Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shale Oil Train Derailment Rattles N.D. Town

Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks
Authorities urged residents to evacuate a small North Dakota town Monday night after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed outside of town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward.
The Cass County sheriff's office said it was "strongly recommending" that people in the town of Casselton and anyone living 5 miles to the south and east evacuate. A shelter has been set up in Fargo, which is about 25 miles away. Casselton has about 2,400 residents.
The sheriff's office said the National Weather Service was forecasting a shift in the weather that could increase the risk of potential health hazards.
"That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at a news briefing.
As many as 10 cars out of more than 100 caught fire when the BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt.
The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.
Authorities hadn't yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.
Trains carrying dangerous chemicals and occasionally derailing is not a new occurrence, but the controversy  surrounding fracking and the construction of the Keystone pipeline push recent derailments involving crude oil shipments into the headlines.  I've often considered how scary it could be when living beside a major railroad line and watching carloads of propane, sulfuric acid, molten sulfur and sodium hydroxide flying by.  Walking the tracks getting  from one field to another definitely doesn't bolster my confidence.  While the railroad has spent a lot of money on infrastructure over the last few years, the siding which runs the length of the farm I live on is not one of these expenditures.  The ties are terrible, and the rail actually looks in pretty good condition considering that it came out of the mill in 1943 (unlike the main line which was milled in 1974).  I am glad that trains using the siding travel at extremely low speeds.  Considering that oil exploration in the hottest shale plays has dramatically outpaced investment in infrastructure (I actually think that the underinvestment in pipelines may be due to oil players' not believing their own hype when it comes to the potential longevity of these shale plays), I would anticipate quite a few more of these kinds of accidents.  Hopefully none are as deadly as the Lac Megantic derailment.


Dreamscapes from Jonathan Besler on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Man Behind A Christmas Story

Jean Shepherd isn't remembered like the holiday movie based on his stories:
While it's all but impossible to make it through December without encountering A Christmas Story, though, relatively few know about the man who’s behind the story. His name was Jean Shepherd. An unconventional icon of the 1960s, Shepherd developed a cult following on late-night airwaves with his eclectic collection of improvised stories about childhood in the Midwest, military service during World War II, and life as an infamous radio personality. He was, in every sense of the word, a raconteur. Shepherd wrote bestselling books, two of which inspired A Christmas Story; he published columns in the Village Voice, Mad Magazine, and Playboy; and he starred in two television series. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Harry Shearer idolized him. His storytelling defined a style of radio that was later adopted by the likes of Garrison Keillor. A wave of nostalgic sitcoms, epitomized by The Wonder Years, owe a significant debt to Shepherd's work. His influence alone should have made him a pop-culture icon.
It didn't. Now, as Shepherd's greatest success celebrates its third decade of relevance, a question remains: Why did the man's legacy fade away just as his story joined the pantheon of Christmas classics?
Understandably, there is no simple answer. Shepherd died in 1999, just as Turner Broadcasting had begun to make a tradition of its all-day marathon. That small-screen saturation is a huge reason—if not the reason—why audiences rediscovered A Christmas Story, so the most obvious explanation is a macabre one. Shepherd wasn't around, so he wasn't acknowledged as a significant part of the movie's success......Shepherd's famous wit soured into pessimism as he aged, too. During one of his last radio interviews, according to a Time column published soon after his death, he repeatedly dismissed his radio years as "just another gig." (In an essay for Slate, longtime fan Donald Fagen guessed that Shepherd "succumbed to that very real disease of self-loathing.")
Hmm, pessimism as a bad trait.  I may have to watch that one.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

White Turf

The sulky sleighs are cool, but the guys skiing behind the horses are nuts:

White Turf from ND Strupler on Vimeo.



Cubli, a project out of the Dynamic Systems and Control lab at the Swiss engineering school ETH Zurich, is a 6 inch by 6 inch metal block that employs three spinning wheels to perform a variety of tricks. Its creators humbly tout its ability to “walk,” using angular momentum to flip itself from face to face. This feat was kinda cute when MIT’s diminutive M-Blocks were doing it. Here it’s a little more unsettling.
Even more unsettling, though (and more impressive), are Cubli’s preternatural powers of balance. “Once the Cubli has almost reached the corner stand up position, controlled motor torques are applied to make it balance on its corner,” we’re told. You can change the angle of the surface it’s on, give the balancing wonder a gentle push to the side, or send it spinning like a top, and still, the devil cube retains its balletic poise.
The stabilization comes courtesy of the precise choreography of the internal spinning wheels–a system the researchers point out is similar to the one that keeps satellites oriented in space. Now, the team says they’re developing algorithms that allow Cubli to “automatically learn” and respond dynamically to changes in inertia, weight, or its surface.
That's amazing.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Farming and Fracking

Via Marginal Revolution, the only places where median household income increased are in fracking or farming:

NASA Photo of the Day

December 19:

A Colorful Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: László Francsics
Explanation: The Moon is normally seen in subtle shades of grey or yellow. But small, measurable color differences have been greatly exaggerated to make this telescopic, multicolored, moonscape captured during the Moon's full phase. The different colors are recognized to correspond to real differences in the chemical makeup of the lunar surface. Blue hues reveal titanium rich areas while orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron. The familiar Sea of Tranquility, or Mare Tranquillitatis, is the blue area in the upper right corner of the frame. White lines radiate across the orange-hued southern lunar highlands from 85 kilometer wide ray crater Tycho at bottom left. Above it, darker rays from crater Copernicus extend into the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) at the upper left. Calibrated by rock samples from the Apollo missions, similar multicolor images from spacecraft have been used to explore the Moon's global surface composition.

Prairie Suffers as Land Comes Out of CRP

(chart should read million)

