Saturday, April 28, 2012

Smokin' The Hive

Just because:

Mercator's Maps

Weekend Edition Saturday:
He was born 500 years ago in Flanders, studied astronomy and mathematics, and drew his first major world map in 1538. He was imprisoned for heresy in 1544 — the charge probably had more to do with his Protestantism than science — but he was released after seven months and later moved to Duisburg.
Before Mercator, maps were often acts of imagination. Some mapmakers put in a Heaven above all that looked as detailed as the Seven Hills of Rome. Many drew dragons and serpents in uncharted places. Maps depicted hopes, and fears appeared almost as much as rivers and mountains.
But Mercator took into account sightings made on the great voyages of discovery of Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan. He made dragons into decorations, and drew curves into continents that suggested the way they stretched across an Earth that men were beginning to know — from experience and observation, not just theory — was not flat. He figured out math to depict the curves of the Earth as straight lines, so that sailors could plot courses.
Mercator's maps were highly imperfect, to be sure, drawn of a world that Europeans had only fractionally explored by the mid-16th century. But they were maps as we understand the term now. They could guide travelers from Point A to Point B, from Flanders to the Papal States. They could steer mariners from Europe to the New World. People could unroll Mercator's maps and hold a picture of the world in their hands, and open windows in their minds.
Old time math discoveries amaze me.  I don't really understand the math today, let alone inventing the stuff.

10 Miles Of Track In One Day

April 28, 1869:
Chinese and Irish laborers for the Central Pacific Railroad working on the First Transcontinental Railroad lay 10 miles of track in one day, a feat which has never been matched.
It is amazing that the feat has never been matched.

The Man In The Middle

Marketplace reports on a guy who owns land between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts:
No. What would be really convenient would be a chair-lift that connects one resort with the other. That’s likely to happen eventually. But it all depends on local landowner Troy Caldwell.
Troy Caldwell: We own a piece of property. It’s 460 acres. It lies between Squaw Valley ski area and Alpine Meadows ski area.
He paid less than half-a-million dollars for the land more than 20 years ago. To raise the money, the Caldwells liquidated everything.
Caldwell: We basically got rid of our home and our spec house and whatever we could to make it work. We ended up living in a trailer when we moved on the property.
That trailer was without electricity or running water for about six years. But no matter the hardship, Caldwell resisted offers to sell.
Caldwell: We’ve been offered in the $45 million category for it.
That’s right. He turned down $45 million so he could build his own minimal ski resort. He has no partners. Caldwell is building it on a budget of $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Caldwell: But I own everything. I don’t have any mortgages. We’re able to make $50,000, $60,000 kind of work for us.
The whole thing is entertaining.  Turning down $45 million?  Wow.

When Farmers Make Money, They Get Gouged

WSJ, via Big Picture Agriculture:
Here’s a puzzle: How is it that fertilizer prices are so stubbornly high while the production cost has plunged? The answer lies in the Corn Belt — and it will boost fertilizer equities for the foreseeable future.
Anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen-based plant food, now sells for nearly $700 a ton. That’s off from the highs of $800 late last year. But the biggest variable cost in making fertilizer, natural gas, has seen its price collapse. It’s off over half from $4.50 a million British thermal units in mid-2011. Natural gas for May delivery closed at $1.927 on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday, down 2.7% for the week.
If that drop in input costs were passed through, farmers would be paying around $231 a ton for nitrogen fertilizer, according to an analysis of the historical relationship between gas and fertilizer prices by Kevin Dhuyvetter, a farm-management specialist at Kansas State University.
So what gives?
A combination of abnormally high corn prices and increased plantings is keeping plant-food costs elevated. Fertilizer products “have been more tied to crop prices than lower natural-gas prices,” says Jeffrey Stafford, a Morningstar analyst in Chicago. “So producers have been able to capture that wide margin.”
You know, that's just horse shit. 

The Celebrity Marriage Longevity Equation

From On the Media:

It is pretty entertaining.

Chart of the Day

From Ritholtz:

Historic New York City

The Atlantic features some gorgeous old photos from the New York City Municipal Archive.  There are some great pictures of the Queensboro and Manhattan bridges under construction, along with a lot of other cool stuff.  I really liked this one, because I was looking for a photo of a bunch of fans wearing Homburgs at a baseball game back when I posted on the 40 year rule of nostalgia:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wanting and Having It All

No TV and No Beer...

Honor Code

I never really thought the college honor code meant much to anybody.

Not A Good Deal

April 27, 1667:
The blind and impoverished John Milton sells the copyright of Paradise Lost for £10.
Wow, with hindsight that doesn't seem like a good move.

The Real Story On Secret Societies

Steven Heller reviews Adam Parfrey's new book, Ritual America:
The question of who gets admitted to these groups recurs as a theme through history. Among the more troubling societies was a fairly large and important group, The Improved Order of the Red Men, which dates back to the early 1800s. Its members dressed in Native American garb and had rituals inspired by that culture—and yet refused to allow Native Americans into their society. Freemasonry and other fraternal groups, which said they welcomed all comers who believed in God, were primarily Protestant in perspective. "As a result, the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups adopted a close form of Masonic ritualism," Parfrey says.
The rites and rituals of these organizations were often bizarre and intimidating. Parfrey asserts that this was "a way of challenging new members, and providing a boast for all those who get beyond the rituals." There were hazing initiation pranks that made people believe their heads were going to be chopped off, or at the minimum, believe they were drinking goat's blood. "Some groups actually seemed to appeal to the sadistic," he says.
The payoff to membership in societies often extended to outside meeting-hall walls. During the Civil War, a number of soldiers from North and South carried on them proof of their Masonic membership, which was supposed to secure them good treatment from the enemy. "Then there were more business-oriented groups that in time became insurance agencies," Parfrey says. Others served social functions. "A remarkable group, The Veiled Prophet of the Khorassan of St. Louis, which still exists today as a yearly debutante ball and parade, was based on a poem by Thomas Moore," he says. "Promotional material would feature a strangely veiled leader in a fairy tale setting."
I've always been puzzled by the rites and rituals of these organizations.  I went through the Knights of Columbus initiation.  I'd tell you about it, but I was sworn to secrecy.  As far as the Red Men go, I'm pretty sure that Tammany Hall was a Red Man club.

Warm Ocean Currents Melt Antarctic Ice

Nature reports that warm ocean currents are increasing Antarctic ice melt:
 Reporting in this week's journal Nature, an international team of scientists including Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has established that warm ocean currents are the dominant cause of recent ice loss in Antarctica. New measurement techniques have been used to differentiate, for the first time, between the two causes of thinning ice shelves - warm ocean currents melting the underside, and warm air melting from above. This finding brings scientists a step closer to providing reliable projections of future sea-level rise. The work was initiated during a late 2009 visit to Scripps by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientist Hamish Pritchard, lead author of the study. Working with Fricker, Pritchard used measurements made by a laser instrument mounted on NASA's ICESat (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite) to estimate the changing thickness of almost all the floating ice shelves around Antarctica, revealing the pattern of ice-shelf melt around the continent. Of the 54 ice shelves studied, warm ocean currents are melting 20, most of which are in West Antarctica. In every case, the inland glaciers that flow down to the coast and feed into these thinning ice shelves are also draining more ice into the sea, contributing to sea-level rise. Only Larsen Ice Shelf, on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula (the long stretch of land pointing towards South America), is thinning because of warm air above it instead of melting from ocean currents.

