley Harrison (Olympic super-heavyweight boxing champion). Sadly the photo of Ed and Audley didn't come out.
George Lowrie, our promotions co-ordinator, used to hang out with the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, and also met Miss India (of Miss World fame) in the lobby of a hotel in Mumbai, and she was gracious enough to let him have his photo taken with her. This brought back fond memories for Raj, who spent some happy times in 1987 interviewing contestants for Miss Universe in Singapore.
We all know how the increased demand for ethanol has led to more planting of corn and higher prices for fertilizers, leading in turn to higher prices for vegetables, milk, meat and bread. Will potatoes soon be unaffordable? Click here to see what the new breed of Super Potato has to tell us about the future of petrochemicals....
Another oil film is on its way. “There Will Be Blood” opens in Europe on 8 February 2008, and is the epic story of the early years of the oil boom in California. Starring Daniel Day Lewis, and based on the 1927 book “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair, it is described in the pre-release reviews as a character study of one man, a miner and oil prospector, whose obsessive pursuit of wealth devours those closest to him. It is already being tipped for Oscars.
Click here to see the rather downbeat 1 minute 23 second official trailer.
My colleague Nigel Davis gives a scornful laugh as he points out that these foolish Australian winegrowers think they are opting for a chemical-free solution in choosing plastic posts for their vineyards.
The high price of crude, unplanned plant outages, force majeures, difficult customers - these all add to the stress of the trader's life. No wonder then that violence can break out on the trading floor.
A Thanksgiving Greeting to all of the Blog's US readers. Your offices are closed today, as is ICIS Houston, so shut your laptop now and go help in the kitchen. For all those Americans stranded overseas in Europe or Asia, who must wait till evening for your turkey dinner, click here for a warming sight from Turkeyville in the homeland to bring a homesick tear to the eye.
After building up a strong cult following, the Blog has given in to popular pressure and gone mainstream. Now the Blog will be for everyone, and not just for those who had received the much coveted private invitation to view. You can now find your way to ICIS-Chemicals-Confidential through the www.icis.com website by clicking on "Blogs".
Exactly two months after the ICIS-Chemicals-Confidential blog drew its first breath, a crack team of "Enigma" style code-breakers finally supplied the missing line of coding, taking in total slightly more than ten minutes to bring the Blog on board.
To signpost the way, master cartoonist Mark Armstrong commemorates this moment with the launch of a masterful caricature of Barbara. A further four examples of Mark's handiwork are on the Blogs page, where startlingly lifelike caricatures of Simon Robinson, John Richardson, Malini Hariharan and Paul Hodges are also on display. I am proud to join their ranks.
It's winter in New York City and the snow will be falling, the lights sparkling in the trees, and the ICIS Pan-American Baseoils Conference will return for its regular winter gig in New York City. This year it moves from the New Jersey shoreline overlooking the city back into Manhattan at the New York Marriott Financial Center with its fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty.
Blog readers who are already stuffing their wallets with US dollars (yes, now $1.48 to the euro, and $2.06 to the pound) for the Baseoils trip, or the seasonal jamboree which is the NECA Winter Meeting on 13 December, will be eager to know where the Chemicals "A" list will be hanging out this year.
ICIS-Chemicals-Confidential flicks through the gilt-edged cards on the office mantlepiece to point you in the direction of:
The Xmas tree and skaters on Rockefeller Plaza, as viewed from the warmth of the Quincannon office on the south side of the plaza.
(photo from my phone)
The fresh bagels and whipped cream cheese in the media glitz of the ICIS Park Avenue offices.
The Oak Bar of the Plaza Hotel on Thursday afternoon after the NECA lunch - the hotel is reopening on 3 December 2007 after a $400 million two-year renovation.
The Starsupply pre-NECA Annual Holiday Party at Cellini's, full of this year's brokers, traders and industry folk.
Hotdogs at Papaya King.
Click on "Comments" below, to add your top chemical tips for New York City.
News reaches ICIS-Chemicals-Confidential that some chemical folk found Thursday night’s Chemical Industries Association (CIA) Dinner at the Grosvenor House in London a bit of a disappointment.
