Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Absurdity of Big-time Sports - Rose Bowl Sod Edition

From Grantland's report on the Rose Bowl game:
We'd been told stories of signs in the public parking lots warning patrons who lingered more than 90 minutes past the game's end that their vehicles could be towed. Undaunted, at 7:30 in the evening, Pacific time, stray clumps of fans lingered in opposite corners of the stadium, watching the crisp semicircles and mild dancing of the Spartan band, and the ragged LSJUMB arc and Dollies kick line. Security guards maintained their rope line around the midfield logo, which disappeared long before midnight. The turf, which looked nearly untouched, was pulled up section by section. Entirely new sod will be brought in and laid down for Monday night's Florida State–Auburn BCS title game tilt. This is the Rose Bowl, and immaculate is the only standard.
Seriously?  New sod for one game when the old sod was in great shape?  Nuts.

Browns Have Paid or Owe $49 Million to Fired Coaches

Plain Dealer:
CoachYrs. after firedSum owed
Chris Palmer 3 years $3 million
Butch Davis3 years$12 million
Romeo Crennel3 yearsApprox. $10 million
Eric Mangini2 years$7.8 million
Pat Shurmur2 years leftAbout $5.6 million
Rob Chudzinski3 years left$10.5 million
Source: Various media reports
 ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Monday the Browns owed Chudzinski about $10.5 million over the next three years. Shurmur was due roughly $5.6 million at the time of his dismissal.
Since 2001, the Browns have gone through only one season (2008) without compensating a former head coach not to blow a whistle or design a game plan. By the end of 2016, they will have paid for 16 years of non-service from the pink-slipped six.
The most expensive buyout: Butch Davis, who Randy Lerner still owed $12 million at the time of his 2004 firing. The cheapest buyout: Chris Palmer, who the late Al Lerner owed $3 million over three years beginning in 2001. Remember, these figures don't include monies paid to coordinators and assistant coaches.
Since their 1999 return, the Browns have two winning seasons, one playoff appearance and no post-season victories to show for their investment.
That is the most ridiculous aspect of teams firing their coaches after a poor season.  It is bad enough that the team appears rudderless and lacking in any plan on how to improve, but then they have to shell out tons of money for guys they determined weren't good enough to keep around.  Honestly, why do teams give a new coach a 4 year contract?  No offense, but shouldn't Rob Chudzinski be pretty damn happy with getting paid $3 million for less than a year's work?  Why does he need guaranteed nearly $14 million to take the job?  That is obscene.  I guess it is nice work if you can get it.

RIP Phil Everly

Phil Everly, who with his brother Don made up the most revered vocal duo of the rock-music era — their exquisite harmonies profoundly influencing the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and countless younger rock, folk and country singers — died Friday in Burbank, Calif., of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Patti Everly, said. He was 74.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Full Cast of Futurama

Via Wired:

Of all the glories that 2013 gave our televisions, it took one of our favorites away: Futurama. After seven seasons – with a bit of a, um, hiatus in the middle – the bitingly funny animated series ended its run in September. We’re still dealing, but now we at least have this fantastic memento: a single image containing almost every character in Matt Groening’s 30th century show.
Like the Simpsons full cast poster before it, the image, posted on deviantArt by user Unrellius, has usual suspects like Fry and Bender, but also Humplings and various heds in jars. “This is a project I’ve worked on for around 14 months!” Unrellius wrote in the post accompanying the image. “It contains just about every character that appears in Futurama.”
And indeed it does — one eagle-eyed commenter even said they spotted Waldo.
I always loved that show.  Who can argue about an  alcoholic robot?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

America Burning

America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Fire Tragedy and the Nation's Wildfire Crisis from Weather Films on Vimeo.

More on the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Hill fire here.

Commodity Markets Look Bleak in 2014

Many investors expect commodities markets to struggle for a fourth consecutive year in 2014, as steady-but-unspectacular economic growth extends a rough patch for what had been one of the hottest investment niches of the past decade. In 2013, investors appeared to finally give up on hopes for the return of the "supercycle," the confluence of tight supplies and surging demand that propelled prices for commodities ranging from oil to aluminum to wheat to records in the past decade. Years of high prices persuaded farmers to boost crop output and metal producers to invest in new mines. In 2013, those efforts flooded many markets with more supply than a barely expanding global economy could consume. The Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index, which tracks 22 U.S.- and London-traded commodities, fell 9.6% in 2013, the third consecutive annual loss. With the S&P 500-stock index climbing 30% this past year, the gap between commodities and stocks was the widest it has been since 1998. Investors and analysts expect more of the same. Analysts with Citigroup Inc. C +0.31% are bearish or neutral on 19 of the 23 commodities tracked by Citigroup, even as the bank forecasts that global economic growth is expected to accelerate to 3.2%, from 2.5% this year.
"There's going to have to be a huge shift in market psychology to have commodities bounce higher," said Ralph Preston, a market strategist with Heritage West Financial in San Diego. Growth in China, the world's largest consumer of raw materials, is widely expected to continue at a pace close to the state-targeted figure of 7.5% for 2013. But that expansion would remain a step below the frantic growth seen during the past decade's commodity boom. While the country will likely consume greater quantities of most commodities in 2014, analysts caution that a slower-expanding China may not be enough to absorb the increased global output of agricultural commodities, minerals and fuel. In industrial metals, aluminum and steel are locked in a chronic surplus, and iron ore and copper are set to join them as production ramps up from megaprojects in Peru, Mongolia, Australia and other countries. It is the same story for agricultural commodities such as corn, whose stockpiles are set to more than double next year in the U.S., and for sugar.
I wouldn't be surprised if grain markets just trend lower and lower all year.  I think this is going to be a very tough year.  Hopefully, I'll be wrong.  Where grain prices are right now, I can't see land prices remaining propped up where they've been.

