Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Winter Classic

The NHL is weighing whether to delay the game to allow for better ice conditions:
A Winter Classic with sunglasses? With a halftime in the first period? Or delayed for a couple of hours on account of, well, gorgeous weather?
Those were among the options discussed Wednesday as the NHL faced the prospect of playing its showcase outdoor game on a bright, sunny New Year's Day in the nation's capital.
"Nobody wants to delay the game," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "So if there's any way we can avoid delaying the game, we're going to avoid delaying the game."
Faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Nationals Park for the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals. The forecast calls for lots of sun and few clouds -- and therefore lots of glare on the sheet of ice -- with a high temperature in the low 40s.
"It would be more of a player-safety issue," Daly said. "The glare, if you're having trouble picking up the puck, I think there'd be a concern."
The Capitals found that out during Wednesday's midday practice, when the ice was soft at one corner of the rink and the puck was sometimes hard to see. They tried various forms of eye black, a seemingly appropriate attire for an event taking place on a baseball field.
"It was pretty bad," defenseman Mike Green said. "Once you got on the ice and were skating around, it took about five or 10 minutes for guys to adjust, and it wasn't easy to see pucks on the ice. It should be tough on the goalies if that's the case tomorrow."
Defenseman Karl Alzner stood out by wearing a pair of ordinary sunglass. He said he'll wear them again Thursday if allowed -- a member of the league's hockey operations department confirmed to's Katie Strang they they will be -- because they made a world of difference.
"That actually might be the way to go," defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "If it comes to it, you might see a lot more guys wearing them.
Good luck to them.  Hockey in the States can use all the help it can get.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Peak Shale Oil Production in 2015?

Kurt Cobb considers potential surprises in the energy industry in the coming year:
The coming year is likely to be as full of surprises in the field of energy as 2014 was. We just don't know which surprises! I am not predicting that any of the following will happen, and they will be surprises to most people if they do. But, I think there is an outside chance that one or more will occur, and this would move markets and policy debates in unexpected directions. 
1. U.S. crude oil and natural gas production decline for the first time since 2008 and 2005, respectively. The colossal markdown in world oil prices has belatedly been followed by a slightly smaller, but nevertheless dramatic markdown in U.S. natural gas prices. The drop in prices has already resulted in announcements from U.S. drillers that they will curtail their drilling operations significantly next year.
But drilling that is already contracted for will likely go forward and wells waiting for completion will be completed. It can be costly to pull out of drilling contracts. And failing to complete already successful wells and bring them into production is downright foolish since the costs incurred in drilling the wells including future debt payments remain. In those circumstances, some revenue at lower prices is preferable to no revenue at all.
Having said all that, scaled-down drilling plans, when combined with what's left in drillers' immediate inventory both to drill and complete, may not be enough to overcome the prodigious production decline rates from existing wells in deep shale deposits of oil and gas which have provided almost all the recent growth in U.S. production. The decline rates are 60 to 91 over three years for tight oil plays and 74 to 88 percent over three years for shale natural gas plays.
If low prices continue for a second year, the cheers for "Saudi" America will disappear. It was never to be anyway. What America has left is high-cost oil and natural gas. And, even at high prices both were likely to peak and decline in the next 5 years. Now, low prices may bring peak production rates in the coming year for both U.S. oil and natural gas--peaks that may never be seen again.
This seems fairly likely to me.  I never expected oil prices to crater, but now that they have, it makes a lot of sense that drilling activity might decrease enough that the new production could be less than the decline rate of existing wells.  Once production peaks, it will be hard for drillers to make up that gap.  2015 will definitely be an interesting year in the shale plays.

Monday, December 29, 2014


IONIAN from Ryan Clarke on Vimeo.

Why Can't the World's Best Army Win Wars?

 Reality is a bitch

James Fallows has an excellent cover story in the January/February issue of The Atlantic on why the most expensive and technologically superior army in the world can't win the wars our politicians send it to fight.  You have to read the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:
At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.
Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once....
Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years......
Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.
Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.
There are a lot of things which contribute to our lack of success in the wars we fight: ignorance of other cultures, foolish civilian leadership, yes-man military brass, crooked contractors, an uninterested citizenry which is unwilling to sacrifice, but most significantly, stupid plans for post-war occupation and rebuilding.  The people who put forth the idea that we would be welcomed as liberators were either idiots or knaves.  We think we can convert others to our way-of-life at gunpoint, when we would never do the same if somebody else tried that here.  For some reason, we can't get through our fat heads that people whose family members are killed by our weapons are going to see us as occupiers, and we have neither the time, money or motivation to be British-style imperialists.  We've wasted 13 years and at least $1.5 trillion, and all we have to show for it is a few thousand dead Americans, a few dozen thousand dead Iraqis and Afghanis, and several failed states.  Even after all that, most of the American public won't even acknowledge that none of this was done to "protect our freedom."  We are idiots.  Anyway, read the article.  It is very good, but it understates how badly we've fucked things up since World War II.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day


Unusual Light Pillars over Latvia
Image Credit & Copyright: Aigar Truhin
Explanation: What's happening over that town? Close inspection shows these strange columns of light occur over bright lights, and so likely are light pillars that involve falling ice crystals reflecting back these lights. The above image and several similar images were taken with a standard digital camera in Sigulda, Latvia in late 2009. The reason why these pillars fan out at the top, however, remains a topic for speculation. The air was noted to be quite cold and indeed filled with small ice crystals, just the type known to create several awe-inspiring but well known sky phenomena such as light pillars, sun pillars, sun dogs, and moon halos. The cold and snowy winter occurring this year in parts of Earth's northern hemisphere is giving sky enthusiasts new and typically unexpected opportunities to see several of these unusual optical atmospheric phenomena for themselves.

