Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We Have Corn in the Ground

This is a stock photo, and not my field

Well, I tried to work the bugs out of the planter and get ready to go, and ended up planting some the end rows on the field.  So we've got almost 1% of our corn planted.  There are still a few bugs though.  Based on previous experience, I am expecting bugs in our fertilizer system all spring.  It didn't disappoint me tonight.  We are well behind several neighbors right now.  Oh well.

The Vrontados Easter Rocket War

The Atlantic features photos of an Easter tradition in the Greek village of Vrontados:
Every Easter, in the Greek village of Vrontados, members of rival churches sitting across a small valley stage a "rocket war" by firing thousands of homemade rockets towards each other while services are held. The objective for each side is to strike the bell of the opposing church. The festival, called Rouketopolemos, has been celebrated by the churches of Agios Markos and Panagia Erithiani for at least 125 years, its exact origins a mystery. Gathered here are images of this rocket war from the past few years.
My favorite:

Homemade rockets streak through the sky above Vrontados on April 19, 2014. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images) #

Monday, April 21, 2014

Good News on Renewables


About 6.2% of total U.S. electricity supplies in 2013 were generated from nonhydro renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal, up from 5.4% in 2012. But 11 states produced electricity at more than twice the national average from these sources—accounting for between 14% and 32% of their net electric generation—according to preliminary 2013 generation data in EIA's Electric Power Monthly report.
Maine led all states by generating 32% of its electricity from nonhydro renewables—primarily biomass generation by the wood products industry. The state had one-fourth of its net electric generation come from biomass resources.
Nearly all other states with high proportions of renewable generation relied primarily on wind power. Iowa and South Dakota each got more than 25% of their net electricity from wind generation, and Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Colorado generated 12%-20% of their power from wind resources.
California generated more than 18% of its electricity from nonhydroelectric renewable sources, but 2013 was the first year that wind produced more electricity than the state's geothermal resources, which are the nation's largest. Biomass and solar generating resources also contributed to the state's renewable portfolio.
The largest amount of nonhydroelectric renewable power was generated in Texas, with California a close second. But Texas produced more electricity than any other state, so the proportion of nonhydroelectric renewable sources in its generation was about 9%.
It is notable that the reddest of the red states are also amongst the greenest when it comes to nonhydro renewable energy.  That would be from those tax subsidies derided by the Republican political whores doing the bidding of their oil, gas and coal industry pimps.  Unfortunately, wind resources aren't nearly as robust in areas where people actually live and use electricity. However, technological advances are pushing renewables and their cost structure in the right direction.  With some actual conservation, we might do some very good things.

China Admits Massive Soil Pollution

China reports that 19% of its arable lands are contaminated with heavy metals:

The report, based on a seven-year survey covering 2.4 million square miles, found that about 16% of the country's soil and 19% of its arable land was polluted to one degree or another. The vast majority of the pollution came from inorganic sources such as heavy metals, it said. China's total land area is 3.7 million square miles.
The most common inorganic pollutants found in China's soil were the heavy metals cadmium, nickel and arsenic, according to Thursday's report. Cadmium and arsenic, both known to cause chronic health problems, are byproducts of mining.
Nearly 3% of arable land in China was found to be either moderately or seriously polluted, the report said, without defining what those levels of contamination mean. Pollution was particularly severe in eastern China's Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta in the south and old industrial zones in the northeast, it said.
Pollution of farmland is of particular concern in China because of how little of it has. According to the most recent national land survey, China had 334 million acres of arable land at the end of 2012, roughly 37 million acres above the government's "red line" for the amount of farmland necessary to feed the country's population.
Already, some 8.24 million acres of arable land has become unfit for farming, China's Ministry of Land and Resources disclosed in December. Environmentalists say the majority of the remaining land is of poor or moderate quality, having been stripped of its productivity by decades of heavy fertilizer and pesticide use.
So much polluted soil means China will likely have to begin importing more food. "China will need to ease pressure on its natural resource base and import more of its food over the long-term," said Fred Gale, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. "Agriculture is impacted by industrial pollution but also creates a lot of pollution itself," he said, citing waste and ecological damage caused by China's growing taste for meat.
In April 2013, the discovery of unusually high quantities of cadmium in batches of rice grown in Hunan—the country's top rice-producing region, as well as a top-five producer of nonferrous metals like copper and lead—set off worries about farmland and sent prices for Hunan rice tumbling by as much as 14%. 
I've covered this subject here before. Deborah Blum has covered how rice absorbs heavy metals, and while I think I've posted on that, I can't find it.  The important thing is that massive industrialization without environmental protection is royally screwing China.  Keep that in mind next time you hear Republicans talking about how EPA destroys American jobs.  I like to eat, and from what I can tell of all the other obese people in the U.S., apparently a lot of other people do, too.  I also like to farm, and poisoned soil really, really makes me sad.  What a disaster.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

