Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fields of Athenry

More Panicked Gun Buying Because of Obama

Andy Borowitz on the White House releasing a photo of Obama firing a weapon:
Right-wing opponents of Mr. Obama were behind the frenzied gun sales, saying that they were terrified by the image of an armed and shooting President. “I don’t want to sound paranoid or anything, but now everything Obama has been doing makes sense,” said Harland Dorrinson, who was waiting on a blocks-long line outside a West Virginia Wal-Mart. “He wants to take away all our guns and then he’s going to come shoot us.” Learning that Mr. Obama only uses his rifle for skeet-shooting did little to calm Mr. Dorrinson: “Somebody owning a gun just for sporting purposes? Yeah, right.”
That is too funny.

Some Woodchuck Facts On Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney Phil predicted spring is coming early (he must mean in a few days, and not right this minute), and Scientific American ran 8 facts about groundhogs.  This I didn't know:
4. Family values. In general, groundhog social groups consist of one adult male and two adult females, each with an offspring from the previous breeding season (usually female), and the current litter of infants. Interactions within a female’s group are generally friendly. But interactions between female groups – even when those groups are shared by the same adult male – are rare and aggressive. Even though daddy woodchuck doesn’t live at home, from the breeding season through the first month of the infants’ lives, he visits each of his female groups every day.
Sounds like a guy from the FLDS.

The North Dakota Oil Boom

A great piece by Chip Brown on the oil boom in the Bakken shale (h/t Ritholtz):
Just how much oil is in the Bakken is still unknown. Estimates have been continuously revised upward since a 1974 figure of 10 billion barrels. Leigh Price, a United States Geological Survey geochemist, was initially greeted with skepticism when, about 13 years ago, he came to the conclusion that the Bakken might hold as much as 503 billion barrels of oil. Now people don’t think that number is as crazy as it seemed.
“Right now our best guess is there are 169 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken, and that’s undoubtedly wrong,” says Ed Murphy, state geologist at the North Dakota Geological Survey. “There’s no way to be right. It’s like guessing how many jelly beans are in a jar.”
The current recovery rates for Bakken reserves typically range from 1 to 6 percent, but recovery rates are a function of both technology and market prices. “With the best technology, we can recover 4 to 8 out of every 100 barrels of oil in the Bakken,” says Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. “Every 1 percent increase in the rate of recovery means another billion barrels.”
As long as prices stay above $60 a barrel or so, oil will be a mainstay of the North Dakota economy for a generation or more. After drilling companies finish securing leased acreage, it will take 20 years to develop the 35,000 to 40,000 production wells needed to fully exploit the “thermally mature” part of the Bakken shale, an area about the size of West Virginia. Production from a typical Bakken well declines rapidly but on average produces modest amounts of oil for 45 years and earns a profit of $20 million. But as the volume of oil in the Bakken shale is still a moving target, and recovery techniques are increasingly sophisticated, some estimates put the life of the Bakken play, and the attendant upheaval it is causing in North Dakota, at upward of a hundred years.
I would lean to the less optimistic side.  Time will tell.  There's a lot of stuff I'd like to quote and expand on, but just read the whole piece.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Making of the Lombardi Trophy

A little information about how it's made:
The silver itself has a street value of about $3,500. But, if you add in the high-end labor to make it (there is NO glue!) and its symbolism, the value is a little more difficult to assess.
"I would tell you that they trophy itself is priceless," O'Rourke said. "Whatever monetary value is assigned to the trophy doesn't accurately present the work the athletes have put into it."
The NFL is a customer and does pay for the trophy.
Sources tell CNBC that the Tiffany trophy business, which includes everything from Major League Baseball to PGA golf, is modestly profitable but probably with smaller margins that the rest of its jewelry business.
The NFL trophy is made in a workshop nestled into a distribution center in Parsippany, New Jersey.
"It's like the turn of the century with some of the machines and equipment used," O'Rourke noted.
You can see the video here.  I'd have embedded the video, but the selfish bastards apparently don't want to share.

Ohio's Language of Love?