Dick Cheney and Torture

David Bromwich has a fine essay linking American acceptance of police brutality with acceptance of torture.  It is well worth reading.  I found the description of Dick Cheney's role in pushing the U.S. to torture to be spot on:
The US national security state is the lengthened shadow of Dick Cheney. He made himself a master of the levers of government when he was secretary of defence under George H.W. Bush. His sense of rightful authority will have been confirmed by his regular participation in the continuity-of-government exercises: a yearly ritual enactment of the government’s response to a national catastrophe, begun in the Reagan years and put aside under Clinton, in which the lives of important members of the government and military were preserved at a fortress hideaway, and a design was worked up and executed for a post-constitutional order. An account of these exercises is given in James Mann’s excellent Rise of the Vulcans (2004); a curious detail is that Cheney and his associate Donald Rumsfeld stayed on as participants even when they held no government office.
After the real catastrophe of September 2001, Cheney succeeded in changing America’s idea of itself. He did it with a tireless diligence of manipulation behind the scenes, commonly issuing his orders from a bunker underneath the Naval Observatory in Washington. The element of fear in Cheney is strong: a fact that is often lost in descriptions of him as an undiluted malignity. His words and actions testify to a personal fear so marked that it could project and engender collective fear.
Cheney worked hard to eradicate from the minds of Americans the idea that there can be such a thing as a ‘suspect’. Due process of law rests on the acknowledged possibility that a suspect may be innocent; but, for Cheney, a person interrogated on suspicion of terrorism is a terrorist. To elaborate a view beyond that point, as he sees it, only involves government in a wasteful tangle of doubts. Cheney concedes from time to time that mistakes can happen; but the leading quality of the man is a perfect freedom from remorse. ‘I’d do it again in a minute,’ he said recently of the plan for the interrogation programme and the secret prisons which the office of the vice president vetted and approved.
Cheney is a coward of the first-order.  His demand that the CIA torture highlights his inability to deal with the very, very small chance that we might be subject to another terrorist attack.  He, amongst all the cowards and chickenhawks in the Bush administration, was ready to put other peoples' lives at risk to try to attain the unattainable: total security.  His resort to torture marks an all-time low amongst American statesmen.  All Americans in uniform are more likely to face torture if captured because of him.

Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Gathering of People Ever on Planet Earth

Saturday, December 27, 2014

50 Years of Failure

That's how long Cleveland professional sports teams have been losing:
This Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of Cleveland’s last pro sports championship when the Browns beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 27-0 to win the NFL title, the last for the franchise and the city. Since then, the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers have gone a combined 141 seasons without winning it all.
That’s five decades. That’s 18,262 days. That’s a long time.
“It’s hard to believe,” Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown said. “Because when you look back at 50 years, something’s wrong, because somebody should’ve figured out something. ... We’ve got money and we’ve got a new building and we’ve got green grass and we can draft players, and we can’t do any better than that?”
Cleveland’s title drought is the longest for any North American city with three pro franchises. San Diego has gone 51 years since the Chargers won an AFL title, but the California city no longer has an NBA team and it’s a little easier to handle misery when it’s sunny and 70 most of the year...
It hasn’t all been bad. There have been a few magical seasons, they just didn’t end magically but with heartbreak. The Browns made it to three AFC title games from 1987 to 1990, but lost each time to Denver and quarterback John Elway. Two of those defeats have been given lasting nicknames: “The Drive” and “The Fumble.”
The Indians, who haven’t won a world championship since 1948, ended a 41-year drought by getting to the World Series in 1995 only to lose to Atlanta. Cleveland returned two years later but lost Game 7 in extra innings to Florida.
With All-Stars Mark Price and Brad Daugherty, the Cavaliers had some title-worthy teams in the 1980s that were stopped by Michael Jordan. They made it to the NBA Finals for the first time in 2007 but were swept by San Antonio...
 But on Dec. 27, 1964, when LBJ was in the White House and the Beatles had invaded America, the Browns ruled.
Facing a high-scoring Baltimore squad favored by double digits and loaded with future Hall of Famers like Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry, the Browns won their first title since 1955. Wide receiver Gary Collins caught three touchdown passes in the second half from Frank Ryan, Lou Groza kicked two field goals and Cleveland’s defense pitched an unlikely shutout in front of 79,544 fans.
When he reflects on a game most Cleveland fans know only through black-and-white footage, Brown, who rushed for 114 yards, remembers one play vividly.
“My greatest memory of the game is Galen Fiss breaking through the line and tackling Lenny Moore for about a 7-yard loss,” the 78-year-old Brown said. “Galen was a real fine linebacker, but he wasn’t a great linebacker. But that day he played fantastic. ... After that I think, boy, what a great team effort. This is what team sports are all about.”
The Colts, coached by Don Shula, came in averaging more than 30 points per game. They were expected to bulldoze the Browns, who went 10-3-1 in the regular season under Blanton Collier and had nearly cost themselves a chance at the championship with a late-season loss at St. Louis.
However, they recovered by beating the New York Giants 52-20 to get to their first title game since 1957.
Even worse, it's not like the economy has been kind to Cleveland over this stretch.

Final 2014 Weekend Links

A mixture of new stories and lists of the best of 2014:

Best of Longform: SB Nation's Finest Features of 2014 - SB Nation

Inside the Indiana Megadairy Making Coca-Cola's New Milk - The Salt.  Fair Oaks Farms.

China's Pork Obsession Is Endangering The World - The Economist via Big Picture Agriculture

The Ugly Goatlings of 2014 (Or Stories You Should Have Read) - Modern Farmer

Dealing Christmas Trees In New York City - Priceonomics

A Tree Is Known By It's Fruit - Texas Monthly.  Murder and family secrets.