Weekend Edition Sunday:
"Goodness, there's thousands of species that live in grasslands, including several hundred species of higher plants," says , an ecologist at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. Plus, permanent grass cover keeps soil from washing away.
"With those deeps roots that grasses have, and thick thatch, the water has a hard time getting a hold of the soil," says Johnson.
So more land in CRP means cleaner streams, less fertilizer runoff and more carbon stored in the soil.
Back when Reynolds was showing me those duck eggs, there were 34 million acres enrolled in the CRP — an area roughly the size of the state of New York.
In recent years, though, the conservation reserve has shrunk by more than 25 percent, including those 1.6 million acres that farmers took out of the program this past year.
It's partly because Congress has cut funding for the program. But there's a more important reason: high grain prices.
Farmers have been making a lot of money recently growing corn, soybeans, and wheat. They're bidding up prices for land, and landowners are cashing in.
In southwestern Iowa, near the town of , the owners of about 60 acres decided to take it out of the CRP. They rented it instead to farmer Mark Peterson. "They felt that it would make more income for them, renting it out, than it would being in the CRP," says Peterson.
Peterson recognizes that "it is fragile ground," so he says he'll be extra careful with that land, which is on a hillside. Some parts are quite steep, and the soil could easily wash away.
He grew soybeans on it this year, but he tried to disturb the soil as little as possible. And he'll plant cover crops in the off season to anchor the soil.
Ecologist Johnson, at South Dakota State University, says the shrinking Conservation Reserve is just one part of a larger trend: Farmers are ripping up other grasslands, too, including native prairie that never was plowed.
"I've seen things that I never thought I'd see here in South Dakota," he says. "With these land prices going up, there actually are people out there with Bobcats and front end loaders, pulling out the rocks in hundreds of acres of land that's been in pasture all these years."
This is one of the worst aspects of the biofuels-driven ag boom economy of the last six years.   Big Picture Agriculture has featured some pictures of some of the worst examples of sensitive land being abused in an effort to cash in on the boom.  Overall, it is tremendously depressing.  As Kay notes in one of the posts, all the additional land contributes to overproduction, which contributes to price deflation, which risks pushing prices below cost of production.  So we are destroying sensitive lands and destroying the ag economy at the same time.  That is not good at all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beer's Role in the Civilization of Man

The domestication of wild grains has played a major role in human evolution, facilitating the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture. You might think that the grains were used for bread, which today represents a basic staple. But some scientists argue that it wasn’t bread that motivated our ancestors to start grain farming. It was beer. Man, they say, chose pints over pastry.
Beer has plenty to recommend it over bread. First, and most obviously, it is pleasant to drink. “Beer had all the same nutrients as bread, and it had one additional advantage,” argues Solomon H. Katz, an anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Namely, it gave early humans the same pleasant buzz it gives us. Patrick E. McGovern, the director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania, goes even further. Beer, he says, was more nutritious than bread. It contains “more B vitamins and [more of the] essential amino acid lysine,” McGovern writes in his book, Uncorking the Past: the Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. It was also safer to drink than water, because the fermentation process killed pathogenic microorganisms. “With a four to five percent alcohol content, beer is a potent mind-altering and medicinal substance,” McGovern says, adding that ancient brewers acted as medicine men.
In fact, McGovern has found that the ancients used beer as medicine. Working with the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, McGovern discovered traces of sage and thyme in ancient Egyptian jars. Luteolin, which is in sage, and ursolic acid, which is in thyme, both have anti-cancer properties. Similarly, artemisinin and isoscopolein from wormwood fight cancer, and were found in ancient Chinese rice wine. “The ancient fermented beverages constituted the universal medicine of humankind before the advent of synthetic medicines,” McGovern says......The great advantage of grain is that it didn’t spoil like fruit or berries, and could be kept for months and used as needed. That motivated our ancestors to build permanent structures to store their grains and homes close to their fields—which in turn led to the creation of villages. Archeologists have found stone silos dating from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age at sites in the Middle East.
Makes sense to me.

My Speech Gives Me Away


Try out this dialect test.  It said my speech was most similar to Dayton, Fort Wayne or Springfield, Missouri.  Pretty accurate there.  And if you look at the map, west central Ohio is brick red.

Why The Dairy Cliff Won't Materialize

Because it would be a stupid pain in the ass:
U.S. farm law is set by a 1949 act that includes hefty price supports for dairy farmers. Those supports were once needed because dairy prices often weren’t high enough to cover the costs of production. The law directs the federal government to buy milk, butter and cheese, artificially inflating prices to prop up farmers.
But the “permanent law” is superseded by the farm bills Congress is supposed to pass roughly every five years. Not surprisingly, the current Congress has had some trouble reaching an agreement this time around, and the farm bill is now ridiculously late. A one-year extension at the end of last year wasn’t enough, and congressional leaders have said the bill will be taken up in January. Theoretically, that means a reversion to the “permanent law,” which would force the Department of Agriculture to start buying dairy products at (perhaps) about double their current prices on January 1. Hence the headlines warning that a gallon of milk is about to shoot up to anywhere between $6 and $9 a gallon, depending on which account you believe. There were even more scary “dairy cliff” headlines last year, before the extension was passed. We weren’t any close to the edge then than we are now.
Like the debt ceiling, the “permanent law” carries the “threat that it’s such a goofy law that Congress will pass a new one and rewrite the rules and not go back to the old rules,” Kent Olson, a University of Minnesota Extension economist, told Minnpost.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, though, has said that he won’t implement “permanent law” as long as Congress continues debating the farm bill in January, which they will be doing. And even if we were to go over the dairy cliff, Vilsack has any number of options for stalling price supports. It’s not like the federal government can suddenly just start buying (and storing) vast amounts of dairy products.
The Farm Bill is one of the better examples that Congress is full of clowns.  They've had forever to bang out a farm bill, and they are still unable to get anything done.  And the kicker is that the reactionary morons from rural areas in the House decided to hack the food stamps out of the bill, which was the only reason the Congressmen representing areas with sustainable population densities had any interest in passing a Farm Bill.  What a bunch of asshats.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Holy Foreskin


Relics played an important role in medieval Christianity. The physical remains of saints and holy figures were considered an essential part of the faith, offering a powerful connection with Heaven.....
The most important relics were those associated with Jesus Christ – such as the True Cross where he died upon, or the mother’s milk of Mary. However, since Jesus was said to ascend to Heaven with his body, there could not be any of his own bodily remains left – except, perhaps, those that he left behind before he was killed, such as his blood or his finger nails.
All this brings us to the story of Jesus’ circumcision, which the Roman Catholic Church celebrated eight days after his birth on January 1st. Following the Jewish rite, Jesus was circumcised, which leaves the question of what became of his foreskin.
Very few articles have been written on the topic of the Holy Foreskin, partly because in the year 1900 the Roman Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate anyone who did so. However, Robert Palazzo bravely did his research and his article “The Veneration of the Sacred Foreskin(s) of Baby Jesus: A Documentary Analysis,” offers some interesting details about this relic. He notes that apocryphal gospels, such as the The First Gospel of Baby Jesus, which was written sometime before the 6th century, described how the foreskin was kept and passed down from generation to generation.
By the eleventh century, several churches in Europe explained they had the Holy Foreskin – the story often went something like this – Jesus’ mother Mary kept the foreskin, along with the umbilical cord, and later gave it to Mary Magdalene. We then jump forward several centuries to the time of Charlemagne, when an angel gave the relic to the Emperor. From there it went to this place or that place, including to Rome. In 1421, it was even sent to Cathernine of Valois in England, so that it would bring good fortune (and a pregnancy) to her marriage with Henry V.
Palazzo has been able to find at least 31 churches in Europe that claimed to have the Holy Foreskin sometime during the Middle Ages, including ones in Paris, Antwerp, Bologna, Compostela and Toulouse.
Meanwhile, one can also read a lot of theological commentary about whether or not the Holy Foreskin could be real, much of it negative.
Now that's a new one on me.  I knew that in the old days that New Year's Day was the feast of the Circumcision prior to it being changed to the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, but I'd never heard about the Holy Foreskin.

