Saturday, March 24, 2012


Santorum's latest ad:

Obamaville? Really? Is Ahmadinejad supposed to scare me? And I love that Santorum's message guy says the little flash of Obama on the TV screen with Ahmadinejad isn't subliminal messaging. Go here and listen to him deny it.  Seriously, is Obama that scary to people?  I just don't get it.  He doesn't seem very bothersome to me.

Steam Powered By Waste Vegetable Oil

I knew there was something cool we could do with all our used fish fry oil:

Steam Powered by Waste Vegetable Oil from Grand Canyon Railway on Vimeo.

The Case For Davey Johnson

Rany Jazayerli makes the case that Johnson is the least heralded, best performing manager around.  After talking about his success with the Mets, there's this:
By 1993, the Mets had the worst record in baseball.
That was the same year Johnson was hired in Cincinnati, where he replaced Tony Perez mid-season. The Reds finished 73-89, but in 1994 they were 66-48 and led the NL Central when the strike wiped out the season. In 1995, they again finished first and advanced to the NLCS, but owner Marge Schott had already announced that Johnson would be let go after the season. Johnson moved on to Baltimore, and the Reds wouldn't make the playoffs again for 15 years.
In his first season with the Orioles, the team won the AL wild card, making their first playoff appearance in 13 years. In Johnson's second season, the Orioles won 98 games and the AL East. But — stop me if you're heard this before — Johnson didn't get along with team owner Peter Angelos, and he resigned after the 1997 season, on the same day he won AL Manager of the Year honors. Since Johnson left — stop me if you've heard this before — the Orioles have had 14 consecutive losing seasons.
Johnson's final stop was L.A.; after finishing 77-85 in 1999 — his first full losing season ever — he guided the Dodgers to an 86-76 record in 2000. And then lost his job.
Despite an almost eerie track record of success, Johnson hadn't managed in over a decade, partly because he was burned out from the day-to-day stress of the job, and partly because he was as bad at getting along with his superiors as he was good at managing the guys underneath him. Being unable to kowtow to Marge Schott or Peter Angelos could happen to any of us, though. The Nationals finally brought Johnson back after Jim Riggleman committed seppuku on his own managerial career last June, and the Nationals finished a respectable 40-43 under Johnson.
The best part of Johnson's time with the Reds, other than the winning, was that Marge cut him loose because she didn't like that he was shacking up with his girlfriend before they got married.  Being a religious conservative doesn't guarantee that good management decisions will be made.

The One Handed Beer Opener

From Fast Company:

Sure, it’s kind of cool to pop the top off of a bottle of beer with a lighter, or a car key, or even the side of a tabletop like some kind of modern-day MacGyver, but those hacks can fail spectacularly (more often than not in mixed company, accompanied by profound huffing and cursing). Kebo will not only have you casually sipping suds in no time flat, but you can actually eat a hamburger with one hand while using this nifty new tool with the other. And you only really need an available thumb to make it work. (Granted, two hands to help when affixing the thing.)
Designer Rush Dixon of Rush3 Studio developed the concept from a rusted, 1930s-era opener he found, then added some clever touches that give the stainless steel gadget more functionality and a slick new profile.
Kebo--a play on “bottle key"--not only opens your brew but also keeps the cap flat, rather than bending it backward like most other methods. That means you can stick it back on again if you can’t manage to drink your entire 12 ounces (or 40, depending on what kind of party you’re at) in a single sitting. It’s magnetized as well, so the cap won’t drop to the floor once it’s freed from its glass companion.
Pretty cool.  Of course, some might think, hey, what a great way to open a beer bottle while driving.  Not me, of course, but some might think that.

Newt Gingrich Is An Asshole

Newt Gingrich, the man who recently said that President Obama behaves like a Muslim and therefore deserves to be mistaken for one, wishes the president would stop playing the race card and using divisive language. He was referring to Obama's comments yesterday about the Trayvon Martin shooting, in which the president noted, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
Gingrich's remarks, from his appearance on The Sean Hannity Show on radio:
"What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful. It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.
Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him. That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point, we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling."
Hey, Newt, STFU.  Let's look at this another way.  Imagine if this was a white kid who was shot by a black or a Hispanic in a similar situation.  Would the black or Hispanic not be in jail right now?  The President, and Rick Santorum actually, both said very decent things about this case.  Is Newt claiming that if Obama had a son, he wouldn't be black?  Is he saying that whites don't get really nervous around young black men often?  Is he saying that it isn't more likely that a black kid would get shot than a white kid in a similar situation?  Even if a white kid was shot by a white person in this situation, it is far more likely that the shooter would already be in jail under these circumstances than if the victim was white.  I don't think one can argue otherwise.  Saying what the President said is disgraceful is the worst kind of racist victim-mongering.  Oh, the black guy is making everything about race and saying we nice white people are racist.  What a divisive jerk!  He hurts my feelings!  Screw you, Newt, you racist asshat.  Go listen to Rick Santorum (I can't believe I said that), you scumbag.

NCAA Tournament Predictions

So far, my hockey predictions are worse than my basketball predictions.  0 for 4 last night.  Just like in basketball with Duke, one of my teams in the final, Miami, got beat in the first round.  Ouch.

Is Corzine's Time Running Out?

Bloomberg, via nc links and Jesse:
Jon S. Corzine, MF Global Holding Ltd. (MFGLQ)’s chief executive officer, gave “direct instructions” to transfer $200 million from a customer fund account to meet an overdraft in a brokerage account with JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), according to a memo written by congressional investigators.
Edith O’Brien, a treasurer for the firm, said in an e-mail quoted in the memo that the transfer was “Per JC’s direct instructions,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by Bloomberg News. The e-mail, dated Oct. 28, was sent three days before the company collapsed, the memo says. The memo does not indicate whether that phrase was the full text of the e-mail or an excerpt.
O’Brien’s internal e-mail was sent as the New York-based broker found intraday credit lines limited by JPMorgan, the firm’s clearing bank as well as one of its custodian banks for segregated customer funds, according to the memo, which was prepared for a March 28 House Financial Services subcommittee hearing on the firm’s collapse. O’Brien is scheduled to testify at the hearing after being subpoenaed this week.
“Over the course of that week, MF Global (MFGLQ)’s financial position deteriorated, but the firm represented to its regulators and self-regulatory organizations that its customers’ segregated funds were safe,” said the memo, written by Financial Services Committee staff and sent to lawmakers.
Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for Corzine, said in a statement that Corzine “never gave any instruction to misuse customer funds and never intended anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds.”
Will Corzine be able to weasel his way out of jail?  I would think not, but the more money one has, the more likely it is to occur.