A Nice Side Story From the Winter Classic

Katie Baker describes one of the alumni games held at Comerica Park:
This time around, there were not one but two alumni games, held back-to-back Tuesday at a different outdoor rink in Detroit's downtown Comerica Park. It was definitely a bit of overkill — particularly since the games were transparently split into A and B squads — but it also led to some outstanding moments.
In the first game (the JV one), legendary Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson not only suited up at age 74, he kind of put everyone to shame. It was like watching Jack Palance do one-armed push-ups at the Oscars. Before one crucial faceoff, he even began directing his teammates as if they were his Wolverines. After the game, more than one aging player declared him an idol. "I think I'm lucky," said Berenson, who has been behind the bench at Michigan for 30 years. "I've been able to stay in the game and stay around young kids playing college hockey."
And there was also Jiri Fischer, who at 33 was decades younger than some of his teammates. The former first-round pick was forced to retire at 25 after collapsing from cardiac arrest on the bench in 2005; on Tuesday, he scored the game's first goal, calling it "a little fairy tale."
Red Berenson sounds like a badass. The main event at Michigan Stadium was pretty kickass, too.  Hopefully the NHL doesn't kill the impact of these events by having too many (they have 3 more outdoor games coming up in the next few weeks).  But honestly, the view from the seats has to be pretty damn crappy, considering how far away the seats are from the rink.

Barbed Wire Telephone Lines

Didn't know this:
In this day of seemingly unlimited telephone service via satellite phones and other modern contraptions, it’s hard to believe we once used common barbed wire to carry messages. Laura V. Hamner, a noted Texas Panhandle historian, wrote about such unique telephone service in her book, Light and Hitch. According to Hamner, pioneers in early-day Claude and Gruver, Texas, recalled nearby ranchers who’d installed telephones and used the top wire of barbed-wire fences as telephone lines. When we purchased our Alanreed ranch in 1949, a telephone line ran from our ranch 8 miles south, and some of it still used barbed wire to transmit crude signals.
When the signal diminished during rainy weather, few pioneers realized it was because the wire was stapled directly to the fence post and grounded out when wet. As insulators became popular, the clever, most-innovative cowboys used every conceivable device as an insulator to suspend the wire and improve the faint telephone transmissions. I’ve seen everything from leather straps folded around wire and nailed to the posts, broken whiskey bottle necks affixed with big nails, snuff bottles, corncobs, pieces of inner tube wrapped around the wire and short car tire straps holding barbed wire telephone wires.
Bigger ranches were among the first to install barbed wire telephones to alert them to prairie fires when working distant corners of the ranch. Line camps located far from the ranch house were contacted and work schedules discussed using the “already-in-place” barbed wire. One-time fence riders also became telephone line repairmen because Ma Bell’s service workers simply didn’t exist yet.
Early phone lines, even the barbed wire variety, were usually party lines shared by neighbors. Eavesdroppers were the biggest problem with those early-day communication networks, and secrets were rare. When a caller raised the receiver and cranked out a call, clicks could be heard up and down the line as neighbors carefully listened in.
That is a bit of rural infrastructure I didn't know about.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Sense of Place - #1

A Sense of Place - #1: Argyll Forest Park from Max Smith TV on Vimeo.