The Messy Minds of Creative People - Scientific American blog

Chicago gave hundreds of high-risk kids a summer job.  Violent crime arrests plummeted - Wonkblog

As North Dakota Oil Town Booms, a Priest Steadies the Newcomers - New York Times

Oil Jobs Squeezed as Prices Plummet - Wall Street Journal. “Having to do everything yesterday costs a lot of money. People will quit making $150,000 a year for $25,000-a-year skills.” See also, Some States See Budgets at Risk as Oil Price Falls - New York Times

The Best Wired Stories of 2014 - Wired

14 for 2014: Great Reads From The Wall Street Journal - Wall Street Journal

The Real Story of How America Became an Economic Superpower - The Atlantic

Ground Truth: In Dozier's neglected cemetery, a search for lost boys and the reasons why they died - Tampa Bay Times

Longreads Best of 2014 - Longreads

It's a Wonderful Life, Comrade - Truth-out.  How the FBI believed Communists were behind the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, and how Ayn Rand was involved in that report.  Also, Cult Edit of It's A Wonderful Life Is the Best Holiday Movie You've Never Seen - Wired

RAND Corporation report says the Iraq War was George W, Bush's greatest blunder - Raw Story.  News of the Obvious.  Thanks RAND.

Now that the Dow has hit 18,000, let us remember the worst op-ed in history - Wonkblog

Also, I just read James Fallows's cover story in next month's The Atlantic, and it will definitely get a post when it goes up online.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Drilling Permits Cut In Half In Texas

Dallas Morning News:
Oil drilling activity in Texas is falling dramatically, as the steep decline in crude prices since the summer takes hold, state regulators reported Tuesday.
The Texas Railroad Commission issued 1,353 permits for oil drilling last month, 50 percent less than it did the previous month. And in the months ahead, that will likely translate to rigs being shut down and layoffs across oil fields in West and South Texas.
“There’s more to come in the months ahead,” said Pavel Molchanov, an energy analyst with Raymond James. “This isn’t pleasant, but this is how the market rebalances itself.”
For now drilling rig counts are holding relatively steady, as companies wind down their contracts. Since peaking in October, the number of drilling rigs operating in the United States has declined by just 5 percent, according to the oil field service company Baker Hughes.
That number should continue a steady decline as companies make the decision to delay drilling on their leased land.
In recent weeks companies including Conoco Phillips and Marathon have both announced their drilling budgets for next year will be 20 percent less than 2014. For smaller companies, which fill out the bulk of the oil field, the reductions are even more dramatic.
Even so, oil production in Texas continues to grow, as existing wells flow and new wells come online. The Railroad Commission reported Texas produced 2.2 millions barrels a day in October, a modest increase from the previous month.
Production will quickly decline if that trend lasts very long.  That would also make it appear that the Saudis will be able to make the shale drillers the swing producers, and keep their own market share up, as they stated was their intention.  We'll quickly find out how solid all that junk debt the drillers piled up the last few years really is.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MF Global To Pay $1.2 Billion In Restitution

The New York Federal Court ordered MF Global Holdings to pay $1.21 billion in restitution fees, in addition to a $100 penalty, for its unlawful use of customer funds, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said Wednesday.
Litigation continues against ex-MF Global chief Jon Corzine and MF Global's former Assistant Treasurer Edith O'Brien, the CFTC said.

MF Global, a subsidiary of MF Global Holdings, collapsed in 2011 at the height of the European debt crisis when markets became spooked by the firm's $6.3 billion bet on European government bonds. U.S. authorities have accused the firm of using customer money to cover liquidity shortfalls.
The CFTC deemed MFGH responsible for MFGI's failure to notify regulators account deficiencies and its unlawful use of customer segregated funds in 2011.
How does Corzine manage to stay out of jail?

Undercover Christmas

Via Deadspin:

Take five minutes to watch this video of a disguised P.K. Subban surprising some local kids with Habs gear, a day on the ice at the Canadiens' practice rink, and, eventually, himself. If you must, skip to 3:20 for the big reveal—and his refusal to go easy on the young skaters.
Link to the P.K. Subban profile in The New Yorker here.

Cattle Ranching Nuns

Benedectine nuns blend work and prayer on a farm run by the Abbey of St. Walburga near the Colorado-Wyoming border. From left are sisters Maria-Gertrude Reed, Ann Lee, Maria-Walburga Schortemeyer and Elizabeth Baumgartner.
Sonja Salzburg for Harvest Public Media
The Salt:
Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it's not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.
Just 5 miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border you'll find one of these places. Idyllic red farm buildings sit in the shadow of the main abbey, all tucked in a stony valley. At the Abbey of St. Walburga, cattle, water buffalo and llamas graze on grass under the watchful eye of Benedictine nuns.
Sister Maria-Walburga Schortemeyer runs the abbey's ranch. Other sisters volunteer their time to work. The list of agricultural activities is long. In addition to the cows and llamas, the nuns raise chickens and bees, most of which are used in the abbey's kitchen. The water buffalo are the newest addition, brought on in April and milked to make mozzarella cheese. But because the sisters need a health certification for their operation, the cheese-making is currently on pause.
The biggest moneymaker on the farm comes from the beef cattle. The sisters are very aware of their marketing edge, Schortemeyer says.
"We have kind of a corner on the market — you know, nuns selling natural beef. People just kind of believe in it," she says.
Religious orders have a lot of farm operations.  The Congregation of the Holy Cross, which runs the University of Notre Dame, owned almost 1,500 acres until they sold a few years back.  Closer to home, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood own a large farm at the site of their old seminary in Carthagena.  Back in the day, they had plenty of labor and plenty of mouths to feed.  Today, not so much.  But the growth in the local foods movement gives the religious orders much needed income.

An Advertisement Against Religion?

