Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some Candy Corn History

Modern Farmer:

Even the people who make candy corn will tell you it’s nowhere near a universally beloved treat.
“People either love or hate candy corn,” says Tomi Holt, spokesperson for the Jelly Belly Candy Company, which has been making candy corn since 1898. “They have strong opinions and they’ll tell you about it.”
Not that that means people are above dressing up as sexy candy corn for Halloween for just $49, or doing battle with a creature called the Grand High Viscount of Candy Corn in the online role-playing game Guild Wars.....
In case you thought this generation had a lock on rural nostalgia, candy corn is here to set you straight: The white, yellow and orange (arguably) corn-shaped confection has graced sweet shop shelves since the late 1800s. Most agree that the inventor of candy corn was George Renninger, who ran the Wunderlee Candy Company in Philadelphia.
When candy corn started cropping up, “folks were leaving farms and entering the big city,” says Beth Kimmerle, candy historian and author of four books documenting the confectionary industry in the U.S.....Early boxes of candy corn from the Herman Goelitz Company (which would later morph into Jelly Belly) featured proud roosters. A 1937 ad for the store B. Altman and Co. evoked the aura of the country general store, asking, “Do you remember the candy corn and the coal oil? Remember the little country store that was the hub of your universe, the social center and favorite memory of your childhood?” In 1971 the Henri Bendel department store tried to lend a whiff of urban sophistication to the genre, offering a fairly disgusting-sounding candy “succotash” consisting of orange-candy carrots, lime-candy lima beans, lemon-candy corn and mint-candy peas.
I love me some candy corn.  One of the last times I went to the local Menard's store, candy corn was one of my impulse buys (I'm not sure why I am prone to impulse buying at Menard's)  You know what else features a rooster prominently?  Rex Goliath wine. From what I've been told, that rooster can whip your ass.

The Simpsons Math Lessons

Wired points out a new book that analyzes the math background of folks involved with The Simpsons:
It’s no secret that the longest-running American sitcom is also one of the smartest. Academics have pored over The Simpsons for its insights into philosophy and psychology, but it took physicist Simon Singh, the author of previous books about cryptography, the Big Bang, and Fermat’s Enigma, to tap a vein of knowledge that runs even deeper in the animated world of Springfield: math.
In the engaging (and educational) The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, Singh delves into the academic backgrounds of some of the most poindextrous Simpsons writers -- Al Jean, J. Stewart Burns, Jeff Westbrook, and David X. Cohen among them -- who are equipped with advanced degrees in math and science. Naturally, they’ve been using their platform to advance what Cohen calls "a decades-long conspiracy to secretly educate cartoon viewers."
They give several examples of high level math jokes and references.  My favorite:

"Bye Bye Nerdie" (2001)

Bumbling Professor Frink struggles to bring order to a raucous crowd of scientists at Springfield’s 12th Annual Big Science Thing, before he shocks the room to silence by yelling, "Pi is exactly three!"
The obvious joke is that only such a preposterous inaccuracy could quiet a group of math geeks, but there’s another layer. Writer Al Jean based the line on an actual attempt to legislate an official value for pi, known as the Indiana Pi Bill of 1897, in which an amateur mathematician suggested "squaring the circle" by rounding π to 3.2. The baffled state House of Representatives allowed the measure to pass, but luckily a Purdue University math professor intervened before the Senate ratified the absurdity into law."
I mainly picked this because it references the general foolishness of Indiana, although when I first saw Indiana Pi Bill of 1897, my first thought was 1987, and even if it was 1987, I wouldn't have been surprised.  Damn Hoosiers.  

Pelvic Thrust Paul?

I was just watching the end of the Michigan-Michigan State game, and they showed the Michigan State players carrying the Paul Bunyan Trophy.  I hadn't noticed it before, but it looks like ol' Paul is giving a pelvic thrust:


Are Veterinarians Overprescribing Antibiotics?

Morning Edition looks at whether veterinarians help encourage farmers to overuse antibiotics.  The whole story is worth reading, but I found this part interesting:

Pork producers rely heavily on veterinarians like Henry for advice. "They don't want to spend money on drugs if they don't need to," says Henry. "Now, you have to juxtapose that with a tremendous amount of pressure from pharmaceutical companies to move product."
Those companies aim advertising campaigns at farmers and veterinarians alike. Henry says he dismisses it, but others are influenced. As a result, farmers sometimes use more drugs than they should.
In addition, many veterinarians have a financial interest in such decisions. They resell antibiotics to farmers.
"There's some margin in there for the veterinarian, so there's some incentive for the veterinarians to sell more," says Henry.
In Denmark, the government took away that incentive in 1994; it stopped veterinarians from earning profits on such sales. The next year, antibiotic use by almost 25 percent. (The Danish government also banned sales of one antibiotic that year, which may account for part of the decline.) Since then, Denmark has passed other regulations limiting antibiotic use in agriculture.
But Henry says he still trusts veterinarians, more than any regulations by government, to make sure antibiotics are used wisely.
Overuse of antibiotics, along with manure management and animal welfare are going to be the biggest issues for animal agriculture going forward.  I would anticipate that having to cut back on antibiotic use will end up challenging standard confinement practices as much as, if not more than PETA and HSUS do.