"In most places in Antarctica, we can't explain the ice-shelf thinning through melting of snow at the surface, so it has to be driven by warm ocean currents melting them from below" said Pritchard.
Republicans may still be in denial, but we better be prepared for some climate driven issues in the near future.

Oil Sector Productivity

Slate, via Ritholtz:
In 2010, America’s proved oil reserves stood at 31 billion barrels, just slightly below the 33.8 billion barrels of proved reserves the United States had in 1990. But over that two-decade period, the domestic oil sector produced about 52 billion barrels of oil. In other words, between 1990 and 2010, the United States produced nearly twice as much oil as we believed the whole country had in 1990, and yet at the end of that period, we still had about the same amount in proven reserves. What’s going on? In a word: innovation. And few industries on the planet have been as innovative as the American oil and gas sector.
It’s not the size of your reserves that counts, it’s what you do with them. And the U.S. oil and gas sector has been remarkably proficient at exploiting this country’s vast mineral wealth. Over the past century or so, oil and gas drilling has gone from a business dominated by wildcatters armed mainly with a hunch and a prayer to one where the latest seismic and “geosteering” technologies allow drillers to steer their bits so accurately that they can arrive within inches of their target zone two miles (or more) beneath the Earth’s surface.
While the U.S. might be continuing to find oil, their energy ROI is still getting worse and worse, and that is the most important fact.  At a certain point, it just isn't a very good investment.  We're getting ever closer to that point.

Government Backs Down On Farm Child Labor Regs

Des Moines Register:
The U.S. Department of Labor has withdrawn a controversial proposal that would placed more stringent rules on minors' work on farms.
"The decision to withdraw this rule -- including provisions to define the 'parental exemption' -- was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms," the Labor Department said in a written statement. "To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”
The proposed rules would have barred children under the age of 16 from operating tractors or heavy farm equipment on non-family farms. They would not have applied to children working on their own family farms.
I'm not sure what is so controversial about limiting the work of non-family child laborers on farms.  Kids can't go get a job operating the slicer at Arby's, I'm not sure what would make operating a tractor any different.  But hey, farmers don't think any laws apply to them.  But here's Charles Grassley:
 “It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families," he said. "It would have been devastating to farm families across the country. Much of rural America was built on families helping families, neighbors helping neighbors. To even propose such regulations defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works. I’m glad the Obama administration came to its senses.”
Yeah, because nobody has ever gotten hurt on a farm, especially some kid. I should admit, I let a kid operate a tractor for me when he was not quite 15, but I was supervising him.  Supervising him as he shoved the forklift forks mounted on the tractor right through the wall of my kitchen.

Tricking the Brain

Via the Dish, Carl Zimmer explains the above optical illusion:
As you’ll notice, the circles seem to rotate in response to where you look at the illusion. So Macknik and his colleagues tracked the movement of people’s eyes as they gazed at two of these wheels on a computer screen. Their subjects kept a finger pressed on a button, lifting it whenever they seemed to see the wheels move.
Macnick and his colleagues found a tight correlation between the onset of the illusion and a kind of involuntary movement our eyes make, known as microsaccades. Even when we’re staring at a still object, our eyes keep darting around. These movements, called microsaccades, help us compensate for a peculiar property of the eye: if we stare at an object for too long, the signals each photoreceptor sends to the brain become weaker. Microsaccades refresh the photoreceptors with a different input and breath new life into our perception.
Unfortunately, the jumps of our eyes get in the way of our perception of motion. If we see a snake slithering along in a desert, we don’t have to register an entire image of the snake at one instant, then another image at the next instant, and then compare the location of the two images, in order to figure out that the snake is on the move and we might want to jump out of the way. Instead, we only have to sense rapidly changing light patterns in neighboring parts of the eyes. If certain neurons in the vision-processing regions of the brain gets a sudden, strong signal from the eye, they register motion.
Normally, our eyes can register motion despite the fact that they are also performing microsaccades. Our brains can tell the difference between a shift brought on by the movement of an object and one brought on by the movement of our own eyes. But thanks to the strong contrasts and shapes in the Rotating Snakes Illusion, we get mixed up. Our motion sensors switch on, and the snakes start to slither.
Our brains a completely fascinating, but it is amazing how easily they are tricked.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Rangers Advance

The New York Rangers got by Ottawa in game seven of their Eastern Conference first round game:
Rangers defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi scored 4:18 apart in the second period, Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves and top-seeded New York eliminated the pesky eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators from the playoffs with a 2-1 victory in Game 7 on Thursday night.
Staal broke the scoreless deadlock, and Girardi gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with his first career NHL playoff goal. Lundqvist allowed Daniel Alfredsson's power-play goal in the second but stood tall the rest of the way to send the Rangers into an Eastern Conference second-round matchup with the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals.
The Rangers hadn't hosted a Game 7 since their Stanley Cup victory over Vancouver in 1994, but they stayed perfect at home in deciding games - winning their fourth. New York is 4-5 overall in Game 7, and the Senators dropped to 0-5.
Lundqvist withstood tons of pressure from the Senators, who spent most of the closing 5 minutes in the Rangers' end.
The win wasn't secure until Sergei Gonchar tripped Carl Hagelin as he skated toward the empty net with 36.2 seconds remaining.
So the Rangers are the only Original Six team to advance to the second round, and Canada adds another year to the national Stanley Cup drought. Maybe next year.

A Rough Day At Work

Man, I got pummeled today at work.  We were in the midst of a lean manufacturing event, and I had to sort laser cut parts all day.  We cut a lot of 3/8" plate, so I got my workout throwing out scrap and carrying parts.  Worst part is, I'm back at it tomorrow at 6.  I'm definitely ready for the weekend, and bean planting if it doesn't rain.

Valuable Life Lessons

From Deadspin, a drunk employee from the Tampa Bay Times Forum lets fans in on some secrets:
Let me be the first to tell you, as an employee of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, that the management does not give a fuck about anybody.
I am currently nine beers in (Natural Ice because I'm cheap and in college, and it's got 5.9% ABV). I have 50 minutes before I need to clock into work. I think it's funny how arenas and stadiums try to tell their fans that the ultimate goal is to make life easier; where to go for their seats, where to find Outback and where to find the discount stations. My superiors never have told me any of this. But I can disclose a few secrets for hockey-goers' sake:
1) The Tampa Bay Lightning sell 24 oz. beers on the plaza, before you enter and before you go through security. The vendors sell them out on the plaza, so when one goes through security, they're casually asked, "Did you buy that here?" Of course you did. Long story short, buy a 24 oz beer, five of them for 6 bucks at a gas station and carry them in and you're gold. Better yet, use the can and fill it up with straight Jack Daniels and you're still all right. Searchers can't sniff or examine your can. Please, bring the liquor in, it'd make my job easier.
This is followed by another obvious fact: Hot women get all the breaks.  It is rather humorous, but I would imagine the email writer might get in trouble if Nick reads the story.

