Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Case for Napping at Work

Damn you, Sixty Minutes, this video works fine.

NASA Photo of the Day

November 22:

Solar Flare from a Sharper Sun
Image Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/AIA, NASA
Processing: NAFE by Miloslav Druckmuller (Brno University of Technology)
Explanation: Solar active region AR2192 was the largest recorded sunspot group of the last 24 years. Before rotating off the Earth-facing side of the Sun at the end of October, it produced a whopping six energetic X-class flares. Its most intense flare was captured on October 24 in this stunning view from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory. The scene is a color combination of images made at three different wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light; 193 angstroms shown in blue, 171 angstroms in white, and 304 angstroms in red. The emission, from highly ionized Iron and Helium atoms, traces magnetic field lines looping through the hot plasma of the Sun's outer chromosphere and corona. Beneath, the cooler solar photosphere appears dark at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. The exceptionally sharp composite image has been processed with a new mathematical algorithm (NAFE) that adapts to noise and brightness in extreme ultraviolet image data to reliably enhance small details.

America's Crumbling Infrastructure

Sixty Minutes:

We will never be able to keep up all the failing infrastructure we have. Yet, we keep building new suburbs with new (generally crappy and car-based) infrastructure.  I don't understand.

PS. The video doesn't appear to be working on my computer. Not sure what the problem is, since the imbed is is 480x270 (which would appear to be bigger than what the error says is the minimum).

North Dakota Regulators Use Cooperative Approach To Oil Patch Spills

The New York Times investigates how North Dakota regulates the Bakken oil field, and how that impacts company actions:
The Times found that the Industrial Commission wields its power to penalize the industry only as a last resort. It rarely pursues formal complaints and typically settles those for about 10 percent of the assessed penalties. Since 2006, the commission has collected an estimated $1.1 million in fines. This is a pittance compared with the $33 million (including some reimbursements for cleanups) collected by Texas’ equivalent authority over roughly the same period, when Texas produced four times the oil.
“We’re spoiling the child by sparing the rod,” said Daryl Peterson, a farmer who has filed a complaint seeking to compel the state to punish oil companies for spills that contaminated his land. “We should be using the sword, not the feather.”
North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory setup is highly unusual in that it puts three top elected officials directly in charge of an industry that, through its executives and political action committees, can and does contribute to the officials’ campaigns. Mr. Hamm and other Continental officials, for instance, have contributed $39,900 to the commissioners since 2010. John B. Hess, chief executive of Hess Oil, the state’s second-biggest oil producer, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2012.
State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.
Mr. Dalrymple’s office said in a statement: “The North Dakota Industrial Commission has adopted some of the most stringent oil and gas production regulations in the country to enhance protections for our water, air and land. At the same time, the state has significantly increased staffing to enforce environmental protections. Our track record is one of increased regulation and oversight.”
Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
With spills steadily rising in North Dakota, evidence gathered by The Times suggests that the cooperative approach is not working that well for the state, where the Industrial Commission shares industry oversight with the state’s Health Department and federal agencies.
One environmental incident for every 11 wells in 2006, for instance, became one for every six last year, The Times found.
Through early October of this year, companies reported 3.8 million gallons spilled, nearly as much as in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)
The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry.
The article notes that business culture in the United States may also be at fault:
Statoil, a multinational company whose largest shareholder is the Norwegian government, now ranks as the state’s fifth-biggest producer. With a professed goal of “zero incidents, zero releases,” according to Russell Rankin, its regional manager, it has reported no blowouts and has the best record in the state among the major producers in terms of how many gallons of oil it produces for each incident.
Based on volume, Statoil has produced 9,000 gallons of oil for every gallon of spillage; Continental has produced 3,500. Statoil contained some 70 percent of its spill volume to production sites. Continental contained less than half, The Times found.
In its written response, Continental disputed The Times’s “math,” but did not respond further after it was sent a spreadsheet of reported incidents that formed the basis for the findings.
I read the state Industrial Commission's monthly production data release, and have been amazed to see the report thanking folks for commenting on federal regulatory rule proposals encouraging a "states first" policy.  The state's hands-off regulatory approach will greatly benefit oil producers and saddle farmers, landowners and permanent residents with long-term pollution problems when the boom is over and done.  All I can say is that I'm glad the boom is there and not here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend Links

Some stories for your reading pleasure:

Living an Upright Life, as a Nun and a Coach - New York Times.  This nun is an assistant coach at the College of St. Scholastica.  They will meet St. John's University in the first round of the Division III playoffs tomorrow.  Good luck to both teams.

