Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fuck yeah, Ohio Wins

At swearing:
In a recent study, The Marchex Institute, the research arm of Marchex, used Call Mining technology to aggregate data from more than 600,000 phone calls placed from consumers to businesses across 30 industries. After scanning for curse words and linking the frequency of those words with all 50 states, they found people in Ohio are more likely to curse than any other state.
Right behind Ohio as most likely curse are Massachusetts (2nd place), Arizona (3rd place), Texas (4th place), and Virginia (5th place).
Marchex found that people from Washington State are the least likely to curse (which only solidifies the notion that people in Washington are a little too passive-aggressive.) In fact, Ohioans curse more than twice the rate of Washingtonians. According to the data, Washingtonians curse about every 300 conversations, whereas Ohioans swore about every 150 conversations.
Additionally, the data from Marchex found Ohio is one of the “Least Courteous” states, ranking 5th as the least likely to say “please” and “thank you”. (The “Least Courteous” state is Wisconsin; the “Most Courteous” is South Carolina.)
They're checking complaint calls?  And it's surprising that people swear?  That seems like an odd study to me, but what the fuck do I know?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Yosemite and the Epic Sierra

Japanese Beetles' Biological Warfare

Ladybirds around the world are in danger from an invader that inadvertently wipes out its competitors using a biological weapon.
The interloper is the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), one of the world’s most invasive insects. From its homelands in central Asia, H. axyridis was introduced to Europe and North America to control aphids. Since then, however, it has become a serious pest that has put native ladybird species under threat by outcompeting or even eating them.
Entomologist Andreas Vilcinskas of Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen, Germany, suggests that the harlequin’s success partly hinges on the presence of a single-celled parasite that he and his colleagues found living inside the ladybirds. The parasite does no harm to the harlequin, but if it infects other ladybird species, such as the native seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), it invariably kills them...
Some scientists had previously thought that the harlequin owed its success to harmonine, a toxic antibacterial chemical found in its blood (or haemolymph). Harmonine allows the harlequin to resist certain diseases and to poison native ladybirds that eat its eggs. However, Vilcinskas and his team found that high concentrations of harmonine do not kill seven-spot ladybirds — but a dose of the harlequin’s haemolymph does.
When Vilcinskas and his colleagues looked at the harlequin's haemolymph under a microscope, they found the culprit: a microsporidian parasite. These exist in the eggs and larvae of all harlequin ladybirds, but in a dormant and apparently harmless state. “I have worked on insect immunity for 20 years, and I had never [before] seen a haemolymph sample that was full of microsporidians that do not harm the carrier,” says Vilcinskas.
Man, you just don't see the red ladybugs I grew up with.  One time three or four years ago, I saw one.  Before that, it had probably been ten years.

Unusual Units of Measurement

Lots of good ones missed, like pecks, bushels, rods (or perches), chains, fathoms, furlongs, leagues, etc.

Peak Price

St. Louis Fed:
Meanwhile, reported quality farmland, ranch and pastureland prices in the Eighth District were down slightly relative to last quarter’s price expectations. However, looking forward into second quarter 2013, lenders expected prices to rise slightly.
“As in our previous three surveys, bankers, on net, expect land values and cash rents to continue rising,” the report said. “However, it appears that banker expectations for future land value increases have moderated somewhat as fewer responses indicate that agricultural land values will continue to climb over the next quarter. Following that trend, bankers have also moderately tempered their short-term expectations for cash rents across the District.”
Lenders estimated that overall District quality farmland prices for the first quarter 2013 decreased by an average 2.3 percent to $5,111 per acre, compared with fourth quarter 2012. Meanwhile, ranch or pastureland prices decreased by an average of 5.1 percent to $2,274 per acre. Similarly, cash rents of quality farmland declined an average of 8.6 percent to $171 per acre, while ranch or pastureland prices fell an average of 4.5 percent to $120 per acre.
For the second quarter of 2013, lenders expected land values and cash rents to rise, albeit at a more modest pace. Again using diffusion index methodology, the expectations index for three-month growth in quality farmland for the District was 120. By zone, it was 100 in Little Rock, 113 in Louisville, 130 in Memphis and 121 in St. Louis. For ranch and pastureland prices, the average expectations index for three-month growth across the District was 120. By zone, it was 100 in Little Rock, 117 in Louisville, 138 in Memphis and 117 in St. Louis.
Peak farmland price?