Katie Holmes was spotted with a man at the bowling alley:
Lady of New York Katie Holmes was spotted Wednesday night doing something more befitting her Ohio past: Bowling. Yes, bowling, that beery hobby of bad shoe-smell and filthy finger holes. Granted, Holmes was at Lucky Strike Lanes in Hell's Kitchen, which are kind of fancy, but still! Bowling! How pedestrian. And she was there with just one other person, a man. Bowling for two, eh? Some sort of witness says that the two appeared to be "just friends" — which, I mean, it is Hell's Kitchen — but I don't know if I believe it. Who goes bowling with just one other person on a Wednesday night as just a casual kind of a hang? Seems odd. Yeah, sure, they were just drinking "a few beers" and Holmes was in "floral overalls," which isn't necessarily formal date attire, but I dunno. What we do know is that she scored a 152, which is pretty decent! About halfway to perfect, which isn't bad. So, a good night had. But how good? Who was this mysterious male companion who she was bowling with until 1 a.m.?? Bowling is Ohio's language of love, so it could mean something serious. Or she could have just been hanging out with a male friend in Hell's Kitchen, where many of New York women's "male friends" reside.
That there is some fine Northeast Corridor writing if I've ever seen it.  Beery?  Filthy finger holes?  Ohio's language of love?  Ok, I have been on two fix-up dates involving bowling in the past few years.  Out of a grand total of like two fix-up dates.  But that's getting off the subject.  Oh wait, that was about all I had to say.  Well, that, and if Ms. Holmes just happens to be visiting western Ohio and needs a bowling partner, I'm one who will gladly let her beat me.  At bowling.  Get your minds and your filthy finger holes out of the gutter (intentional bowling pun).

A Milestone

You can tell a giant mass of frigid air has blanketed the country (and maybe the world, based on where people visited the blog from) last month.  This so-called blog hit five figures in page views in a month for the first time in January.  I'd like to thank everyone who stopped in for one reason or another (even all the spam commenters), but I'd like to especially thank the folks who (maybe inexplicably) visit frequently.  If you do visit fairly regularly, feel free to drop me a comment.  Sometimes I don't realize how dumb, foolish, unintentionally funny, etc. I am being without somebody letting me know.  To wrap up, while I know he doesn't mean this blog because he is talking about creative people with good taste, let's all imagine Ira Glass is talking about this site in the following clip:

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

Well, in Britain, it appears to be Mr. Ed, or his relatives:
Burger King has acknowledged this week that some of its burgers in Britain and Ireland included horsemeat, the latest development in an ongoing scandal.
Horsemeat actually contains just as much protein and far less fat than beef, according to nutritionists.
Burger King says it found trace levels of horse DNA in four samples from its Irish meat supplier, Silvercrest, but "this product was never sold to our restaurants," the company said in a statement. Nevertheless, Burger King's admission has prompted a Twitter campaign and threats of a boycott.
The horsemeat controversy is Britain's worst food scandal since mad cow disease in the 1990s. But this time around, the potential danger isn't to Britons' physical health, but their emotional well-being.
For as long as a year, British consumers who thought they were buying beef products may have been unknowingly eating pork and horse, as well.
Irish food safety officials broke the news in mid-January, when they said 23 out of 27 beef burgers sampled were found to contain pig DNA, and 10 also contained horse DNA. The meat had been marketed across the British Isles.
One beef patty, sold by the British grocery giant, Tesco, was 29 percent horsemeat.
Think we'll see this ad anytime soon?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Ticking Time Bomb Scenario

Johannes Thimm looks at Zero Dark Thirty and the pro-torture argument for finding Bin Laden:
The overwhelming focus of the debate on the role of torture in locating bin Laden neglects an important point. Even in the opinions of advocates of coercion and even in the case of in Laden, bringing a terrorist to justice for acts committed in the past does not justify its use. It is also necessary to make the case that bin Laden is still a danger. If he were an old man hiding out with little communication to the outside world and without much influence on the actions of a lose network of terrorists who increasingly act independent from Al Qaedas leadership, it would be hard to argue that torturing potential informants would be anything but revenge. However, if he is still the central figure continuously plotting attacks from the Middle East to Manhattan…
The point is made explicit in a little-noticed exchange between Maya and her superior. After the failed Times Square bombing Maya presses Joseph Bradley, the CIA station chief in Pakistan, for more ressources to find bin Laden. Bradley tells her that he doesn’t care about bin Laden and that Maya should be more concerned with protecting the homeland. Maya then lectures him about how bin Laden provides the inspiration for all these attacks. She stops just short of saying that if they get him, the attacks will end. Needless to say, in this scene Maya is the one the viewer identifies with. As usual Bradley is just one more obstacle to her doing her job. And the hunt for bin Laden is one great attempt to protect the homeland against further attacks and save the lives of innocent Americans.
This is not to say that the late bin Laden’s had no role whatsoever. He was not hiding in a cave completely cut off from civilization, but lived in a city and was able to communicate through his messenger. But it is questionable how much control he had over the operational activities that led to the diverse terrorist attacks so prominently emphasized throughout the plot. The point is this: There are different ways to tell the story, and, whether intentionally or not, the makers of Zero Dark Thirty consistently tell it in a way that makes the strongest possible case for torture.
The order to violate the Geneva Conventions, federal law and American tradition came from a bunch of cowards and sadists headed by Dick Cheney.  They didn't get shit for useful information, and should be tried as war criminals.  If Hell exists, Dick Cheney and John Yoo will be there for eternity.  Probably in the same room as Bin Laden.

