Friday, August 23, 2013

The Horsemen


ESPN's Greatest Threat? Income Inequality?

Derek Thompson:
When John Skipper, the president of ESPN, wants to worry about the future of the most valuable media company in the world -- not just think anxiously, but actively worry -- he doesn't focus on Google trying to buy exclusive rights to the NFL. He doesn't think about Apple going head-to-head with the cable companies. He doesn't think about CBS, or NBC, or FS1. If there's any acronym that truly scares him, it's CBO.
Yep. John Skipper thinks about income distribution tables.
The statistic that frightens him the most, he told a group of reporters in Bristol yesterday (which he also told me in a previous interview), is that the bottom 20 percent of American households still makes less than $15,000. And the poorest households are seeing the slowest wage growth in the country.
That's a problem, because ESPN and other networks are selling a mass product, the cable bundle, whose price has tripled in the last decade and a half. And the number-one driver of rising cable costs today are the sports rights that make ESPN so valuable. The cost of exclusive rights to show sports are growing about 7% annually through the rest of the decade, 4X faster than private sector compensation growth (graph below via RBC/click to expand)
Why is that such a problem for them?:
But Skipper is persuaded that if more Americans were simply making a little more money, there would be no fraught discussion about cord-cutters and cable-nevers. "The real issue is economics," he said. "Most of the cord-cutting has been financial." Not only does the bottom quintile make less than 15,000 a year, as Skipper often points out, but also about a third of households make less than $30,000 in after-tax income, according to the Tax Policy Center's distributional analysis.
"ESPN is a mass product," he said. Wage stagnation threatens to make it a luxury product.
It is good that some folks in big business are starting to notice this problem.   In the end, the one industry that makes a ton of money based on so many people struggling to get by, and the one with the most politicians bought, is the finance industry.  They love to extract fees from the people who can least afford it, and those are also ones who have to borrow money.  I hope that enough businessmen who need consumers are able to realize that workers need to get a larger share of the profits of their labor.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Shale Gas Primer

Here's a quick shale gas explainer.  One note: it is the Marcellus Shale, not the Marseilles Shale, and Barnett, not Barnet:

Yankee Air Museum Wants To Move To Willow Run

Morning Edition:
Rosie the Riveter, with one of the most famous clenched fists in American history, embodied the message of hardworking women during World War II: We Can Do It. Now a nonprofit is hoping to carry on that legacy. In a little more than a month, the historic Michigan factory where Rosie and thousands of other women built B-24 bombers could face the wrecking ball. That's unless the Yankee Air Museum can raise enough money to salvage part of that massive plant.
As Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports in this encore story, the museum sees the factory as the perfect place to start anew, after a devastating fire destroyed its collections.
TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: It's downright majestic, the way this huge hangar door on the old Willow Run assembly plant opens. Thirty-two feet tall and 150 feet wide, the doors were built that big so that finished B-24 bombers could be rolled out of the factory, then tested on the airport runway here before going to war.
GRANT TRIGGER: And what's remarkable to me is this is more reliable than my garage door.
SAMILTON: Grant Trigger is cleanup manager for GM's former properties in the state of Michigan.
TRIGGER: Built by engineers with slide rules in 1942, and it still works today.
SAMILTON: For decades, Ford's former bomber plant turned out cars for GM. But with GM's bankruptcy came a trust fund to find new developers for sites like this. The iconic place where Rosie flexed her muscles during World War II seemed fated for demolition.
TRIGGER: The size of the space, which was phenomenal at the time, is simply too big for today's manufacturing facilities. There's 83 acres under one roof.
SAMILTON: Eighty-three acres under one roof, nearly five million square feet, or the size of a huge housing subdivision. Surely, someone would want at least a little piece of that history. Enter the Yankee Air Museum. This nonprofit with an annual budget of $2 million and a paid staff of six had a big collection of historic airplanes, some of which still flew, along with aviation history exhibits until 2004.
83 acres under one roof?  Holy shit.  Willow Run had to be amazing back during World War II:
 Architect Albert Kahn designed the main structure of the Willow Run bomber plant, which had 3,500,000 square feet (330,000 m2) of factory space, and an aircraft assembly line over a mile long. It was thought to be the largest factory under one roof anywhere in the world. The Willow Run plant featured a large turntable two-thirds of the way along the assembly line, allowing the B-24 production line to make a 90° turn before continuing to final assembly. According to legend, this arrangement allowed the company to pay taxes on the entire plant (and its equipment) to Washtenaw County, and avoid the higher taxes of Wayne County where the airfield is located; overhead views suggest that avoiding encroachment on the airfield's taxiways was also a motivation.
The Willow Run Plant had many initial startup problems, due primarily to the fact that Ford employees were used to automobile mass production and found it difficult to adapt these techniques to aircraft production. The plant at Willow Run was also beset with labor difficulties, high absentee rates, and rapid employee turnover. The factory was nearly an hour's drive from Detroit, and the imposition of wartime gasoline and tire rationing had made the daily commute difficult. In only one month, Ford had hired 2900 workers but had lost 3100.
Also, Henry Ford was cantankerous and rigid in his ways. He was violently anti-union and there were serious labor difficulties, including a massive strike. In addition, Henry Ford refused on principle to hire women. However, he finally relented and did employ "Rosie the Riveters" on his assembly lines, probably more because so many of his potential male workers had been drafted into the military than due to any sudden development of a social conscience on his part.
By autumn 1943, the top leadership role at Willow Run had passed from Charles Sorensen to Mead L. Bricker.
At the request of the government, Ford began to decentralize operations and many parts were assembled at other Ford plants as well as by the company's sub-contractors, with the Willow Run plant concentrating on final aircraft assembly. The bugs were eventually worked out of the manufacturing processes, and by 1944, Ford was rolling a Liberator off the Willow Run production line every 63 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
At its peak, Willow Run produced 650 B-24s per month. By 1945, Ford produced 70% of the B-24s in two nine hour shifts. Ford produced half of the 18,000 total B-24s at Willow Run, and the B-24 holds the distinction of being the most produced heavy bomber in history.
A total of 6,972 Liberators were built at Ford, and 1,893 knock-down parts were provided for other manufacturers.
The scale is amazing.

Cargill Shuts Down Lake Erie Salt Mine for the Week

Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The Cargill salt mine below Lake Erie has stopped mining because of concerns that the roof 1,800 feet below ground could collapse.
That's according to Cargill spokesman Mark Klein, who said the company stopped mining salt on Monday after its first shift, sending about 100 employees home for the week with pay.
"We don't want anybody in that area in case part of the roof comes down," Klein said.
The problem is called "convergence," Klein said. "Either the floor is coming up a little or the ceiling is coming down a little."
Klein said Cargill monitors measurements of the shaft and the room at the bottom of the mine on a regular basis.
"We're looking for movements of like one one-hundredths of an inch," he said.
The mine has been operating for more than 50 years and has been owned by Cargill since 1997. The salt is extracted from the face of the mine using ammonium nitrate explosives.
The company is still operating and shipping salt, it's just not mining any new salt, Klein said. About 75 people are still working above ground at the site.
"Over the past few weeks we've seen some data points that we need to do more study on," Klein said.
Asked if the company has had previous safety concerns with the mine, Klein said, "Nothing quite like this."
Yeah, if the roof is coming down, I don't want to be there.  Here's some video footage in the mine.  Here's what happens when a salt brine operation goes bad.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Oneness New Zealand

Awesome visuals:

Oneness New Zealand from Shawn Reeder on Vimeo.

