Friday, August 2, 2013
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Wired has a couple of cartography stories up. First, several planning maps from the past:
Then, a profile of a "guerrilla cartographer" who made this map:
1941 Development of the Central Area West and East of the Capitol – Washington D.C.Washington D.C. was masterfully designed by Pierre L’Enfant as a grand capital for the new nation. But as time passed and the needs of the city changed, the optimism of the original plan gave way to industrial slums and a growing federal government gobbling up free space within the city. The burgeoning capital required a new urban plan.
The 1941 redesign is notable because it strikes the balance between the City Beautiful movement, an effort to preserve monumental grandeur in cities like Washington D.C., with the needs of a growing federal government during and after World War II. Much of the plan for west side of the Capitol came to pass in some form, often using more modern designs. The east side of the Capitol, however, called for a second mall lined with government offices, schools, museums, and a vast sports complex. While such large scale urban renewal took place in cities across the nation after the war, including in other parts of Washington D.C., this vast plan for the east side was never carried out.
Some are mostly fun and informative, including a map of regional variations in dulce de leche across Latin America; “The American Beershed,” which maps U.S. malt, hops, and yeast production; and “Global Spaghetti,” a global map of pasta consumption paired with data on Google searches for the word spaghetti (Filipinos and Singaporeans are apparently very curious about this exotic food, consuming little of it themselves but searching for it often).For a map nerd like me, this is catnip.
This is kind of scary:
He travels to Asia for work. She looks up pressure cookers online. And God only knows what the 20-year-old boy in the house Googles. That combination, apparently, is how you get a "joint terrorism task force" to show up at your door on Long Island:WTF? I remember searching pressure cooker because I really didn't know what the newscasters were talking about during the big Boston Marathon to-do. I was also doing a lot of research into the West, Texas explosion at the same time. Anyway, one of my friends from college is an FBI agent, so maybe he'll let everybody know I'm harmless. Or maybe he'll get back at me for one or more times I gave him a hard time.
"Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.""Where are your parents from" is a pretty chilling question. Relevant: "They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing."
Handling technical matters. Here's a little piece from the profile of convicted Goldman Sachs programmer Serge Aleynikov by Michael Lewis:
Tomorrow, Vanity Fair will post part 2 of the story.
The trial of Serge Aleynikov lasted 10 days and was notable for its paucity of informed outsiders. High-frequency trading is a small world, and the people who do it, or know anything at all about it, apparently have far less interest in testifying at trials than in making their personal fortunes. The one outside expert witness on the subject called by the government, a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology named Benjamin Van Vliet, had never actually done any high-frequency trading himself and had little to add on the value or the gist of what Serge had taken. About the market itself he was badly misinformed. (He described Goldman Sachs as “the New York Yankees” of high-frequency trading.) He turned out to have testified as an expert witness in an earlier trial involving the theft of high-frequency-trading code, after which the judge had described what he’d said as “utter baloney.”It reminds me of the judges' actions in the Anderson v. Cryovac case, which was the basis for A Civil Action. In it, a judge ignored test evidence that indicated that groundwater migrated under the river to the city's wells, because, hey, the river was there. If recent criminal cases on Wall Street are any indication, the more boring and technical the evidence, the more likely crooks will get away. In this case, a potentially (according to the accused, and Lewis) innocent man is imprisoned because the details were too complex for the jury.
The jury consisted mainly of high-school graduates and lacked anyone with experience programming computers. “They would bring my computer into the courtroom,” recalls Serge incredulously. “They would pull out the hard drive and show it to the jury. As evidence!” Save for Misha Malyshev, Serge’s brief employer, the people who took the stand had no credible knowledge of high-frequency trading: how the money is made, what sort of computer code is valuable, etc. Malyshev, who’d been subpoenaed as a witness for the prosecution, testified that Goldman’s code was of no use whatsoever in the system he’d hired Serge to build—he insisted that it had never been his plan to import code from anywhere because he wanted to build Teza’s system from scratch. He wanted something flexible and fast, that he could continuously upgrade. Even if offered Goldman’s entire high-frequency-trading platform he would not have been interested—but when he looked over he saw that half the jury appeared to be sleeping. “If I were a juror, and I wasn’t a programmer,” says Serge, “it would be very difficult for me to understand why I did what I did.”
Tomorrow, Vanity Fair will post part 2 of the story.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.At some point, cities were established and dairy farmers became socially awkward (while I'm not a dairy farmer, I am socially awkward) and quit dominating societies. Now they are the folks wearing white clothes and funny hats while showing cows at the fair.