Who Can Hit That?

The Awl:
"A doctor claims to have proved the G-spot really does exist – but says it measures a meagre 8.1mm by 3.6mm by 1.5mm," which seems so small that, really, how could you blame a fella for missing it? I mean, that is tiny. It seems almost impossible that a gentleman, regardless of skill or girth, would be able to locate something that minuscule. Right, fellas?
Seriously, who can argue with that?

Eric Cantor Says Poor Folks Should Pay More Taxes

Derek Thompson:
Should we raise taxes on richer Americans? Eric Cantor has a clear answer. Absolutely, 100% no.

Should we raise taxes on poorer Americans? Eric Cantor has a different answer: "You've got to discuss that issue."

Here's the fuller quote, via Tim Noah:
Cantor: We also know that over 45 percent of the people in this country don't pay income taxes at all, and we have to question whether that's fair. And should we broaden the base in a way that we can lower rates for everybody that pays taxes.
What a dickhead.  I'm pretty well off, and Eric Cantor thinks I should never pay more than 15% taxes on my dividend income, but people who don't make almost anything are getting too good of a deal because they only pay 7.65% of their income in payroll taxes, with another 7.65% kicked in by the employer.  Wow, that makes sense.

The MF Global Collapse

Alternet, via nc links:
The CEO of MF Global when it disintegrated was Jon Corzine, the former New Jersey Senator and Governor and former co-head of Goldman Sachs & Co.  Corzine took the reins of MF Global in March 2010.  Conflicts abounded with the knowledge and rubber stamp of the Board of Directors.  Corzine was not just Chairman and CEO, he was the firm’s top trader of volatile European BIIPS debt – Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.  Corzine took the firm’s position from approximately $500 million when he was hired to $8.1 billion (including Greece and France) in the 19 months it took him to blow up the firm. (How does the CEO of a financial firm police a cowboy trader when he’s the same individual?)  When the Chief Risk Officer of the firm, Michael Roseman, raised warnings about the risk with the Board of Directors, Rosemanwas asked to leave and replaced with a new Chief Risk Officer acceptable to Corzine, according to Congressional testimony given by Roseman and Corzine.
But wearing the three incompatible hats was not the only fatal flaw in Corzine’s management model: he contractually did not owe his total loyalty to MF Global. The August 11, 2011 proxy issued to shareholders and filed with the SEC carried this caveat:
“During the term of Mr. Corzine’s employment agreement with the Company, Mr. Corzine will spend substantially all of his business time and attention on Company matters, except that he may serve as an operating partner of J.C. Flowers. Pursuant to his contract with J.C. Flowers, Mr. Corzine will not receive any salary from J.C. Flowers as long as he is serving as Chief Executive Officer of the Company, but he will have a financial interest as a limited partner in certain of J.C. Flowers’s investment management entities. Mr. Corzine’s employment agreement with the Company contains a provision regarding corporate opportunities. In general, this provision provides that, if Mr. Corzine acquires knowledge from J.C. Flowers (and not the Company) of a potential transaction or other business opportunity that may be a business opportunity for the Company he will have no duty to communicate or present such opportunity to the Company…”
JC Flowers was the namesake of J. Christopher Flowers, a former colleague of Corzine’s at Goldman Sachs. Flowers had acquired a stake in MF Global to help shore it up in 2008 after a trader blew up $141 million of the firm’s money overnight in what the firm called an unauthorized trade. It was Flowers who invited Corzine to become CEO of MF Global.  Corzine left MF Global on November 4, four days after its bankruptcy filing, at the request of the Board.
I really don't understand how Corzine hasn't been indicted.  What exactly does the head of a financial company have to do to be charged with a crime?

Chart of the Day

From Stuart Staniford:

I thought this note was very interesting:
There's a couple of points worth making here.  I have a very rough rule of thumb -- now that we are on the oil plateau -- that if US consumption is increasing, oil prices are below the required level.  US consumption must decrease overall to accomodate rising consumption in the developing world, and stagnant supply.  Since the beginning of 2011, oil consumption has been decreasing, suggesting that oil prices are in roughly the right range.
I think that is a good point. 

The Panama Canal Expansion

From Fortune:

The shipping industry has outgrown the nearly 100-year-old Panama Canal, so the canal is adding a third lane with wider, deeper, and longer locks. The eight-year, $5.25 billion project will add three 1,400-foot-long, 60-foot-deep chambers to each end of the 50-mile route connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans -- an increasingly vital (and lucrative) passage between Asia and the Eastern U.S.
By the numbers
73%: Growth in shipping from Asia to the East Coast of the U.S. from 2000 to 2011. During that time the Panama Canal's toll revenue grew 201%.
788 million: Amount of dirt, in cubic feet, excavated and dredged for the canal's Third Lane Expansion project -- enough to fill 671,943 standard shipping containers.
12,000: Container capacity of post-"Panamax" cargo ships, so called because they aren't yet able to pass through the canal (current maximum size is 5,000 containers).
That is a pretty cool project, but for what they are doing, 788 million cubic feet of dirt doesn't seem like an awful lot.  That's less than 30 million cubic yards.  To increase the size of ship traveling the Panama Canal by 140%, that doesn't seem too bad.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photo of the Day

From Live Science:

A photo from Sunday's asteroid explosion.

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins

April 25, 1938:
U.S. Supreme Court delivers its opinion in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins and overturns a century of federal common law. Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court held that federal courts did not have the judicial power to create general federal common law when hearing state law claims under diversity jurisdiction. In reaching this holding, the Court overturned almost a century of federal civil procedure case law, and established the foundation of what remains the modern law of diversity jurisdiction as it applies to United States federal courts.
Erie began as a simple personal injury case when the plaintiff filed his complaint in diversity in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As explained by the Second Circuit in its decision below, Harry Tompkins—a citizen and resident of Pennsylvania, was walking next to the Erie Railroad's Erie and Wyoming Valley Railroad tracks in Hughestown, Pennsylvania, at 2:30 a.m. on July 27, 1934. A friend of Tompkins had driven him to within a few blocks of his home, which was located on a dead-end street near the tracks. Tompkins chose to walk the remaining distance on a narrow but well-worn footpath adjacent to the tracks. A train approached, and in the darkness an object protruding from one of the cars suddenly struck Tompkins knocking him to the ground. When he fell down, his right arm was crushed beneath the wheels of the train.
The train was owned and operated by the Erie Railroad company, a New York corporation. Tompkins sued this railroad company in a federal district court—the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The district court, following the federal law at that time, applied neither New York nor Pennsylvania common law, but instead applied federal common law, which applied an ‘ordinary negligence’ standard in determining the duty of care owed to persons not employed by the railroad or otherwise acting in the course of their employment walking along railroad tracks, instead of Pennsylvania’s common law ‘wanton negligence’ standard for the duty of care owed by railroads to trespassers. The case was decided by a jury which was instructed by Judge Samuel Mandelbaum in accordance with this negligence standard. It found in favor of Tompkins and awarded him damages. The railroad appealed to the Second Circuit, which affirmed, then petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, which was granted; Justice Benjamin Cardozo granted the railroad a stay of its obligation to pay the judgment in Tompkins' favor until the Court decided the case.