Via the Dish:

Merry Christmas and pass the inclined board, the towel and the water pitcher.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Future of the Bakken

Ron Patterson has been trying to read the tea leaves in the Bakken based on the first 24 hours production numbers in the Bakken.He's starting to see a trend:
It is unclear, to me anyway, whether the lower production per well is because of downspacing, moving further away from the sweet spots, or both. But it is clearly happening. Newer wells, or at least those with higher permit numbers, are definitely coming in with lower production numbers.
In 2015 we will see the squeeze coming in from two sides, fewer wells being drilled and lower production from those that are being drilled. It is my prediction that the Bakken will peak in 2015. In which month it will peak is hard to guess.
But there is a third squeeze, from another side. The junk bonds that many small shale drillers depend on for their financing are dropping through the floor. That means yields are going through the roof.
I've been pretty wrong, both on production from the shale plays, and on oil futures prices, but I'm positive of one thing, the shale plays will peak, and it will be sooner than optimists think.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day


Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky
Image Credit & Copyright: Danilo Pivato
Explanation: Today the solstice occurs at 23:03 Universal Time, the Sun reaching its southernmost declination in planet Earth's sky. Of course, the December solstice marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. When viewed from northern latitudes, and as shown in the above horizontally compressed image, the Sun will make its lowest arc through the sky along the southern horizon. So in the north, the solstice day has the shortest length of time between sunrise and sunset and fewest hours of daylight. This striking composite image follows the Sun's path through the December solstice day of 2005 in a beautiful blue sky, looking down the Tyrrhenian Sea coast from Santa Severa toward Fiumicino, Italy. The view covers about 115 degrees in 43 separate, well-planned exposures from sunrise to sunset.

Oil Prices Through History

From Business Insider:

Our economy has only grown significantly with prices under $40 in 2013 dollars, and only led to a prosperous middle-class around $20.  Think our economic growth was predicated on cheap energy?

The Greatest Example of Wasteful Government Spending

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations have cost the U.S. a combined $1.6 trillion since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new Congressional Research Service analysis.
Through fiscal 2014, which ended in September, Congress approved $815 billion for warfare in Iraq, $686 billion for Afghanistan and other operations against terrorism, $81 billion for other war-designated spending and $27 billion for Operation Noble Eagle air patrols over the U.S., according to the report posted on the agency’s internal website. The total includes $297 billion spent on weapon procurement and war repairs.
The assessment is the agency’s first full update of war costs since March 2011. About 92 percent of the funds went to the Pentagon, followed by the State Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It includes war operations, training and equipping Iraqi and Afghan forces, diplomatic operations and medical care for wounded Americans over the past 13 years, the agency said in the report dated Dec. 8. It also includes most reconstructions costs.
“The main factor determining cost is the number of U.S. troops deployed” at different times, the research service said. U.S. troops in Afghanistan peaked at 100,000 in 2011; there are 11,600 there today as the U.S. withdrawal continues.
The figures include war-related intelligence funding that wasn’t tracked or spent by the Defense Department, according to the report. It wasn’t updated with the $63.7 billion in war spending for the current fiscal year for Afghanistan operations and the first installment of operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The Iraq invasion--initiated on a pledge to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction he didn’t have -- resulted in 4,491 U.S. military and civilian deaths and 32,244 wounded, according to Defense Department data compiled by Bloomberg.
The U.S. invasion to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and remove the Taliban from power has led to 2,356 military and U.S. civilians deaths and 20,060 wounded as of Dec. 16.
In addition, 128,496 U.S. military who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to September data from the Defense Medical Surveillance System.
Unlike academic estimates, which have calculated total costs as much higher, the Congressional Research Service doesn’t include in its calculations the lifetime costs of medical care for disabled veterans, imputed interest on the deficit or potential increases to the base defense budget deemed to be a consequence of the war, according to Amy Belasco, author of the report.
 So the real costs are much higher still, and what did we get for that?  Nothing.  And yet, most politicians, and a sizable number of citizens have learned nothing from these massive fuckups.  Much like in the torture debacle, where all evidence indicates we learned nothing valuable, and were sent chasing fabricated leads, yet many of the same politicians and citizens think torture works, and should be used in the future.  Many of these folks complain that Obama is weakening America, which is a joke, but based on the actions this nation has taken in the 21st century, it appears the nation and the world would likely be better off if we were too weak to project military power and torture interrogations wherever we feel like it.

On the subject of the wastefulness of the military-industrial complex, here is a very good article focusing on the F-35 boondoggle.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

When We Drink the Most

Via Wonkblog:

In this marvelous, modern age, even outlets you hadn't considered offer bits of data. Like the manufacturer of the BACtrack breathalyzer, which plugs into your phone and tells you just how drunk you are. Granted, if you have a portable breathalyzer that you bring with you wherever you go, you probably drink more than the average person.
But after anonymizing and compiling data from those probably-above-average-drinkers, the company released a report with a perhaps-surprising finding: People drink more in the winter. They created this graphic, an interactive version of which is at their site. The darker the color, the higher the average blood alcohol content for the day. (The drunkest day in February? Super Bowl Sunday.)
People drink more in the winter.  No shit.  I think anybody in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota or the Dakotas could tell you that.

Carnivora Gardinum

Weekend Before Christmas Links

If, unlike me, you have your shopping done, you can sit back and enjoy these stories:

An honest game - SBNation.  Life in NAIA football, where players get paid, but only because they aren't able to make it in the big-time.

The Ice Breaker: Can P.K. Subban win over hockey's stoic traditionalists? - The New Yorker.  One of the rarest figures in sports, the black hockey star.

Finding the Cleveland Misery Tipping Point - Bill Simmons.  One thing that makes me smile is how miserable Cleveland fans are.

The Vatican Has a Farm, and Pope Francis Is Going to Open It Up To the Public - Takepart

In Final Spending Bill, Salty Foods and Belching Cows Are Winners - New York Times.  Feeding farmer paranoia about EPA.

How Peppermint Tricks Us Into Feeling (Deliciously) Cold - The Salt.

The secret world of - BBC.  Some strange beer facts, like this:
Knowing that yeast is ubiquitous and that there are thousands of strains, others have taken to novel approaches for harvesting wild yeast from the environment. A US company called Rogue Ales brews one of its beers using yeast cultivated from the beard of the chief brewer.
Waters Warm, and Cod Catch Ebbs in Gulf of Maine - New York Times. This is the kind of climate change impact I fear for Midwestern agriculture.

The largest vessel the world has ever seen - BBC

How Lithium Ion Batteries Grounded the Dreamliner - Scientific American

Bertha, The Giant Borer That Broke, Might Be Sinking Seattle's Downtown - Morning Edition.  Makes the problems in Columbus look pretty minor.