U.S. Men Qualify for Olympic Curling Tournament

Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Winning the U.S. Olympic curling trials should have been cause for celebration, but John Shuster and his crew knew their task was only half complete. The Duluth skip and his Minnesota teammates still had to qualify for a place in the 2014 Winter Olympics, leaving them with some serious work to do before the party could start in earnest.
The foursome finally got to raise that long-delayed toast Sunday. They rallied to beat the Czech Republic 8-5 in the last game of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Fuessen, Germany, to claim the final spot in the Sochi Olympics. Shuster and teammates Jeff Isaacson of Gilbert, Jared Zezel of Hibbing and John Landsteiner of Duluth won five consecutive games to end the tournament and came back from a 3-2 deficit late in the final match.
Shuster earned his third consecutive trip to the Olympics in dramatic fashion. His team trailed after seven of 10 ends in a tense, back-and-forth game, then scored five in the eighth end to take command. Their victory puts four more Minnesotans on the Olympic team; the women’s curling team, which already had locked up its berth, includes Jessica Schultz of Minneapolis and alternate Allison Pottinger of Eden Prairie.
“The butterflies of winning for an opportunity like this, they never get old,’’ said Shuster, 31, who won a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics as the lead for Pete Fenson’s team. “That’s why we play this game. I’m extremely proud of how well our team has played the entire season, and especially here, when we had our backs against the wall.’’
Shuster’s team won the U.S. Olympic curling trials in November in Fargo, N.D. It was forced into the eight-team qualifier because the U.S. was ranked eighth in the combined standings of the past two world championships. The top seven teams, plus Russia as the Olympic host, earned automatic berths in the 10-team Olympic tournament.
The final two teams were decided via the qualifier. After a 2-2 start — including a loss to the Czechs in Tuesday’s opener — Shuster’s team won three consecutive games. Germany and the Czech Republic topped the standings and played for the first Olympic spot, while the U.S. had to beat Korea in a Saturday tiebreaker to keep its hopes alive.
I started watching the match last night, but I only made it through about 12 stones before I fell asleep.  At least this will guarantee a decent amount of curling coverage on TV.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Cincinnati Stadium Screw Job

Another article discussing the crazy public subsidies for professional sports stadiums features Cincinnati:
When voters approved a sales-tax increase to pay $540 million toward stadiums for Cincinnati’s professional baseball and football teams almost two decades ago, city leaders promised lower property levies and a business district along the Ohio River.
The tax relief hasn’t materialized as pledged, said Todd Portune, a commissioner in Cincinnati’s Hamilton County. Instead, the county government is grappling with annual stadium expenses totaling at least $43 million this year, including debt service, county documents show. Residents have seen a public hospital sold, mass-transit investments postponed and little private development near the stadiums that didn’t involve additional public subsidies, Portune said......
In Cincinnati, Bengals owner Mike Brown took control of the team in 1991, after the death of his father, Paul Brown, a Hall of Fame founder and coach of the Cleveland Browns, who in 1967 headed an ownership group that acquired an expansion franchise in the American Football League. The Reds are owned by Robert Castellini, who led a group that bought a team after the 2005 season that was then valued at $270 million. The team is now worth $680 million, according to a data compiled by Bloomberg.
In the 1990s, each team began pushing for public funding to replace Riverfront Stadium, which opened in 1970 and was shared by both organizations. In March 1996, Hamilton County voters approved a half-percentage point increase in their sales-tax rate to fund the football and baseball venues as part of an effort to revive the area along the Ohio River.
Paul Brown Stadium opened for the Bengals in 2000 and Great American Ball Park opened for the Reds in 2003. The stadiums are about a half-mile apart......
Public costs for Cincinnati stadiums now exceed $1 billion in 2010 dollars, according to Long, the Harvard professor, who tabulated expenses for stadiums for a book titled “Public Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.”
The NFL stadium proved particularly costly, according to Long. Paul Brown Stadium was the second-most expensive public deal of any U.S. stadium, according to her data, with the public paying $706 million, including land, infrastructure, maintenance and tax breaks. It trails only Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium. Taxpayers also spent about $489 million on the Reds’ Great American Ball Park, according to Long’s data.
And not only has Mike Brown screwed Hamilton County taxpayers (and the IRS), he's been a complete asshole while doing it, and the Bengals have failed to win a playoff game since he took over the team.

From 1994

"From 1994" Short Film from Casey Warren | MINDCASTLE on Vimeo.

Why Barry Bonds Belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Jonah Keri:
1. Barry Bonds: On numbers alone, Bonds is one of the three or four best players of all time, and that's before factoring in the quality of competition in his era compared to what Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb faced. Of course, Bonds's candidacy isn't nearly that simple for many voters or fans. OK, let's assume that, despite there being no positive drug test, Bonds took PEDs. Since the two most common arguments pointing to Bonds's PED use are that (a) his numbers shot to the moon at an age when that very rarely happens, and (b) he went from being an athletic, all-around terror to a gigantic home run machine, let's also assume that Bonds started juicing after the 1999 season. That would square with the popular narrative that Bonds was jealous of the attention going to Mark McGwire and Sosa in '98, and that an injury-plagued '99 season would've pushed Bonds to seek chemical help while rehabbing. To further extend this exercise, let's assume that Bonds deserves absolutely zero credit for everything that happened from 2000 on. His remaining career numbers would be:
2,000 games played
445 home runs
1,299 RBIs
1,455 runs scored
460 stolen bases
3 MVPs
102.5 WAR3
Bonds's first 14 years work out to the sum of Jimmie Foxx's entire career. And of course, this exercise twistedly assumes that without PEDs, Bonds would've been eaten by wolves on Christmas Day 1999 and never played again.
Some will argue that players linked to steroids should automatically be disqualified for life from Hall consideration and that even suspicion of use absent a failed test or other concrete evidence should trigger that ban. Those aren't the standards I use to evaluate players' Hall cases, though, so Bonds is the easiest pick for me this year.
His footnote points out that Ken Griffey, Jr. was second in WAR from 1986-99, at 68.5.  To slightly correct that, Griffey only played from 1989 on, so I'd add the next three years of WAR to the total for Griffey.  Unfortunately for him, those were his first three years in Cincinnati, which only netted him an additional 6.8, for a total of 75.3 (although it is notable that he had 5.5 WAR in his first season in Cincinnati, which was better than his last season in Seattle).  Bonds first 14 years are still amazing.  And honestly, I don't care if he was juicing or not, Bonds' 2001-2004 were the most impressive four seasons I've ever watched.  Just like McGwire and Sosa were the most exciting things in 1998, I've got to say that doping or not, it was damn fun watching Bonds at his doping peak.  I've pummeled Lance Armstrong for being a doping motherfucker, but honestly, his performance was amazing.  It was just his sociopathic lying and ridiculously brutal attacks on others who were a little more honest about their and his doping that was so terrible.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Ancient Battle