More On The East Side Access Project

More here on the project. Video of the Second Avenue Subway is here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Coincidence?

Garance Franke-Ruta
Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner raises an interesting question.
"What kicked off the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups?" he asks. "The Treasury Department's Inspector General apparently knows but the rest of us cannot. His report on the scandal includes three timelines of events, but in each case, the first item in the timeline has been redacted."
"The mystery date was apparently February 25, 2010," he concludes from reading the reports. "...The reference to February in both appendixes indicates something particularly noteworthy happened then in the evolution of the IRS's policy. What was it?"
After reviewing some of what was going on in February 2010:
And then this caught my eye.
On February 23, 2010, Robert Wright, writing for the Times' Opinionator blog, looked at "The First Tea Party Terrorist?" His column on the Andrew Joseph Stack incident is chilling in retrospect and in light of the IRS's subsequent decision to begin sorting exemption applications for groups with "Tea Party, "Patriot" "9/12" and other conservative buzzwords in their names for referral to a specialist.
On February 18th, Stack had flown a small airplane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, killing himself and IRS agent Vernon Hunter and injuring 13 on the ground. Stack left behind a six-page rant against the federal government and the IRS. His conclusion: "I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well."
Readers took issue with Wright's description of Stack as a Tea Party type, leading to him to update the column to note: "When I said in this column that you could in principle follow my logic to conclude that Joseph Stack was a Tea Party terrorist, I should have added the explicit reminder that this logic depended on accepting the somewhat squishy definition of 'Tea Party' ideology that, I argue, is appropriate given the still-inchoate nature of the movement."
A week after he flew a plane into an IRS building, Tea Party groups started getting questioned on their non-profit applications. As the article notes:
Stack was not a member of his local group, the Austin Tea Party Patriots, as its founders repeatedly tried to make clear in February 2010.
The timeline is definitely interesting, though.

Dedicated To Capturing the Northern Lights

Via Ritholtz, a photographer camps out for months to get awesome photos of the aurora borealis.  Pretty sweet photos.  And here all I did was sit in my car for a couple of hours in the middle of nowhere listening to the Reds game and staring at nothing.

Exploding Foaming Pig Shit?

 You see, starting in about 2009, in the pits that capture manure under factory-scale hog farms, a gray, bubbly substance began appearing at the surface of the fecal soup. The problem is menacing: As manure breaks down, it emits toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide and flammable ones like methane, and trapping these noxious fumes under a layer of foam can lead to sudden, disastrous releases and even explosions. According to a 2012 report from the University of Minnesota, by September 2011, the foam had "caused about a half-dozen explosions in the upper Midwest…one explosion destroyed a barn on a farm in northern Iowa, killing 1,500 pigs and severely burning the worker involved."
And the foam grows to a thickness of up to four feet—check out these images, from a University of Minnesota document published by the Iowa Pork Producers, showing a vile-looking substance seeping up from between the slats that form the floor of a hog barn. Those slats are designed to allow hog waste to drop down into the below-ground pits; it is alarming to see it bubbling back up in the form of a substance the consistency of beaten egg whites.
And here's the catch: Scientists can't explain the phenomenon.
 Jacobson said that surveys show that around 25 percent of operations in the hog-intensive regions of Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa are experiencing foam—and "the number may be higher, because some operators might not know that they have it."
He added that the practice of feeding hogs distillers grains, the mush leftover from the corn ethanol process, might be one of the triggers. Distillers grains entered hog rations in a major way around the same time that the foam started emerging, and manure from hogs fed distillers grains contains heightened levels of undigested fiber and volatile fatty acids—both of which are emerging as preconditions of foam formation, he said. But he added that distillers grains aren't likely the sole cause, because on some operations, the foam will emerge in some buildings but not others, even when all the hogs are getting the same feed mix.
But if the causes of manure foam remain a mystery, a solution seems to be emerging, Jacobson told me: Dump a bit of monensin, an antibiotic widely used to make cows grow faster, directly into the foam-ridden pit. At rather low levels—Jacobson told me that about 25 pounds of the stuff will treat a typical 500,000 gallon pit—the stuff effectively breaks up the foam, likely by altering the mix of microbes present. No other treatment has been shown to work consistently, he said.
I don't remember hearing about that before, but I'm too lazy to google through the site to see if I wrote it up before.  Video of the phenomenon here.  The distillers' grain is a really interesting angle.  One more issue potentially raised by our crazy food to fuel program.  Hogs aren't meant to eat that stuff.