March 24: A Major Day In Religious Conflict

A day after the Catholic Bishops held rallies across the country to promote their right to deny their employees birth control (I tried to find coverage in the Dayton paper, but the search turned up coverage of a priest conducting an exorcism of an abortion clinic earlier in the month), many of the notable historical occurances for this date have a link to religious conflicts:

1603- James VI of Scotland also becomes James I of England.
The man who authorized the King James Bible, became King of Scotland because his mother, Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate because of her Catholicism:
The care of James was entrusted to the Earl and Countess of Mar, "to be conserved, nursed, and upbrought" in the security of Stirling Castle. James was crowned King of Scots at the age of thirteen months at the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, by Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, on 29 July 1567. The sermon at the coronation was preached by John Knox. In accordance with the religious beliefs of most of the Scottish ruling class, James was brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland. The Privy Council selected George Buchanan, Peter Young, Adam Erskine (lay abbot of Cambuskenneth), and David Erskine (lay abbot of Dryburgh) as James's preceptors or tutors. As the young king's senior tutor, Buchanan subjected James to regular beatings but also instilled in him a lifelong passion for literature and learning. Buchanan sought to turn James into a God-fearing, Protestant king who accepted the limitations of monarchy, as outlined in his treatise De Jure Regni apud Scotos.
Two years after becoming the King of England, Guy Fawkes failed to blow James to Kingdom Come in the Gunpowder Plot.

Later in English history, in 1823, we have this:
The Parliament of the United Kingdom passes the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, allowing Catholics to serve in Parliament.
Catholic emancipation or Catholic relief was a process in Great Britain and Ireland in the late 18th century and early 19th century which involved reducing and removing many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics which had been introduced by the Act of Uniformity, the Test Acts and the penal laws. Requirements to abjure the temporal and spiritual authority of the Pope and transubstantiation placed major burdens on Roman Catholics.
From the death of James Francis Edward Stuart in January 1766, the Papacy recognised the Hanoverian dynasty as lawful rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland, after a gap of 70 years, and thereafter the penal laws started to be dismantled. The most significant measure was the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom.
Just three years later in 1832, here in Ohio, we have this:
In Hiram, Ohio a group of men beat, tar and feather Mormon leader Joseph Smith, Jr..
Smith's stay in nearby Kirtland was stormy, with charges of bank fraud driving him west, where he settled in Missouri, and then Illinois, where he met his demise.  Shifting to Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1922, we get the McMahon murders:
Irish War of Independence: In Belfast, Northern Irish policemen break into the home of a Catholic family and shoot all eight males inside.
The McMahon murders occurred on 24 March 1922 in Belfast, Northern Ireland when six Irish Catholic civilians were shot dead and two wounded by policemen of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) or Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The dead were aged between 15 and 50 and all but one were members of the McMahon family. The policemen broke into their house at night and shot all eight males inside. It is believed to have been a reprisal for the IRA's killing of two policemen the day before.
Northern Ireland had been created ten months beforehand, in the midst of the Irish War of Independence. During this time, its police forces – especially the USC, which was almost exclusively Protestant and unionist – were implicated in a number of attacks on Catholic and Irish nationalist civilians as reprisal for IRA attacks.
Moving on to 1972:
The United Kingdom imposes direct rule over Northern Ireland.
Finally, in 1980:
 Archbishop Óscar Romero is killed while celebrating Mass in San Salvador.
While I understand the bishops' position about religious freedom, history is clogged with examples of much worse instances of injustice based on religious freedom or the lack thereof.  Mandating that employer-provided health insurance cover birth control at no charge doesn't rank at the top of the list of infringements of religious freedom.  It's on the list, yes, but not at the top.

Friday, March 23, 2012

More On DC Power Transmission

Scientific American:
A battle for the grid emerged from the Apple and Microsoft of the Gilded Age. Thomas Edison, who invented many devices that used DC power, developed the first power transmission systems using this standard. Meanwhile, AC was pushed by George Westinghouse and several European companies that used Nikola Tesla's inventions to step up current to higher voltages, making it easier to transmit power over long distances using thinner and cheaper wires.
The rivalry was fraught with acrimony and publicity stunts -- like Edison electrocuting an elephant to show AC was dangerous -- but AC eventually won out as the standard for transmission, reigning for more than a century.
Now comes the EMerge Alliance, a consortium of agencies and industry groups that thinks DC will make a comeback. With so many portable electronic devices and large electricity users like data centers running on DC, the technology can fill a growing niche while cutting energy consumption.
In addition, as more renewable electricity generators like photovoltaics and wind turbines producing DC come online, DC power systems can ease their integration into the grid. "We were asking, as a group, of ourselves, 'If we're generating DC power and we're using DC power, why are we converting it to AC to move it a few hundred feet, or even a few feet?'" said Brian Patterson, chairman of EMerge.
I know Minnesota Power bought a DC transmission line in North Dakota to connect their wind farm into.  Cutting down on power inverting will save a lot in transmission losses.

Going Medieval

Der Spiegel, via nc links:
What did a medieval stonemason do when heavy rainfall interrupted his work? Umbrellas are impractical at construction sites. Gore-Tex jackets weren't yet invented, nor were plastic rain jackets. "He donned a jacket made of felted loden cloth," says Bert Geurten, the man who plans to build an authentic monastery town the old-fashioned way.

Felted loden jackets will also be present on rainy days at Geurten's building site, which is located near Messkirch, in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, between the Danube River and Lake Constance. Beginning in 2013, a Carolingian monastery town will be built here using only the materials and techniques of the 9th century. From the mortar to the walls, the rain jackets to the menu, every aspect of the operation will be carried out as just as it was in the days of Charlemagne. "We want to work as authentically as possible," says Geurten.