How Long Can the U.S. Oil Boom Last? - National Geographic.  Not nearly as long as the optimists (bullshit artists) claim, but probably longer than I'd figure.

Tough choices amid church mergers - Wall Street Journal.  The challenges facing a Roman Catholic Church with more buildings than they can staff with priests.

Bleeding the IRS Will Make the Tax System Worse - Norm Ornstein.  That's what the saboteurs in the Republican Party want.  They are all for dysfunctional government.  Putting the GOP in power is like making an arsonist the fire chief.

The Greatest Lawyer Who Ever Lived - Texas Monthly

A Self-Made Heiress - Fortune.  The woman who inherited Heineken.  It is a pretty crazy story.

The Unidentified Queen of Torture - The New Yorker.  Only in America. 

Our Favorite Maps of the Year Cover Everything From Bayous to Bullet Trains - Wired.  My favorite:

This map, published this year in Nature, was made by a team of scientists, geographers, and planners who want to see new roads built where they'll do the least environmental harm and the most economic good. Green areas indicate environmental sensitivity, red areas indicate economic potential---the black areas where they meet are sites of potential conflict. William Laurance et al., Nature 
The Chernozem belt covering the Ukraine and Western Russia is amazing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stagg Bowl

Tune in right now to ESPNU to catch the NCAA Division III championship game.  Wisconsin-Whitewater just jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and the announcer said it was the first time all season that Mount Union has trailed.  That is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Photo of the Day

Via the Dish:

Which Republican was the source of each quote here.  I sure wish the Republican party would implode into a bunch of useless small parties which could split the lunatic vote and save us from a dirtbag majority in Congress.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hamilton County Gets Creative Replacing Stadium Seats

Sure, they could be worried about paying for road repairs or public safety, but Hamilton County did find a creative way to save some money while sinking more capital into their sports stadium debacle:
Faced with costs as high as $5 million, desperate county officials ended up turning the job of replacing 39,000 seats into a massive do-it-yourself project. They hired a local firm to design new molds for the seats, found a plastics company to make the seat backs and bottoms, and are paying former jail inmates and others about $10 an hour to install them.
About 17,000 of the new seats already are in place, and county officials say they're stronger, better looking, more durable and less expensive than the originals.
"We think we have not only a better product, it meets all specifications," said Joe Feldkamp, who oversees the stadiums for the county. "We're in the seat business now."
It's not a business the county ever expected to be in, especially so soon after the original seats were installed. Stadium seats typically would be expected to last as long as 20 to 25 years, but Feldkamp said Great American's seats began to fail as early as 2008, just five years after the stadium opened in 2003....
The original contract with Hussey was for about $3.4 million, but quotes from a competitor to replace the seats ran about $5 million. It was the middle of the recession, and the county didn't have that kind of money. Still, the county's lease with the Reds requires it to maintain the seats, and so Feldkamp knew he had to do something.
On a lark, he searched online for some plastic mold companies and found Borke Mold Specialists Inc. in West Chester. He drove to the company headquarters with a cracked plastic seat and asked company president Fritz Borke if there was anything he could do.
Borke, whose company usually makes molds for things like airplane food trays, told Feldkamp he could "reverse-engineer" the molds, essentially making molds from the existing seats instead of the other way around. The county then hired Pinnacle Plastic Products in Bowling Green, Ohio, to pour gobs of hot plastic into the molds.
I love the Reds, and I am a Bengals fan in spite of Mike Brown, but the Hamilton County stadium deal is the absolute worst kind of corporate welfare.  The deal is an albatross tied around the necks of Hamilton County taxpayers, and the beneficiaries are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  Instead of investing in infrastructure, public safety, public health, education or any number of other legitimate governmental expenditures, the county invested in palaces for professional sports teams.  They aren't the only ones who did this, but they pretty much made the worst deal in the United States.

The Most Distinctive Job in Each State


Texas is full of oilmen, and Kentucky and West Virginia are big on mining. That's pretty obvious, but some states have disproportionate employment in less intuitive categories. New Hampshire is all about forest fire prevention, Missouri likes to split rocks, and Mississippi is for upholsterers....
On a technical level, what this map looks at are location quotients. These are calculated by the Labor Department's Occupational Employment Statistics operation every few years. The most recent one was completed in May of 2013. The way it works is you look at what share of people in Massachusetts are Industrial Organization Psychologists. Then you look at what share of people in America are Industrial Organizational Psychologists. The ratio between the two is the location quotient for Industrial Organization Psychologists in Massachusetts — 8.18, as it happens.
It makes sense that Wisconsin would have a disproportionate share of animal breeders (with a large number of dairy farms, there would be a sizable number of artificial insemination technicians), Iowa would have the highest percentage of soil and plant scientists and Washington would have the most aircraft manufacturers per capita, but I'm surprised that Indiana, despite the nickname of Purdue University would have a disproportionate number of boilermakers.  I'm guessing it has to do with the steel mills in Gary, Indiana Harbor and Burns Harbor maybe.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

December 12:

Crystals on Mars
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS
Explanation: This extreme close-up, a mosaic from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the Curiosity rover, spans a breathtaking 5 centimeters. It captures what appear to be elongated crystal shapes formed by the precipitation of minerals dissolved in water, a likely result of the evaporation of ancient lake or river from the Martian surface. Brushed by a dust removal tool and illuminated by white LEDs, the target rock named Mojave was found on the Pink Cliffs outcrop of the Pahrump Hills at the base of Mount Sharp. The MAHLI images were acquired on Curiosity's sol 809, known on planet Earth as November 15, 2014. Of course, the inset 1909 Lincoln Cent image is provided for a comparison scale. Covered with Mars dust itself, the penny is a MAHLI calibration target attached to the rover.