Bring Back Wiedemann's

That's what they are calling for over at TheStreet:

What motivates a Cincinnati kid such as Jim Koch to help start a beer revolution with Samuel Adams Boston Lager? Great Cincinnati beers such as those George Wiedemann used to make.
Wiedemann founded his Cincinnati brewery in Newport, Ky., just outside of Cincinnati in the late 1870s. It made a crisp, clear brew known as Wiedemann Fine Beer and, by the time Wiedemann died in 1890, was the largest brewer in Kentucky.
Prohibition shut its doors in 1927, but by 1933 it was revived and well on its way to the 1 million barrels it would produce by 1967. Wiedemann's success eventually led to its sale to G. Heileman Brewing Co. of LaCrosse, Wis. Heileman shut down the Wiedemann brewery in 1983 and sold off the rights to the Wiedemann name. The beer bounced from a brewery in Evansville, Ind., in the late '80s and early '90s to Iron City maker Pittsburgh Brewing in the 2000s. When Pittsburgh Brewing filed for bankruptcy and reorganized in 2006, it jettisoned Wiedemann beer.
Fortunately, some beer lovers in Newport with a great sense of history picked up the brand and revived it as the Geo. Wiedemann Brewing Co. just last year. While they're producing only Wiedemann's Special Lager and not a whole lot of it, Wiedemann has at least found its way back to the Cincinnati drinkers who've loved it all along. It's not back to 1 million barrels, but it's not dead and gone, either.
They also call for Falstaff, Meister Brau (eww), Rheingold and Dixie.  

Smithsonian Photo Contest Winners

Smithsonian Magazine unveils its photo contest winners here.  There are a ton of awesome photos among the finalists, but this one fits best with this blog:

(Photo by Jenny Braun (Hampton, Minnesota). Photographed in Hampton, Minnesota, July 2012.)

Go check out all of the photos.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Quiet Week On The Blog

It's going to be quiet here, because the rest of my life is going to Hell this week.  I'm not going to have much time for anything other than cussing the world until next Monday, and that isn't even taking into consideration any potential farming.

More on West, Texas

Dallas Morning News:
Few details have emerged in public, but Keeney confirmed one point: The warehouse where investigators say the fire started, the one housing the ammonium nitrate, did not have fire sprinklers. It did have fire extinguishers, he said.
A public misconception, widely repeated after the West explosion, is that water should never be applied to an ammonium-nitrate fire. Water is to be avoided in emergencies involving anhydrous ammonia, a gas compressed into a liquid and kept in pressurized tanks.
West Fertilizer had anhydrous ammonia, but investigators say it was not involved in the fire or explosion.
For solid, granular ammonium nitrate, the material that exploded in West, the recommended practice is to inundate it with large amounts of water in case of fire, rapidly reducing the heat to avoid a detonation...
Guidelines for ammonium nitrate handling, found in Chapter 11 of NFPA 400, have evolved over decades, the work of expert committees with volunteer members drawn from first responders, industry chemists and safety engineers.
Chapter 11 spells out detailed standards for ammonium-nitrate storage. Among them is a requirement for sprinklers.
Requirements also include roof ventilation to release heat in case of fire, standards on construction materials for warehouses and storage bins, housekeeping practices to prevent contamination and numerous other measures aimed at preventing or limiting fire.
“Requirements,” however, is a tricky word in fire prevention. Expert groups write fire codes and call their standards “requirements.” However, they’re only mandatory when adopted by state or local governments.
In Texas, nearly all cities and large counties have adopted the International Fire Code, written by the International Code Council, based in Washington. West’s city ordinances do not reflect adoption of an overall fire code. For ammonium-nitrate safety, the International Fire Code defers to the NFPA.
So does the Fertilizer Institute, the Washington-based national trade and lobbying group for makers and distributors of ammonium nitrate both for agriculture and in explosives.
The group has developed detailed guidelines for the material’s security from theft or misuse, but for safety, it sends its members to the NFPA code, vice president Kathy Mathers said.
I would hope that any other fertilizer plants handling ammonium nitrate have learned from this disaster.  I would also expect communities and neighbors to quiz their local facilities as to whether they handle ammonium nitrate, and what safety precautions they take.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