The building contractor from the Rhineland region has long dreamt of carrying out his plan. When he was a teenager, the now 62-year-old was inspired by a model of the St. Gallen monastery plan in an exhibition in his home city of Aachen. The plan, dating from the beginning of the 9th century, shows the ideal monastery, as envisioned by Abbot Haito of Reichenau.
Haito dedicated his drawing to his colleague Abbot Gozbert of St. Gall, who presided over the monastery from 816 to 837. He meticulously recorded everything that he believed was necessary for a monastic city, from a chicken coop to a church for 2,000 worshipers. Altogether he envisaged 52 buildings -- but they were never built. That will change in spring 2013, though, when ox-pulled carts wil begin carrying the first stones to the building site in the forest near Messkirch. It won't be finished until about 2050, according to estimates.
Wow, I can't imagine participating in that project.  It would be like a neverending Renaissance Fair.  I bet one who participated for a while would become a pretty skilled stone mason.  But I would also guess the project manager would be terrible to work for.

The Party Of Less Government

Via Mark Thoma, John Sides highlights a recent YouGov poll:

Only 17% of Republican primary voters wanted to cut spending on health research. Only 20% wanted to cut Social Security or Medicare. In fact, only 32% wanted to cut Medicaid and only 36% wanted to cut aid to the poor. Majorities of GOP primary voters were willing to cut only four things: unemployment benefits, spending on housing, spending on the environment, and foreign aid.
Honestly, only 25% of respondents wanted to cut agricultural spending?  That's pretty amazing considering about 1% of citizens are farmers, and they've had a tremendous previous four years.

Just a bit of skepticism here, but I'm guessing a YouGov poll might not be the most reliable for sampling anti-government attitudes.  There may be a bit of positive bias just built into the name.

Will Apple Build A Bell Labs?

Matthew Yglesias says probably not:
Nicholas Thompson notes that Apple has become the biggest company in the world while maintaining a fairly lean R&D budget, so naturally he wants them to turn around and dedicate a hefty share of their remaining stockpile to creating a new version of Bell Labs.
Rather than say whether I agree with this or not, it's worth just saying why it's not going to happen. After paying a dividend and executing a $10 billion share buyback scheme, Apple will still have a ton of cash on hand. But that cash will largely be in nominally "foreign" accounts and can't be "brought home" without paying a hefty tax bill. This isn't just a matter of selling stuff abroad. If Apple Germany pays German corporate income tax on its German operations, those payments can be deducted during the repatriation business. But like other large multinational companies, Apple engages in extensive financial engineering to try to make sure that as many of its profits as possible are "located" in tax haven jurisdictions like Ireland. Apple rationally believes that at some point in the future the US Congress will either enact a corporate income tax cut, or else declare a "repatriation holiday" and they'll be able to fully complete the money-laundering process that lets them accrue profits while paying little tax on those profits. Taking the money home to establish Apple Labs isn't an option for the same reason that taking the money home to pay a higher dividend isn't an option—they're sitting on the money for tax avoidance purposes, and will keep sitting on it until either US tax law changes or else until the Congress sends some kind of credible signal that the tax will never change.
Something else to note is that in Bell Labs' postwar heyday the marginal income tax rate was extremely high. If you're a corporate executive and you know that 90% of any additional income that you pay yourself is going to go to the federal government, suddenly using the corporate account to buy yourself fun new toys instead looks like an appealing alternative. And what could be more fun than a giant wacky research lab!
I like his point on the 90% marginal rate.  Also, I think the idea of shareholder returns have kind of buried the idea of large investments in experimental R&D.  Companies would rather get some gimmick to market than develop something completely out of the box.

Defense Budgets At A Glance

From The Big Picture:

And we have oceans on each side of us.  Defense indeed.

The Big Get Bigger

This chart from Big Picture Agriculture:

We're definitely not in the $1 million or more range.

My War With Chase Bank

Late last year, I closed down my bank accounts at Chase Bank.  But when I closed the accounts, the bank paid out the final interest payment I was owed later that day.  So for the last 3 months, I've had $1.06 in my savings account, and $0.01 in my checking account.  That is, until I got my most recent statement:

Yes, that is correct.  My $1.07 turned into -$19.99 according to the financial wizards at Chase.  What I found interesting was that on my savings account, they only took the money in the account, but on the checking account, they charged me $20.00, and didn't credit any of the $1.06 toward it, but showed a deficit of $19.99.  As you may be able to piece together from the dollar bill and coins, I went to the local Chase branch and told them I wanted my $1.07.  At first she told me that I got charged a service fee and the $1.07 was gone.  I explained that I had closed my account, and the $1.07 was interest I was owed.  She did get me the $1.07.

Yeah, this was kind of a dick move on my part, but hey, isn't a dick move on Chase's part to charge $21.06 in fees on an account with $1.07 in it, especially when it was pretty clear what my intention was when I drew the account down to a zero balance while working with the branch manager to close my account?

I must say, local Chase Bank staff were very friendly with me while I waged war against my and their corporate masters.  But there is no reason for a multinational bank to steal from the little folks, is there?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How's That Austerity?

The Republic of Ireland fell back into recession in the last three months of 2011, official figures have shown.
Its economy shrank by 0.2% from October to December, following a contraction of 1.1% in the third quarter.
The data from the Central Statistics Office showed that the weakness in the global economy had hit Irish exports, while its domestic consumer spending had continued to recover.
The country needed an international bailout in 2010.
While consumer spending in Ireland rose by 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011, exports fell by 1.1%.
Irish economist Conall Mac Coille, of Davy Stockbrokers, said: "Consumer spending and investment bounced back as we expected, but exports contracted on the quarter, highlighting the danger that a key platform for growth is being eroded by the euro area slowdown."
This is bad for the Emerald Isle, and the world.  The Irish people got screwed when the government bailed out the ass clowns at the Irish banks.

Map of the Day

Dry America:

National prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, but it never quite died out.
When alcohol regulation was handed back to individual states, many local communities voted to keep the restrictions in place, particularly in the southern Bible Belt.
Today there are still more than 200 "dry" counties in the United States, and many more where cities and towns within dry areas have voted to allow alcohol sales, making them "moist" or partially dry.
The result is a patchwork of dry, wet and moist counties stretching across the south.
I'll start a campaign: Let's Make Ohio Wet!
Counties are classified as "partially dry" where wet communities exist within dry counties, or where dry communities exist within wet counties. The exact definition of wet and dry differs between states.
Let's make Ohio fully wet.  Wayne Wheeler is dead and gone (and not missed).  Dry communities are stagnant communities.  Let's promote growth and jobs and make Ohio a good place to live.  A place where we all can enjoy life.  Who's on board?