NASA's Big Gun

A klaxon buzzes and, seconds later, there’s the sound of a powerful explosion from the next room over. A burst of flame and sand appears on the computer screen in front of us and, just like that, the NASA Ames Vertical Gun range has provided a new data point for science.
The gun is a fantastic tool for studying the effects of meteorite impacts on different places in the solar system. You see, Earth is something of an anomaly. Most other rocky bodies are covered in countless craters ranging from the size of continents down to the size of sand grains. The active tectonics of our planet recycle its crust, erasing the long-term scars that come from living in a solar system full of debris. But just about every other terrestrial planet, moon, asteroid, and comet is coated in pockmarks, a testament to how pervasive and important impacts have been in our solar system’s history.
Over the course of its nearly 50-year career, the gun range been used to figure out why the scars of an impact look different on Mars than they do on Venus. It has helped explain how the man on the moon could have gotten his face. And it has provided key data for many NASA missions, in particular the Deep Impact spacecraft, which shot a projectile into an asteroid.
Peter Schultz, who teaches geoscience at Brown University, has done much of this research. He’s worked at the gun range for 33 years, becoming its principal investigator in 2012, and he knows a great deal about its history and lore.
Though it’s called a gun, the facility doesn’t look much like any firearm you’ve ever seen. The main chassis is a long metal barrel as thick as a cannon mounted on an enormous red pole that forks at the end into two legs. The red pole was once used to hold MIM-14 Nike-Hercules missiles that served as an anti-ballistic defense against Soviet nuclear warheads, Schultz explains. This complex is pointed at a huge rotund cylinder and can be moved up and down in 15-degree increments to simulate a meteorite strike at different angles. The entire machine is housed in a 3-story industrial building here at NASA’s Ames campus.
At the far end of the barrel, a gunpowder explosion is used to compress hydrogen gas to as much as 1 million times atmospheric pressure. The compressed gas gets released and sent down the launch tube, firing a projectile pellet at speeds between 7,000 and 15,000 mph. The shot enters the cylinder, in which low pressure or even a vacuum is maintained, and hits a dish filled with different material that simulates whatever planetary body researchers are studying. High-speed cameras mounted on windows around the cylinder record the impact aftermath at up to 1 million frames per second.
I have a hard time imagining how you would guess at what the makeup of the planetary soil would be and then how much analysis would go into figuring out how close you were.  I'm glad there are smart folks out there.

Under Seattle is Quite the Bore

LA Times:
But it was "Bertha," a 7,000-ton, 326-foot-long and 57-foot-tall drilling device, which is playing a central role in a project that will redefine Seattle's waterfront — and perhaps the city itself.
The drill has embarked on a project to bore a 2-mile tunnel beneath the city's downtown and replace an unsightly, 60-year-old double-decker highway that courses along the waterfront, separating the high-rises of downtown from the majestic panorama of the Puget Sound.  The $3-billion project — one of largest public works undertakings in the country — began after a decade of contentious back-and-forth, scores of proposed ideas and a few failed ballots. Since the drilling began in late July, much of the attention has been directed at Bertha, named for the city's first and only female mayor and described by experts as being as sophisticated as it is gargantuan.
After the highway known as the Alaskan Way Viaduct was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, officials decided to replace it, beginning a protracted debate that reached beyond a question of transportation to something larger: a vision for the future of Seattle. As MacDonald put it, the decision would have "50, 100 years' impact on what the waterfront of Seattle will look like."
In all, the list of more than 90 options was whittled down to three: replacing the three-lane Alaskan Way Viaduct with a larger roadway; digging a tunnel from above ground — a so-called cut-and-cover, such as Boston's Big Dig mega-project; or simply putting in a surface street, which would force motorists from their cars and, advocates for this plan hoped, onto public transportation.
As those plans ended up being untenable, officials looked into boring technology, which had gone through significant advancement in recent years. The solution arrived, MacDonald said, like something out of a Greek play — it seemingly came out nowhere. "The machine became the deus ex machina," he said.
Bertha was assembled in the 80-foot-deep pit and will displace 850,000 cubic yards of soil for the double-level, two-lane tunnel running between 60 and 200 feet below the ground. The viaduct will be demolished and replaced with a surface street and public park space.
Cool as hell. There's a video at the link, but I couldn't get the autoplay turned off.

Lightning Strikes Seven Times?