May 9:

Ring of Fire over Monument Valley
Image Credit & Copyright: Tunç Tezel (TWAN)
Explanation: As the New Moon continues this season's celestial shadow play, an annular solar eclipse track begins in western Australia at 22:30 UT on May 9 -- near sunrise on May 10 local time. Because the eclipse occurs within a few days of lunar apogee, the Moon's silhouette does not quite cover the Sun during mid-eclipse, momentarily creating a spectacular ring of fire. While a larger region witnesses a partial eclipse, the annular mid-eclipse phase is visible along a shadow track only about 200 kilometers wide but 13,000 kilometers long, extending across the central Pacific. For given locations along it, the ring of fire lasts from 4 to 6 minutes. Near the horizon, the appearance of the May 9/10 annular eclipse (online viewing) is suggested by this dramatic composite from May of 2012. The timelapse sequence depicts an annular eclipse in progress before sunset over Monument Valley in the southwestern United States.

Juggle and Cut

A touching story:

Juggle & Cut tells the story of Andy Phelps, a gifted kid with a colorful resume: he’s a juggler, unicycler, carpenter, hockey player, and firebreather. But, on an autumn day in 1998, Andy broke his neck in a massive car accident, leaving him without the use of his hands and legs. This film is about Phelps’s journey after his accident, and he how he kept his creative spark alive despite some steep emotional and physical obstacles.
Crafted by the gifted Caleb Slain (he’s only 22!), Juggle & Cut is the rare sort of inspirational documentary that not only manages to tell a compelling story, but reveals a larger, profound theme. As the story develops and Andy’s current occupation is revealed, the film becomes a manifesto for creativity — a call to get out in this world and make something, regardless of one’s personal limitations. The entire piece is a polished, confident example of documentary short filmmaking.
Phelps is currently working on a book fittingly called It Never Ends. Be sure to check out Slain’s other narrative shorts, The Lost and Found Shop and Free Pie, which are equally impressive.
It is amazing my friends and I didn't end up hurt or killed in a car wreck.  We did a lot of dumb stuff in vehicles.  One of my best friends did die in a car crash, but that time,  he was just driving home and a girl crossed the center line and hit his car.  That was eighteen years ago.  He was twenty-one.  It seems like only four or five years ago.  Time flies

A Medicine for Bad Ideas

From ars technica:
An antibiotic that also helps prevent stupidity. Alternately, one of the most useful side effects of a drug that I've ever heard of. There's an antibiotic called minocycline, which is a close chemical relative of the more commonly prescribed tetracycline. But recently, some researchers discovered it has an intriguing off-label effect: the drug can "improve symptoms of psychiatric disorders and ... facilitate sober decision-making in healthy human subjects." To get a better grip on this effect, some researchers turned to a classic example of human stupidity, the "honey trap." In this case, rather than honey, the trap was baited with an attractive female, because "Males tend to cooperate with physically attractive females without careful evaluation of their trustworthiness."
Given photos from a panel of females who had already decided to exploit their partners, the men were asked to rate the photos' attractiveness, and to decide whether they'd trust the woman as a partner. As expected, the decision to trust a woman became more common as the attractiveness rating went up. But the affect completely vanished if the men were given minocycline first.
Would minocycline be able to counteract the effects of alcohol on such decision making?