Instead of the usual late-night milling around the 100+ tables after the dinner and speeches, catching up with old pals and finishing off all the wine, I hear that the CIA saw fit to lay on a cabaret chanteuse who sang long and loud into the night. So loud in fact that no chatting could be done at all. The diners slunk away disgruntled into the night.
Not at all like last year’s fantastic CIA Dinner then, when I enjoyed the splendid hospitality of my friend Steve on an Anglo-Dutch-Scots table, and where I sat next to the dashing kilt-wearing Philip Bruce, now famous for his clarion call speech on the shambolic styrene contract system at last week’s Aromatics Conference.
For delegates who enjoyed Pedro Spohr’s vision of the position of petrochemicals in the wider world of crude oil, and particularly the film he showed of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”, click here for another chance to view it.
The picture shows the Earth from 4 billion miles away - it was taken by Voyager 1 in 1991 as it approached the outer limits of our solar system.
As we sip our coffees and beers in the curiously musty cafe at Antwerp airport, the Aromatics Conference team reflects that this was a great success. The speakers were exceptionally good and we had a late surge of delegates turning up, pushing our total number to around 100 on the day.
For myself, I am always just glad that the speakers turn up at all, after a bad formative experience when I was chairing an ICIS Glycols conference in Houston, and the keynote Saudi speaker didn’t appear, which put the programme out for the whole day. I was reminded of this as I watched John Keeley, our chairman on the first day of Aromatics ’07, struggling with speakers who were determined to wreck his time-keeping and kept pushing the programme later and later.
Flicking through the delegate feedback forms, John is appalled to find that one trader has given him a “D” for time-keeping. Harsh indeed!
By the time the conference ended with the Thursday lunch, there was an end-of-term atmosphere, with everybody table-hopping and lots of hugs and air-kisses as they left.
For those delegates who missed the speeches because they were: a) doing deals with each other in the conference ante-room, b) asleep, c) blackberrying in the back row, you can relive the experience by reading the 14 articles on www.icisnews.com. For a taster, see the articles on the Shell and Barclays papers here. It’s as if you were there!
We round off with this 6th European Aromatics and Derivatives Conference 2007 Brainteaser:
1 Which delegate was sporting this crazy watch with no hands or numerals?
2 Which speaker forgot to bring his paper?
3 Who is the most baby-faced (male) delegate? Note: name must be on delegate list.
4 Who were the six conference beauties (female) in the Radisson bar crowd at 2am on Thursday morning? Again: names must be on delegate list.
5 Which speaker predicted $200/barrel crude?
6 Which key delegate in designer specs and chisel-toed shoes was giving out late-night advice to his customers about commitment, children and Antwerp love-nest hotels?
And for a more serious appraisal of the themes and mood of the Aromatics Conference, click on my friend Paul's ICIS blog.
Draught beer poured forth from a Carlsberg keg lined with a vacuum-packed plastic bag at a barbecue last weekend. I watched as the empty “DraughtMaster” keg was refilled with another plastic pouch after the thirsty guests had finished the first five litres.
Is this a major advance in polymer technology?
“Plastic beer bottles are the Holy Grail for the plastics industry,” said Peter Taffe, my fellow trainer at the ICIS Training Seminars in Amsterdam last week.
The question of whether beer can go into plastic bottles has been racking the brains of polymer scientists and holds the key to boosting plastics and hence petrochemical demand growth past the current modest 4-5% a year. (Read all about it in the A-Z of Materials.)
“The German consumer will never accept beer in plastic bottles,” Peter said, and the students of the training course nodded in agreement.
In the interests of research the Blog has trawled the shelves of London supermarkets, finding soft drinks, cider and even wine in plastic (PET and HDPE) bottles, but no beer in sight.
Could plastic-lined beer kegs be the thin end of the wedge for the beer/plastics combo?
The Blog Beer Watch campaign begins here.
I went to an excellent half-day course at the LME (London Metal Exchange) on plastics futures contracts. Held in an oak-panelled room overlooking the trading pit, it wasn't just for beginners - major PS producer Pierre and his team were there. Also other plastics fabricators, traders and bankers.