From Chicago to the Moon

From Chicago to the Moon from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Sorghum Renaissance?

All Things Considered:
Much of the world is turning hotter and dryer these days, and it's opening new doors for a water-saving cereal that's been called "the camel of crops": sorghum. In an odd twist, this old-fashioned crop even seems to be catching on among consumers who are looking for "ancient grains" that have been relatively untouched by modern agriculture.
Sorghum isn't nearly as famous as the big three of global agriculture: corn, rice and wheat. But maybe it should be. It's a plant for tough times, and tough places....
Today, American farmers grow two kinds of sorghum. Sweet sorghum is tall; you can use it to make a sweet syrup or just feed the whole plant to animals.
But most sorghum in the U.S. is grown for feed grain. That version of the plant is short, with seeds that come in several different colors.
Steve Henry showed me some near Abilene, Kan., on our way to the farm where he grew up. Kansas is the biggest sorghum-growing state. Out here, they call milo.
"You've got white milo, red milo, yellow milo," says Henry, scanning the field. "Basically, you have the little berries, and they're filled with starch, like like corn is filled with starch, and the starch is what we're after."
Sorghum is used for the same things as corn: high-energy feed for pigs and chickens. It also gets turned into ethanol...In the U.S., the amount of land in sorghum has been steadily shrinking.
There are signs, though, of a sorghum revival on the high plains. The reason is water, or the lack of it. From Nebraska to western Texas, cornfields have been fed with rivers of water pumped from underground aquifers, and that water is starting to run low.
When I was a kid and I saw lists of crops, I always wondered what milo was.  Well, now I know.  I remember going to visit my roommate from college in southern Illinois, and I was amazed how much sorghum was grown down there.  Here's a map from USDA showing the growing region of sorghum, and southern Illinois doesn't even show up:

I would anticipate much more sorghum will be grown in the High Plains in the future.

Bill Gross Not Talking His Book

At least for once:
Bill Gross is feeling guilty about being among the wealthiest people in America. That's why he thinks that he and other filthy rich members of the 1% should pay more in taxes.
"Having gotten rich at the expense of labor, the guilt sets in and I begin to feel sorry for the less well-off," writes Gross, co-founder of investment firm Pimco and manager of the biggest bond fund in the world, in the opening of his latest monthly investment letter.
Gross usually devotes his outlook pieces to discussions of the bond market. And they are often littered with pop culture references. He didn't disappoint this month.
He compared those who complain about paying a greater percentage of their wealth in taxes to the Disney (DIS, Fortune 500) character Scrooge McDuck.
"It's time to kick out and share some of your good fortune by paying higher taxes and reforming them to favor economic growth and labor, as opposed to corporate profits and individual gazillions," Gross wrote.
Gross is at the very top of the ultra-rich group he is talking about. Forbes estimates his net worth at $2.2 billion, which would put him in the top 0.01%.
Gross said he and other top 1% earners need to recognize that they have had the "privilege of riding the credit wave and a credit boom for the past three decades. Paraphrasing President Obama's "you didn't build that" comment from the 2012 campaign, Gross reminds the rich "you did not create that wave. You rode it."
I've been critical of Gross at times, but in this case, he gets it.  Today's inequality is staggering, and it can't last.  There are two options, raise wages or raise taxes.  I'd be happier than hell to see this be handled by the private sector, but I won't hold my breath.

Killing Bugs with Fire, and Flame Cultivation

Whenever I post something with a photo of a spider, I can reliably predict that the first or second comment will be “OMG Kill it with Fire!!11!!”
It’s happening more and more often, and it’s not my imagination. When you look at trends in use of the phrase, it seemed to become common in 2007, and has been slowly creeping up since then. About the only event in 2007 that I can plausibly relate to “Kill it with Fire!” is the release of Microsoft Windows Vista.  In general, attempts by members of the general public to kill things with fire (spiders or insects) end in disaster. (examples given)......The only legitimate use of fire for control that I know of is using fire for weed control in agriculture.  It’s usually given the quite awesome name of “Flaming for Pest Control.”  Here is an example:

This is why agriculture is so awesome, BTW. There just aren’t that many professions where you get to drive a giant flamethrower. Flaming is generally used in organic systems, which is a bit puzzling, since it uses propane, diesel, and produces lots of greenhouse gases.
While that is badass, it just doesn't seem like a very good idea to me.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Do People Survive on the Minimum Wage?