This two-step milk revolution may have been a prime factor in allowing bands of farmers and herders from the south to sweep through Europe and displace the hunter-gatherer cultures that had lived there for millennia. “They spread really rapidly into northern Europe from an archaeological point of view,” says Mark Thomas, a population geneticist at University College London. That wave of emigration left an enduring imprint on Europe, where, unlike in many regions of the world, most people can now tolerate milk. “It could be that a large proportion of Europeans are descended from the first lactase-persistent dairy farmers in Europe,” says Thomas....The single-nucleotide switch in Europe happened relatively recently. Thomas and his colleagues estimated the timing by looking at genetic variations in modern populations and running computer simulations of how the related genetic mutation might have spread through ancient populations. They proposed that the trait of lactase persistence, dubbed the LP allele, emerged about 7,500 years ago in the broad, fertile plains of Hungary.
Once the LP allele appeared, it offered a major selective advantage. In a 2004 study, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome”.
Dayton Daily News:
Six of nine members of the JobsOhio board of directors have direct financial ties to companies that have received tax credits and other assistance from state government or JobsOhio since Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011, public records show.You can always could on Gordon Gee to suck up money from the state government. I've never seen a bow-tie wearing conman like that guy.
The directors are employed by, sit on the board of or hold stock in companies that have received assistance from either the state of Ohio or JobsOhio, the newly created non-profit established by the Kasich’s administration. JobsOhio also assisted two subsidiaries of Worthington Industries, a Columbus-based company that has contributed heavily to Kasich and where he served as a director between 2001 and 2010....
The JobsOhio board includes a host of prominent names, including former Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee and Bob Evans Farms Chief Executive Steven Davis, both of whom sit on the Bob Evans board of directors.
In March 2011, shortly before JobsOhio began operations, Kasich announced an $11 million package of loans and grants for Bob Evans to move its corporate headquarters from south Columbus to New Albany, an upscale suburb 25 miles away. JobsOhio’s 2012 annual report also lists Kettle Creations, a Bob Evans subsidiary, as having received undisclosed assistance from the JobsOhio Network, or the group of regional economic development agencies that partner with JobsOhio.
Jones said Kettle Creations did not avail itself of the approved state assistance, which was offered before the company was acquired by Bob Evans.
As a Bob Evans director, Gee has been paid $156,700 in cash and stock worth $533,074 over the past three years, according to filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. Davis has led Bob Evans since 2006, a job that has paid him $19 million in salary, bonus and benefits over the years, SEC records show.
Des Moines Register:
U.S. farmers converted an estimated 7.2 million acres of wetlands and fragile lands to cropland from 2008 to 2012, the Environmental Working Group reported Tuesday.Also:
The findings come as Congress plods along on crafting a five-year farm bill that would end the $5 billion in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need, in favor of expanding popular crop insurance programs subsidized by the federal government. Crop insurance traces its roots back to the 1930s when the program was established in response to the Great Depression.
“The data strongly suggest that over-subsidized crop insurance policies are greasing the wheels of conversion to row crops,” said Craig Cox, EWG’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “The government is picking up too much of the risk of plowing up and planting fragile land, all at a cost of billions of dollars to taxpayers and untold environmental degradation.”
Using mapping and geospatial technologies, EWG found that in Iowa only two counties — Taylor and Adair — saw between 2,500 and 5,000 acres of wetland and wetland buffers converted to cropland.Short-term thinking will kick us in the ass.
But almost 40 counties in Iowa — including most of them in the lower third of the Hawkeye state and a group in the northeastern part bordering Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois — had highly erodible land converted to cropland from 2008 to 2012. The amount of land shifted to growing crops varied, but most counties experienced a conversion of between 5,001 to 15,000 acres.
From 2008 to 2012, 5.3 million acres of highly erodible land, most of it grasslands, were plowed up to grow crops in the United States. Iowa, South Dakota and eight other states accounted for 57 percent of all the area converted from highly erodible land to cropland. About 40 percent of the land was used to grow corn and soybeans, EWG said.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Not in God-fearing Indiana. Well, yeah, in God-fearing Indiana:
Also, I hate Republicans and Hoosiers.
Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold "failing" schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett's education team frantically overhauled his signature "A-F" school grading system to improve the school's marks. Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan's school received an "A," despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a "C." "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist. The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan's grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive. A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere. Bennett, who now is reworking Florida's grading system as that state's education commissioner, reviewed the emails Monday morning and denied that DeHaan's school received special treatment. He said discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other "combined" schools — those that included multiple grade levels — across the state. "There was not a secret about this," he said. "This wasn't just to give Christel House an A. It was to make sure the system was right to make sure the system was face valid." However, the emails clearly show Bennett's staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders. Bennett estimated that 12 or 13 schools benefited, not just Christel House, but the emails show DeHaan's charter was the catalyst for any changes.Wait, a Republican donor runs a charter school that sucks, and when the test scores come in too low the state superintendent changes the grading system? What about the children? I thought only those evil teachers' unions hated the kids and used the system for their own benefit. I never would have guessed that for-profit school operators would ever do anything except the public good.
Also, I hate Republicans and Hoosiers.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Why are Chinese buildings built so quickly? One well-publicized factor is corruption: Chinese construction projects are prone to bribery and corner-cutting, and the resulting structures typically do not last very long. Newer Chinese buildings, though, also use prefabricated modular technology, something that has shortened construction time without a corresponding sacrifice of safety standards.That is not where I want to be if there is an earthquake.
Then, there is the labor force, which usually consists of undocumented internal migrants working for very long hours at low wages. These workers lack the means to complain of unfair labor conditions, and construction strikes are rare in China -- something that helps keep building projects on schedule.
PEDV has entered the U.S. and is spreading across the nation, but nobody is sure how it got here:
A lethal virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting in pigs has entered the United States and has been found in 14 states. With the country’s $97-billion pork industry standing to lose millions of dollars in the event of a mass outbreak, scientists are working to track the virus and prevent its spread, even as they try to understand how it passed through biosecurity defenses in the first place.That's bad news. It's likely going to hit a lot of confinement facilities pretty hard. It isn't very encouraging that they have no idea how it got here.
“How this virus got here, that’s the million-dollar question,” says James Collins, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Minnesota in St Paul.
The pathogen, a type of coronavirus called porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1971, and it caused mass epidemics in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. As pigs there developed immunity, the virus petered out and now causes only occasional, isolated outbreaks. It has since spread to Asia, where it has been considered endemic since 1982, causing substantial economic losses to pork producers. The virus can spread quickly by a fecal–oral route and infect entire herds. And although adult pigs typically recover, PEDV can kill 80–100% of the piglets it infects. The virus poses no health threat to humans.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had tried to keep PEDV and other diseases out of the country by restricting imports of pigs and pork products from certain nations, such as China. But on 10 May, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University in Ames confirmed that PEDV had infected pigs in Iowa, the leading producer of US pork. The lab then screened samples taken earlier from other states and found a case from Ohio submitted on 16 April that is now the earliest known US detection of PEDV, according to Gregory Stevenson, a pathologist at Iowa State. The fact that the virus has now spread to 14 states in total is a sign that the outbreak is still flaring and could become an epidemic (see ‘Pig virus on the wing’).
Nature gets into ongoing research on strains of MRSA found in hospitals and confinement operations. I thought this section was interesting:
CAFO supporters acknowledge that farm strains of drug-resistant bacteria could theoretically spread to people. But “I don't see this equating to human health risk”, says Scott Hurd, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at Iowa State University who has conducted multiple studies to assess the risk of drug-resistant bacteria spreading through meat production. He says that the average person has a greater chance of dying from a bee sting than of contracting MRSA from pork. Hurd argues that limiting the use of antibiotics on farms could be harmful to human health. Even Smith's grocery-store study found that meat sold as 'antibiotic free' had the highest levels of garden-variety S. aureus, suggesting that untreated animals harbour more pathogens. “Animals really do need to be treated,” Hurd says.I think it is kind of bogus to say that it is a big deal that untreated animals harbor more pathogens than treated animals. No shit? But constantly wiping out non-resistant bacteria just leaves resistant bacteria left. I look at it like a septic tank. If you dump some chemical down the drain that kills off all the bacteria, you've got a problem until the bacteria reestablish themselves. Constant dosing with antibiotics has to screw with beneficial bacteria as well as harmful bacteria.
Nevertheless, regulatory authorities have clamped down on antibiotic use on farms. The European Union began phasing out antibiotics for growth promotion in the late 1990s. Denmark led the charge with a full ban in 2000. (China, however, which claims half the world's pig population, has yet to rein in antibiotic use.)