Baseball's $325 Million Man is Underpaid - The Atlantic.  Sports owners do make way too much money for doing nothing but being rich.

Happy Valley Could Be Anywhere, And That's The Scariest Part - Deadspin

This Tiny Engine Could Make Leaf Blowers Sound Less Like Jets - Wired.  Cool new rotary engine.

Better Barley Let People Settle Tibetan Plateau - Scientific American.  Beer at altitude will really mess you up.

Coal Rush in India Could Tip Balance on Climate Change - New York Times

Inside Apple's Broken Sapphire Factory - Wall Street Journal.  Apple is a whale in the 80/20 world.  I'm not an 80/20 guy.

With Drought the New Normal, Calif. Farmers Find They Have to Change - The Salt

Map of the Agriculture-Dependent Counties In the United States & Future of  Rural Area Economies - Big Picture Agriculture

The Hummingbird Effect: How Galileo Invented Time and Gave Rise to the Modern Tyranny of the Clock - Brain Pickings

How Do You Memorialize a Mob? - Texas Observer.  The Great Hanging of Gainesville, Texas.

The Curious Case of Jesus's Wife - The Atlantic

For the Public Good: The Shameful History of Forced Sterilization in the U.S. - Longreads

Why Weren't Alarm Bells Ringing - NY Review of Books.  I'd go with hubris and a lack of common sense and connection with common people.

Five Ugly Decades of Middle Class Wages - Doug Short

GOP Governors' Meeting Showcases Potential Presidential Candidates - Morning Edition.  It is really a crowd of asshats, but I found this interesting:
In an apparent nod to 2016, the event was billed as the road ahead. It also featured Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another presidential contender. Jindal talked about his opposition to Obama's immigration order, to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and Common Core educational standards.
The governors on stage mostly shared his views except for one. Ohio governor John Kasich won re-election by a huge 30-point-plus margin. On immigration, Kasich said, he'd consider a path to citizenship. On Common Core, he said, it's working for Ohio and he defended his record of expanding Medicaid coverage.
GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH: I'm running a billion-and-a-half surplus in Ohio. Our credit rating is up. We've created a quarter-of-a-million jobs and we're helping a lot of people. Now, to me that's a pretty good formula for my state.
Kasich is also an asshat, but it is interesting that he's positioning himself against the Republican base.  An interesting strategy.  One that won't work, but interesting nonetheless.

Shale Boom Helps North Dakota Bank Earn Returns Goldman Would Envy - Wall Street Journal. 
Set up in 1919 under a socialist-oriented government that represented farmers frustrated with out-of-state commodity and railroad owners, the bank treads a fine line between the private and public sectors in what today is a solidly Republican state. It traditionally extends credit, or invests directly, in areas other lenders shun, such as rural housing loans.
It is amazing that today's average North Dakotan is as conservative as JP Morgan was back at the turn of the twentieth century.  They are nothing like their progressive great-grandparents who fought the monied interests tooth-and-nail.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Astronaut: A journey to space

Astronaut - A journey to space from Guillaume JUIN on Vimeo.