April 15:
Mammatus Clouds over Nebraska
Image Credit & Copyright: Jorn Olsen Photography
Explanation: When do cloud bottoms appear like bubbles? Normally, cloud bottoms are flat. This is because moist warm air that rises and cools will condense into water droplets at a specific temperature, which usually corresponds to a very specific height. As water droplets grow, an opaque cloud forms. Under some conditions, however, cloud pockets can develop that contain large droplets of water or ice that fall into clear air as they evaporate. Such pockets may occur in turbulent air near a thunderstorm. Resulting mammatus clouds can appear especially dramatic if sunlit from the side. The mammatus clouds pictured above were photographed over Hastings, Nebraska during 2004 June. 
 I love me some mammatus clouds (where else on the web will you see somebody make that statement?).

In Jackson Hole, a Damaging but Slow Landslide

Christian Science Monitor:
A slow-motion disaster continued unfolding in the Wyoming resort town of Jackson on Saturday, as a creeping landslide that split a hillside home threatened to swallow up more houses and businesses.
The ground beneath the 100-foot hillside had been slowly giving way for almost two weeks before the downward movement accelerated in recent days.
With rocks and dirt tumbling down, officials suspended efforts to shore up the slope and said they were uncertain what else could be done....
Authorities said there could be a variety of causes for the slide, including prior construction at the site, warmer weather and a wet winter that put more water into the ground where it acts as a lubricant for unstable rocks and soil.
Experts say the hillside is unlikely to suddenly collapse like the March 22 landslide in Oso, Wash., that killed 39 people. More likely, large blocks of earth would tumble down piece by piece.
But the threat is real and authorities are enforcing an evacuation order in hopes of avoiding injuries. Town officials first noticed significant hill movement April 4. They evacuated 42 homes and apartment units April 9.
By Saturday morning, the shifting earth had bulged a road and a parking lot at the foot of the hill by as much as 10 feet. The groundswell pushed a small town water pump building 15 feet toward West Broadway, the town's main drag.
The ground had been moving at a rate of an inch a day but is expected to move increasingly faster as time goes on, said George Machan, a landslide specialist consulting for the town.
I probably should have paid more attention in soil mechanics class, but the homework from the class before was due at the end of the next class, so I was always working on the last assignment during that day's class.  Not an effective way to learn.

Fish Feeding for Card Sharks

David Samuels goes to a Maryland poker room to see how serious poker players make a living on the amateurs:
Fish abound at Maryland Live, home to the hottest new poker room on the East Coast. Maryland Live is a casino-and-entertainment complex in Hanover, Maryland, adjacent to the Arundel Mills mall. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it offers thousands of slot machines and 177 table games, including blackjack, roulette, craps, and mini baccarat. The poker room, which opened on August 28, 2013, has 52 tables, making it one of the biggest rooms outside of Las Vegas. According to Bravo Poker—an app that tells you how many tables are open for business at any time of day or night in nearly every room in every casino in every state in America—there are usually more high-stakes games running at Maryland Live than at the world-famous Borgata, in Atlantic City. Even pros from Florida, who like to boast of their state’s sunny weather, low taxes, partying tourists, and self-renewing population of old white guys, now come to Maryland Live in the dead of winter. The fishing is that good there.
Like any complex ecosystem, a poker room offers much more than a binary relationship between predators and prey. John Calvin (not his real name) swims somewhere in the middle. He is a grinder, a cautious type who doesn’t bluff that often or do anything hair-raisingly spectacular in tight situations, and who makes his living by doggedly adhering to the odds against lesser players. He got his start making a few dollars a hand on the Web site PartyPoker, then graduated to long weekends of live play at the Borgata before taking up residence at a casino poker room in Charles Town, West Virginia. These days, he commutes from his home, in Washington, D.C., to Maryland Live, where he feeds on fish who are happy to lose a few hundred dollars an hour playing No Limit Texas Hold ’Em—the poker player’s game of choice since 2003, when the great American online-poker boom of the aughts took off.
In January, just after the start of the new year, I visited Maryland Live with Calvin. In a gray sweatshirt and jeans, bald and wearing thin-rimmed black glasses, he looked like a leisure-time version of the corporate strategist he had been in a former life, before he ditched the full-time number-crunching gig and took up poker. As we entered, he rubbed his head, as if for luck, and peered through his glasses at the biggest kettle of fish in North America—which on any given day might include local small-business owners, bored retirees, college kids, and the occasional big-name donator, or “whale.” Among the whales we spotted that afternoon were a red-faced, choleric guy who runs a local charter-boat business, and a shaky-looking Asian guy in an Orioles cap who I was told had donated well over $100,000 during the past few months. Explaining the presence of the Asian guy, Calvin gestured over to a sweet-looking kid in a gray hoodie at the next table and said, “Merson must have got him here.”
Gregory Merson, 26, the winner of the 2012 World Series of Poker, was the biggest shark in the room. He fiddled with an uneven stack of chips and unzipped his hoodie to reveal a black T‑shirt with a hand grenade emblazoned across the front. Every kid in every poker room across America who dreams of playing live on ESPN at the World Series of Poker instead of working some soul-crushing cubicle job would love to have even one day of Greg Merson’s life—playing $10/$25 or $25/$50 No Limit for $300 or $400 an hour, and jetting off to big-money tournaments in the Bahamas and other foreign but civilized places where you can plunk down your credit card and play online poker.
I'm blessed to be both really, really risk-averse when it comes to casino gambling, and clearly aware that I am a terrible card player.  Offer me a wager on just about anything (total winter snowfall, how many Sundays of rain we'll get if it rains on Easter Sunday, etc.), and I may just bet on it, but hand after hand of cards just doesn't interest me.  This prevents me from being anything but the smallest minnow.