The bans' effects on drug resistance and human and animal health have been murky. Levy and other supporters of the bans say that the result in Denmark has been positive, pointing to data showing a drop in the use of antibiotics on farms and an increase in meat production. But opponents, including the Animal Health Institute, point out that the use of antibiotics to treat acute illness in Denmark has increased, as have animal deaths.
Last year, amid mounting pressure from several groups, including the National Resources Defense Council, based in New York, the FDA released new guidance calling for the “judicious use” of antibiotics on farms. The agency discouraged the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and urged label changes to the drugs and more veterinary oversight for their application. Not all the guidelines are yet approved, and compliance is voluntary. Nevertheless, the agency has suggested that it will enforce tougher rules if farmers and drug-makers do not adopt the guidelines within about three years. Few are satisfied with the FDA's policy. Pig farmers and meat-industry representatives consider the move a blow to farmers and animal welfare, and supporters of antibiotic restriction say that the voluntary guidelines do not go far enough. Scientists, meanwhile, have pressed the FDA to reveal more data on how farmers are using antibiotics, so far without success.
This issue, along with confinement practices and manure management are going to be the central issues of livestock production for the foreseeable future. More research needs to go into balancing animal welfare, minimization of antibiotic use and productivity to position the livestock industry to avoid unnecessary disasters.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
The Northern Sea Route—a.k.a. the Northeast Passage—is a shipping lane from Europe to the Far East that runs around the north of Russia, cutting thousands of miles off a trip that would otherwise be made through the Suez Canal. Melting ice has made it more accessible, and since April this year, 266 ship voyages have received permission from Russia’s Northern Sea Route Administration to use the lane; in 2010, just four ships made the trip. But the main way to accomplish the trip safely has involved either bulking up with expensive iceberg protection, or hiring the service of Russian ice-breaking vessels.That sounds like an adventure. It will be interesting to see how many bugs that software has right now. That'd be an interesting beta version to try out.
Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based defense contractor, says it has developed a new, less cumbersome way to make the voyage. For three years, it has been developing radar-, sonar- and-satellite-fed software called RAMP. The software analyzes the various data feeds and, loaded into a ship’s navigation system, steers it around icebergs, finds otherwise little-known villages, and otherwise maps out a safe sea route.
Until now, Raytheon has been testing out RAMP with the US military. But the company is targeting the growing Arctic traffic, arguing that RAMP is a cheaper way to avoiding the Arctic’s hazards than hiring icebreakers. “What you need is better eyes to see in a very austere environment,” Raytheon’s Tim Raglin told Quartz.
The Beautiful Trifid
Trifid Nebula is a
cosmic study in contrasts.
Also known as M20, it lies about
light-years away toward the
A star forming region in the plane of our galaxy,
the Trifid illustrates three different types of
red emission nebulae dominated by
light emitted by hydrogen atoms,
blue reflection nebulae produced
by dust reflecting starlight, and
dark nebulae where
dense dust clouds appear in silhouette.
The bright red emission region, roughly separated into three
parts by obscuring dust lanes, lends the Trifid its
this sharp, colorful scene,
the red emission is also surrounded by the
the telltale blue haze of reflection nebulae.
Pillars and jets sculpted by
newborn stars, below and left of the emission nebula's center, appear
in Hubble Space Telescope close-up images
of the region.
The Trifid Nebula is about 40 light-years across.
Image Credit & Copyright: Máximo Ruiz
Image Credit & Copyright: Máximo Ruiz
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., has tasked four GOP members of his panel to take the lead on reforming a federal biofuels mandate.You have to change what doesn't work, and trying to meet cellulosic ethanol standards when the technology isn't there yet, and trying to meet higher ethanol requirements when producers have hit the blend wall just won't work. They won't get rid of the mandates entirely, but making fuel from food is just really bad policy, and $4 a pound hamburger is some of what you get from it.
The four members represent districts that crisscross the diverse industries with a stake in this complicated and contentious debate, including oil refineries, corn growers, livestock farmers, and biofuels producers.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., a senior member of the committee who represents a state that is No. 2 in corn production, will lead the unofficial GOP team. The others are Reps. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lee Terry of Nebraska, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
The eight-year-old renewable-fuels standard requires increasingly large amounts of biofuels—mainly ethanol made from corn—to be blended with gasoline each year. Since the devastating drought that sent corn prices soaring last year, the policy has come under intense scrutiny by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.
Among the four Republicans, Scalise from oil-rich Louisiana is the only one who has advocated for repeal of the RFS, as favored by the oil, livestock, and food industries. The other three lawmakers take more-nuanced positions because they represent constituencies that have a stake in maintaining the standard, including producers of corn and advanced biofuels that come from nonfood products such as cellulose but that are not coming to market as quickly as Congress initially envisioned.