The Strange Second Century

Charles Pierce looks at the weekend which started the second century at Fenway, and focuses on my favorite part of the train wreck of April 2012 in Boston:
Bobby Valentine — who, as my buddy Tom Keegan once wrote, had he known it was going to turn out like this, never would have invented baseball — got booed from hell to breakfast every time he changed pitchers, which was pretty damn often in the last three innings. He was also greeted with "We want Tito," which, if things don't turn around very, very soon, is going to become a Fenway tradition to rival parking-lot extortion, "Sweet Caroline," and "Yankees suck." I also suspect that mouthing "Wow!" on live TV in response to your team's having fallen behind is not going to endear you to the home folks.
(Oh, and by the way, and I know it's for the kids and all, and that it costs half-a-LeBron to go to the games here now, so you're entitled to whatever entertainment you can find, but having an entire ballpark chant "So good! So good! So good!" immediately after the home team has given up 15 unanswered runs makes the fan base sound a little simple.)
"I think we've hit bottom," Valentine said after the game. "If this isn't the bottom, then we're going to have to find some new ends of the earth or something."
I have no idea what that means, either, but the man looked like he'd just been repeatedly struck by lightning, so we should cut him some slack.
I am so glad that Bobby is no longer broadcasting Sunday Night Baseball, and I'm enjoying seeing the early season turmoil of him in Boston.  Unfortunately, if things keep going the way they have been, he may be back on Sunday nights.  I mean, blowing a nine run lead, really?

Large Asteroid Explodes Above California

Discovery News, via nc links:
The source of loud "booms" accompanied by a bright object traveling through the skies of Nevada and California on Sunday morning has been confirmed: It was a meteor. A big one.
It is thought to have been a small asteroid that slammed into the atmosphere at a speed of 15 kilometers per second (33,500 mph), turning into a fireball, and delivering an energy of 3.8 kilotons of TNT as it broke up over California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, classified it as a "big event."
"I am not saying there was a 3.8 kiloton explosion on the ground in California," Cooke told "I am saying that the meteor possessed this amount of energy before it broke apart in the atmosphere. (The map) shows the location of the atmospheric breakup, not impact with the ground."
Cooke went on to say that the meteor likely penetrated very deep into the atmosphere, producing the powerful sonic booms that rattled homes across the region. According to Reuters, car alarms in Carson City, Nev., were even triggered.
After some rough calculations, Cooke has been able to estimate the mass of the incoming object -- around 70 metric tons. This was a fairly hefty piece of space rock. From this estimate he was also able to arrive at an approximate size of the meteor: "Hazarding a further guess at the density of 3 grams per cubic centimeter (solid rock), I calculate a size of about 3-4 meters, or about the size of a minivan."
According to these guys, there might be a large amount of platinum lying around somewhere in California.

Loss Of Public Faith Chart of the Day

Via Ritholtz:

April 14 Drought Map

From Early Warning:

Ag Subsidy Chart of the Day

From Big Picture Agriculture:

In 2010, 261,000 farms, operating on 234 million acres of cropland, received direct payments and also purchased crop insurance. As the 2012 farm bill is being written, let's review where the subsidies are going and note the overlaps in the above graphic.

2010 Dollar Amount Totals for Top Three Farm Subsidy Programs:

  • Direct Payments $4,372,816,732
  • Conservation Reserve Program $1,819,697,348
  • Disaster Payments $2,534,890,885
(Note that corn subsidies totaled $3,519,507,154 in 2010.)
Disclosure: Our family farm is in all three.

Bred Heifers Bring Fortune

Progressive Farmer:
Doug Crooks watched in amazement as bidding on his bred heifers topped the $2,400 mark. The last time bred heifers brought this much? How about never.
Crooks' take on these prices is cowboy pragmatic. "When 600-pound steers are bringing $2 a pound at the sale barn, a guy can afford to give a little more for a really good heifer."
Today, Crooks Farms, a partnership between Doug, his dad, Alvin, and his brother-in-law Howard, is all about bringing those really good heifers to the auction ring. This fourth-generation cattle operation, based in Leeton, Mo., started turning the heat up on heifer quality in 1999, when the family decided to take a chance on the state's Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program. That first year, the operation put about 20 heifers in the program, heifers Doug Crooks says were just too good to send down to the feedlot.
This year, the farm will market 100 to 110 bred heifers through Show-Me-Select. The program focuses on things like artificial insemination (AI), expanding working relationships with livestock specialists and veterinarians, and providing additional marketing opportunities. It's a good fit for a state with more than 2 million cows across 60,000 farms.
As he enjoys what are undeniable good times for cow-calf producers, Crooks can't help but wonder just how long it will last. He can't pencil out how feedlots can continue to pay such high prices and still survive.
"If it doesn't work out on their end, it won't work out on ours. Cattle are bringing a lot right now, but we're putting a lot more out there to get them where they need to be," he says, referring to the higher cost of feed and other inputs.

My guess for where it won't work out is on the consumer end. Beef prices will slow down demand, then the prices will go down.  At least that's my guess.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cleveland Hulett Ore Unloaders At Work

They're gone now, but are still cool to watch. More here and here.

Maybe Asteroid Mining Isn't Totally Crazy

Scientific American:
Despite initial skepticism, the Planetary Resources plan seems like it is at least not totally insane. The company is not claiming to be able to lasso platinum-laden space rocks back down to Earth. Rather they have outlined a cautious step-by-step approach that is not unlike the exploratory strategy that NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission architects Damon Lindau and Nathan Strange laid out in Scientific American’s December 2011 issue. Asteroid towing is also theoretically possible, as described by scientists and astronauts in a 2003 SciAm article about how to prevent a dangerous asteroid from ending civilization. If the company can establish an orbital base, a mining operation could in theory extract the energy and materials it needed to operate, eventually making it self-sustaining. If only the same thing could be said of its home planet.
I'm still going to stay on the skeptical side.  I do think the last sentence of the quote is pretty important.  I think those guys could reap more benefits for humanity by doing research here.  Escaping from a failing Earth doesn't seem like the safest survival strategy for our progeny.