College Players Will Get Chance To Argue Against Slavery

Derek Thompson:
College sports is a multi-billion-dollar business. Do its workers deserve to be paid?

It's a simple question taking a convoluted journey through our legal system. But student-athletes are closer to getting their day in court, since a judge ruled yesterday that NCAA athletes can legally pursue a cut of the billions of dollars flowing to college sports through TV deals.

In 2011, civil-rights historian Taylor Branch made a monster case for paying college athletes in The Atlantic. He predicted that law suits like this could could destroy the business model of the NCAA. To dig into the economics of paying college athletes, I called up Dave Berri, a sports economist with Southern Utah University and the author of The Wages of Wins, who cheekily called the NCAA's rule against paying its own athletes "the best business model in the world." A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows:

THOMPSON: A judge has have given the green light to a class-action lawsuit brought by former college players to compel the NCAA to pay student athletes out of its TV revenue. Big deal? Or no big deal?
BERRI: It definitely means something. The NCAA has been opposed to the idea of sharing its revenue with its players for about 100 years.

Make the economic case for why college athletes ought to be paid.

The players are the workers who generate the money.

The NCAA is producing an enormous amount of revenue. The players are producing that revenue. It's ridiculous that we're not paying them. It's ridiculous what the NCAA does with respect to its players. They were selling [former Auburn quarterback and current NFL star] Cam Newton jerseys and Newton didn't get any money. At Michigan [basketball], the Fab Five used to say, 'We're walking down the street with no money, and you're selling our jerseys for profit.'

Okay, make the economic case for why the NCAA is right to not pay its athletes.
I don't have one, besides: They would like more money. And they don't want to share.
There is no excuse for the NCAA raking in billions of dollars and players getting paid with an education they didn't want.  It is criminal.  I highly recommend reading the article by Taylor Branch.

Saltwater Encroachment Worries Corps On Mississippi

All Things Considered:
The biggest problem is saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico coming up the mouth of the Mississippi and threatening industrial and municipal water intakes more than 60 miles inland.
During normal flows on the Mississippi, freshwater is pushing down and out of the mouth of the river. But with low flows during drought, the Gulf of Mexico starts to push saltwater up the Mississippi River.
"Saltwater is denser than freshwater and so it travels on the bottom," says Stack. "It travels in what we call a wedge."
To stop the encroaching wedge, the corps built a $5.8 million sill on the bottom of the river. It's like a deep underwater levee designed to hold the saltwater at bay.
The sill has held since September, and the wedge is now receding. But it wasn't enough to prevent the saltwater from reaching the drinking water intakes for Plaquemines Parish, the parish south of New Orleans that stretches all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi.
"We've been through five hurricanes and an oil spill, had a couple of chemical spills, and right before this salt water intrusion, I said, 'What's next?' " says parish President Billy Nungesser.
The parish had to barge in fresh water from upriver and buy drinking water from neighboring Orleans Parish. Nungesser is worried about next time."The real challenge will be if we see a worse situation than we saw last year where that wedge reaches New Orleans because you couldn't barge in enough water to satisfy the needs of the city of New Orleans," he says.
After the spring of 2011, when too much water was the main concern for the Corps, it would seem like they wouldn't be so busy with too little water.  Au contraire, mon frere.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hitler Becomes Chancellor of Germany

January 30, 1933:
On this day in 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg names Adolf Hitler, leader or fÜhrer of the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party), as chancellor of Germany.
The year 1932 had seen Hitler's meteoric rise to prominence in Germany, spurred largely by the German people's frustration with dismal economic conditions and the still-festering wounds inflicted by defeat in the Great War and the harsh peace terms of the Versailles treaty. A charismatic speaker, Hitler channeled popular discontent with the post-war Weimar government into support for his fledgling Nazi party. In an election held in July 1932, the Nazis won 230 governmental seats; together with the Communists, the next largest party, they made up over half of the Reichstag.
Hindenburg, intimidated by Hitler's growing popularity and the thuggish nature of his cadre of supporters, the SA (or Brownshirts), initially refused to make him chancellor. Instead, he appointed General Kurt von Schleicher, who attempted to steal Hitler's thunder by negotiating with a dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor Strasser. At the next round of elections in November, the Nazis lost ground—but the Communists gained it, a paradoxical effect of Schleicher's efforts that made right-wing forces in Germany even more determined to get Hitler into power. In a series of complicated negotiations, ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen, backed by prominent German businessmen and the conservative German National People's Party (DNVP), convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, with the understanding that von Papen as vice-chancellor and other non-Nazis in key government positions would contain and temper Hitler's more brutal tendencies.
Hitler's emergence as chancellor on January 30, 1933, marked a crucial turning point for Germany and, ultimately, for the world. His plan, embraced by much of the German population, was to do away with politics and make Germany a powerful, unified one-party state. He began immediately, ordering a rapid expansion of the state police, the Gestapo, and putting Hermann Goering in charge of a new security force, composed entirely of Nazis and dedicated to stamping out whatever opposition to his party might arise. From that moment on, Nazi Germany was off and running, and there was little Hindenburg or von Papen—or anyone—could do to stop it.
80 years ago today, Hitler took charge in Germany.  Spoiler alert: Things didn't end well for Hitler, Germany, Jews or the world.