ICIS was favourably mentioned in a number of slides so that was good. I came out feeling completely on top of the subject and would recommend it to anyone interested in polymers futures. The highlight of the morning was when loud shouting indicated that the open outcry trading had started in the pit below at 11.45. The noise level was like being next door to a football match.
A few days later I bumped into my newfound friend Thom from the LME as we waited in the Houston airport lounge for the longhaul overnight flight back to the UK. He had been taking the LME Workshop on a global roadshow and was very pleased with himself because he had been plucked from obscurity at check-in and upgraded to First Class for the long flight home. Is there anything more socially divisive than the random distribution of First Class upgrades? Next morning, as we waited in the cold light of the London Gatwick baggage reclaim hall, he said he was suffering the mother of all hangovers. Win some, lose some..
Houston is a city built round the car, but it is not a welcoming place for a visiting driver from the UK straight off the ten-hour flight. The driving on the left I can handle, sort of, but what's this with "right hand lane must exit" and flash floods on the road from the airport? Still, I am always cheered on the way into the city by the two huge billboards which will forever remind us that we are in Houston: "Vasectomy Reversal" and "When half is not enough - 1-800-DIVORCE".
Houstonians always complain about the miles of stationary traffic in the morning and evening rush hours. No wonder that bikers are taking over in the Houston chemical biz. Angela, Stephen, David and Moss are but a few of the keen chemical bikers, gliding down the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane in their leathers and full-face helmets. It's a scary sight for the unsuspecting visitor.
The Houston air is like soup. As I step off the plane I feel one dress-size fatter and my hair springs into tight curls. Outside the airport terminal a monsoon is in progress.
Never mind that I checked the weather forecast before I left and it said "30% chance of precipitation". I took this to mean that there would be a slight chance of rain. My colleague John Richardson, who is in the forecasting business himself and is in Houston to talk about emerging markets, says that's just how it is with forecasting. Will it put me off using the yahoo weather forecasts in future, he asks. Probably not, we agree, and this too is just like the business of predicting chemical markets. We just keep coming back for more.
Anyway you don't need to worry about the rain in Houston because no-one ever walks anywhere. Sweet Carolyn picks me up from my hotel in her enormous new birthday present BMW 7 series to drive me the 0.2 mile ( 0.3 km) to her lovely home. Carolyn was a senior editor with us in the London ICIS office but has now taken "early retirement" in Houston. We hear that the Southwest Chems Golf Outing was a complete wash-out in the driving rain, and everyone spent the day playing pool and drinking beer instead.
My colleague Robert tells me he’s been in hospital after getting DVT (deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot) after a flight from New York to London last week. He said he felt fine on the flight, a bit shivery the following day, and then woke up in pain in the night. The blood clot had lodged in his lung, and he was lucky to survive. Now he can’t take exercise, cycle to work or drink alcohol for the next six months.
He said he's a regular flyer but he hadn’t done any of the recommended in-flight exercises.
“I don’t think of New York as a longhaul flight,” he said.
We’ve all read about the dangers of DVT on longhaul, particularly in the in-flight magazines on those inter-continental petchem trips, but Robert is the first real person the Blog has known who has gone down with this. It’s a warning to us all to get wiggling those toes.
It's November, so piles of Chemicals Greetings Cards are starting to wend their way across the desks of uninterested executives for signature. Is there anything quite as dreary as the sight of jolly snowmen on a mild autumn day? There can be few logistical nightmares quite as daft as boxloads of Season's Greetings cards being signed in the US then forwarded to Germany for second signatures then posted to the UK. The number of cards coming in and out of the ICIS offices has been in decline in recent years. Does anyone under the age of 30 send Season's Greetings cards at all?
And what are you supposed to do with e-Greetings cards? You can't print them out and put them on display because that defeats the whole ecologically sound point of not wasting paper. Should you move them to a Greetings cards e-folder? What is the etiquette here?
My favourite cards were the famous Huntsman cards - the family picture of beautiful blondes - thank you so much Tim and Gillian for the cards 2003-2005, the Teesside years. It shows Jon Huntsman Snr with his children, 55 grandchildren and assorted husbands and wives, and comes with a key numbered one to 72, identifying each one.
The most grim card was the Dow 2003 card, showing two men on a bridge shaking hands over a river of green dollar bills.