Mad Cow Case Appears In California

Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday it had confirmed the first new case of mad-cow disease since 2006 after the illness was suspected in a California dairy cow.
The cow was tested as part of the USDA's ongoing surveillance system for the disease. The USDA tests about 40,000 cows per year. This is the fourth case of mad-cow disease reported in the U.S.
Agency officials stressed that no meat from the animal entered the human food supply, though some dairy cows are slaughtered for food. USDA officials said they don't expect any foreign countries to ban U.S. beef because of the new mad-cow case.
USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford said scientific studies by the World Health Organization show that humans aren't at risk of contracting the disease through milk consumption. "Milk is safe," he said.
My question about Mad Cow disease is whether it is only transmitted by eating infected brain or nervous system matter?  My understanding is that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be genetic:
 The defective protein can be transmitted by contaminated harvested human brain products, Immunoglobulins (IVIG), corneal grafts, dural grafts or electrode implants (acquired or iatrogenic form: iCJD); it can be inherited (hereditary or familial form: fCJD); or it may appear for the first time in the patient (sporadic form: sCJD). In the hereditary form, a mutation occurs in the gene for PrP, PRNP. Ten to 15 percent of CJD cases are inherited. (CDC)
It would seem to me that there could be two reasons why Mad Cow almost always appears in dairy herds.  One is that they need the cheapest protein sources so they might get contaminated feed.  The other would be that the gene pool is pretty shallow, and it might be an inherited trait.  I would think that is a real possibility in dairy herds.  It still might not rule out the transmissibility to humans, but it is an interesting consideration. 

Well, after looking a little bit, I guess it may be genetic:
Findings published in PLoS Pathogens (September 12, 2008) suggest that mad cow disease also is caused by a genetic mutation within a gene called Prion Protein Gene. The research shows, for the first time, that a 10-year-old cow from Alabama with an atypical form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy had the same type of prion protein gene mutation as found in human patients with the genetic form of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, also called genetic CJD for short. Besides having a genetic origin, other human forms of prion diseases can be sporadic, as in sporadic CJD, as well as foodborne. That is, they are contracted when people eat products contaminated with mad cow disease. This form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is called variant CJD.

Earth From Above

In honor of Earth Day, The Atlantic featured various photos of earth from the air.  My favorite:

Astronauts orbiting some 415 km (258 mi) above the Earth in the International Space Station photographed these multilayered cloud formations above the Pacific Ocean, on November 24, 2011. (NASA) #

Tech Titans Look To Mine Asteroids

Wow, some guys are as crazy as Newt Gingrich:
A group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs will announce on Apr. 24 a new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth, in the process adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP, helping ensure humanity’s prosperity and paving the way for the human settlement of space.
“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, who founded the commercial space tourism company Space Adventures, and is co-founder of a new company along with Peter Diamandis, who started the X Prize foundation, which offers prize-based incentives for advanced technology development.
Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 150 feet in diameter orbit near the Earth. Some could contain as much platinum as is mined in an entire year on Earth, making them potentially worth several billion dollars each. The right kinds of investment could reap huge rewards for those willing to take the risk.
Outside of NASA, Anderson and Diamandis are among the most likely candidates to realize such a dream. Space Adventures has sent seven private tourists to the International Space Station while the Ansari X Prize led to a spurt of non-governmental manned spaceships.
I don't think I'd invest in that project anytime soon.  If this was a couple of weeks earlier, I'd think it was an April Fools' story.

America's Torture Exposed

Larry Siems, via the Dish:
When the men and women they asked to break those laws protested, knowing they could be prosecuted for torture, they pretended to rewrite the law. They commissioned legal opinions they said would shield those who carried out the abuses from being hauled into court, as the torture ban requires. “The law has been changed,” detainees around the world were told. “No rules apply.”
Then they tortured. They tortured men at military bases and detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, and in U.S. Navy bases on American soil; they tortured men in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe specifically to terrorize and torture prisoners; they sent many more to countries with notoriously abusive regimes and asked them to do the torturing. At least twice, after the torturers themselves concluded there was no point to further abuse, Washington ordered that the prisoners be tortured some more.
They tortured innocent people. They tortured people who may have been guilty of terrorism-related crimes, but they ruined any chance of prosecuting them because of the torture. They tortured people when the torture had nothing to do with imminent threats: They tortured based on bad information they had extracted from others through torture; they tortured to hide their mistakes and to get confessions; they tortured sometimes just to break people, pure and simple.
And they conspired to cover up their crimes. They did this from the start, by creating secret facilities and secrecy regimes to keep what they were doing from the American people and the world. They did it by suppressing and then destroying evidence, including videotapes of the torture. They did it by denying detainees legal process because, as the CIA’s Inspector General put it in a 2004 report, when you torture someone you create an “Endgame” problem: You end up with detainees who, “if not kept in isolation, would likely divulge information about the circumstances of their detention.”
Numerous people in the Bush administration should be tried for war crimes.  They were cowards and criminals.  They sunk to the level of the worst governments in history.

Scientists Recommend Arctic Ocean Fishing Moratorium

Raw Story, via nc links:
“A commercial fishery in the central Arctic Ocean is now possible and feasible,” said more than 2,000 scientists from 67 countries in an open letter released by the Pew Environment Group to Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.
But not enough is known about “the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem” of these international waters as large as the Mediterranean Sea.
The international community must “take action now to protect these waters until we have the science and governance in place to ensure sustainable development of fisheries,” the scientists wrote in the letter.
The main barrier to fishing in the Arctic waters is quickly disappearing, as the ice cap melts. Since the summer of 2007, 40 percent of the central Arctic Ocean has been open water.
Soon trawlers from major fishing nations could begin to appear in the far north.
I would guess there will be a lot of pressure to fish those waters in the near future.

Tiger Stadium's 100th Birthday Goes Unnoticed

Eric Adelson bemoans the fact that there isn't any monument to Tiger Stadium:
Tiger Stadium opened on the same day as Fenway Park – April 20, 1912. It was 100 years ago this weekend. Ty Cobb scored the first run by stealing home. From that day until 1999, this very spot rumbled with din and greatness. Pretty much every legend that played in Fenway in the 20th century also played here. Lou Gehrig sat himself down for the first time in 2,130 games here, ending his incredible ironman streak. Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run here. Reggie Jackson hit one into the right field light tower here during the '71 All-Star game. The Tigers won World Series titles here in 1968 and again in 1984, with Kirk Gibson launching a late-inning home run off Goose Gossage that no Tigers fan alive to see it will ever forget. Fair to say this was the most exciting place in the history of Michigan.
And now there's hardly a trace. Fans committed to honoring the old stadium in some form maintain a home plate, a pitcher's mound, two chalk lines for base paths and two benches where the dugouts used to be. The 125-foot flagpole from the old center field is still standing.
That's it. Across the street, there's a Coney Island restaurant, a bar, a Chinese takeout place, and a Faygo sign. There's a large gate from the old stadium, and you can push open a door and take the field, but you have to know where it is. In fact, you have to know the history of "The Corner" to know where this cathedral once stood. The only acknowledgment of the old ball yard is a small plastic sign across the street featuring photos of Mickey Cochrane and Babe Ruth in the stadium and a blurb about plans for development of the area.
Crosley Field would also be 100 this month.  There isn't any monument there.  Actually, last year I drove by both of those former sites, just to see what was there.  Not much.  At least in Detroit there's still grass:

Iowa Corn Planting Behind Schedule

Des Moines Register:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said nine percent of Iowa’s corn was planted, trailing the five-year average of 16 percent as cool, wet weather hampered farmers’ second full week of planting.
The USDA said “weather conditions were unfavorable for most of the State this week as Iowa experienced several cool, rainy days. Many farmers are anxious for fields to dry out enough so fieldwork and planting activities can resume.”
While the wet weather hampered planting, it improved the state’s soil moisture picture. The USDA said “topsoil moisture levels improved to 2 percent very short, 10 percent short, 72 percent adequate, and 16 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture also improved and is now rated 10 percent very short, 24 percent short, 59 percent adequate, and 7 percent surplus.”
Nationwide the corn planting situation was reversed from Iowa’s, with 28 percent of the crop planted compared to a five year average of 15 percent by this date.
Illinois continued its record planting pace, with 59 percent completed as of Sunday. Missouri was 50 percent finished and Kentucky 75 percent completed. Ohio, dogged by a lengthy wet spell last year, showed 34 percent of its corn planted.
Well, looks like we're ahead of the game.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Lehman Brothers Collapse

60 Minutes:

Somebody should have been on trial by now.

Corn Is Planted

We finished up the corn and got the drill ready to go.  However, we broke the auger on the grain wagon with the seed beans we were going to drill.  Also, when I went over to feed the cows, they were running around in the part of the barn which is normally blocked off.  It only took about an hour to get them back where they belong.  The fun never ends.

More On The Vatican and American Nuns

Amy Davidson:
What have the nuns done that is so bad? The Assessment mentioned public statements “that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops.” The health-care debate might be an example. Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association and its six hundred hospitals—she received the L.C.W.R.’s Outstanding Leadership Award last year—had endorsed the Affordable Care Act when it was before Congress; President Obama gave her one of the pens he used to sign it. However, when rules requiring Catholic hospitals and universities to get their employees insurance that covered contraception were issued, this winter, Keehan, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, objected strongly. The divergence came when the Administration offered a compromise. Sister Carol said that it worked for her. The bishops disagreed. Cardinal Dolan, of New York, told reporters that Sister Carol had “disappointed” him. What is striking, though, is the absence of a smoking gun in the Congregation of the Defense of the Faith’s findings on matters of faith, other than faith in bishops (which is presented as one of the Church’s doctrines). What seemed to bother the Vatican’s investigators was not that nuns were speaking out on political matters, but that they were failing to engage politically in the way the Church wanted them to: the L.C.W.R. had been silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. The Congregation also noted the absence of initiatives by the LCWR aimed at promoting the reception of the Church’s teaching, especially on difficult issues such as Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis and Church teaching about homosexuality. In other words, instead of just talking about “social justice,” the nuns should be out on the barricades, agitating against abortion and gay marriage. And, again, they need to listen to the bishops.
This will not forestall the decline of the Church in the United States, and may speed the process. Taking on the nuns is terrible optics.  As if the bishops don't already look terribly sexist, they have to blast the nuns, who are most likely the most popular part of the Church.  I don't think I am the only person in the pews who is tiring of the bishops' forceful forays into politics.  It would help if they hadn't hidden abuse by priests for years, but their credibility is rapidly deteriorating as they seem to be telling the faithful they can only vote Republican.  Worse yet is their leading position in fighting against gay marriage wherever it is considered.  The Church needs not get involved in that argument, because they won't be required to perform or recognize gay marriages, but the bishops can't help but stir up trouble.  The next ten years are going to be brutal for the Church, as demographics and finances turn against them.  And the bishops are making themselves no friends.

The Origins Of Neon Signs

Hal Wallace:
The history of neon tubes seemed rather straight-forward. They are descended from the work of physicist Julius Plücker and glass-blower Heinrich Geissler, who devised glowing glass tubes in Germany in the 1850s. These Geissler tubes were used for laboratory purposes and as mining lamps in France. Even Jules Verne wrote about them. While Geissler tubes contained air, other inventors developed lamps that used different gases. For example, D. McFarlan Moore sold carbon-dioxide tubes and signs in the 1890s, and Peter Cooper Hewitt developed mercury-vapor lamps at that time. As for neon signs, I understood them to be the work of French inventor Georges Claude, who introduced them in 1910.
The handwritten labels I found with the two signs posed a problem. Here were two signs from the United States Bureau of Standards (NBS, now known as the National Institutes of Standards and Technology) that supposedly predated Claude's invention by six years. Some research seemed in order.
I looked first in the signs' accession file (the official file containing the legal forms, condition reports and other documents pertaining to the donation). The signs came to the museum in 1977 along with a large group of materials from the estate of Edith R. Meggers of Washington, D.C. She and her husband, William F. Meggers, created a "family museum" containing a broad range of objects. No specific information about the signs was in the file. The two handwritten paper labels, however, are probably from their "museum."
An Internet search turned up additional information. A trade journal account of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition (also called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) described NBS' participation but did not mention the signs. The name Nutting appeared in several NBS publications from that era, however. Perley Gilman Nutting was an NBS scientist who investigated electrical discharges through gases. He later became the first president of the Optical Society of America.

Whole Foods Decision Angers Glouchester Fishermen

Whole Foods is not the first supermarket chain to limit the kind of seafood it sells in the name of sustainability. Last month, BJ’s Wholesale Club announced a plan to sell seafood only from suppliers “identified as sustainable or on track to meet sustainability standards by 2014.” Other chains are making similar moves.
But in Gloucester, anyway, some fishermen are taking the Whole Foods decision more personally.
Whole Foods will continue to sell New England catches like haddock, pollock, scallops and hake. And it will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by gillnets or, preferably, hook and line, Mr. Pilat said. While Whole Foods will still sell Pacific cod, he said, it will not appear much in the company’s New England stores for cultural reasons.
“The number of local fish that we will have to discontinue is minimal,” he said, “and we will be replacing those species with other very similar species, such as buying more flounder instead of the gray sole.”
The company is developing relationships with more hook boats, he said. But there are few such boats in the cod fishery, according to the fishery council.
Some fishermen questioned why Whole Foods would approve net-caught fish, as marine mammals are known to get entangled in gillnets, and hook-caught fish, as hooks often end up catching undersize fish. Last week, federal regulators announced that they would ban gillnet fishing for part of the fall in coastal waters from Maine to Cape Ann, Mass., because too many porpoises had been dying in the nets.
If the world fishing industry doesn't change soon, we'll see a collapse of fish stocks.  This move is probably too little, too late.