The Tax Cut Santa

Bruce Bartlett gives a history of the idea of the Republican party as the tax cut party, and discusses the man who came up with the idea of the party as the Tax Cut Santa:
I worked for Mr. Wanniski in the mid-1980s and know that he wasn’t obsessive about never raising taxes. He wanted economic growth and thought tax-rate reductions were the best way to achieve it, at least in the 1970s. But if higher taxes would raise growth, then he would support them. As he explained in an e-mail to Ben Bernanke, at the time the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, on Aug. 11, 2005 (on which I was copied):
I for one am always ready to listen to arguments for higher taxes, more regulation and restraints on free markets, as I might be persuaded that under certain circumstances they would “invite,” not “stimulate” (a Keynesian idea), long-term growth. I’m not “anti-government,” in other words. (The Grover Norquist idea of opposing all tax increases is dumb, and Grover knows I believe that.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Wanniski opened Pandora’s box when he let loose the two-Santa theory. Republicans are now bound to it, whether they know it or not. As Keynes once put it, “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
It doesn't take a genius to realize the Grover Norquist idea of opposing all tax increases is dumb.  At least some people realize what problems we face.

Relitigating Forty Years of History

March 22, 1972:
 Eisenstadt v. Baird decision by the United States Supreme Court allows unmarried persons the right to contraceptives. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972), was an important United States Supreme Court case that established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples and, by implication, the right of unmarried couples to engage in potentially nonprocreative sexual intercourse (though not the right of unmarried people to engage in any type of sexual intercourse).
The Court struck down a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people, ruling that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
William Baird was charged with a felony for distributing contraceptive foams after lectures on population control at Boston University. Under Massachusetts law on "Crimes against chastity" (Chapter 272, section 21A), contraceptives could be distributed only by registered doctors or pharmacists, and only to married persons.
After Baird was convicted, an appeal resulted in partial overturn by the Massachusetts Superior Court, which concluded that the lectures were covered by First Amendment protections. However, the court affirmed the conviction under contraceptive distribution laws. Baird filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, which was refused by the court. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the dismissal and remanded the action with directions to grant the writ, and dismiss the charge, reasoning that the Massachusetts law infringed on fundamental human rights of unmarried couples as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, by Sheriff Eisenstadt, who had prosecuted the case, on the ground that Baird lacked standing to appeal, being neither an authorized distributor under the statute nor a single person.
In a 6-1 decision (Justices Rehnquist and Powell were not sworn in on time to participate in the case), the Court upheld both Baird's standing to appeal and the First Circuit's decision on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause, but did not reach the Due Process issues. The majority opinion was written by Justice William J. Brennan Jr. and joined by three other justices, William O. Douglas, Potter Stewart, and Thurgood Marshall. Brennan reasoned that, since Massachusetts did not enforce its law against married couples and could not under Griswold v. Connecticut, the law worked irrational discrimination by denying the right to possess contraceptives by unmarried couples. He found that Massachusetts' law was not designed to protect public health and lacked a rational basis.
Brennan held that the right of privacy recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut extended to procreative decisions made by unmarried couples, as well as married couples. In doing so, he extended the right announced in Griswold to any procreative sexual intercourse: "If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."
Justice Douglas, concurring, argued that since Baird was engaged in speech while distributing vaginal foam, his arrest was prohibited by the First Amendment.
Now Republicans seem interested in relitigating the issue.  I'll pass.

Stealing Tide?

Earlier this week, The Daily's M.L. Nestel wrote that Tide liquid laundry soap appears to have become a favorite target of shoplifters around the nation, who are jacking the product from store shelves in bulk, then selling it on the black market. Thieves simply load up shopping carts full of the bright orange bottles, then bolt out the door. One con in Minnesota appears to have liberated $25,000 worth of the stuff in 15 months before he was eventually arrested. Meanwhile, police in Prince George's County, Maryland have taken to calling Tide "liquid gold." According to the Associated Press, officers there say that drug dealers have started urging their clientele to pay with Tide bottles in lieu of cash.
A alleged quote from one dealer: "I'm out of marijuana right now, but when I get re-upped I'll hook you up if you can get me 15 bottles of Tide."
Dialogue from The Wire, this is not. However, there may be something deeper going on here than a bunch of quirky crooks. It's possible we're getting a peak into the world of organized retail crime -- or ORC, as the government likes to abbreviate it.*Each year, organized groups of professional shoplifters steal or fraudulently obtain billions of dollars in retail merchandise," says the Government Accountability Office, which released a report on the epidemic last June. Criminals tend to pilfer products that are small and expensive -- razor blades, infant formula, gift cards, teeth whitening products, cosmetics, and over-the-counter medications, for instance. While it's a little bulkier than most of the items on that list, a bottle of Tide would seem to make a good target because it's a leading brand, everybody needs it, and it's pricey; one bottle can cost up to $20 retail, and it allegedly sells on the street for between $5 and $10. 
Wow, not exactly the crime wave I envisioned as the economy tanked.

The World's Most Overpaid Backup Quarterback?

Writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post:
The Jets even announced the trade on their twitter feed. And th-e-e-e-e-e-n someone in Jets' management decided to look at Tebow's contract.
The Jets were apparently in too much rush to make a news splash for their New York tabloids. They didn't look at Tebow's contract until after agreeing to the deal.
Would you buy a home without an inspection?
The contract says any team acquiring Tebow has to kick back $5.06375 million to the Broncos in advanced salaries from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons, according to an NFL source.
Other reports confirm this quirky provision—which gave Tebow a $6.2 million salary advance before last season—and say that other potential Broncos trading partners were aware of it. Just not the Jets. Now Adam Schefter reports that the Jaguars are back in the mix for Tebow, although of course that could just be hot air coming from Denver to scare the Jets, who are probably trying to haggle Denver down from that hefty price tag. Take off your coat and stay a while—this thing is just starting to warm up.
I guess one can make lots of money without a decent quarterback rating.  Actually, as a Bengals fan, I remember some even more overpaid backups.  David Klingler.  Akili Smith.  Anyway, at least Tebow sells jerseys.  Also, nice move Jets, try to get a few details before you announce the trade.