More On Boeing's 787 Design Process

From the Seattle Times last year (h/t nc links):
Albaugh and other senior leaders within Boeing may be belatedly paying attention to a paper presented at an internal company symposium in 2001 by John Hart-Smith, a world-renowned airplane structures engineer.
Hart-Smith, who had worked for Douglas Aircraft and joined Boeing when it merged in 1997 with McDonnell Douglas, was one of the elite engineers designated within the company as Senior Technical Fellows.
His paper was a biting critique of excessive outsourcing, a warning to Boeing not to go down the path that had led Douglas Aircraft to virtual obsolescence by the mid-1990s.
The paper laid out the extreme risks of outsourcing core technology and predicted it would bring massive additional costs and require Boeing to buy out partners who could not perform.
Albaugh said in the interview that he read the paper six or seven years ago, and conceded that it had "a lot of good points" and was "pretty prescient."
In his talk at Seattle U., the first specific lesson Albaugh cited as learned from the 787 debacle seemed to echo Hart-Smith's paper....
Taken to its extreme conclusion, Hart-Smith said mockingly, the strategy of maximizing return on net assets could lead Boeing to outsource everything except a little Boeing decal to slap on the nose of the finished airplane.
Though most of the profits would be outsourced to suppliers along with all the work, and all the company's expertise would wither away, the return on investment in a 25-cent decal could be 5,000 percent.
Has Boeing belatedly seen the light and embraced Hart-Smith's analysis?
Clearly the 787 has brought a serious rethink at the top.
"We went too much with outsourcing," Albaugh said in the interview. "Now we need to bring it back to a more prudent level."
I would like to know how much the poor labor relations with the engineers and machinists figured into the outsourcing of much of the project.  I'd wager it is a hell of a lot.  One of the worst impacts of labor unions over the years has been the way their presence drove management to absolutely stupid decisions to try to stick it to them.  It kind of reminds me how the Republican party allows President Obama's presence drive them completely insane, and causes them to destroy themselves.


Public Power And The New Deal

In late January 1933,  President Roosevelt traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to announce the beginning of what would become the Tennessee Valley Authority:
During World War I, the Army Corps of Engineers began building an immense dam across the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, intended to generate power for adjacent plants making military explosives. The project employed more than 18,000 workers and involved about 1,700 temporary buildings.
But it remained unfinished at the armistice and didn't contribute to the war effort. By the time it was finally completed, in 1924, the dam had cost $150 million, and only a portion of its planned generators had been installed. It was a national embarrassment, criticized by private-sector power companies as a prime example of federal waste.
Henry Ford offered to buy the complex from the government for $5 million, but Congress declined this low-ball offer. Supported by his friend Thomas Edison, Ford next proposed a huge commercial hydropower development above the dam, including a 75-mile-long urban strip circling an immense reservoir.
Nothing came of this, largely because veteran Nebraska Senator George W. Norris, who believed the government should control the development of natural resources, blocked any attempts to privatize the project. During the 1920s, Norris repeatedly proposed plans for public development of the region’s water-power potential. Several of these bills, passed by Congress, died under vetoes from President Calvin Coolidge and President Herbert Hoover. In 1932, Norris, a liberal Republican, endorsed Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate.
In January 1933, the senator joined the incoming president at the Muscle Shoals Wilson Dam for a dramatic announcement. The new administration would fund comprehensive development of the Tennessee Valley, adding at least 11 dams above the Wilson one to create "the greatest interconnected power system in the world," with a generating capacity of an estimated 3 million horsepower, the New York Times reported.
This was one of the biggest federal projects which allowed the New South to develop in the latter half of the 20th Century.  Not that Southerners would ever say thanks.