With government assistance:
So how do millions of Americans do it? This statistic helps explain it:
More than half of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance programs since their wages aren't enough to support them, a new report found.
According to a University of California Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois study out Tuesday, 52% of families of fast food workers receive assistance from a public program like Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That's compared to 25% of families in the workforce as a whole.
The report estimated that this public aid carries a $7 billion price tag for taxpayers each year
Assuming fast-food workers are good proxy for minimum-wage workers, this actually explains a lot. If it sounds impossible to get by on less than $1,000 a month, that's because it probably is, and most minimum-wage workers don't. They earn a wage that isn't sufficient to support them, and various government assistance programs make up the difference.
Public assistance isn't just for those out of work, down on their luck, or in a short-term bind. It's for those who are gainfully employed but earning such a low wage they can't sustain themselves. Which is to say: The reason fast-food and other low-wage employers can get away with paying so little is because taxpayers subsidize the slack. The report estimates McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) subsidy alone is worth $1.2 billion a year, which equates to more than a fifth of its 2012 profits.
I still remember thinking how stupid it sounded when "Papa John" said it would cost an extra 14 cents a pizza to provide health insurance, that sounded like a pretty good deal.  Would better pay for workers be a pretty good trade off for getting a little less change back on fast food and Walmart purchases?  I'd say so.

A Pleasant Surprise

We got into one of our historically tougher fields today.  It has a lot of clay knolls, and always has some ugly looking areas at planting time.  I was expecting to have some of the best yields we've gotten out of that field this year, but was keeping my hopes realistic, like around 175 bushels per acre.  To my great surprise, it is rivaling some of our very best dirt.  So far, the monitor shows 206 bushel average, and the last three or four semi loads have averaged 215 to 220 bushels.  Based on that small anecdote, I would short corn futures if I were you. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Will Peak Oil Help Out With Climate Change?

Some scientists think we won't be able to pollute as much as many feared:
Conventional production of oil has been on a plateau since 2005, said James Murray, a professor of oceanography at the University of Washington, who chaired the panel.
As production of conventional oil, which is far easier to get out of the ground, decreases, companies have turned to unconventional sources, such as those in deep water, tar sands or tight oil reserves, which have to be released by hydraulic fracturing.
But those techniques tend to lead to production peaks that tail off quickly, Murray said.
The panelists said these trends belie the high-end emission scenario from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That scenario, known as RCP 8.5, and often referred to as the "business as usual" scenario, has carbon dioxide emissions increasing through 2100.
"I just think it's going to be really hard to achieve some of these really high CO2 scenarios," Murray said.
David Rutledge, an engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology who studies world coal production, said the IPCC's "business as usual" scenario is unrealistic because it essentially assumes that growth of fossil fuels like coal will continue apace, which is unlikely.
Well, while it is good that climate change might not be as bad as scientists fear, we'll still have to adapt to a resource-limited world that most non-Amish can't really appreciate.  

Robot Takeover Watch

From Bloomberg:

Prosperity in Thailand is spreading from glitzy Bangkok to less-developed regions, thanks in part to a boom in auto-manufacturing in places such as Rayong province, where this state-of-the-art Ford plant is located. 

Wow, that is a lot of robots.  That doesn't bode well for a healthy middle class.

Harvest Continues

We're getting on the downhill side of harvest, but as the lines get longer at the elevator, less and less gets done.  Between the shit show that is my town job and the hours of operation while the elevator is open, I haven't had much time to sample the wonders of the World Wide Web.  I'll peek around and see if I see anything notable.

All I can say right now is, yes, the start of Obamacare has been a mess, but let's not spend the next five months wondering day after day if the subsidized insurance will go into a death spiral or not.  Assuming they work out enough bugs to get people enrolled, let's give this thing a few years to see how it turns out.  I remember people talking about how big of a disaster the Romney/Massachusetts program was turning out to be, but everybody seems able to live with it now.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Greatest Scientist You've Never Heard of

Stanford Ovshinski:
Ovshinsky created a hatful of world-changing innovations. In 1968, the New York Times declared that his new electronic switch would lead to a future in which we would all have “small, general-purpose desktop computers for use in homes, schools and offices” and “a flat, tubeless television set that can be hung on the wall like a picture”.
It seemed so unlikely that no one in the US wanted to invest. What’s more, Ovshinsky’s discoveries threatened the dominance of America’s great new invention: the transistor. US corporate interests rubbished his work and he ended up licensing his technologies to a few small Japanese companies. You might know their names: Sharp, Canon, Sony, Matsushita . . .
No wonder Ovshinsky was later hailed as “Japan’s American genius”. That US overdraft might not have become quite so bad if the country’s business leaders had operated with more foresight and less fear.
By the end of his life, Ovshinsky had established a new field of science: the study of “amorphous” materials, messy solids that have no regular atomic structure. He published around 300 academic papers on the subject. His inventions gained more than 400 patents. All this from a man who taught himself physics using books borrowed from the public library in his home town of Akron, Ohio.
The technology behind rewritable CDs and DVDs was Ovshinsky’s brainchild, as was the material for “phase-change memory”, now standard in data storage technologies today.He designed the solar panels used in the Japanese calculators that flooded the world market in the 1980s. Similarly ubiquitous is his rechargeable nickel-metal hydride battery.
Wow.  That is pretty amazing.