Maid-Rite Announces Expansion

Des Moines Register:
Maid-Rite, the 86-year-old Iowa restaurant chain, has added four new restaurants, with seven others under construction and plans for 11 more in the coming year.
Many of the expansions are in states where Maid-Rite has not had operations in the past, including North Carolina, Utah, Florida and Ohio, said Maid-Rite chief Bradley Burt.
The most recent additions mean the chain now has 74 restaurants in 14 states, Burt said.
He said the recent economic turnaround has been good for selling Maid-Rite franchises to late-in-life entrepreneurs who see the chain as a chance reclaim their piece of the American dream.
“After going through the doldrums of the economic recession in 2009, 2010 and parts of 2011, it is wonderful to see the American Spirit unfold and to see our franchisees opening new restaurants across this great land,” Burt said.
He said the Des Moines-based chain has seen growing interest from potential new oweners in part because it is one of the least expensive restaurant franchises.
Maid-Rite has been a Greenville, Ohio institution for years, and it was only about 10 years ago I found out there were stores in other places.  Anyway, lots of people love it, but I don't get it.  I'll go for K's or the Spot.

Was Darth Vader A Great Project Manager?

Geek Wire gives the top 10 reasons why Darth Vader was an amazing project manager (h/t Ritholtz). My favorite:
Number 6: Vader managed risk and expectations…pre-emptively. Remember that time when Darth Vader went to Cloud City, bought off the management, then lured Han, Leia, and Chewbacca into a trap? Genius. The amount of planning and forethought that went in to that little exercise must have been epic. After some serious prioritizations, Vader perceived the highest risk to his Galaxy, and made a plan to mitigate the risk stat! Additionally, you saw him having conversations with team members all over the place making sure they understood clearly what his expectations were with regards to the achievement of goals. Good project managers think about their projects defensively, and act to protect them aggressively.
From my experience, he seems like the prototypical project manager:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Club Trillion On Charles Barkley

From Grantland:

14. Charles Barkley is delightfully bad in the studio

I know that the same can be said about him when he's working NBA games, but it's especially true during March Madness. What makes it that much better is that Barkley is usually the last of the analysts to chime in with his thoughts, so by the time it's his turn to talk all of the obvious points have been mentioned. As a result, Barkley, who clearly hadn't watched a single college basketball game before the tournament, ends up saying things like, "I think the team that (insert something obvious, like "plays defense" or "scores a lot of points") will have a good chance at winning the game."
The Round Mound of Rebound is a terrible analyst, but he makes up for it by being hilarious.  When he opens that big trap, you have no idea what's going to come out.  That makes it worth watching.

Saudis Promise Extra Production Again

Stuart Staniford:
In a rather breathless top-of-website story, the FT's Guy Chazan writes:
Saudi Arabia’s powerful oil minister, Ali Naimi, made a rare intervention into overheating oil markets on Tuesday, declaring that high oil prices were “unjustified” and vowing that the kingdom would boost its output by as much as 25 per cent if necessary.
Mr Chazan must not have been paying attention or he would know that Mr al-Naimi trying to cause the supply and demand curves for oil to intersect at a different place by jawboning them is a regular feature of the oil world.  It usually has a rather small effect on the price that lasts a day or two.  The thing that would actually affect prices, pumping more oil, he always rejects on the same tired grounds:
Asked if it could ease prices by exporting more oil, he said customers were not asking for additional crude. “We are ready and willing to put more oil on the market, but you need a buyer,” he said.
 So if the Saudis can just turn on the spigot, why don't they ever?  Considering how expensive tar sands production is, it would seem like the Saudis producing over 2 million more barrels a day would make a big difference, especially since all the additional oil production in North Dakota only amounts to 600,000 barrels a day.  The Saudi oil minister is blowing smoke. 

Romney Cruises In Illinois

LA Times:
Mitt Romney scored a decisive victory over Rick Santorum in the Illinois primary on Tuesday, tightening his grip on the Republican front-runner’s slot and improving his chances of locking up the nomination by the end of the presidential primary season in June.

Santorum, meantime, suffered a serious setback in his effort to send the GOP battle spilling onto the floor of the nominating convention in late August.

Turnout in the Chicago metro area, where most of the state’s voters live, was said to be light, despite clear skies and record-high temperatures in the mid-80s. But Romney carried the largely suburban collar counties around Chicago by 20 percentage points, according to exit poll data, building a lead that Santorum was unable to overcome in other parts of the state.
What this shows is that Rick Santorum would be a dead man walking in a general election.  I'm somewhat disappointed that we might not have a national referendum on taking away citizens' birth control and porn.  That would have been a very entertaining campaign, and it would have allowed Republicans to embarrass themselves.  I could just hear them, "we're the party of less government involvement in everything but in your sex life."  That would have been good times. 

How Many Calories Are In Movie Popcorn?

Ezra Klein:
Among its many provisions, the Affordable Care Act requires chain restaurants to label their menus with calorie counts. The Food and Drug Administration is writing the final ground rules on this but has found itself entangled in a big fight over one seemingly small provision: Should the regulations cover movie theaters?
Movie theaters lobbied aggressively against the idea (Bloomberg News had a great story on this). And, in draft rules, they were successful: The FDA decided that movie theaters were among a small handful of establishments that serve food but would not have to provide lists of caloric content (amusement parks, airplanes and trains also fall into this category).The ice cream parlor lobby was, apparently, less successful, as its establishments are among those that will have to provide menu labels.
Now, as the FDA works on the final rule, consumer advocates are pushing back, circulating a petition to get movie theaters covered. They argue that since movie theater food tends to be very high in calories, consumers should know what they’re getting into. “Did you know that one medium popcorn from Regal Cinemas contains 1,200 calories?”
According to the video he posted, that's a medium popcorn WITHOUT the butter topping.  Who spends all that money for popcorn and doesn't top it off with six ounces of buttery, salty grease?  It isn't this guy.  And while we're at it, who gets the medium, when the extra large is only fifty cents more?  Again, not this guy.  I'm going for a whole day's worth of calories in a single tub.  Yes, please refrain from posting that information, because it might cause some psychosomatic reaction in me.