Physicists and archaeologists are fighting over ancient Roman lead (yeah, really):
Archaeologists and physicists are at loggerheads over ancient Roman lead—a substance highly prized by both camps for sharply diverging reasons. Very old lead is pure, dense and much less radioactive than the newly mined metal, so it is ideal for shielding sensitive experiments that hunt for dark matter and other rare particles. But it is also has historical significance, and many archaeologists object to melting down 2,000-year-old Roman ingots that are powerful windows on ancient history.....
Ancient Roman lead has been used in the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS), an experiment in Minnesota that aims to detect the particles that make up the invisible dark matter thought to contribute much of the universe's mass. The same metal has also been used in the CUORE (Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events) project in Italy, which will soon begin searching for a theorized particle decay process called neutrinoless double beta decay, which, if found, could explain why matter dominates antimatter in the universe. These experiments and others require extreme shielding to block out any extraneous particles that might be mistaken for the rare signals they hunt.
The lead in question once went into the making of coins, pipes, construction materials and weapons in the ancient Roman civilization. It is most commonly found now at shipwreck sites, where private companies harvest it and melt down the Roman ingots into standard bricks before passing them on to customers—many of whom are physicists. "None of us take it casually—you don’t want historical artifacts to be destroyed unnecessarily," says physicist Blas Cabrera of Stanford University, who leads the CDMS project. Nevertheless, ancient lead is the best material available for shielding dark matter detectors, he says, because it releases so little radiation, or background particles. "The kind of background levels that you're achieving with ancient lead are roughly 1,000 times below that of commercially available lead."
All lead mined on Earth naturally contains some amount of the radioactive element uranium 235, which decays, over time, into another radioactive element, a version of lead called lead 210. When lead ore is first processed, it is purified and most of the uranium is removed. Whatever lead 210 is already present begins to break down, with half of it decaying on average every 22 years. In Roman lead almost all of the lead 210 has already decayed, whereas in lead mined today, it is just beginning to decay.
Wow, I definitely didn't know any of that.

An Abandoned Subway AND an Abandoned Streetcar?

Cincinnati may have both:
As Jalopnik recently reminded us, Cincinnati is home to the "largest abandoned subway system in the United States." Construction of the planned 16-mile system began in 1920 and halted in 1925 when the initial funding of $6 million ran out with the project not quite halfway done. Almost a century and a few failed revivals later, two miles of unused tunnel still run below Central Parkway, one of the main roads through the city.

If Cincinnati isn't careful, its in-progress streetcar system might face a similar fate. Whether or not to finish that project was at the heart of the city's recent mayoral election. Stop-construction candidate John Cranley emerged victorious, and earlier this month the city council put the 3.6-mile project on indefinite pause despite about a half-mile of track already laid.
It can't stay on pause much longer. The Federal Transit Administration, which issued Cincinnati roughly $45 million in funding for the project, has asked for a decision on the project by the end of Thursday.
The big issue for Cranley and the city council is whether local taxpayers should be on the hook for potential operating costs. The new mayor has said he's willing to let construction continue if private donors come up with enough cash to pay for the first 30 years of running the system — a figure that's reportedly around $80 million. The auditing firm KPMG is expected to release results of a cost analysis sometime today.
Geez, they've already spent about 25% of the construction cost.  This would be a very good thing for the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine and I really hate the idea of the city killing it.  But, as the story notes, there's 2 miles of abandoned subway under Central Parkway, so just about anything is possible. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More Crazy Numbers

Ritholtz features a couple of great charts on income inequality.  This one relates to the video in the previous post:

$5 billion in a year?  That is so fucking ridiculous that I just don't have words to describe it.

A Game of Numbers

A Game of Numbers - New York Times Op-Doc from Kris Hofmann on Vimeo.

Family Budgets, In and Out of the Social Safety Net

Via The Atlantic Cities:

This month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compared yearly spending between families that use public assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid, and families that don't. And surprise, surprise, households that rely on the safety net lead some pretty frugal lifestyles. On average, they spend $30,582 in a year, compared to $66,525 for families not on public assistance. Meanwhile, they spend a third less on food, half as much on housing, and 60 percent less on entertainment.
These figures, drawn from the 2011 Consumer Expenditure Survey, don't capture all non-cash perks some low-income families get from the government, such as healthcare coverage through Medicaid. But they give you a sense of the kind of tight finances these families deal with.
But that surfer on Fox News buys lobster, so we know folks in government programs have it easy! I think I'll pay my taxes and be happy I'm not struggling to rotate which bills to pay this month.  Then again, because of how the tax laws are structured, I can stash away over $16,000 in a tax deferred 401K account while folks I know try to raise children on not much more than that in income.  I've told conservatives I know that they can quit their jobs and take government programs if it is such a good deal, but they say they are too proud.  Also, that might cut into their Keno playing funds.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Farmers Hoarding Corn

WSJ, via Big Picture Agriculture:
Faced with the lowest corn prices in more than three years, many U.S. farmers are stashing away their grain in a bet on a rebound.
The strategy is sending ripples through the corn belt—affecting everyone from grain buyers to storage-bin makers—and tempering the price declines in the $27 billion corn-futures market.
By hoarding freshly harvested supplies, farmers are forcing livestock producers, ethanol companies and food makers to pay a premium over futures in some areas to secure corn, helping to buoy prices during what is expected to be a record U.S. harvest, traders and analysts say. But they warn the move could backfire on farmers in coming months if rival producers—such as growers in South America—generate big crops or demand for corn falls.....
Mary Ann Kwiatkowski, an independent grain trader at the Chicago Board of Trade, says she is "a little less bearish" on corn futures because of the farmers' strategy. Because storing corn leads to higher cash prices, it will cause investors to be less willing to bet on declines in corn futures, she says.
"Farmers have had a lot of years of doing very well," says Craig Turner, a senior broker at Daniels Trading in Chicago, "and they can use the bins as a bank account and only sell when they need to. Having the storage has helped with the price not coming down as much as it would have. It helps stabilize the price."
But analysts say corn growers are taking a big risk, noting that favorable weather so far this season for rival farmers in Brazil and Argentina could lead to large crops in the new year, which could further expand global supplies and exert even more downward pressure on prices.
The corn stockpiles also act as an overhang on the market. Farmers eventually will have to sell their grain, Mr. Turner says, and when they do, the added supplies will weigh on prices.
The USDA estimated in November that U.S. corn production will total 13.989 billion bushels this year, easily surpassing 2009's crop, the largest so far. The massive harvest comes just a year after the worst U.S. drought in decades curtailed output and vaulted corn futures to a record-high closing price of $8.3125 a bushel.
I don't see this ending well, and this is one of the biggest reasons I'm pretty bearish about the next couple years' corn crops.  I just don't see anything to drive prices higher for a while.  Also from Big Picture Ag are a couple of farmland price stories.  The fact that a big pension fund is buying a huge parcel of farmland is a contrarian indicator in my opinion.  As for Iowa, I don't know what's going on there:

WTF?  Has anybody out there tried to make those numbers work with corn under $4?

The Pope Lottery

60 Minutes featured two stories last night.  One was a pro-NSA propaganda piece, and the other was about the Coptic Christians of Egypt, who elect a pope by whittling the field down to three candidates, then having a boy select one of three balls with a candidate's name in it to determine the pope:

Google Buys Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics is a premier robotics research operation, and the eighth robotics company Google has purchased:
Google just acquired Boston Dynamics. It’s the eighth robotics company the California tech titan has purchased in six months and, by far, the most significant. For two decades, Boston Dynamics has produced some of the world’s most advanced robots.
Neil Jacobstein, co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University, told Singularity Hub, “This is a watershed event. A very big deal. Google is buying up high potential robotics companies. Boston Dynamics is the pick of the litter.”
Even if you don’t follow technology or robots closely, you may have watched one of their viral videos with some combination of awe, fear, and the realization that robots are nowhere near as clunky as you thought they were.
The firm’s humanoid Atlas and Petman robots can balance on two legs, walk, and do calisthenics. Video of an uncannily human Petman in fatigues—the robot was built to test chemical warfare gear—drew over three million views earlier this year.

Beyond the bipedal, the company’s Cheetah robot runs faster than Usain Bolt; their WildCat robot recently took Cheetah’s tricks beyond the treadmill; their robot SandFlea leaps onto tall buildings; and LS3 autonomously follows soldiers across rough terrain, carrying gear and supplies on its back. (Check out the full roster here.)
The Boston Dynamics bots are rugged and multi-functional. And while many robotics firms are doing inspiring work, none have produced a complete package that so closely resembles the popular image of what a robot should be.
Google, meanwhile, has billions at its beck and call. They make clever algorithms with designs on artificial intelligence, own the most sophisticated self-driving car on the road, and write paychecks to AI luminaries like Geoffrey Hinton and Ray Kurzweil.
It’s simple addition to see why the deal is making headlines.
Some folks look on some of Boston Dynamics’ creations with trepidation because they have largely been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). But Boston Dynamics founder, Marc Raibert, has said he doesn’t consider his firm to be part of the military industrial complex. They’re just trying to take robotics to the next level.
Wow, Petman is creepier than Asimo.  More Boston Dynamics robot videos here and here and here

Sunday, December 15, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

December 13:

Geminid Meteor Shower over Dashanbao Wetlands
Image Credit & Copyright: Jeff Dai
Explanation: The annual Geminid meteor shower is raining down on planet Earth this week. And despite the waxing gibbous moonlight, the reliable Geminids should be enjoyable tonight (night of December 13/14) near the shower's peak. Recorded near last year's peak in the early hours of December 14, 2012, this skyscape captures many of Gemini's lovely shooting stars. The careful composite of exposures was made during a three hour period overlooking the Dashanbao Wetlands in central China. Dark skies above are shared with bright Jupiter (right), Orion, (right of center) and the faint band of the Milky Way. The shower's radiant in the constellation Gemini, the apparent source of all the meteor streaks, lies just above the top of the frame. Dust swept up from the orbit of active asteroid 3200 Phaethon, Gemini's meteors enter the atmosphere traveling at about 22 kilometers per second.

Bitcoin Chart of the Day

Daily number of Bitcoin transactions versus Bitcoin market capitalization in dollars:

This chart shows a dramatic reduction in the total number of transactions, irrespective of size, per dollar of bitcoin’s market cap, from December 2012 – December 2013. In absolute terms, market cap has generally gone up, and the number of transactions has mostly just bounced around a lot. The total value of bitcoin is going up, but it’s mostly getting parked rather than being put to work. Apparently there just aren’t a lot of appealing ways to spend bitcoin, anecdotal news stories to the contrary notwithstanding.
Instead, an increasing amount of bitcoin’s putative value (as measured in USD) is being squirreled away by larger and larger miner-investors. It’s not fueling a diversifying, all-bitcoin economy: if it were, transactions would be keeping up with or even outpacing market cap, particularly if bitcoiners came to rely increasingly on bitcoins and decreasingly on dollars for day-to-day purchases. That’s very clearly not happening.
Instead, people are mining additional bitcoin, and speculators are buying in – and thus both of them are growing bitcoin’s notional market cap – but these folks simply aren’t adding all that much to the number of daily transactions. Even a bitcoin mining pool would only disburse its proceeds once, and if the individuals in the pool mostly just held their bitcoin, you’d get a graph a lot like the one above.
 Yes, it is a speculative bubble.  People are hording the things.  They won't hold their value.

Stagg Bowl Matchup Set

Mount Union squeaked by North Central, 41-40, while UW-Whitewater got by Mary Hardin-Baylor, 16-15, to advance to the Division III championship game.  This is the eighth matchup between the two schools in the championship game in the last nine years.  The only exception was last year's matchup between St. Thomas and Mount Union.  It is also Mount Union's ninth straight appearance in the championship game, their 16th appearance in the last 18, and their 17th in the last 21.  That is a pretty ridiculous run.

Lawmakers Push To Remove Corn From Ethanol Mandate

Expect more of this:
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would eliminate corn from the country’s ethanol mandate requirement.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would greatly diminish the prominence of the Renewable Fuel Standard by removing the component that requires fuel to be made from corn. Smaller mandates for advanced biofuels such as cellulosic would remain in place. The Renewable Fuel Standard, put in place in 2005 and strengthened two years later, requires refiners to blend 16.55 billion gallons of biofuels in 2013, most of it from corn.
The 10 senators, all of them from states that are not major corn producers, said the maize component of the Renewable Fuel Standard has made food more expensive for consumers, pushed up the cost of animal feed for livestock farmers and harmed the environment.
The head of Growth Energy, which represents the ethanol industry, called the legislation “incredibly shortsighted.”
If they do this, expect a severe drop in corn prices and numerous ethanol plant closings.  I'm pretty sure the strength of Big Corn and their ethanol juggernaut has peaked. The at least short-term growth in oil production due to shale oil has strengthened Big Oil to go after their mortal enemies in the grain alcohol industry.