Harder Than A Diamond

A 2-millimeter chunk of nanotwinned cubic boron nitride. Photo: Courtesy of Yongjun Tian

Scientists claim their nanotwinned cubic boron nitride is:
How do you design industrial tools that can top the most heavy-duty diamond-tipped devices? Easy: you create a new material that’s even harder than diamond.
Yes, it’s an oft-misstated “fact”: Diamond is the hardest material in the world. That title has been contested for some time now, and a paper published this month in Nature offers yet another contender.
“Ultrahard nanotwinned cubic boron nitride,” describes how researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of New Mexico, Yanshan University, Jilin University, and Hebei University of Technology compressed a form of boron nitride particles to an ultrahard version.
The transparent nuggets that resulted rivaled — and even exceeded — diamond in their hardness, according to tests run by the researchers. With a Vickers score of 108 GPa, it surpasses synthetic diamond (100 GPa) and more than doubles the hardness of commercial forms of cubic boron nitride.
The secret is in the nanostructure. Yongjun Tian and the other researchers started with onion-like boron nitride particles shaped a bit like a flaky rose — or, as Tian describes them, like Matryoshka dolls. When they compressed them at 1,800 Celsius and 15 GPa (around 68,000 times the pressure in a car tire), the crystals reorganized and formed in a nanotwinned structure.
Wow, stuff like that makes me feel even dumber than normal.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Facebook Data Helps Create NFL Fan Map

It's long been a dream of mankind to put together a map showing the geographic locations of NFL fanbases. The CommonCensus map tried to do it though polling; we took a crack at one based solely on proximity. But all previous efforts have been self-selecting or otherwise flawed. If only there was a massive database of millions of Americans identifying their favorite teams, with precise geographic information included.
This is exactly that. Facebook's Data Science team has combed the more than 35 million users who have "liked" a team's fan page, and put it into graphic form, down to the county level. Sean Taylor, who headed the research and analysis, was kind enough to send along the high-resolution maps. Click the overall fandom map above to enlarge.
Pretty cool.  My takeaway is that northwest Ohio is really fucked up. The Steelers?  Really?

40 Years Without Human Contact

Smithsonian magazine tells the story of the Lykov family, which lived for 40 years in Siberia without having contact with any other human beings (h/t nc links):
Things had only got worse for the Lykov family when the atheist Bolsheviks took power. Under the Soviets, isolated Old Believer communities that had fled to Siberia to escape persecution began to retreat ever further from civilization. During the purges of the 1930s, with Christianity itself under assault, a Communist patrol had shot Lykov's brother on the outskirts of their village while Lykov knelt working beside him. He had responded by scooping up his family and bolting into forest.
That was in 1936, and there were only four Lykovs then—Karp; his wife, Akulina; a son named Savin, 9 years old, and Natalia, a daughter who was only 2. Taking their possessions and some seeds, they had retreated ever deeper into the taiga, building themselves a succession of crude dwelling places, until at last they had fetched up in this desolate spot. Two more children had been born in the wild—Dmitry in 1940 and Agafia in 1943—and neither of the youngest Lykov children had ever seen a human being who was not a member of their family. All that Agafia and Dmitry knew of the outside world they learned entirely from their parents' stories. The family's principal entertainment, the Russian journalist Vasily Peskov noted, "was for everyone to recount their dreams."
The Lykov children knew there were places called cities where humans lived crammed together in tall buildings. They had heard there were countries other than Russia. But such concepts were no more than abstractions to them. Their only reading matter was prayer books and an ancient family Bible. Akulina had used the gospels to teach her children to read and write, using sharpened birch sticks dipped into honeysuckle juice as pen and ink. When Agafia was shown a picture of a horse, she recognized it from her mother's Bible stories. "Look, papa," she exclaimed. "A steed!"
But if the family's isolation was hard to grasp, the unmitigated harshness of their lives was not. Traveling to the Lykov homestead on foot was astonishingly arduous, even with the help of a boat along the Abakan. On his first visit to the Lykovs, Peskov—who would appoint himself the family's chief chronicler—noted that "we traversed 250 kilometres [155 miles] without seeing a single human dwelling!"
The whole story is fascinating.  Apparently, one of the daughters still lives out there by herself.  I may not have much in the way of social skills, but I pretty much have to have more than those kids.

Will Salinger's Secrets Come Out?

David Wagner reports that a new documentary is coming out:
The word "recluse" precedes the name of late author J.D. Salinger so often, you'd think it was his job description. "Hermit" is another popular descriptor for the intensely private creator of The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield. Some writers bust out "isolato" when they're feeling fancy. In short, three years after his death (and almost a half century after he published his last piece of fiction), many mysteries still cling to the reputation of one of American literature's most famous figures.
Some of them could be demystified soon. Yesterday, Deadline reported that filmmaker Shane Salerno has completed Salinger, a documentary eight years in the making that's being touted as "an unprecedented look into the mysterious life of the author of The Catcher In the Rye." Salerno had finished the film as early as 2009, but shelved the project in order to conduct more revealing interviews after Salinger's death in 2010 at the age of 91. "There were people who’ve been quiet 40 or 50 years, some of whom didn’t want to disappoint him," Salerno tells Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. "After his passing, it became part of some cathartic release they needed after being quiet so long."
Salinger will air on PBS' American Masters in January 2014, and today Simon & Schuster announced that a biography co-written by Salerno will reach shelves in September 2013. Publisher Jonathan Karp promises that the book will also shed light on previously unknown aspects of Salinger's life, saying in a press release: "Many of us who read The Catcher in the Rye have, at some point in our lives, wished we could know the author better. Now, we finally can."
Wagner offers a number of questions which we may or may not have answered.  I would like to find out what the fascination with the Glass family was about, especially Seymour Glass.  Those stories are just so odd, and to write so many different stories about them seems puzzling.