Physics and Fraud

Wong was an early proponent of HAARP, who used the facility in his studies of the ionosphere, the electrically-charged portion of the atmosphere. He also was something of a serial con man, according to a federal plea agreement provided to Danger Room. (.pdf) On Thursday, Wong agreed to pay nearly $1.7 million in damages for falsely billing Darpa and the Interior Department. He also plead guilty to a host of fraud charges.
HAARP was originally pitched back in the Cold War as a way for plasma physicists to study the ionosphere by blasting it with radio frequency emissions. If you build this series of RF antennas in remote Alaska, the scientists told the Pentagon, HAARP wound not only advance our understanding of this crucial field. It could also be used to fry incoming Soviet missiles and spy on underground bunkers. One physicist working for the Arco oil-and-gas conglomerate even suggested that HAARP could be used to weaponize hurricanes — that is, if Arco’s natural gas fields were used to power the thing.
But the Pentagon was only partially interested. So instead the scientists — including a UCLA physics professor Alfred Wong — sought out Ted Stevens, an Alaska senator with a legendary soft spot for pet projects. “He provided some congressional money, some pork money,” one of the scientists later told me for a 2009 WIRED magazine story. “It was much less than the bridge to nowhere.”
With Stevens’ help, HAARP was eventually built, and physicists began doing some rather fascinating research there.  But when those early ideas about HAARP’s potential military uses came out — hoo boy, the tinfoil hat crowd went berserk, and stayed that way for a very long time.
There are a lot of weird claims in the post.  Like Ted Stevens saying the project might harness the northern lights to provide free, unlimited power.

Gitmo Shame Continues

All Things Considered:
The crisis at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp keeps growing in size and intensity. According to the military's own count, 100 of the 166 men held in the prison there are now on hunger strike, and the 27 most in danger of dying are being force-fed.
Last month, guards had to forcibly subdue a camp where even the most cooperative detainees are held.
The hunger strike was triggered by a February search of inmates' Qurans, though the details are hotly disputed. What's remarkable, however, is that everyone — including detainees, lawyers and the military — agrees that the real reason for the unrest is simply the frustration that the camp has stayed open so long.
If the hunger strike is intended to draw attention, it's working. After months of silence on the issue, President Obama renewed the pledge he made four years ago to close the prison.
"It is not a surprise to me that we've got problems in Guantanamo," he said at a press conference last month. "I continue to believe that we've got to close Guantanamo."
There hasn't been any will in Congress to do that, however. No one — neither Republican nor Democrat — wants detainees kept in their state. Polls also show a majority of Americans don't want Guantanamo to close. And even though 86 prisoners have recently been cleared for release, nobody seems to be leaving.
This is a total fuckup.  Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld set up this disaster, then tortured the prisoners for useless information that makes it impossible to bring them to trial, and now the cowards in Congress won't let these guys go.  Obama promised to end this travesty, and has not delivered.  And Alberto Gonzales is pathetic in his defense of the place.  Find a way to bring these guys to trial or find somewhere to send them, they just aren't that big of a threat to us.

Putting Words On Paper

The Des Moines Register features one of their stereotypers from the old days:

Let me explain in a roundabout way: When we talk about the last century at 715 Locust St., the material that tends to define our old-fashioned trade is paper: giant, 1,700-pound rolls of newsprint that could stretch for as many as six miles if unwound.
But heavy and molten metal is just as much a part of the tale of publishing a newspaper at 715 Locust St.
So Holmes often must explain that his department on the third floor was responsible for converting “a flat page of type to a rounded cylinder that was placed on the presses.”
Stereotyping developed in the 18th century as a way to enable presses to churn out more pages faster.
From the Register archive: “Letters from the Linotype machines dropped down and hot lead was poured over them to create slugs — lines of type. The slugs were placed in a page form and sent on to the stereotype department to produce curved lead plates that fit over the printing press’ cylinders.”
Pretty cool.