Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Man Behind A Christmas Story

Jean Shepherd isn't remembered like the holiday movie based on his stories:
While it's all but impossible to make it through December without encountering A Christmas Story, though, relatively few know about the man who’s behind the story. His name was Jean Shepherd. An unconventional icon of the 1960s, Shepherd developed a cult following on late-night airwaves with his eclectic collection of improvised stories about childhood in the Midwest, military service during World War II, and life as an infamous radio personality. He was, in every sense of the word, a raconteur. Shepherd wrote bestselling books, two of which inspired A Christmas Story; he published columns in the Village Voice, Mad Magazine, and Playboy; and he starred in two television series. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Harry Shearer idolized him. His storytelling defined a style of radio that was later adopted by the likes of Garrison Keillor. A wave of nostalgic sitcoms, epitomized by The Wonder Years, owe a significant debt to Shepherd's work. His influence alone should have made him a pop-culture icon.
It didn't. Now, as Shepherd's greatest success celebrates its third decade of relevance, a question remains: Why did the man's legacy fade away just as his story joined the pantheon of Christmas classics?
Understandably, there is no simple answer. Shepherd died in 1999, just as Turner Broadcasting had begun to make a tradition of its all-day marathon. That small-screen saturation is a huge reason—if not the reason—why audiences rediscovered A Christmas Story, so the most obvious explanation is a macabre one. Shepherd wasn't around, so he wasn't acknowledged as a significant part of the movie's success......Shepherd's famous wit soured into pessimism as he aged, too. During one of his last radio interviews, according to a Time column published soon after his death, he repeatedly dismissed his radio years as "just another gig." (In an essay for Slate, longtime fan Donald Fagen guessed that Shepherd "succumbed to that very real disease of self-loathing.")
Hmm, pessimism as a bad trait.  I may have to watch that one.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

White Turf

The sulky sleighs are cool, but the guys skiing behind the horses are nuts:

White Turf from ND Strupler on Vimeo.



Cubli, a project out of the Dynamic Systems and Control lab at the Swiss engineering school ETH Zurich, is a 6 inch by 6 inch metal block that employs three spinning wheels to perform a variety of tricks. Its creators humbly tout its ability to “walk,” using angular momentum to flip itself from face to face. This feat was kinda cute when MIT’s diminutive M-Blocks were doing it. Here it’s a little more unsettling.
Even more unsettling, though (and more impressive), are Cubli’s preternatural powers of balance. “Once the Cubli has almost reached the corner stand up position, controlled motor torques are applied to make it balance on its corner,” we’re told. You can change the angle of the surface it’s on, give the balancing wonder a gentle push to the side, or send it spinning like a top, and still, the devil cube retains its balletic poise.
The stabilization comes courtesy of the precise choreography of the internal spinning wheels–a system the researchers point out is similar to the one that keeps satellites oriented in space. Now, the team says they’re developing algorithms that allow Cubli to “automatically learn” and respond dynamically to changes in inertia, weight, or its surface.
That's amazing.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Farming and Fracking

Via Marginal Revolution, the only places where median household income increased are in fracking or farming:

NASA Photo of the Day

December 19:

A Colorful Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: László Francsics
Explanation: The Moon is normally seen in subtle shades of grey or yellow. But small, measurable color differences have been greatly exaggerated to make this telescopic, multicolored, moonscape captured during the Moon's full phase. The different colors are recognized to correspond to real differences in the chemical makeup of the lunar surface. Blue hues reveal titanium rich areas while orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron. The familiar Sea of Tranquility, or Mare Tranquillitatis, is the blue area in the upper right corner of the frame. White lines radiate across the orange-hued southern lunar highlands from 85 kilometer wide ray crater Tycho at bottom left. Above it, darker rays from crater Copernicus extend into the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) at the upper left. Calibrated by rock samples from the Apollo missions, similar multicolor images from spacecraft have been used to explore the Moon's global surface composition.

Prairie Suffers as Land Comes Out of CRP

(chart should read million)

Weekend Edition Sunday:
"Goodness, there's thousands of species that live in grasslands, including several hundred species of higher plants," says , an ecologist at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. Plus, permanent grass cover keeps soil from washing away.
"With those deeps roots that grasses have, and thick thatch, the water has a hard time getting a hold of the soil," says Johnson.
So more land in CRP means cleaner streams, less fertilizer runoff and more carbon stored in the soil.
Back when Reynolds was showing me those duck eggs, there were 34 million acres enrolled in the CRP — an area roughly the size of the state of New York.
In recent years, though, the conservation reserve has shrunk by more than 25 percent, including those 1.6 million acres that farmers took out of the program this past year.
It's partly because Congress has cut funding for the program. But there's a more important reason: high grain prices.
Farmers have been making a lot of money recently growing corn, soybeans, and wheat. They're bidding up prices for land, and landowners are cashing in.
In southwestern Iowa, near the town of , the owners of about 60 acres decided to take it out of the CRP. They rented it instead to farmer Mark Peterson. "They felt that it would make more income for them, renting it out, than it would being in the CRP," says Peterson.
Peterson recognizes that "it is fragile ground," so he says he'll be extra careful with that land, which is on a hillside. Some parts are quite steep, and the soil could easily wash away.
He grew soybeans on it this year, but he tried to disturb the soil as little as possible. And he'll plant cover crops in the off season to anchor the soil.
Ecologist Johnson, at South Dakota State University, says the shrinking Conservation Reserve is just one part of a larger trend: Farmers are ripping up other grasslands, too, including native prairie that never was plowed.
"I've seen things that I never thought I'd see here in South Dakota," he says. "With these land prices going up, there actually are people out there with Bobcats and front end loaders, pulling out the rocks in hundreds of acres of land that's been in pasture all these years."
This is one of the worst aspects of the biofuels-driven ag boom economy of the last six years.   Big Picture Agriculture has featured some pictures of some of the worst examples of sensitive land being abused in an effort to cash in on the boom.  Overall, it is tremendously depressing.  As Kay notes in one of the posts, all the additional land contributes to overproduction, which contributes to price deflation, which risks pushing prices below cost of production.  So we are destroying sensitive lands and destroying the ag economy at the same time.  That is not good at all.