More Banking Difficulties

I have previously described my dealings and difficulties with banking giant JP Morgan Chase.   Yesterday, I sparred with the Indiana-based regional bank (damn those Hoosiers) which holds the mortgage on the farm I purchased five years ago, and which was responsible for this agricultural loan marketing travesty.  Years before, the predecessor institution had been a local Savings and Loan, based in Miami County.  It had later become a savings bank, and it was local enough that I actually knew of some of the people on the board of directors of the bank.  It had struggled to grow, and eventually sold out to MainSource, which was growing by acquisition. 
Anyway, when I bought the farm (obviously not in the figurative variation of that phrase), I financed through Fifth-Third, because a family friend was a loan officer there, and could get me the best financing available.  Within a year, he moved to MainSource, and offered to refinance us at a better rate.  I got a three year fixed, and thereafter annually resetting adjustable-rate mortgage.  I would deposit cash farm receipts, or later, cash rent payments in a checking account at the bank, and the monthly loan payments would be directly withdrawn from the account.  At a point midway through the three year fixed rate portion, I made a sizable cash payment on principal.  The interest rate reset in the fall of 2011, and the monthly payments were reset based on the 7 year amortization period of the original loan.  Since I had put in that large principal payment, my monthly loan payments were reduced by 60%.  When I deposited my cash rent check in the account in late 2011, there was sufficient capital to pay nearly 18 months’ worth of loan payments.  This would seem to be extremely beneficial to the bank, since they are not paying me interest on the deposited funds, but I am paying them interest on the loan.  The main reason I went ahead with this setup was to give me some flexibility on future financing.  That, and I am lazy and dumb.
Now I will fast forward to the beginning of this month.  I got a letter from the bank informing me that because the account did not have any activity for at least a year, the account was considered dormant, and if the account balance was below $2500, the account would be assessed a monthly fee.  Since the account had a balance above $2500, and the loan payments had been withdrawn monthly throughout the previous 12 months, I didn’t anticipate any issues, and assumed I would activate the account when I made my next deposit.  However, last Saturday I got a notice that I had a late loan payment and was being assessed a $69 late fee. 

Fracking Wastewater Disposal Poses Challenges

Wastewater disposal may overwhelm available injection wells:

Though hydraulically fractured natural gas wells in the Marcellus shale region produce only about 35 percent as much wastewater, per unit of gas recovered, as conventional wells, according to the new analysis, the volume of toxic fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania is growing and threatening to overwhelm existing injection wells in Ohio and other states.
“It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, shale gas production generates less wastewater per unit. On the other hand, because of the massive size of the Marcellus resource, the overall volume of water that now has to be transported and treated is immense. It threatens to overwhelm the region’s wastewater-disposal infrastructure capacity,” said Brian D. Lutz, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State who led the analysis when he was a postdoctoral research associate at Duke.
“This is the reality of increasing domestic natural gas production,” said Martin W. Doyle, professor of river science at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “There are significant tradeoffs and environmental impacts whether you rely on conventional gas or shale gas.” 
Lutz and Doyle published their analysis this week in the peer-reviewed journal Water Resources Research.
They analyzed gas production and wastewater generation for 2,189 gas wells in Pennsylvania, using publicly available data reported by industry to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection in compliance with state law..
“We found that on average, shale gas wells produced about ten times the amount of wastewater as conventional wells, but they also produced about 30 times more natural gas,” Lutz said.  “That surprised us, given the popular perception that hydraulic fracturing creates disproportionate amounts of wastewater.”
I am surprised by the claim that fracking wells produce less wastewater per unit of gas than conventional wells, but these guys are the ones who looked at the data.