Detroit Mansion Lands In Tough Housing Market

JESSICA J. TREVINO/Detroit Free Press

The historic Boston-Edison residence of Walter O. Briggs at 700 W. Boston Blvd., also known as Stone Hedge, was listed for $465,000 last month. The price was reduced to $445,000 a few days ago.
Architects Chittenden and Kotting designed the English manor-style home in 1915 with a pale-colored fieldstone exterior.
It's a glimpse into another era when Detroit just began to put the world on wheels and self-made men were building homes on a grand scale.
The 9,638-square-foot home features 11 bedrooms, seven bathrooms and nine fireplaces on more than an acre along the same street where other notable turn-of-the-century Detroiters resided such as Charles Fisher, Benjamin Siegel and Sebastian Kresge.
Quartersawn oak-paneled walls, marble floors and intricate plaster ceilings adorn the Briggs mansion.
Briggs gained prominence supplying auto bodies to the fledgling car industry in the early 1900s though his company Briggs Manufacturing. He later branched out into plumbing equipment. He also owned the Detroit Tigers from 1920 until his death in 1952.
That's less than $5 a square foot.  The photos show tremendous craftsmanship in the home.  One article estimated the house would fetch $15 million in Silicon Valley.  I wouldn't want to heat the place, but I would like to take a walk-through.

The Economy And Government

Michael Lind gives a FiveBooks interview at the Browser (h/t Ritholtz).  I found the whole thing to be great, but I love his case that the American economy prospered because of government involvement, not in spite of it:
Your latest book is a sweeping economic history of America. In a nutshell, how did America become such an economic powerhouse?
Well, it did so as a result of collaboration between the government and the private sector and, increasingly in the 20th century, the non-profit, academic research sector. It’s quite a different story in reality from the tale that is sometimes told of how capitalism grew up without controls in the United States, and then with the New Deal it came under regulation. In fact, the government both at the federal and the state level was deeply involved with projects for promoting the industrialisation of the United States and the creation of a capitalist market from the administration of George Washington onwards.
One of the ways it did so was through investing in infrastructure. We’ve had a series of ambitious infrastructure projects – the early canal system and then the transcontinental railroads that were funded by the Lincoln administration and Congress at the beginning of the Civil War, through to the interstate highways system. But government contribution to the economic growth wasn’t just limited to that – it included funding basic research. For example, Congress gave a grant to Samuel Morse, who developed Morse code and the first American telegraph [in the 1840s], and the government role in R&D [research and development] became central in World War Two. This continued after 1945, with Department of Defense procurement and the National Institutes of Health and other forms of basic federal R&D.
One of the things I argue in my new book is that American economic growth has not been continuous – it’s been very discontinuous and even cataclysmic. Here I follow the school of economists known as Schumpeterians after Joseph Schumpeter – the Austrian-American economist, who in the 1930s identified waves of technological change and successive techno-economic paradigms. With other historians of the US economy, I argue that we’ve had three successive industrial revolutions. The first one began in the late 18th century and was based on steam power and produced the locomotive and steam-powered factories. In the second industrial revolution the key transformative technology was the internal combustion engine, which gave us automobiles, airplanes and electricity. The third industrial revolution, of which we are still in the early phases, is the information or the computer revolution. Each one of these has transformed the economy while, at the same time, the political institutions that were designed for a different stage of economic and technological development have grown increasingly anachronistic. The basic argument of my book is that periodically there are cataclysms like the Civil War and reconstruction like the Great Depression and World War Two, and I believe today’s Great Recession is the beginning of another historic change. In these periods you get waves of reform in which the political and social institutions of the country are remodelled to catch up with the economic structures that have already been transformed by technology.
Too often, conservatives ignore the various ways in which government involvement in the economy has promoted growth.  They love to recite their free market fairy tale, where the market does everything right and the government does everything wrong.  It isn't close to matching reality.

The Risk Of Early Planting

Progressive Farmer:

Damage from exposure of above ground plant tissue to frost can range from minor leaf injury to complete death of all exposed leaf tissue. The growing point region of a corn seedling typically remains safe below the soil surface until V4 to V6 stages of development.
"There's a difference between simple frost events and lethal cold temperatures," Neilsen said. Frost can occur at temperatures up to 30 degrees F, but lethal cold temperatures for corn are generally thought to be 28 degrees F. or colder. Air temperatures are different than soil temperatures and how much the cold temperature penetrates the upper inch of soil near the growing point region of corn seedlings can also make a difference.
Neilsen wasn't surprised that farmers are reporting more damage in corn planted in corn stubble versus soybean stubble. He said crop residues (and cover crops) work as blankets upon the soil -- holding the heat and moisture in. That's beneficial under normal circumstances, but in the event of frost or cooler temperatures, bare soils radiate more heat and can actually help protect the tender young crop.
"Take your time to assess damage," he recommended. "These situations are going to vary from field to field and hybrid to hybrid."
Neilsen added that the corn plant doesn't have unlimited potential to regenerate. Repeated frost events can take a toll and cause stunting or death. "I guess the simple answer is the corn plant can take as much as it can take until it dies," he said.
Soliday suggested growers check plants about five to seven days after the freezing injury occurred. If conditions have been good, new leaf tissue should have emerged from the whorl in this time. The growing point is usually located 1/2 to 3/4 inch below the soil surface and can be seen by splitting the seedling lengthwise. The prognosis for recovery is good if the growing point appears white to light yellow and firm several days after frost.
Tom Burrus, Burrus Hybrids, Arenzville, Ill., told DTN that so far, his company had one customer with one field killed by frost. "The grower planted too shallow and the growing point was out of the ground too early," said Burrus in email correspondence. "We furnished him 12 units of replant and that is all we have shipped company-wide to date."
Our corn hasn't broken through yet.  Hopefully things start staying consistently warmer this week.  Yesterday's cold, wet conditions were well less than ideal for the recently planted seed.  Oh well, it is what it is.

The Shale Gas Boom And Manufacturing

The shale gas boom has the optimists extremely excited:
Cheap domestic energy is also good news for the manufacturing sector. "The discovery and development of North America's shale resources has the potential to be the most remarkable source of economic growth and prosperity that any of us are likely to encounter in our lifetimes," U.S. Steel CEO John Surma told the Congressional Steel Caucus in a late March hearing. It's a virtuous cycle: More drilling requires more steel, and lower energy costs give U.S. steel producers a cost edge. This at a time when the Department of Energy reports that the energy intensity of U.S. steel companies is now among the lowest in the world.
In St. James Parish near Baton Rouge, ground was broken last year for a $3.4 billion steel plant being built by Nucor Steel (NUE), the first major facility built in the U.S. in decades. U.S. Steel is investing in a new facility in Lorain, Ohio, and V&M Star Steel (the North American subsidiary of the French pipemaker Vallourec) plans to spend $650 million on a small-diameter rolling mill in Youngstown, Ohio.
It's not just Big Steel that will benefit. Feedstock made from cheap natural gas is a boon for the petrochemical industry. Citing "the improved outlook for U.S. natural-gas supply from shale," Dow Chemical (DOW) says it will build an ethylene plant for startup in 2017. (Ethylene is used to make things like plastic bottles and toys.) Dow will also restart its ethylene plant near Hahnville, La. Shell, which is building a new petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania, is also considering a $10 billion Louisiana plant to convert natural gas to diesel. "Low-cost natural gas is the elixir, the sweetness, the juice, the Viagra," says Don Logan, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. "What it's doing is changing the U.S. back into the industrial power of the day."
While it is really good news that the shale gas boom is leading to increased manufacturing investment in the United States, I think the optimists are getting ahead of themselves.  All the talk about natural gas power plants and over-the-road truck fleets overlooks the fact that we don't have any idea what the actual recoverable reserves are in these shale formations, or what the environmental impacts of fracking will be.  Projecting that we have a 100 year supply of natural gas, and then planning to use it for a large percentage of our electric generation and transportation fuel seems like a recipe for disaster in the medium to long term. For some reason, I get the feeling that this magazine cover will look ridiculous in about twenty years.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