Banking's Big 4

From Businessweek:

Don’t be so sure. Five years after the system was held at gunpoint by a massively interconnected and over-risked Wall Street, the country’s six biggest banks—JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Morgan Stanley (MS)—are now 37 percent larger than they were in the depths of the financial crisis. These institutions make more than four out of every 10 loans and tote two-thirds of the banking system’s $14.4 trillion in assets, according to WkndNotes, a private newsletter e-mailed to traders and brokers by investor Eric Peters....JPMorgan Chase is about the size of the entire British economy and holds 12 percent of all cash in the U.S. Unpack its corporate letterhead and you will find old Fortune 500 stalwarts like Washington Mutual, Providian, Chemical Bank, Banc One, Bear Stearns, and Great Western, among many other absorbed institutions. Bank of America, which snapped up Countrywide and Merrill Lynch (and pretty much all Merrill Lynch has snapped up) accounts for about a third of all U.S. business loans, while Wells Fargo (think Wachovia-First Union-CoreStates and the Money Store) makes a quarter of all mortgage loans.
 This is not quite the era of the Trusts, but these four are huge.

North Dakota Oil Production Sets New Record

National Journal:
Oil output in North Dakota reached a record high for the state in October, with production rising to just over 941,000 barrels per day, according to data released by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
Natural-gas output also climbed to a high of slightly more than 1.07 billion cubic feet per day.
"We set a new production record again in October and had a well-record both in oil and natural gas," Lynn Helms, the department director, said during a press call Friday.
Helms noted, however, that the uptick in production from September to October, which registered as an increase of approximately 8,600 barrels per day, was less than expected.
"It was maybe a little bit lackluster in terms of the production increase, less than what we would have maybe anticipated for the amount of drilling and well-completion going on out there," he said.
Heavy rains in North Dakota's McKenzie County leading to road closures that lasted several days were to blame for tepid production gains, Helms said, estimating that output would likely have been 10,000 to 15,000 barrels a day higher in dry weather.
When asked when he expects the state to hit the production threshold of 1 million barrels of crude per day, Helms said that will likely happen early next year as state officials have previously estimated.
"We've always been predicting that that would come early next year so even with what happened in October ... all it does is postpone it. It doesn't mean we're not going to get there," he said.
I'm just curious where the peak will be.  The furthest out projection I've seen is 2020, but I would guess it would be much sooner.  Then again, predictions of well production falloff may be grossly pessimistic.  Only time will tell.  However, when the Eagle Ford and Bakken peak, expect to see spiking oil prices.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Into The Atmosphere

Into The Atmosphere from Michael Shainblum on Vimeo.

Drought and Civil War

How four years of drought helped start Syria's civil war:

Four years of devastating drought beginning in 2006 caused at least 800,000 farmers to lose their entire livelihood and about 200,000 simply abandoned their lands, according to the Center for Climate & Security. In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others, crop failures reached 75 percent. And generally as much as 85 percent of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria’s farmers gave up, abandoned their farms, and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.” 
As they flocked into the cities and towns seeking work and food, the “economic” or “climate” refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water, and jobs, but also with the existing foreign refugee population. Syria was already a refuge for a quarter of a million Palestinians and about 100,000 Iraqis who had fled the war and occupation. Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers. And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.
Survival was the key issue. The senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Syria turned to the USAID program for help. Terming the situation “a perfect storm,” in November 2008 he warned that Syria faced “social destruction.” He noted that the Syrian minister of agriculture had “stated publicly that [the] economic and social fallout from the drought was ‘beyond our capacity as a country to deal with.’” His appeal fell on deaf ears: the USAID director commented that “we question whether limited USG resources should be directed toward this appeal at this time,” according to a cable obtained by WikiLeaks.
The Egypt uprisings grew out of wheat shortages. Never underestimate the availability of food as it relates to stability.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Depressing Start to the New Year?

Looking over the bowl matchups, it appears that New Year's Day might be kind of ugly for the Big Ten.  While Michigan State and Stanford should be pretty evenly matched in the Rose Bowl, and Wisconsin could give South Carolina a run, Iowa vs. LSU and Nebraska-Georgia just don't appear to be fair fights to this guy.  I anticipate that the Big Ten will again struggle during the bowl season.


Winter from Paul Klaver on Vimeo.

On Two Americas, and Capitalism's Threat To Itself

I highly recommend this speech by David Simon.  A sample:
And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we're going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.
Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.
It's pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don't let it work entirely. And that's a hard idea to think – that there isn't one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we've dug for ourselves. But man, we've dug a mess.
Please, go read the whole thing.

Weirdness Around the Solstice

A little explanation of the shortest day of the year, and the earliest sunset and latest sunrise:
If you live around latitude 42N—a well-populated latitude in North America and Europe, taking in Boston, Rome, and Vladivostok—today (December 8) is the day you'll experience the earliest sunset of the year. Those who live farther north, in London or Moscow, can expect the earliest sunset on Thursday. Those farther south, in Miami or Mumbai, already had their earliest sunset a few days ago.
Wait a minute. Isn't the solstice, December 21, still more than a week away, the day of the earliest sunset? And the date of the year's latest sunrise, as well? The late sunrise and early sunset combine on the solstice to create the day with the shortest amount of daylight. Right? 
Actually, that's a fantasy. The earliest sunset really comes in the first week in December, and the latest sunrise occurs in early January. Yet December 21 really is the shortest day of the year. What sort of astronomical hijinks are responsible for this absurd state of affairs?
Blame it on Earth's non-circular orbit and its tilt in relation to the Sun.
More details if you click through the link.  This kind of stuff makes my head hurt.  It reminds me how brilliant Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo were when they were figuring out the heliocentric solar system.