Ethanol Production Hits Iowa Aquifer

Scientific American:
At a biofuels energy symposium hosted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies last week in Washington, D.C., professor Jerald Schnoor said corn ethanol production facilities require large quantities of high-purity water during the fermentation process.
This water is obtained from underground aquifers, and as ethanol production reaches a fever pitch in Iowa, the state's water supply is threatened. Even in 2009, Iowa state geologists warned that the Jordan aquifer was being pumped at an unsustainable rate in several counties, exceeding the state's 1975 base line within the next two decades.
"We're near record devotion of acres to corn right now," said Schnoor, who also headed the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council in 2007. Up to 40 percent of corn production in the United States now goes to ethanol fuel. Schnoor estimated that up to three-quarters of corn crops in his home state are devoted to ethanol production, stressing Iowa's groundwater sources.
He cited the Lincolnway Energy Plant in Nevada, Iowa, as an example. This plant, which Schnoor acknowledged was older and less efficient than newer plants, produces 50 million gallons of ethanol every year by processing 100,000 acres of corn. He said this process requires 200 million gallons of water per year.
With fracking and ethanol, it looks like we're in the era of water-intensive energy production.  Considering we will be straining our freshwater supplies to the breaking point just for drinking water, that doesn't bode well for humanity.  These thirsty alternative sources of energy just aren't sustainable.

DOE ARPA-E Funds Wild Ideas

Morning Edition:
I mean let me give you an example of the type of things that we would fund. When you think about fuels, ARPA-E took the whole idea of biofuels and kind of turned it on its ear and said OK, well, plants have been trying to be plants for millions of years. Suppose you thought about this differently and said, could a plant be designed to be something that was more fuel-like? So could you take loblolly pines, which grow all over the southeast of the United States - and they actually make a component today, it's called a terpene. It's a molecule that is very close to the type of molecules that are in fuel. And so you could envision that the crop from these trees would be of a type of fuel.
MONTAGNE: And so you try to grow a lot more of them?
MARTIN: What this is actually saying that the tree itself, so you think about when you have, you know, maple syrup - you tap the tree and you get the syrup out to make syrup - this would be actually a fuel component that you could extract from the tree to be the fuel itself.
Another example, is the idea that algae produce really nice oils, and people like to think about them for fuels. We've looked at taking those traits and having them in tobacco plants. So could you have the good properties of algae in a tobacco plant, which we know how to grow on poor soil?
MONTAGNE: So ARPA-E is like DARPA in that its purpose is sort of big think.
MARTIN: What we think about picking projects, it's not does it work? We asked if it works, will it matter. So we actually really take risks, saying if it works it's going to really change the game.
MONTAGNE: You know, I wonder if there is less impetus, now, for what you're doing now that the U.S. is producing so much more oil and gas.
MARTIN: We look at it as creating more opportunities. So we actually just ran a project called MOVE(ph), which is trying to envision natural gas as a fuel for passenger vehicles, could you develop new tank designs for the car as well as compressor designs that would work at home.
That kind of stuff is just so far beyond where I would think about going.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Animation of Man - 2012

the Animation of Man - 2012 from Amanda Nedermeijer on Vimeo.

A 70 lb. Dachshund?

Well, now he's only a 40 lb. wiener dog:

Am I the only person who finds the concept of a 70 lb. dachshund disturbing, but utterly hilarious? As fat as he is in that video, how could he have been 75% bigger?

The Census In Graphics

Via The Atlantic, the Urban Institute features a panoply of Census data for the nation's metropolitan areas:

There is a ton of cool stuff there.

Is The Dreamliner Becoming A Nightmare?

James Surowiecki looks at some of the issues in the cost savings Boeing took in the 787 design:
And this is just the latest in a long series of Dreamliner problems, which delayed the plane’s début for more than three years and cost Boeing billions of dollars in cost overruns. The Dreamliner was supposed to become famous for its revolutionary design. Instead, it’s become an object lesson in how not to build an airplane. To understand why, you need to go back to 1997, when Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas. Technically, Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas. But, as Richard Aboulafia, a noted industry analyst with the Teal Group, told me, “McDonnell Douglas in effect acquired Boeing with Boeing’s money.” McDonnell Douglas executives became key players in the new company, and the McDonnell Douglas culture, averse to risk and obsessed with cost-cutting, weakened Boeing’s historical commitment to making big investments in new products. Aboulafia says, “After the merger, there was a real battle over the future of the company, between the engineers and the finance and sales guys.” The nerds may have been running the show in Silicon Valley, but at Boeing they were increasingly marginalized by the bean counters.

Super Bowl Prop Bet Options

Bill Barnwell lays out some of the available bets on the Super Bowl, including the "Will there be a safety" bet he blew last year.  Here's my favorite:
Will the 49ers score exactly four points?
Yes: +9999
No team in football history, to my knowledge, has scored exactly four points in one NFL game. There's only one way to get there, and it requires scoring two safeties without producing even one additional point the rest of the way. The Falcons were only one additional safety away from doing this to the Giants in the playoffs last year! I don't know what the true odds for this one should be, but you can probably add another nine to the end of that line and still be safe.
Seriously, who's going to bet on that?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

January 26:

Alaskan Moondogs
Image Credit & Copyright: Sebastian Saarloos
Explanation: Moonlight illuminates a snowy scene in this night land and skyscape made on January 17 from Lower Miller Creek, Alaska, USA. Overexposed near the mountainous western horizon is the first quarter Moon itself, surrounded by an icy halo and flanked left and right by moondogs. Sometimes called mock moons, a more scientific name for the luminous apparations is paraselenae (plural). Analogous to a sundog or parhelion, a paraselene is produced by moonlight refracted through thin, hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. As determined by the crystal geometry, paraselenae are seen at an angle of 22 degrees or more from the Moon. Compared to the bright lunar disk, paraselenae are faint and easier to spot when the Moon is low.