Hard White Wheat Gains Market Foothold

Harvest Public Media via Big Picture Agriculture's new sister site, Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily:
A new wheat variety may have cracked the code to marry the fluffiness of white bread with whole grain nutrition.
For a long time, American bread makers have been in a bind. Many consumers like the texture and taste of white bread, but want the nutritional benefits of whole grains.
Snowmass, named for a Colorado peak, is a hard white wheat variety, a crop in high demand as bread makers increasingly seek new markets -- in this case health-conscious consumers who don’t want to give up white bread. Hard white wheats lack the dark bran color and potent flavor of their red wheat cousins, which are grown widely across the Great Plains.
Farmers and food companies have been interested in hard white wheat for a while, but economic and climatological realities have kept it from taking off. Hard red winter wheat grows well in wheat states like Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. But it doesn’t mill into white flour, it has to be bleached. By itself, the dark, flavorful bran it can be a tougher sell to more finicky consumers who prefer white bread.
Wheat breeding programs, both public and private, have been hard at work trying to come up with a variety like Snowmass -- a type of white wheat that yields well, mills into a white flour and mixes easily into dough.
Colorado State University wheat breeder Scott Haley finally had success. He’s the father of Snowmass. When you come up with a well-performing, novel crop, there’s a whole community of people who consider you a rock star.
“Well, I’ve been told that this is the most famous wheat in the world, which is just like, oh my gosh. I don’t believe that,” Haley said.
The foundation that funds some of Haley’s research receives money from food giant ConAgra to develop wheat varieties for commercial use. The exact amount is part of a confidentiality agreement among Colorado State University, ConAgra and the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation. ConAgra has been after healthier white flour, which its customers, like Sara Lee and Azteca, can then turn into whole grain white products like breads and tortillas.
Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily looks like it will be a must-visit site.

Dubai Tries To Ring In New Year With Record Fireworks Display

Organizers of what is expected to be certified as the world's largest fireworks display ever put on a show in Dubai that was seen by thousands of people Tuesday, as viewers turned out to celebrate the new year and watch the spectacle. The show was also and on .
Both the Dubai Media and the Guinness World Records' sites seemed to struggle with the crush of web traffic from people wanting to see the show. On the scene, the weather cooperated to give the audience a clear and dry night. A record 1.7 million people attended the event last year, according to .
As , fireworks and parties are the hallmark of tonight, as people welcome the arrival of 2014.
Here's how the folks at Guinness described tonight's show in Dubai, from a preview written before the display began:
"Staring precisely 20 seconds before midnight local time, over 500,000 fireworks are set to be used during the display which is set to last around six minutes, with Guinness World Records adjudicators on hand to officiate the attempt.
"Covering a distance of over 94km (61.6 miles) of the city's seafront, the display will incorporate some of Dubai's top landmarks, including Palm Jumeirah, World Islands, the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab.
"The spectacle's final salvo of fireworks will create an artificial 'sunrise' along the seafront, with the highest fireworks reaching more than one kilometre in height."
The Dubai display was aimed at displacing a Guinness record held by Kuwait, reports .
 I love me some fireworks but I don't love me some Gulf states.

Bye, Bye Incandescent Bulbs

Hello, energy savings:

The whining about government thugs limiting light bulb choices has mainly disappeared to the libertarian loon fringe, where I found my classmate from high school and Galtian Hero/Postal Worker (I know, wtf?) moaning about not being able to waste massive amounts of heat while lighting his home (and getting to burn his fingers if he grabs the wrong bulb to change after turning off the light).  He also made a comment about not having a Hazmat suit to clean up if the bulb breaks.  I tried to point out the benefits of moving from 130 year-old technology and offered that he still had the option of lighting dollar bills on fire instead of burning them secondhand through outdated illumination methods, but he was still kind of bummed out.  It would seem to me that a political ideology based on "rational" decision-making might lean toward electrical efficiency, but apparently, I would be wrong.  Oh well.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shale Oil Train Derailment Rattles N.D. Town

Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks
Authorities urged residents to evacuate a small North Dakota town Monday night after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed outside of town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward.
The Cass County sheriff's office said it was "strongly recommending" that people in the town of Casselton and anyone living 5 miles to the south and east evacuate. A shelter has been set up in Fargo, which is about 25 miles away. Casselton has about 2,400 residents.
The sheriff's office said the National Weather Service was forecasting a shift in the weather that could increase the risk of potential health hazards.
"That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at a news briefing.
As many as 10 cars out of more than 100 caught fire when the BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt.
The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.
Authorities hadn't yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.
Trains carrying dangerous chemicals and occasionally derailing is not a new occurrence, but the controversy  surrounding fracking and the construction of the Keystone pipeline push recent derailments involving crude oil shipments into the headlines.  I've often considered how scary it could be when living beside a major railroad line and watching carloads of propane, sulfuric acid, molten sulfur and sodium hydroxide flying by.  Walking the tracks getting  from one field to another definitely doesn't bolster my confidence.  While the railroad has spent a lot of money on infrastructure over the last few years, the siding which runs the length of the farm I live on is not one of these expenditures.  The ties are terrible, and the rail actually looks in pretty good condition considering that it came out of the mill in 1943 (unlike the main line which was milled in 1974).  I am glad that trains using the siding travel at extremely low speeds.  Considering that oil exploration in the hottest shale plays has dramatically outpaced investment in infrastructure (I actually think that the underinvestment in pipelines may be due to oil players' not believing their own hype when it comes to the potential longevity of these shale plays), I would anticipate quite a few more of these kinds of accidents.  Hopefully none are as deadly as the Lac Megantic derailment.


Dreamscapes from Jonathan Besler on Vimeo.