Pilot Pork Inspection Program Hits Snags

The idea for the program sounded promising: If plants hired their own quality-assurance officers to sort out diseased carcasses and parts before they reached government inspectors, then, proponents theorized, there would be fewer carcasses for the USDA to inspect and reject. This weed-out of diseased animals earlier in the process would reduce the chance of food contamination; it would also allow plants the flexibility to devise their own inspection processes, rather than adhering to rigid cookie-cutter requirements; and, best of all, these efficiencies would streamline production, reducing the cost of pork for consumers.
Almost from the moment the program was fully implemented in 2003, the participating meatpackers saw huge benefits. In 2004, Excel and Hatfield achieved the largest production increases (measured by total number of swine) of any two packers in the U.S. The other three plants accelerated production for Hormel—not just at the official Hormel plant in Fremont, but also at QPP, which bills itself as a “custom packer” for Hormel, and at Farmer John, which Hormel purchased at the end of 2004. Thus, for the last decade, Hormel’s three cut-and-kill operations—the plants that supply all 9.4 million hogs annually for its operation nationwide—have been among these select five plants that have profited from dramatically increased line speeds.
But if packers have been delighted by the increased output, workers’ rights advocates say that runaway production increases have also jeopardized safety...Equally troubling, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General has raised concerns that faster line speeds could compromise food safety. In May, the OIG released a report finding enforcement of protocols at the five pilot plants was so lax that between 2008 and 2011 three ranked among the top 10 violators of food safety requirements. That’s out of 616 pork-packing plants nationwide. As recently as last year, inspectors at the five test plants found hog carcasses bound for processing with lesions from tuberculosis, septic arthritis (with bloody fluid pouring from joints), and fecal smears. The OIG’s assessment warned that “recurring, severe violations may jeopardize public health.”
Wait, self-regulation might not be working?  Companies get richer, but workers and the public face greater danger?  No, not in an unregulated market.  Seriously, who is surprised by the outcome of this pilot program.  As the article goes on to say.  A similar program is going into effect across the poultry industry, and watchdog groups fear the pork pilot program will be expanded to the entire industry.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Not Much Defense

Here are the statistics from Mount Union's 62-59 win over Wesley:
WesleyStatisticsMount Union
25% (2 of 8) THIRD DOWN EFFICIENCY 35% (6 of 17)
0% (0 of 0) FOURTH DOWN EFFICIENCY 33% (1 of 3)
Total Offensive Plays
Average gain per play
Net yards per pass play
Sacked: Number-Yards
Had intercepted
Rushing Attempts
Average gain per rush
6-219 PUNTS: Number-Yards 6-201
36.5 Average 33.5
0 0
Punt Returns: Number-Yards
Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards
Interception Returns: Number-Yards
11-110 PENALTIES: Number-Yards 8-85
2-2 FUMBLES: Number-Lost 0-0
3-20 SACKS: Number-Yards 3-32
0 0 INTERCEPTIONS: Number-Yards 4-82

633 passing yards and 2 rushing yards?  9.1 yards per play?  Wow.  Mount Union wasn't dominating, but they will be in the Division III semifinals next week versus North Central.  Mary Hardin-Baylor will host Wisconsin-Whitewater.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 1:

A Laser Strike at the Galactic Center
Image Credit: Yuri Beletsky (ESO)
Explanation: Why are these people shooting a powerful laser into the center of our Galaxy? Fortunately, this is not meant to be the first step in a Galactic war. Rather, astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) site in Chile are trying to measure the distortions of Earth's ever changing atmosphere. Constant imaging of high-altitude atoms excited by the laser -- which appear like an artificial star -- allow astronomers to instantly measure atmospheric blurring. This information is fed back to a VLT telescope mirror which is then slightly deformed to minimize this blurring. In this case, a VLT was observing our Galaxy's center, and so Earth's atmospheric blurring in that direction was needed. As for inter-galaxy warfare, when viewed from our Galaxy's center, no casualties are expected. In fact, the light from this powerful laser would combine with light from our Sun to together appear only as bright as a faint and distant star.

The Grain Treasure Trove

Modern Farmer:
One day in 1965, several members of the agriculture society were out hiking through the fields of Ardre on Gotland, an island off the Swedish coast, when they discovered a chest on Ragnar Pettersson’s farm. While Pettersson had a reputation for his bread, most people thought he was a little off his rocker. Instead of planting monocultures, he sowed his fields with a hodge-podge of grains. He claimed this blend was the secret behind his superior bread.
What the researchers found there would later spur a radical movement of growers and a new generation of experimental bakers. That cache of seeds is now referred to as the “treasure of Ardre.”
“What we discovered in Ardre was pretty much the history of wheat,” says Curt Niklasson, an organic spelt farmer on Gotland.
At the time, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences had issued a request that all native seeds and animal breeds be recorded, so the discovery was sent to the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway. As the majority of farmers around the world began growing modern, short-stemmed bread wheat (triticum aestivum) the treasure of Ardre sat, virtually untouched, for 30 years.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when Hans Larsson, a researcher in plant breeding for organic farming at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, decided to unearth Pettersson’s seeds take a closer look at their DNA. He counted at least 70 different varieties of grain. Larsson enlisted the help of Niklasson and together they began experimenting with re-growing the ancient grains. But by 2007 the pot of seeds was nearly depleted.
The majority of the article covers using these heritage grains in bread, but I thought this quick history of wheat interesting:
 Gotland is located smack-dab in the middle of the Baltic trade route between Denmark and Sweden. Originally, einkorn made its way from Persia, crossed with wild grasses and turned into wild emmer, was cultivated and crossed with another wild grass and became spelt. There is evidence that einkorn, emmer and spelt were all cultivated on Gotland as far back as 500 B.C. and seeds of all of these were found in Ardre, including multiple sub-varieties, like summer wheat, white, red, blue and black emmer, and borstvete, a variety of wheat that appears to be unique to Gotland. Borstvete, or “brushed wheat” is now listed in the Slow Food Ark of Taste.
Anyway, I enjoyed the story about Ragnar Petterson.  Farms tend to raise up some "interesting" characters. One thing to remember about the heritage varieties which the trendy gardeners have been flocking back to is that because they haven't been improved by breeding, the yields are tremendously low, and just can't provide cheap food for a global population.