Spain Looks To Church For Revenue

All Things Considered:
On one side of this disagreement are cash-strapped municipalities and on the other, centuries of tradition.
Avendano says he's a Catholic himself. "We're not questioning the church's good works — charity for the elderly or poor or ill. We're not criticizing that at all. What we want is to re-examine property the church uses to make a profit," Avendano saild. "For example, rental apartments, parking lots and garages that it owns. Those are businesses."
The Catholic Church owns about half of this city. Sometimes people die and leave their house or business to the church, which then becomes the landlord.
"Some of the Catholic schools have swimming pools, and they charge a fee to area residents to swim there on weekends. So the school should be paying tax on that activity. But they haven't been," said another city councilman, Ricardo Rubio.
One Alacla street name, Calle Tercio, or One-Third Street, dates to the Middle Ages when vendors were required to give one-third of their profits to the Catholic Church.
Nowadays, there's a different tax man in town who happens to be broke. The city of Alcala de Henares is $400 million in debt.
Meanwhile, if the Catholic Church had to pay tax on all its property in Spain, it could owe up to $4 billion a year.
I don't know much about the history of the Church in modern Spain, but my understanding is that it had an extremely close and mutually beneficial relationship with Francisco Franco (one of a long line of incidents with the Church siding against democracy).  This would seem to be a major change for the Church.  It will be interesting how this plays out, as it reflects another landmark on the road to secularization for Europe.

Guided By Starlight

Dung beetles appear to navigate where they are rolling their balls of shit by moonlight and/or starlight (h/t nc links):
A day in the life of a male dung beetle goes something like this: Fly to a heap of dung, sculpt a clump of it into a large ball, then roll the ball away from the pile as fast as possible. However, it turns out that the beetles, who work at night, need some sort of compass to prevent them from rolling around in circles. New research in Current Biology suggests that the insects use starlight to guide their way. Birds, seals, and humans also use starlight to navigate, but this is the first time it's been shown in an insect.
The whole point of rolling dung is to impress the female beetle with provisions—i.e., excrement—for her future progeny and entice her to mate. She then lays an egg in the ball and buries it in a network of tunnels more than a meter deep, where it serves as food for the developing larvae inside.
But rolling dung balls in a straight line is also key to the male dung beetle's reproductive success. Rival males have been known to overtake a slower moving insect and claim the hard-earned treasure as their own. Competition is fiercest near the dung heap, so making a quick and efficient getaway is crucial for mating success.
The discovery that dung beetles use starlight "was an accident more than anything," explains study author Eric Warrant, professor of zoology at the Lund University in Sweden. His research group was studying how the beetles used the polarized light patterns of the moon to stay on their paths, when one moonless night they made a surprising observation—the beetles maintained straight trajectories. "Even without the moon—just with the stars—they were still able to navigate," Warrant says. "We were just flabbergasted."
The details of the study are interesting.  They put the beetles in a planetarium and varied the visibility conditions and tracked how straight they traveled with their turd balls.  They decided the dung beetles were using the Milky Way as a landmark in the sky to guide their travel. 

Certain rituals of dung beetle mating seem to be an analogy for human ones.

An Exercise in Futility

Northern Illinois managed to score just four points in the first half of their game against Eastern Michigan yesterday:
Four points.
One ... two ... three ... four points is all the men's basketball team from Northern Illinois could manage during a first half for the record books on Saturday. Breaking their own NCAA Division I record for ineptitude, the Huskies made just one field goal before halftime against Eastern Michigan.
The Huskies' lone bucket in the first half was actually the first score, staking them to a 2-0 lead just more than a minute into the game. It went down from hill from there......
In December, NIU set the previous record for first half futility, scoring just five points in the first half against Dayton. The record before that had been held by Cal, who managed just five points in the first half against Notre Dame in 2010, per Flyer News.
In all-time case of "glass half full" thinking, the account of the game at the NIU website trumpets the team's defensive effort.
"Northern Illinois posted its best defensive effort in seven seasons allowing just 42 points on Saturday afternoon, but it came in a losing effort as the Huskies fell to Eastern Michigan, 42-25, at the EMU Convocation Center."
I watched the first half of that game against UD, and it was just painful to watch.  1 for 31 shooting in the first half, with 29 straight misses is just unbelievable.