How Fast is Billy Hamilton?

As fast as he appears to be:
MLB Advanced Media, the tech outfit owned by baseball's 30 clubs, is rolling out a new tracking technology that yields insights about the entire field of play -- not just the pitch or the hit. Through a combination of cameras, radar, and proprietary software, the new system provides data on a base runner's jump and speed and the angle of his path while trying to, say, steal second base. It can also capture information on the catcher, fielders, and more.
Using this still-unnamed technology, MLBAM (known internally as BAM) crunched some numbers exclusively for Fortune that suggest that the single fastest guy in baseball is probably Cincinnati Reds rookie Billy Hamilton: In a September game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Hamilton, who was called up from the minors last season just for the playoffs, successfully stole second base in the eighth inning. The new system revealed that he had a 10.83-foot lead, clocked a jump of 0.49 seconds, and hit a top speed of 21.51 mph (rather insane), and that the entire steal occurred in only 3.08 seconds. Meanwhile, it took the Brewers' catcher 0.667 seconds to get the ball out of his glove and release his throw to second; his throw traveled at 78.81 mph -- fast, but not fast enough to tag Hamilton out.
If you want to see how fast he is, check out this clip.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Weekend Reads

According to Grandma, Lent ends at noon on Holy Saturday.  Happy Easter.  Here are some pieces that caught my attention:

The Business of Building Roller Coasters - Priceonomics

The inventor of everything - The Verge.  P.T. Barnum was right.  Even with venture capitalists. See also, A Silicon Valley Disaster: A 21-Year-Old Stanford Kid Got $30 Million, Then Everything Blew Up - Business Insider.  Conservatives claim that the poor want to get rich without working, but what is venture capital doing throwing around this crazy money but gambling for the next 100-bagger? 

The Big Ten welcome guide: What Maryland and Rutgers fans need to know - SB Nation

What Happened to Canada? - n+1.  For Americans concerned about Keystone XL and tar sands imports, realize that the U.S. has exported asshole conservative policies to the Great White North.

Why I Fixed Fights - Deadspin

Fixing the Fruits of the Earth - Texas Monthly

Field of Dreams at 25: The Making of the Movie - Des Moines Register.  Damn, I'm old. The pictures from 1988 look like the '70s more than they look like today (which makes sense mathematically).  1989 was a hell of a year for baseball movies.  When I went to the theater to watch 'Field of Dreams,' 'Major League' was playing on the screen across the hall.

A Detroit sports threefer: Bad Boys and Good Times, Saving Tiger Stadium (also see this), and The Once and Future Saint - Grantland.  I was a huge fan of the Bad Boys (especially Bill Laimbeer), I stopped by The Corner when I visited Detroit a few years back, but I hadn't heard of St. Cecilia's gym.

Fish Farming Explores Deeper, Cleaner Waters - Wall Street Journal

Uniter of Sperm and Egg Is Found - Scientific American

Resegregation in the American South - The Atlantic.  I'd say this isn't just an issue in the South.

Map of Census Blocks with zero population by Nik Freeman

Friday, April 18, 2014

California Farmers Get 5% Water Allocation

Well, it's better than nothing:
Drought-stricken California farmers and cities are set to get more water as state and federal officials ease cutbacks due to recent rain and snow, officials announced on Friday.
The Department of Water Resources said it is increasing water allotments from the State Water Project from zero to 5 percent of what water districts have requested. The State Water Project supplies water to 29 public agencies serving more than 25 million Californians and irrigates nearly a million acres of farmland.
Also, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it will supply 75 percent of the water requested by water agencies in the Sacramento Valley, up from the current 40 percent.
"This is all a bit of good news in an otherwise bleak water year," Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said on a conference call with reporters.
The state's increase to a 5 percent allocation will make a little more than 200,000 acre-feet available. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre to a depth of 1 foot, and roughly enough to sustain a family of four for a year.
Federal and state officials said rain and snow from storms in February and March allowed them to increase water allotments.
The news comes as the state is experiencing its third consecutive dry year. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January.
I just can't imagine depending on irrigation water, and getting next to nothing.