A Century of the Cooperative Extension Service

On May 8, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act establishing the Cooperative Extension Service:
The roots of U.S. agricultural extension go back to the early years of our country. There were agricultural societies and clubs after the American Revolution, and in 1810 came the first Farm Journal. It survived for only 2 years, but in 1819 John Stuart Skinner of Baltimore began publishing the American Farmer. Farmers were encouraged to report on their achievements and their methods of solving problems. Some worthwhile ideas, along with some utterly useless ones, appeared on the pages of the publication.
The Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant universities to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other practical professions. Extension was formalized in 1914, with the Smith-Lever Act. It established the partnership between the agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide for cooperative agricultural extension work. At the heart of agricultural extension work, according to the Act, was:
  • Developing practical applications of research knowledge.
  • Giving instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture.
Smith-Lever mandated that the Federal Government (through USDA) provide each state with funds based on a population-related formula. Today, NIFA distributes these so-called formula grants annually.
The extension service's first big test came during World War I, when it helped the nation meet its wartime needs by:
  • Increasing wheat acreage significantly, from an average of 47 million acres annually in 1913 to 74 million in 1919.
  • Helping the USDA implement its new authority to encourage farm production, marketing, and conserving of perishable products by canning, drying, and preserving.
  • Helping to address war-related farm labor shortages at harvest time by organizing the Women's Land Army and the Boys' Working Reserve.
More generally, extension's role in WWI helped it expand its reputation as an educational entity to one that also emphasized service for individuals, organizations, and the Federal Government.
During the Great Depression, state colleges and the USDA emphasized farm management for individual farmers. Extension agents taught farmers about marketing and helped farm groups organize both buying and selling cooperatives. At the same time, extension home economists taught farm women—who traditionally maintained the household—good nutrition, canning surplus foods, house gardening, home poultry production, home nursing, furniture refinishing, and sewing—skills that helped many farm families survive the years of economic depression and drought.
During World War II, the extension service again worked with farmers and their families, along with 4-H club members, to secure the production increases essential to the war effort. Each year for 5 years, total food production increased. In 1944, food production was 38 percent above the 1935-1939 average.
The Victory Garden Program was one of the most popular programs in the war period, and extension agents developed programs to provide seed, fertilizer, and simple gardening tools for victory gardeners. An estimated 15 million families planted victory gardens in 1942, and in 1943 some 20 million victory gardens produced more than 40 percent of the vegetables grown for that year's fresh consumption....

 Today, extension works in six major areas:
  • 4-H Youth Development —cultivates important life skills in youth that build character and assist them in making appropriate life and career choices. At-risk youth participate in school retention and enrichment programs. Youth learn science, math, social skills, and much more, through hands-on projects and activities.
  • Agriculture —research and educational programs help individuals learn new ways to produce income through alternative enterprises, improved marketing strategies, and management skills and help farmers and ranchers improve productivity through resource management, controlling crop pests, soil testing, livestock production practices, and marketing.
  • Leadership Development —trains extension professionals and volunteers to deliver programs in gardening, health and safety, family and consumer issues, and 4-H youth development and serve in leadership roles in the community.
  • Natural Resources —teaches landowners and homeowners how to use natural resources wisely and protect the environment with educational programs in water quality, timber management, composting, lawn waste management, and recycling.
  • Family and Consumer Sciences —helps families become resilient and healthy by teaching nutrition, food preparation skills, positive child care, family communication, financial management, and health care strategies.
  • Community and Economic Development —helps local governments investigate and create viable options for economic and community development, such as improved job creation and retention, small and medium-sized business development, effective and coordinated emergency response, solid waste disposal, tourism development, workforce education, and land use planning.
Regardless of the program, extension expertise meets public needs at the local level. Although the number of local extension offices has declined over the years, and some county offices have consolidated into regional extension centers, there remain approximately 2,900 extension offices nationwide. Increasingly, extension serves a growing, increasingly diverse constituency with fewer and fewer resources.
The Morrill Act and the Smith-Lever Act, along with the Hatch Act of 1887, which established agricultural research stations to work with land-grant universities, created a comprehensive system of agricultural research and educational facilities which promoted the improvement of agricultural science throughout the country.  In today's climate, where government is belittled and politicians are guilty of dereliction of duty, I can't think of any recent initiatives with a similar impact on citizens' lives.  That is unfortunate.

Thanks to my former boss for suggesting the subject of this post. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Building a Corn Pile

Resistance? Whodathunkit?

A map of glyphosate usage:

Starting when it was first released in 1974, the herbicide Roundup became a great labor saver for us. Dad loved to spray it around the farm, killing all those weeds and grasses without ever once shaking out a root ball.
He thought Roundup was the best thing ever.
I also remember the time Dad sprayed too close to the corn east of the house on a windy day, killing off about half an acre. That's when he said if we could ever develop crops immune to Roundup, the farmer would have it made.
He died a year before Roundup Ready soybeans were released in 1994.
Dad always read the label, even if he didn't take it to heart. He used to say Roundup was so benign, you could eat it on your breakfast cereal. He also pointed out it made a great hand cleaner. That’s true, it did. Grease comes right off with Roundup. That may have been at least in part due to soapy chemicals that help the product coat plants evenly. But it’s also a characteristic of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
According to my grandfather (so it has to be true), Roundup was developed as a soap which was intended for washing cars.   Monsanto washed some cars on a football field (why they would do that, I have no idea), and the wash water killed the grass.  Thus, Roundup as a herbicide. Yeah, I don't believe that, but I was reminded of it by the reference to Roundup as hand cleaner.