Tom Dunkel reports on the legendary park ranger who claimed to be struck by lightning SEVEN times:
I’ve come to talk with Dickey Baker about the legacy of Lightning Man. When Baker was a teenage employee, he crossed paths with Roy Sullivan, who died 30 years ago and undoubtedly is the most famous ranger in the history of Shenandoah National Park, if not every national park.
Baker saw the tan ranger hat that Sullivan kept in his truck as a souvenir. It had two scorched holes where a lightning bolt supposedly entered and exited. “He used to haul it around with him,” recalls Baker, who also saw Sullivan’s wristwatch that got toasted black by another bolt.
Forty-one years after his debut in the “Guinness Book of World Records,” Ranger Roy Sullivan continues to hold the dubious distinction of being struck by lightning more than any known person. Not twice. Not three times.
Seven times.
That’ll attract attention. In the early 1970s, Sullivan did an interview with expat British broadcaster David Frost and appeared on the quiz show “To Tell the Truth.” In 1980, Sullivan was featured in an episode of the TV series “That’s Incredible.” More recently, Discover magazine (2008) included him on its list of memorable survivors, along with the Soviet World War II pilot who bailed out of his plane at 22,000 feet without a parachute and the hapless sailor who endured being adrift at sea for 76 days in a five-foot raft. The Web site (2009) selected Sullivan as one of the seven “Most Bizarrely Unlucky People Who Ever Lived.” (Tsutomu Yamaguchi was named most unlucky, having been at ground zero when atomic bombs fell on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) In 2010 Sullivan’s misadventures were the basis of a humorous South African TV commercial for, of all things, energy-saving milk cartons. His birth-chart reading is posted on AstrologyWeekly .com in the heady company of Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton and Leonardo da Vinci.
The whole story is fascinating.  I had a close enough brush with lightning for my taste, and while this guy might have exaggerated a bit, I bet he got struck by lightning at least once or twice.  I'll pass.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Too Much of the Economic Pie for the Rich?


Ouija Boards and Dowsing Rods

Why do they move?  Because we make them move (h/t nc links):
Ouija board cups and dowsing wands – just two examples of mystical items that seem to move of their own accord, when they are really being moved by the people holding them. The only mystery is not one of a connection to the spirit world, but of why we can make movements and yet not realise that we’re making them.
The phenomenon is called the ideomotor effect and you can witness it yourself if you hang a small weight like a button or a ring from a string (ideally more than a foot long). Hold the end of the string with your arm out in front of you, so the weight hangs down freely. Try to hold your arm completely still. The weight will start to swing clockwise or anticlockwise in small circles. Do not start this motion yourself. Instead, just ask yourself a question – any question – and say that the weight will swing clockwise to answer “Yes” and anticlockwise for “No”. Hold this thought in mind, and soon, even though you are trying not to make any motion, the weight will start to swing in answer to your question.
Magic? Only the ordinary everyday magic of consciousness. There’s no supernatural force at work, just tiny movements you are making without realising. The string allows these movements to be exaggerated, the inertia of the weight allows them to be conserved and built on until they form a regular swinging motion. The effect is known as Chevreul’s Pendulum, after the 19th Century French scientist who investigated it.
What is happening with Chevreul’s Pendulum is that you are witnessing a movement (of the weight) without “owning” that movement as being caused by you. The same basic phenomenon underlies dowsing – where small movements of the hands cause the dowsing wand to swing wildly – or the Ouija board, where multiple people hold a cup and it seems to move of its own accord to answer questions by spelling out letters. The effect also underlies the sad case of “facilitated communication“, a fad whereby carers believed they could help severely disabled children communicate by guiding their fingers around a keyboard. Research showed that the carers – completely innocently – were typing the messages themselves, rather than interpreting movements from their charges.
I've tried using dowsing rods to find tiles, and it never fails that the rods tell me the tiles are in the low areas where I thought they'd be.  But when I dug for them....not so much.  Now, I know a lot of people who know somebody who is fabulous at dowsing, or at least that's what they say.  I'll go with the unconscious mind explanation.