Chart of the Day


What this says is that the system that has provided workable insurance coverage to many (but not enough) Americans is coming apart at the seams. And this in turn means that if health reform goes down, we’re going to be looking at a wave of misery spreading across the land.
Actually, if Obamacare gets struck down, instead of slowing the march to socialized medicine, the ruling will speed that march.  Also, Republican bills pushing for employers to have say in whether employees can get birth control will do the same thing.  If Republicans are opposed to single-payer health care, they have a really strange way of showing it.  Obama is subsidizing insurance premiums and getting rid of preexisting condition clauses, making insurance more palatable.  Striking down the mandate will torpedo getting rid of preexisting condition clauses, because then people can wait until they are sick to get insurance.  Really, Republicans are attacking their own insurance-friendly plan just to try to defeat Obama.  Idiots.

The Rural-Urban Divide

James Poulos has a weird piece that doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense to me, but one of the commenters to the story does, in my opinion, express very well the differences between Republican and Democratic appeals to the opposite sides of the the rural-urban divide.  Here's Marcotico:
I have a theory that conservatives view rights as emanating from the individual and flowing outwards until the boundary line of one's property. Whereas liberals view rights as collective rights that need to be constantly negotiated, and are inter-dependent. The first model is rural in nature, "I can do anything on my property as long as it doesn't infringe on my neighbor's property." Easy to enforce when you're property is measured in acres, but much more difficult when your property line is three dimensional, and your roof is someone's else's floor. The second is urban in nature, as in the city center resources are all shared, and so much space is public (parks, shopping districts, the street, the air, and the aural environment).
I think this difference is fundamental to the the two political idealogies, and also tracks with the expanded libertarian model that includes libertarian and statist idealogies. As other commenters have noted this difference is what produces the tension in the suburbs. Suburbanites share the rural value that their property line is sacrosanct, and that everything inside their property should be in their control, but unfortunately they have to deal with shared resources like water, sewage, education systems, and road capacity, not to mention the shared aspects of property values, noise, and air quality. So the individualist tendencies become a fantasy, but a comforting one.
I've opined that population density is the leading explanation for how someone will vote.  I mainly felt that how many people you have to put up with will define your feelings on how much government involvement you want in your life.  I also think the greater income disparity makes wealthy urban residents more supportive of government welfare programs.  I like what Marcotico says, as it is pretty informative about property rights and actions.   I think his explanation for the suburbs works very well, as somebody on their half acre lot may want to do what he wants on his property, but having two other people right next door doing something he doesn't like really brings the individual versus collective argument into perspective.

Well said Marcotico.  Less well said Mr. Poulos.

The 1913 Flood

4th Street of Dayton, OH, USA during Great Miami Flood in 1913.

March 21, 1913:
The first of several days' storms arrives, which leads to massive flooding of the Great Miami River valley.

Here's wikipedia:
The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 flooded Dayton, Ohio, and the surrounding area with water from the Great Miami River, causing the greatest natural disaster in Ohio history. In response, Ohio passed the Vonderheide Act to allow the Ohio state government to form the Miami Conservancy District, one of the first major flood control districts in Ohio and the United States. This also inflicted a domino series of events, resulting in a further disruption. The flood was created by a series of three winter storms that hit the region in March 1913. Within three days, 8-11 inches of rain fell throughout the Great Miami River watershed on frozen ground, resulting in more than 90% runoff that caused the river and its tributaries to overflow. The existing series of levees failed, and downtown Dayton experienced flooding up to 20 feet (6.1 m) deep. This flood is still the flood of record for the Great Miami River watershed, and the amount of water that passed through the river channel during this storm equals the flow over Niagara Falls each month.
The Miami River watershed covers nearly 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2) and 115 miles (185 km) of channel that feeds into the Ohio River. Other cities across Ohio experienced flooding from these storms, but not as extensive as the cities of Dayton, Piqua, Troy, and Hamilton along the Great Miami River.
As the water receded, the damages were assessed in the Dayton area.
  • More than 360 people died.
  • Nearly 65,000 people were displaced.
  • Approximately 20,000 homes were destroyed.
  • Buildings were moved off their foundations, and debris in the moving water damaged other structures.
  • Property damage to homes and businesses, including factories and railroads, were over $100,000,000 (in 1913 dollars or over $2,000,000,000 in today’s dollars).
  • Nearly 1,400 horses and 2,000 other domestic animals died.
The Miami Conservancy District undertook a massive project to prevent future flooding.  The work included levee construction and channelization, along with the heart of the plan, five massive dams and detention basins constructed upstream from Dayton.  Here are the details of the dams:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ball State Goes Geothermal

Scientific American:
The vertical, closed-loop district system -- meaning the warm and cool water it makes does not make contact with naturally occurring groundwater -- will connect nearly 3,600 boreholes, 500-foot narrow vertical wells with loops of pipes surrounded by grout. The boreholes cover 25 to 40 acres, buried under an old soccer field, parking lots and other green fields.
The first phase began in May 2009 and became operational last November. In the second phase, the university will install 780 boreholes of the remaining 1,800 and will build a new energy station with two 2,500-ton heat pump chillers and a hot-water loop around the south portion of campus. Eventually, the system will bring heat to more than 5.5 million square feet.
The system will provide air conditioning and heating for 47 buildings on campus.
"We just keep adding to the piping the system and expanding those loops," said Lowe of the simplicity of expansion.
That is a bigass geothermal system.  So how much energy would they save if they only heated the buildings to, say 55 in the winter, and only cooled them to 85 in the summer?

The Mystery Of Mitt

Louis Menand reviews a new book on Romney:
Everything in Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s biography “The Real Romney” (HarperCollins) confirms the view that until 2005 Mitt Romney was a liberal Republican cryogenically preserved from the pre-Reagan era. He was a liberal on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights; a champion of government programs, such as universal health care; an anti-protectionist, “open door” internationalist; a private-sector multimillionaire who was also a personal square, completely uninterested in life-style “experimentation”; a reflexively patriotic, flag-pin-in-the-lapel sort of fellow; a wealthy man possessed of the slightly daft notion that although he had been born to privilege, every American has the opportunity (and the wish) to live as he does; a patrician with a deep sense of noblesse oblige. Since 2005, Romney has made himself interesting by getting a lot of people, including those who might vote for him and those who definitely will not, obsessed with whether, and to what extent, and in spite of anything to the contrary he might be saying on the campaign trail, he is still that person.
I can't figure Romney out.  While he appears to be the only sane Republican still running for president, he seems unable to tell the truth and appears to be obsessed with winning the nation's highest office.  I don't trust the guy, and I sure don't blame the tea party and all the other folks I completely disagree with, for likewise not trusting him.  He just comes off as not having a soul.