April 16:

The Eagle Nebula from Kitt Peak
Image Credit: T. A. Rector & B. A. Wolpa, NOAO, AURA
Explanation: From afar, the whole thing looks like an Eagle. A closer look at the Eagle Nebula, however, shows the bright region is actually a window into the center of a larger dark shell of dust. Through this window, a brightly-lit workshop appears where a whole open cluster of stars is being formed. In this cavity tall pillars and round globules of dark dust and cold molecular gas remain where stars are still forming. Already visible are several young bright blue stars whose light and winds are burning away and pushing back the remaining filaments and walls of gas and dust. The Eagle emission nebula, tagged M16, lies about 6500 light years away, spans about 20 light-years, and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of the Serpent (Serpens). This picture combines three specific emitted colors and was taken with the 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, USA.

Things Woodie Told Me That I Didn't Believe

A short list:

Allis Chalmers gasoline tractors were more fuel efficient than John Deere diesels. (Woodie hated John Deeres, and had a WD-45, two D-14s a D-17 and a Gleaner combine, along with a Case 930 (maybe) Comfort King)

The EPA forced all coke oven operators out of business in the United States, and we imported most of our coke from Canada. (I don't know how much coke we import, but there have been coke ovens in operation my whole life in Middletown, where I believe Woody lived at one point in his childhood)

 That the Kentucky hay hauler sold Woodie's July first cutting hay to race horse owners.  As the neighbors called it, Woodie's elephant hay could only have been sold to guys with brood cows.  There were weed stems as big around as my finger in that stuff.

That Ohio would continue to go down the tubes unless it passed a right-to-work law to pummel unions.  With the current Republican governor and legislature, we might find out if that's true.  Or we could watch what happens with the hicks next door in Indiana, who just passed the law.  This was another theme which our lean consultant was yapping about.  I don't know if it has anything to do with lean manufacturing, but I think that dude watches a lot of Fox News, which really seems to screw up a person's bullshit detector.

That a nursing mom drinking a beer each night would increase milk production.  In truth, he attributed this to a German lady who told his mother that if she drank a beer every night she'd have enough milk to feed the baby, give some to the cat and squirt a little in her husband's coffee.  But then he followed that up by saying his mother followed the woman's advice and drank a beer every night, and they were very good-sized little kids.

Another story attributed to German neighbors (which I believe they would say) was that a person shouldn't drink cold water, because it would kill them.  He always followed it up by saying, "but they sure liked their beer cold."  I believe that story was real, but I, like Woodie, didn't believe that cold water would kill a person.

Hometown Remembers Jimmie Foxx

 Jimmie Foxx statue in Sudlersville, Maryland

Double X was ignored by his hometown for years, but now is proudly remembered:
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's because after Foxx's peak in the '30s, he bottomed out. He lost a lot of money, began to drink, had health problems, got divorced. He retired from baseball in 1945 and drifted from job to job, including one season as manager of the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Remember Tom Hanks in the movie "A League of Their Own"?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That character, Jimmy Dugan, was partly based on Jimmie Foxx. Over the years, Foxx would visit Sudlersville, but by the '60s folks there didn't want anything to do with him. Once he couldn't even get a check cashed.
None of that deterred Foxx's number one fan, Gil Dunn. Dunn started a display of Foxx memorabilia in his drugstore on nearby Kent Island. He wrote letters to Foxx about it. Even spoke to him on the phone.
Mr. DUNN: One day I look up in the drugstore, there's the person named Jimmie Foxx standing there.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Foxx had driven up from Florida with a trunk full of bats, uniforms, MVP plaques. He said no one else seemed interested and gave it all to Dunn for free. It was in keeping with Foxx's reputation as a man with a big heart.
Mr. DUNN: He was very kind to me. He was a very kind person.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Foxx died in 1967, but it wasn't until decades later that people here in Sudlersville began to remember what good Foxx had done for the town.
I didn't realize that the Jimmy Dugan character was based on Jimmie Foxx.  You learn something new every day.  Anyway, it wasn't just his hometown which forgot about him.  Ask about any baseball fan you meet about Jimmy Foxx or Hank Greenberg, and they aren't going to be able to tell you much.  But, man, those guys could crush a baseball.  I would guess that their primes being in the Depression may have had something to do with it (Greenberg's career was also interrupted by WWII).

More On Bees And Pesticides

Elizabeth Kolbert on the recent studies linking Colony Collapse Disorder with neonicotinoids:
In a third study, to be published soon in the Bulletin of Insectology, seemingly healthy honey colonies were fed high-fructose corn syrup that had been treated with imidacloprid. Within six months, fifteen out of the sixteen hives that had been given the treated syrup were dead. In commercial beekeeping operations, bees are routinely fed corn syrup, and corn is routinely treated with neonicotinoids. “I believe one reason that commercial beekeepers are experiencing the most severe Colony Collapse Disorder is because of the link between high-fructose corn syrup and neonicotinoids,” said the lead author of the study, Chensheng Lu, a professor at Harvard. (Bayer CropScience, one of the world’s largest producers of neonicotinoids, has disputed Lu’s paper, as well as the other two.)
That damned high fructose corn syrup is always popping up as something bad for us.  But gosh, I don't figure that Mountain Dew with cane sugar is any better for us.  Now as for the pesticides:
“This more or less proves what we thought all along,” Hackenberg said of the three recent studies. He pointed me to a lawsuit that several beekeeping organizations filed in March against the Environmental Protection Agency. It charges that the E.P.A. violated its own rules by allowing clothianidin—yet another neonicotinoid—to be widely used despite the fact that the field studies the agency had ordered on the effects of the pesticide had never been performed. In a leaked memo from 2010, two E.P.A. staff members raised concerns about allowing mustard and cotton seed to be treated with clothianidin, noting that the field tests that had been completed had been deemed to be inadequate. “I think we’ve got a toxic mess,” Hackenberg told me. “I know we do.” Neonicotinoids, which were introduced in the nineteen-nineties, are neurotoxins that, as the name suggests, chemically resemble nicotine. They’re what are known as systemic pesticides: seeds are treated with the chemicals, which then are taken up by the vascular systems of the growing plants. According to the Pesticide Action Network, at least a hundred and forty million acres were planted with neonicotinoid-treated seeds in 2010. This is an area larger than California and Florida combined.
Hopefully it isn't as bad as these fears indicate. If it is, we farmers are in trouble.

The High Cost Of Bad Buy/Sell Decisions

Via Ritholtz:

I make plenty of these.  The last year was just brutal on my recent stock picks.  Granted, I took a number of long shots, but they just haven't panned out.