Buckeyes Stumble

Pat Forde:
If you want to know how badly the Big Ten championship loss wounded Ohio State, consider this:
After Michigan State had finished harmin' Ohio, the Buckeyes bagged "Carmen Ohio."
At a school that takes its traditions seriously, that will be considered sacrilege by some fans. Under former coach Jim Tressel, the ritual was non-negotiable: Win or lose, the team would gather postgame before the marching band and sing the song, written more than a century ago by an Ohio State student.
For 24 games under Urban Meyer, that continued. Game ended, players gathered, song was sung. Meyer, a self-proclaimed lover of Buckeye lore, was always front and center, flanked by players on either side.
Made for a nice photo op, at the very least.
Of course, for 24 games there was never a loss, never a chance to test the commitment to tradition in a time of adversity.
Saturday night, that changed. Saturday night, Meyer's Buckeyes finally lost – and did so in shocking fashion. They fell behind the Spartans 17-0, roared back for a 24-17 lead, then were hit with another 17-0 flurry in a devastating 34-24 loss.
National title aspirations vanished. The program that had dominated a diminished Big Ten finally played an opponent of consequence – and was exposed as a cut below championship mettle.
This part is brutal:
This game reinforced what many of us suspected: Ohio State's winning streak was a house of cards, built on soft competition. The non-conference schedule was awful, and the conference has been at a low ebb. For this team to have skated into the BCS championship game would have been a disservice to college football.
The Buckeyes hadn't played a single top-10 opponent since Tressel's last game as coach, the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Their victories shouldn't have impressed anyone, but poll voters are seduced by brand-name programs with perfect records.
And so, after scraping past a hugely disappointing Michigan team by one point last week, a team ranked second by the polls and BCS computers came to Indy with everything within its grasp. Just win this game – in front of a crowd that was 70 percent scarlet-and-gray – and the Buckeyes would go to Pasadena and play for the national title.
It was all right there for the taking. And they blew their chance, ceding a spot in the title game to Auburn – and giving the Southeastern Conference a shot at a great eight straight championships.
The Big Ten has not been very good for a while now.  I think the Buckeyes are lucky they weren't exposed by a non-conference opponent in the BCS Championship.  The four team playoff makes things more rational, but it probably ought to be a requirement for power conference teams to play a serious non-conference opponent each season, so you can tell who the pretenders are.

Why Do You Wake Up Before Your Alarm Clock Goes Off?

Because your brain wants to wake you up on its schedule:
At the center of your brain, a clump of nerves—called the suprachiasmatic nucleus—oversees your body’s clock: the circadian rhythm. It determines when you feel sleepy and when you feel bright-eyed. It controls your blood pressure, your body temperature, and your sense of time. It turns your body into a finely tuned machine.
That machine happens to love predictability. Your body is most efficient when there’s a routine to follow. So if you hit the hay the same time each night and awake the same time each morning, your body locks that behavior in. And that’s where things get sciency.
Your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a protein called PER. The protein level rises and falls each day, peaking in the evening and plummeting at night. When PER levels are low, your blood pressure drops, heart rate slows, and thinking becomes foggier. You get sleepy. If you follow a diligent sleep routine—waking up the same time every day—your body learns to increase your PER levels in time for your alarm. About an hour before you’re supposed to wake up, PER levels rise (along with your body temperature and blood pressure). To prepare for the stress of waking, your body releases a cocktail of stress hormones, like cortisol. Gradually, your sleep becomes lighter and lighter.
And that’s why you wake up before your alarm. Your body hates your alarm clock. It’s jarring. It’s stressful. And it ruins all that hard work. It defeats the purpose of gradually waking up. So, to avoid being interrupted, your body does something amazing: It starts increasing PER and stress hormones earlier in the night. Your body gets a head start so the waking process isn’t cut short. It’s so precise that your eyelids open minutes—maybe even seconds—before the alarm goes off.
There’s evidence you can will yourself to wake on time, too. Sleep scientists at Germany’s University of Lubeck asked 15 volunteers to sleep in their lab for three nights. One night, the group was told they’d be woken at 6 a.m., while on other nights the group was told they’d be woken at 9 a.m..
But the researchers lied—they woke the volunteers at 6 a.m anyway. And the results were startling. The days when sleepers were told they’d wake up early, their stress hormones increased at 4:30 a.m., as if they were anticipating an early morning. When the sleepers were told they’d wake up at 9 a.m., their stress hormones didn’t increase—and they woke up groggier.
I definitely believe the part aboutsometimes waking up when you know what time you need to be up. I've pretty much never slept until my alarm goes off  on a day when I'm leaving for vacation, even if I'm getting up a couple hours ahead of normal in order to catch a very early flight.  That always seemed weird to me, but I guess I understand why it happens, now.

More on Farm Profitability

From the Des Moines Register:
Economists expect Iowa corn and soybean growers will lose money over the next four years, beginning with this year’s harvest, squeezed by low commodity prices and high production costs.
The potential downturn follows a boom that saw growers worldwide bringing millions more acres into production to take advantage of record-high prices.
Experts in Iowa compare the downturn to the devastating 1980s farm crisis, the only time in at least 60 years that the state’s farm industry posted a loss. This correction is unlikely to be as severe, because farmers are coming off record-high net incomes. But enough similarities exist to cause concern.
“We’ll likely see some bad times moving forward,” Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agriculture economist, told growers at the Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting last week.
Even with a hoped-for soft landing, Iowa is expected to see a $1.4 billion hit to farm income this year alone, a blow that will ripple through Iowa’s slowly recovering economy.
Adding to concerns is a proposed rollback in the amount of renewable fuels that must be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. That could trim another 10 cents to 25 cents from corn prices, which, at about $4.20 a bushel, are already 45 percent lower than a year ago, experts say.
However, livestock producers should fare better:
Lower corn and soybean prices, though, will help Iowa livestock producers, who have suffered through recent losses as a result of high corn and soybean prices.
“It’s a little frustrating to hear people talk about how good agriculture has been,” said Ed Greiman, who raises 2,000 cattle near Garner with his brother, Matt. “It’s been phenomenal for corn and soybeans. But just as good as it’s been for them, it’s been as bad for us.”
Livestock production makes up about 40 percent of the state’s farm cash receipts, federal data show.
The experts are still saying that farmers aren't as leveraged as they were in the '80s, so things shouldn't be nearly as bad.  We'll see.  Experts didn't think there would be a residential mortgage crisis, either.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Grain Farmers Might Face Rough Future

This forecast is calling for grain farmers to lose money until 2017. More to come in tomorrow's Register:

We've been told a number of times that this boom is different, but if things get as bad as they are saying, we may, as Warren Buffett says, find out when the tide goes out who was swimming without a bathing suit.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Genealogy of Baseball Teams

An awesome print at History Shots:

 One close-up:

A little background:
The New York Yankees started as the Baltimore Orioles. The Minnesota Twins were once the Washington Senators. But not before they were the Kansas City Blues. And the Cleveland Indians? To some, they'll always be the Grand Rapids Rustlers.
Pro-baseball has seen its share of relocations, new names, and disbanded franchises, enough to confuse even the most history-obsessed fans. Thankfully, information designers Bill Younker and Larry Gormley have mapped it all out for us in one incredible infographic.
Gormley tells us it took over 1,000 hours to put together. The final result is an end-all reference guide for when your friend doesn't believe the Detroit Tigers really have always been the Detroit Tigers (established in 1894), that Brooklyn couldn't stop renaming its team (before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they were, at various times, the Trolley-Dodgers, Bridegrooms, Robins, and Superbas), or that the Newark Peppers were a real thing.

 More cool charts they sell here.