Too Good To Be True?

Via Big Picture Agriculture, David Bowman is with me in doubting the claims of Allen Savory about improving grasslands with intensive grazing:
In a nutshell, Savory argues that more intensive cattle ranching could simultaneously improve meat production, reverse desertification and turn vast areas of the Earth into massive carbon sinks that would soak up carbon dioxide. This would save the world from climate change. His argument links lots of ideas about ecology that makes for a very inspirational, and for the uninitiated very sensible, narrative.
At the very core of the talk is the idea that rotating grazing animals across rangelands can mimic the migrations of wild animals. This would improve the productivity of pastures and the health of soils. Savory’s message is very positive, a rare a win-win for the environment and the economy.
The catch is Savory’s TED talk is littered with rhetorical devices that paper over problems and exaggerate the effect of grazing. Worse there are just plain errors of fact. In 2008 rangeland scientists undertook a review to determine if “rotation grazing” increased plant and animal productivity compared to other styles of grazing and they could not find any difference.
These authors concluded that “continued advocacy for rotational grazing as a superior strategy of grazing on rangelands is founded on perception and anecdotal interpretations, rather than an objective assessment of the vast experimental evidence”.
Savory’s TED talk builds to the truly astonishing claim that the least biologically productive landscapes on Earth could store so much greenhouse gas pollution it would restore CO2 levels to near pre-industrial levels! This is a dangerous fantasy.
Rangelands are used for cattle grazing for the simple reason there is insufficient water for other more intensive forms or agriculture; more often than not, the soils are infertile. They are some of the least carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth, and no amount of management can get around that fact.
Like Bowman, I think there are ways to improve pasture land, but I think Savory's claims are too good to be true.  Maybe I'll be proven wrong.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gurus in the Ganges

Skateboarder Magazine - Gurus in the Ganges (Full Length) from Patrik Wallner on Vimeo.

NASA Photo of the Day

August 13:

Perseid Meteors Over Ontario
Image Credit & Copyright: Darryl Van Gaal; Annotation: Judy Schmidt
Explanation: Where are all of these meteors coming from? In terms of direction on the sky, the pointed answer is the constellation of Perseus. That is why the meteor shower that peaked over the past few days is known as the Perseids -- the meteors all appear to come from a radiant toward Perseus. Three dimensionally, however, sand-sized debris expelled from Comet Swift-Tuttle follows a well-defined orbit about our Sun, and the part of the orbit that approaches Earth is superposed in front of the Perseus. Therefore, when Earth crosses this orbit, the radiant point of falling debris appears in Perseus. Pictured above, a composite of 13 early images from this year's Pereids meteor shower shows many bright meteors that streaked through the sky the night of August 11 near Oakland, Ontario, Canada.

The Next Generation Knuckleballer?

The Columbus Clippers waved vainly at Eddie Gamboa's knuckleball last night:
A good knuckleball is baseball’s version of the gnat. A swing at its darting form generally results in a miss.
The Clippers went hunting for Eddie Gamboa’s knuckler last night at Huntington Park and came up empty more often than not during an 8-1 loss to the Norfolk Tides.
Gamboa (2-3) teased the Clippers’ hitters with floaters that darted in and around their bats in the 66-mph range. He allowed one unearned run and three hits over six innings while striking out seven.
“I’d seen that kid throw last year — a conventional pitcher,” Clippers manager Chris Tremie said. “Sometime between the end of last year and today, he went to a knuckleball. He commanded it pretty well. He threw strikes with it. Obviously, there were some that danced more than others. And basically, he threw strikes with it. “When a knuckleballer throws strikes, it can be a pretty tough day for hitters.”
With only R.A. Dickey and now Steven Wright in the bigs, it is good to see somebody else a step below the majors.  Wright's first major league start earlier in the month went kind of badly:
Wright won his last two relief appearances and had thrown 9 2-3 scoreless innings entering Tuesday's game. But he had trouble with command from the start and walked leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman.
Grossman stole second before advancing to third on the first passed ball of the inning. He then plunked Brandon Barnes and he later advanced to second on another passed ball.
A third passed ball allowed Grossman to score and Barnes to take second. The last passed ball of the inning sent Barnes home before a single by Jason Castro.
Wright walked Marc Krauss, prompting a visit to the mound by Lavarnway. The visit didn't seem to help as Wright soon followed it with a wild pitch that left Castro at third.
He scored on a groundout by Wallace before Wright finally escaped the inning by retiring Matt Dominguez.
It was the third time in major league history that a team had four passed balls in one inning. It last happened on Aug. 22, 1987, when Texas Rangers catcher Geno Petralli did it against the White Sox in the seventh inning. Knuckleballer Charlie Hough was pitching in that game.
Knuckleballers will have days like that.