The group will work on policy actions that reform but don't repeal the mandate, which was established in the 2005 energy law and strengthened by Congress two years later.
From the Bangor Daily News:
That's kind of interesting. I didn't imagine there would be enough bakers to move the needle at all for grain production. Sure, it is a little thing, but it is notable.In Skowhegan, Lambke and a group of people began to notice trends that pointed to what one of the area’s strengths could be. First, more and more bakers around Maine were struggling to find enough flour made from Maine-grown grain. Second, a local mason who built wood-fired bread ovens found his trade to be in increasing demand from people around the country who wanted to bake their own bread.“It was kind of a culmination of bakers and a mason and some of us who jumped in as community organizers and volunteers who cared about Skowhegan’s revitalization,” Lambke said. “We came together and decided to launch a conference that brought these different trades together to talk about how we could work together to revive a regional grain economy.”While farmers in Aroostook County have continually grown grain for hundreds of years, Lambke said grain production had all but ceased in the rest of the state as the availability of inexpensive grain started arriving from the midwest.At one time, Maine was the breadbasket of New England, she said. In the 1830s, farmers in Somerset County produced 239,000 bushels of wheat a year (a bushel of wheat equals roughly 60 pounds), she said.In 2007, only one farm in Somerset County produced wheat, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the most recent data available. That farm’s production in bushels was not reported to avoid disclosing proprietary information. (The Census of Agriculture is completed every five years, but the 2012 census data likely won’t be available until 2014.)There are today at least 22 farms in the Skowhegan area growing wheat, Lambke said, though they’re not all growing it for human consumption.
I liked this part:
Mineral extraction economies activate this neural mechanism: wildcatting, prospecting for gold — gambles that may pay off. Today it’s no longer the individual who makes these scores, of course, it’s corporations, but the work and opportunity draws those with nothing to lose but the trying. California in 1849, Colorado in 1859, Montana in 1883, Texas and Oklahoma in 1912, Alaska in 1970, North Dakota in 2008 — every time there’s a mining boom, it plays out thusly: Someone finds a valuable resource. People hear about it and flock to the area. These people are mainly men. The newly populated area is lawless and lacks the civilizing influence of family life. Among the first women to show up are prostitutes. For a while, everyone makes money and has fun. Or some people do, some gambles pay off. Then the resource dries up or its price drops, and the gamble isn’t profitable anymore, and the town eventually dries up or turns into a tourist attraction — or San Francisco, if it’s lucky. Because our brains are wired to want to continue taking that chance, everyone keeps gambling, no one thinks the boom will bust. It will. It always will.There will be a bust. Maybe it won't be sudden, but it will come. Also, if you want some insights into how the stripping economy works, check out the article.
Williston is booming right now. I’ve worked there since 2007, and oil has changed the town both completely and not at all.... Despite boom–bust history being part of the landscape, there is surprisingly little reservation about the boom among the Williston workers. After all, the price of oil is always rising. But the price of oil always falls. My home state of Texas has been through this cycle more than once, and the differences in attitudes between the two places is striking. The Eagle Ford Shale play is close to as active as the Bakken, but housing construction has been slow in coming because they feel it could stop at any time. Not the people I meet in North Dakota, most of whom aren’t natives. Most of them think it’s just going to get bigger. There’s so much oil in the Bakken, and the technology now is so much better, that it will keep going for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, they say. The only dissenting voice I encountered was that of one old-timer who’d seen the initial drilling of the 1950s.
It's hard to remember a time when not everyone had electricity, and when those that did used it sparingly. That's because from about 1900 to 1965 or so, the electric power industry pushed the price of electricity down and down and down. By the end of their incredible technological (and corporate) surge, electricity cost very little and Americans used a lot of it.And credit the Rural Electrification Act of 1935.
And because it was cheap and the government had intervened in rural areas through outfits like the Tennessee Valley Authority, electricity became very evenly distributed across the land (though, even now, the price per kilowatt hour varies substantially).
In 1921, however, that was not true. The use of electricity did not basically track population. Instead, there were wide regional variations in access to and consumption electricity. In essence, the entire south used relatively less electricity than the rest of the country.
Nowadays, that's not true. Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia are all among the top ten states for electricity production (along with Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, New York, Washington, and Ohio). Which is not what you see on the map above. Credit low prices, air conditioning, and increasing populations.