When Cotton Was King

In this piece at The Atlantic, there are some amazing statistics about how cotton dominated world trade at the start of the Civil War:
By the time shots were fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, cotton was the core ingredient of the world’s most important manufacturing industry. The manufacture of cotton yarn and cloth had grown into “the greatest industry that ever had or could by possibility have ever existed in any age or country,” according to the self-congratulatory but essentially accurate account of British cotton merchant John Benjamin Smith. By multiple measures—the sheer numbers employed, the value of output, profitability—the cotton empire had no parallel.
One author boldly estimated that in 1862, fully 20 million people worldwide—one out of every 65 people alive—were involved in the cultivation of cotton or the production of cotton cloth. In England alone, which still counted two-thirds of the world’s mechanical spindles in its factories, the livelihood of between one-fifth and one-fourth of the population was based on the industry; one-tenth of all British capital was invested in it, and close to one-half of all exports consisted of cotton yarn and cloth. Whole regions of Europe and the United States had come to depend on a predictable supply of cheap cotton. Except for wheat, no “raw product,” so the Journal of the Statistical Society of London declared, had “so complete a hold upon the wants of the race.”
The industry that brought great wealth to European manufacturers and merchants, and bleak employment to hundreds of thousands of mill workers, had also catapulted the United States onto center stage of the world economy, building “the most successful agricultural industry in the States of America which has been ever contemplated or realized. Cotton exports alone put the United States on the world economic map. On the eve of the Civil War, raw cotton constituted 61 percent of the value of all U.S. products shipped abroad. Before the beginnings of the cotton boom in the 1780s, North America had been a promising but marginal player in the global economy.
Now, in 1861, the flagship of global capitalism, Great Britain, found itself dangerously dependent on the white gold shipped out of New York, New Orleans, Charleston, and other American ports. By the late 1850s, cotton grown in the United States accounted for 77 percent of the 800 million pounds of cotton consumed in Britain. It also accounted for 90 percent of the 192 million pounds used in France, 60 percent of the 115 million pounds spun in the Zollverein, and 92 percent of the 102 million pounds manufactured in Russia.
That is amazing. The article goes on to describe how the world economy adapted to the interruption of cotton exports from the Confederate States during the war.  I'm just amazed at how things were beforehand.

Familiar Foes

For the ninth time in ten years, Mount Union will meet Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl next weekend.  Mount Union dismantled Wesley, 70-21, while Wisconsin-Whitewater held on to beat Linfield 20-14.  This is Mount Union's tenth straight appearance in the Division III championship game (they beat St. Thomas in 2012), but Whitewater has won their last four meetings against Mount Union, and five out of the last six.  The last time neither team played in the game was 2004, when Linfield beat Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Time Capsule from 1795 Found in Massachusetts State House

Sure, Ohio wasn't yet a state, but Samuel Adams and Paul Revere were placing a time capsule in the cornerstone of the State House building in Boston (h/t Kaye):
A chance discovery by a group of repairmen in Boston has led to the unearthing of a centuries-old time capsule, believed to have been buried there in the 1790s by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.
The antique time capsule, which had been placed in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House, was discovered this week when workers who had been repairing a water leak at the building stumbled upon it, CNN reports.
Museum of Fine Arts conservator Pamela Hatchfield was promptly called in for her expertise, and on Thursday, after about seven hours of painstaking, backbreaking work, she -- with the help of several workers -- successfully extricated the almost cigar box-sized container from its burial place....
The time capsule is believed to have first been buried at the State House in 1795 by revolutionary war hero Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, who was the governor of Massachusetts at the time. It’s thought to be one of the oldest time capsules in the United States.
According to the Boston Globe, the antique container was unearthed once before, in 1855, when emergency repairs to the foundation reportedly led to its temporary removal. However, it hasn’t seen the light of day since. 
As for what treasures the capsule may contain, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin told CNN the box is known to house “a Paul Revere plate, papers, and coins from the 1600s," among other artifacts. The condition of the container's contents, however, remains unknown.
Galvin said that the capsule will be X-rayed and examined by experts, and its contents will likely be revealed to the public next week.
I would expect those coins would be pretty valuable.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fog-filled Grand Canyon

From Vox:

What'd You Say The Breakeven Price on Shale Oil Was?

This month's Director's Cut from the North Dakota Industrial Commission:
Sep Sweet Crude Price = $74.85/barrel
Oct Sweet Crude Price = $68.94/barrel
Nov Sweet Crude Price = $60.61/barrel
Today Sweet Crude Price = $41.75/barrel (lowest since March 2009)
(all-time high was $136.29 7/3/2008)....
Rig count in the Williston Basin is set to fall rapidly during the first quarter of 2015.
Production was level from last month to this month.  The next few months might be very interesting.

Mid-December Weekend Links

Stories for the weekend:

How Japan Built The World's Best Horse Racing - Deadspin

Larry Bird's Greatest Shot Was the One He Didn't Take - Indianapolis Monthly

Egg Market Disrupted in U.S. as Cages Made Roomier: Commodities - Bloomberg

Milk prices are about to fall big time - Farm and Dairy. Maybe that will offset the more expensive eggs.

The Dark Side of Donkey Basketball, and In American Southern Literature, The Mule Must Die - Modern Farmer.  It is Donkey week at Modern Farmer.

New Aluminum 'Foam' Makes Trains Stronger, Lighter and Safer - Wired.  Pretty cool shit.

A Coal Plant That Buries Its Greenhouse Gases - MIT Technology Review.  Cool, but I don't think it is commercially viable.

Livin' Thing: An Oral History of 'Boogie Nights' - Grantland.  It's Paul Thomas Anderson week at Grantland.

19 Secrets of UPS Drivers - Mental Floss

20 Maps That Never Happened - Vox

California drought, visualized with open data - USGS.  Very cool.

Mike Pence lays out vision for a presidential campaign. But will he be a candidate? - Washington Post.  Mike Pence isn't the smartest man in any room.  How pathetic will the 2016 race be?

The Architect of the CIA's Torture Program - Vice News.  What a fucked up mess.