The General Theory of Relativity

March 20, 1916:
 Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity

Near the beginning of his career, Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led to the development of his special theory of relativity. He realized, however, that the principle of relativity could also be extended to gravitational fields, and with his subsequent theory of gravitation in 1916, he published a paper on the general theory of relativity. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light. In 1917, Einstein applied the general theory of relativity to model the structure of the universe as a whole.
More than 80,000 of Einstein's papers are going online at Hebrew University.

NCAA Hockey Bracket

The NCAA hockey tournament bracket is out, and Boston College, North Dakota, Union and Michigan got the number 1 seeds.

My picks: 

Northeast: BC and Minnesota-Duluth, with BC advancing.
West: Minnesota and Western Michigan, with Western Michigan advancing.
East: Michigan State and Miami, with Miami advancing.
Midwest: Denver and Michigan, with Denver advancing.

Frozen Four: BC and Miami, with BC winning the title.

Protecting Drillers Over Public Health

Truthout (h/t nc links):
The law, an amendment to Title 52 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.
The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”
Proprietary protections.  Woo hoo.  Again, glad I'm not over a large shale gas deposit.  Other people can deal with that.

More On Filbrun

At the time, the reaction to the Filburn decision emphasized how much power it had granted the federal government.
“If the farmer who grows feed for consumption on his own farm competes with commerce, would not the housewife who makes herself a dress do so equally?” an editorial in The New York Times asked. “The net of the ruling, in short, seems to be that Congress can regulate every form of economic activity if it so decides.”
The editorial, like much commentary on the case, seemed to suppose that Mr. Filburn was a subsistence farmer. But in fact he sold milk and eggs to some 75 customers a day, and the wheat he fed to his livestock entered the stream of commerce in that sense, according to a history of the case by Jim Chen, the dean of the law school at the University of Louisville.
In the health care case, the administration has insisted that the overhaul law is a modest assertion of federal power in comparison to the law Mr. Filburn challenged. “The constitutional foundation for Congress’s action is considerably stronger” for the health care law than for the law that the Supreme Court endorsed in 1942, the administration said in a recent brief. The health care law, the brief said, merely “regulates the way in which the uninsured finance what they will consume in the market for health care services (in which they participate).”
Opponents of the law take the opposite view, using an analogy. It is true that the federal government may “regulate bootleggers because of their aggregate harm to the interstate liquor market,” Mr. Carvin wrote in a recent brief . But the government “may not conscript teetotalers merely because conditions in the liquor market would be improved if more people imbibed.”
I have a hard time believing the Supreme Court will overturn Wickard v. Filbrun, but if anybody would, it will be the radical judicial activists appointed by Republicans on the Roberts Court.  They gave us Citizens United, so I don't expect anything legally impressive from them here.

Manning Headed To Denver

Peyton Manning will become the next quarterback of the Denver Broncos, barring a snag during intensified contract negotiations that have commenced under the instruction of the four-time MVP to his agent Tom Condon, according to multiple sources.

Once the Manning deal becomes official, Denver will try to trade Tim Tebow, according to sources.
Honestly, who's going to trade for Tebow?  I guess he could be a backup, but that would bring his new team a lot of headaches because people are just going to be clamoring to put him in.  John Elway looked at the Tebow situation, and the only way he saw to replace him was to get the big name super nice guy to guide him out.  I don't think Tebow mania will have legs, but you never know.  Stranger things have happened.

Picking Leaders

Daniel Kahneman on overconfidence (h/t Ritholtz):
Because our impressions of how well each soldier performed were generally coherent and clear, our formal predictions were just as definite. We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. We were quite willing to declare: “This one will never make it,” “That fellow is rather mediocre, but should do O.K.” or “He will be a star.” We felt no need to question our forecasts, moderate them or equivocate. If challenged, however, we were fully prepared to admit, “But of course anything could happen.”
We were willing to make that admission because, as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless. The evidence was overwhelming. Every few months we had a feedback session in which we could compare our evaluations of future cadets with the judgments of their commanders at the officer-training school. The story was always the same: our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.
The whole army story is entertaining.  I'll add that a lot of things in life come down to luck.  Trying to read more into it often is a fool's errand.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shell Finds Pa. Site For Ethane Cracker

Shell Oil Co. has selected a site near Monaca where it could build a multibillion-dollar chemical plant, the Houston-based company said today. A Shell subsidiary, Shell Chemical LP, signed a land-option agreement with Horsehead Corp. to evaluate the 300-acre site in Potter and Center townships, Beaver County, the company said.
The announcement concludes a months-long, three-state competition for private investment officials believe will create thousands of jobs and attract other major businesses.
"We are very pleased to have signed this site option agreement," said Dan Carlson, general manager of new business development for Shell Chemicals. "This is an important step for the project, and we look forward to working with the communities in Pennsylvania, and gas producers across Appalachia, as we continue our efforts to develop a petrochemical complex."
Shell said it continues to assess the feasibility of building a chemical plant, which would take ethane from natural gas and turn it into the raw materials used to make plastics. The company's CEO said recently that Shell could be years away from making a final decision on whether or not to build the plant.
While neither Shell nor Horsehead officials would discuss the contents of the option agreement, Shell did say that Horsehead would have to vacate the property by April 30, 2014 if Shell chooses to buy the property.
If the project goes forward, maybe the gas boom has legs.  I'm still somewhat skeptical.  Anyway, I wonder how many tax breaks go into this project.