Adam Savage on Simple Ideas and Scientific Discoveries

Via Ritholtz, Adam Savage give a TED-Ed quick lecture:

Best Video Moments of the Iowa State Fair

The Des Moines Register collects clips of some of the sights and sounds of the Iowa State Fair:

Interesting Legal History

The Iroquois Confederacy has been staging a number of events to raise awareness of environmental conservation and land rights as they haven't gotten anywhere in the courts:
In 2005, the Onondaga filed a lawsuit against New York State, the city of Syracuse, Onondaga County, and five corporations, claiming that the state had illegally seized the tribe's land and that the corporations had been destroying the environment in the area. At the time, The New York Times reported that the tribe was using the land claim as leverage to force environmental cleanup--they had no intention of taking back the land by evicting people currently living on it. Rather, one of the key issues was that the company Honeywell International, among others, had for decades been dumping chemical waste into Onondaga Lake, a sacred site. The lake, an EPA superfund site, is now one of the most polluted in the country, and has a thick layer of mercury at its bottom.
The courts have categorically dismissed the cases and subsequent appeals. Part of the problem with the land rights struggle is the Doctrine of Discovery, which states that European explorers and settlers have superior rights to the land. This doctrine flows from a decree by Pope Nicholas in 1452 to allow the subjugation of "heathen" lands in Africa and the New World. It was adopted by American law in 1823 in the Supreme Court case Johnson vs. McIntosh, and never overturned. Recently, it was used in 2005 as part of a court decision to dismiss an Oneida land case.
I never quite knew how the courts justified land grabs by the government from Native Americans.  Here's more on the Doctrine of Discovery:
 The origins of the doctrine can be traced to Pope Nicholas V's issuance of the papal bull Romanus Pontifex in 1455. The bull allowed Portugal to claim and conquer lands in West Africa. Pope Alexander VI extended to Spain the right to conquer newly-found lands in 1493, with the papal bull Inter caetera, after Christopher Columbus had already begun doing so. Arguments between Portugal and Spain led to the Treaty of Tordesillas which clarified that only non-Christian lands could thus be taken, as well as drawing a line of demarcation to allocate potential discoveries between the two powers.
According to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. M'Intosh, this theory of Christian expansion and possession of newly discovered lands, despite native presence, was one by which all colonial powers operated. Chief Justice Marshall, writing the decision, held that the United Kingdom had taken title to the lands which constituted the United States when the British discovered them. Marshall pointed to the exploration charters given to John Cabot as proof that the British had operated under the doctrine.  The tribes which occupied the land were, at the moment of discovery, no longer completely sovereign and had no property rights but rather merely held a right of occupancy. Further, only the discovering nation or its successor could take possession of the land from the natives by conquest or purchase. Natives could not sell the land to private citizens but only to the discovering government.

The doctrine was used in numerous other cases as well. With Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, it supported the concept that tribes were not independent states but "domestic dependent nations". The decisions in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe and Duro v. Reina used the doctrine to prohibit tribes from criminally prosecuting first non-Indians, then Indians who weren't a member of the prosecuting tribe.
It is interesting that the Court has come under attack for referencing international law as precedent in recent years, when the basis for our claim of all the land we own is staked to a papal bull issued in 1455.