The War Hero and the Chicken Hawk - Timothy Egan.  Dick Cheney should be on trial in the U.S., or failing that, at The Hague.

The rise of rich man's subprime - Fortune.  On loans against portfolios.

Unemployment and Inflation - Pieria.  It's Minsky's world, and we're just living in it.

The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind - New York Times.  Also, see Why America's middle class is lost - Washington Post

Cool maps show where all 4 college football playoff teams get players from - SBNation

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life at the Top

Some people have way too much money:

From Drought to Deluge

Scientific American:

The San Francisco Bay Area is getting flooded with relentless rain and strong winds, just like it did a week ago, and fears of rising water are now becoming very serious. Major news stations, weather channels, Web outlets and social media are all suddenly talking about the “atmospheric river” that is bringing deluge after deluge to California, as well as the coast of Washington. What is this thing? How rare is it? And how big of a threat could it be? Here are some answers. And see our graphics, below, taken from a brilliant and prescient feature article written by Michael Dettinger and Lynn Ingram in Scientific American in January 2013.
Not interested? In 1861 an atmospheric river that brought storms for 43 days turned California’s Central Valley into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide. Thousands of people died, 800,000 cattle drowned and the state went bankrupt. A similar disaster today would be much more devastating, because the region is much more populated and it is the single largest food producer in the U.S.
So maybe 1861 was an oddity. Not really. Geologic core samples show that extreme floods like the one in 1861 have happened in California about every 200 years, since the year 200 A.D. So the next disaster could be coming around the bend. The West Coast has actually been slowly constructing large, specialized, meteorological observatories that can sense atmospheric rivers as they develop, so forecasters can give early warnings.
An atmospheric river is a conveyor belt of vapor that extends thousands of miles from out at sea, carrying as much water as 15 Mississippi Rivers. It strikes as a series of storms that arrive for days or weeks on end. Each storm can dump inches of rain or feet of snow. Meteorologists sometimes call small occurrences “pineapple expresses,” because they tend to flow in a straight line from around Hawaii toward the U.S. West Coast. The graphic below explains the details.
God help the Sacramento River delta if the levees were to fail. Real-time weather data here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Warriors, Not War Criminal Cowards

Unlike the Bush administration, these guys wouldn't resort to torture, because they had actually fought wars and weren't chickenshit cowards. 

There is a special place in Hell for all the lying, torturing scumbags involved with the CIA "interrogation" operations.  They'll never see justice in a nation where one political party is pro-torture, and the other is too scared to rock the boat and prosecute the lowlifes who continue to pretend that they got anything useful from breaking out the Nazi playbook on their powerless captives.  What a difference a generation makes.

Farmers Better Be Careful

The business-friendly Republicans may be in charge of Congress, but Bloomberg isn't buying the opposition to the Waters of the United States rule:
The signs of deteriorating water quality are particularly acute in agricultural areas. For example, the Des Moines, Iowa, water works is having trouble controlling the amount of nitrates in local drinking water. This pollutant exceeded permissible levels of 10 milligrams per liter in one of the utility's main water sources, according to a September letter from water works manager William G. Stowe to the Des Moines Register. Nitrates are especially toxic to infants and at that level can cause blue baby syndrome -- a form of oxygen starvation.
Des Moines's water system spent an additional $1 million in 2013 to filter out nitrates, Stowe wrote, and costs will inevitably rise. The reasons for the contamination are clear: Farms in Iowa and elsewhere can skirt regulations to control the runoff of noxious chemicals derived from fertilizers into rivers. As Stowe wrote:
The intensive corn-soybean cropping system that occupies much of our watersheds `requires' massive amounts of fertilizer applications and agricultural tile drainage to maximize yields. Application of unlimited manure from growing animal feeding operations and commercial fertilizer and the ease in transporting these pollutants to our rivers through drainage systems has significantly, and increasingly, degraded water quality.
Until industrial agriculture is no longer exempt from regulations needed to protect water quality, we will continue to see water quality degrade and our consumers will continue to pay.
 The new rules seek to address the loophole. They would ensure existing regulations apply to protected bodies of water, limiting how much pollution is allowed and establishing a permitting process so that industry would have clear guidelines to establish waste outflows.
Opponents seem to have forgotten that the EPA's proposed rules were initially sought by agricultural interests, real-estate developers and state and local governments as a way to clarify regulatory ambiguity, caused, in part, by a pair of Supreme Court rulings. Waters of the U.S. would use technical and scientific analysis to say where the Clean Water Act applies and where it doesn't, including rivers and streams where farms now discharge polluted runoff....
It's a shame that rather than seeking an honest discussion, some opponents are relying on a misinformation campaign that contains gross distortions and outright falsehoods. To cite a few:
-- Every ditch would be subject to EPA oversight, as would puddles on homeowners' driveways and schoolyard playgrounds.
-- The rules give the federal government control of all farming and real-estate development.
-- The enforcement of the rules would amount to the biggest land grab in U.S. history.
If you want to see a corrective to this hyperbole, the EPA has developed a page of rebuttals called "Ditch the Myth."
Regrettably, and perhaps predictably, the House of Representatives heard the plaints of industry. In September it passed the Waters of the U.S. Regulatory Overreach Protection Act -- the title is self-explanatory -- which would block the rules from formal adoption. The bill passed with almost all Republicans in favor and most Democrats opposed.
Farmers couldn't choose worse people to partner with than idiot Republicans.  If they aren't careful and don't get their shit together (literally, in the case of manure management), they will end up facing a serious regulatory burden.  Situations like the algae incident in Toledo this summer make farmers look really bad.  Being stupid about regulation makes them look even worse.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Buried In Corn