Texas Farmers Fight Groundwater Restrictions

Texas Tribune, via Big Picture Agriculture:
As sleet pounded his West Texas farmhouse one recent afternoon, Dawdy and three other farmers said that new regulations — which limit the amount of water they can withdraw from the Ogallala Aquifer and require that new wells have meters to measure use — could have crippling effects on their livelihoods.
“We view it as a real property-rights violation,” said Dawdy, who grows cotton. If the restrictions had been in place last year during the drought, he said, his land would not have produced a crop.
Water is a contentious issue across Texas, but tensions have been especially high in a 16-county groundwater conservation district stretching from south of Lubbock into the Panhandle, an area considered part of America’s “breadbasket.” There, farmers reliant on the slowly diminishing Ogallala are fighting to maintain their right to pump unrestricted amounts of water. The issue gained urgency last month when a landmark Texas Supreme Court opinion confirmed that landowners own the water beneath their property, in the same way they own the oil and gas.
This won't end well for the Panhandle region.  The region is only viable agriculturally as long as the aquifer is there to exploit.  The farmers are really water miners, and when the water is gone, so is the agriculture.  The future of the region is the future of the aquifer, and in the southern part of the Great Plains, that future looks pretty bleak.

The Big O

An excerpt from Bill Simmons new book:
Oscar grew up like Bizarro Jimmy Chitwood in Bizarro Hoosiers, the never-released movie where a black basketball team prevailed … but not before facing profound prejudice and hostility along the way. When Oscar's Crispus Attucks High School became the first all-black champion in state history in 1955, Indianapolis rerouted its annual championship parade toward the ghetto, with the implication being, We don't trust the blacks to behave themselves, so let's keep this self-contained. Oscar never got over it. Nor did he get over Indiana University's coach, Branch McCracken, for recruiting him by saying, "I hope you're not the kind of kid who wants money to go to school." (Note: If you don't think Oscar didn't immediately stand up and walk out of the room, then you don't know Oscar well enough. Yes, that was a triple negative. I was due.) He chose the University of Cincinnati and had experiences that defy imagination six decades later. This stuff actually happened? His teachers belittled him in class and went out of their way to make him feel dumb. In Dallas, fans greeted him by tossing a black cat into his locker room. In Houston, he couldn't check into his hotel because of a NO BLACKS ALLOWED sign … only his team stayed there anyway, with poor Oscar stuck sleeping in a Texas Southern dorm room. In North Carolina, someone delivered him a pregame letter from the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan that simply read, "Don't ever come to the South." In St. Louis, he and a black teammate strolled into a restaurant and were greeted by stony silence, followed by every other customer clearing out within a minute or two. Even in downtown Cincinnati, they had "colored" water fountains and a cinema that wouldn't allow blacks as patrons … a theater that stood only half a block from where he starred for the Bearcats. Night after night, Oscar was filling a gym with fans and couldn't even walk down the street to catch a movie.

A Little Springfield History

March 19, 1954:
 Willie Mosconi sets a world record by running 526 consecutive balls without a miss during a straight pool exhibition at East High Billiard Club in Springfield, Ohio. The record still stands today. Mosconi set the world record by running 526 consecutive balls without a miss during a straight pool exhibition in Springfield, Ohio on March 19–20, 1954. To this day the record has not been toppled and many speculate it may never be bested. A handwritten and notarized affidavit with the signatures of more than 35 eyewitnesses exists as proof of this feat.
The record was set on a 4 × 8 foot Brunswick table with 5 1/4 inch corner pockets at the East High Billiard Club. Today's standard for tables may be considered more difficult to play on than this exhibition table in the sense that longer shots are required (today's standard tables are 9 x 4 1/2 ft) with 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 inch pockets, but today's tables may be considered easier to play on in the sense that there is more room for the balls to spread, creating unfettered shots. Mosconi competed successfully on 4 1/2 × 9 and 5 x 10 ft tables. The 526-ball record just happened to be on a 4 × 8 ft table, a size seldom used in professional play, but used for the billiard club exhibition that day. In fact, the room owner expected the exhibition to take place on the room's 9 foot table. That table was not a Brunswick, so Willie was required to play on one of the Brunswick 8 foot tables.


I may have posted this before, but it is cool nonetheless:

Manufacturing in the Heartland

The Des Moines Register profiles the manufacturing sector in Burlington, Iowa.  Here is one interesting tidbit:
If the future is small manufacturing, Craig Upton’s story is Burlington’s future.
He started a cabinet-making company in 1984 and built shelves for Aldi in the late 1980s. The grocery store chain asked him if he would build checkout lanes for them, he figured those out, and by 2000 he was making checkout lanes out of wood for Aldi, Target and Hy-Vee. In 2004, he got a call from the Siemens plant north of Fort Madison.
“They were looking for a supplier,” he said. “It was just like a perfect phone call.”
Upton’s company, KPI Concepts, went from 35 to 70 employees, and just built a new wing on its factory in West Burlington. The plant produces kits that workers at the Siemens plant use to assemble the wooden innards of windmill blades. The kits are complicated combinations of Russian plywood and Ecuadoran balsa, and they go into giant boxes that can be opened and quickly laid out in sequence.
“We’re making big puzzles,” Upton said.
Upton thinks Burlington is doing OK, though the nature of available jobs is changing. “It’s pretty hard to come out of high school and get some of these jobs,” he said. “We’re actually, truthfully, having a hard time finding people.”
That's an interesting business evolution.  A good portion of the article deals with the Case construction equipment plant in town.  The decline in wages over the years is pretty stark.  Who needs to calculate inflation when wages were over $20 an hour back in the early '80s and new workers start at $13 an hour now.  That's a pretty familiar story in manufacturing communities.

The Business Plot

From Jesse's Cafe Americain (h/t nc links):

More here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

March 15:

Solar Flare in the Gamma-ray Sky
Credit: NASA, DOE, International Fermi LAT Collaboration
Explanation: What shines in the gamma-ray sky? The answer is usually the most exotic and energetic of astrophysical environments, like active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes, or incredibly dense pulsars, the spinning remnants of exploded stars. But on March 7, a powerful solar flare, one of a series of recent solar eruptions, dominated the gamma-ray sky at energies up to 1 billion times the energy of visible light photons. These two panels illustrate the intensity of that solar flare in all-sky images recorded by the orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. On March 6, as on most days, the Sun was almost invisible to Fermi's imaging detectors. But during the energetic X-class flare, it became nearly 100 times brighter than even the Vela Pulsar at gamma-ray energies. Now faded in Fermi's view, the Sun will likely shine again in the gamma-ray sky as the solar activity cycle approaches its maximum.