Erica Hayasaki tells the story of Will Piper, who survived being trapped in a grain bin while two of his friends perished:
It felt like an 80,000-pound semi-truck had parked on Will Piper’s chest. He could still breathe, just barely, but his body and neck were encased in corn, and the kernels kept falling.
For two hours, 20-year-old Will had been trapped in corn bin number nine, on a grain storage facility in Mount Carroll, Illinois. It was July 28, 2010, and Will had started his morning at work, cleaning the grain bin with two of his buddies, Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex “Paco” Pacas, 19. Now both of his friends were submerged, and probably dead, though Will did not want to admit that yet.
Bin number nine was 118 feet in diameter and about as tall as eight grown men stacked one-by-one atop each other’s shoulders. It could hold around 500,000 bushels of corn, and today it was about half full. From close up, the kernels were crumbled from recent rains, greenish and moldy, like decaying teeth. Inside of the bin the kernels had fused together, caking up the sides like walls of honeycomb. The air smelled like rotten potatoes.....
In a pool or river drowning, a person inhales water, which floods the lungs and replaces air. The water permeates through the bloodstream, depriving the body of oxygen, seeping into the red blood cells, which break apart.
In a corn drowning, pressure from the kernels on the rib muscles and diaphragm can become so intense that they prevent any breath at all. Instead of drawing in air and releasing it by expanding the chest, everything gets compressed, forcing the rib muscles to exhale unnaturally, with no more ability to inhale. The air that is already in the lungs gets trapped, unable to get out. And more air can’t come in. This is called compressional or traumatic asphyxia.
The second deadly part of a corn drowning comes from suffocation—the kernels that block the mouth and nose. There is an overpowering urge and desperation to inhale, but it’s impossible. A terror-filled one to two minutes follows. That’s how long it takes to lose consciousness from lack of oxygen to the brain....
In a pool or river drowning, a person inhales water, which floods the lungs and replaces air. The water permeates through the bloodstream, depriving the body of oxygen, seeping into the red blood cells, which break apart.
In a corn drowning, pressure from the kernels on the rib muscles and diaphragm can become so intense that they prevent any breath at all. Instead of drawing in air and releasing it by expanding the chest, everything gets compressed, forcing the rib muscles to exhale unnaturally, with no more ability to inhale. The air that is already in the lungs gets trapped, unable to get out. And more air can’t come in. This is called compressional or traumatic asphyxia.
The second deadly part of a corn drowning comes from suffocation—the kernels that block the mouth and nose. There is an overpowering urge and desperation to inhale, but it’s impossible. A terror-filled one to two minutes follows. That’s how long it takes to lose consciousness from lack of oxygen to the brain.
Read the whole thing.  The damn shame is that everybody knows that walking grain is very dangerous, but yet:
This year is expected to be the deadliest for corn drownings since 2010, when 31 people died in 59 grain-bin entrapments, according to Professor Bill Field, who for five decades has documented such accidents as part of Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety & Health Program. On average, children and young men under age 21 make up one in five grain-bin accident victims.
It's just stupid that this happens so often.  More on grain bin deaths here.

Ralph Baer, Father of Video Games, Dies

Ralph H. Baer, the man widely acknowledged as the "father of video games" for his pioneering work in electronics and television engineering, died on Saturday at his home in Manchester, N.H. He was 92....
As the New York Times describes it, it was a sultry summer day in 1966 when Baer — who was working as an engineer for defense contractor Sanders Associates, now part of BAE Systems — scribbled out a four-page description for "game box" that would allow people to play action, sports and other games on a television set.
One Sanders executive saw potential in Baer's idea and gave him $2,500 and two engineers to work on the project. Over the years they churned out seven prototypes in a secret workshop, before landing on a version that Baer and Sanders would use to file the first video game patent in 1971.
The "Brown Box" was licensed to Magnavox and went on sale as the Odyssey in 1972 — the world's first video game system. The primitive system was all hardware and used "program cards" for games. Plastic overlays for the television screen provided color. Priced at $100 (though Baer had recommended $19.95), the Odyssey sold more than 100,000 units its first year and 300,000 by 1975.
When Atari's Pong debuted just months after the Odyssey went to market, Sanders and Magnavox sued them for copyright infringement. The case was settled for $700,000 and Atari became an Odyssey licensee. Over 20 years, Magnavox won more than $100 million in patent lawsuits involving the Odyssey, according to the New York Times.
Baer went on to hold more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents for his inventions, including everything from talking door mats and an automatic tone arm for programmable record players. Among his other famous inventions was the electronic memory game Simon, which he created with Howard Morrison, that went on to be a pop sensation and is still sold today.
My aunt had an Odyssey, and I would watch her and her friends play it.  I don't remember ever getting to play it, but it may have been that I did, and I only really remember all the times I wanted to play it and didn't get to.

Here's a video profile of Baer from 2012.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

December 6:

Orion Launch
Image Credit: NASA, Bill Ingalls
Explanation: Headed for two orbits of planet Earth and a splashdown in the Pacific, Orion blazed into the early morning sky on Friday at 7:05am ET. The spacecraft was launched atop a United Launch Aliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its first voyage into space on an uncrewed flight test, the Orion traveled some 3,600 miles from Earth, about 15 times higher than the orbital altitude of the International Space Station. In fact, Orion traveled farther into space than any spacecraft designed for astronauts since the Apollo missions to the Moon. The Orion crew module reached speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere about 4.5 hours after launch.

Activist Investors Vs. The Timkens

The New York Times has an interesting profile of the division of Timken into separate bearing and steel businesses:
Crunching reams of data in search of undervalued stocks, analysts at Relational Investors, a firm that manages $6 billion mostly on behalf of pension funds, happened upon a Canton company called Timken, which was in the unglamorous business of making steel and bearings. Controlled by the Timken family for more than a century, the company looked cheap compared with its industrial peers, at least according to Relational’s analysis. A few more calculations suggested that Timken’s shares might fetch more if the company were split in two....
The heart of the Calstrs/Relational argument was that the two companies should trade as pure plays, with investors deciding for themselves whether to bet on the faster-growing but more volatile steel business or the more mature but highly profitable bearing business.
Timken executives fought back, making the case for keeping bearings and steel under one roof. Bearings require specialized steel that can, for example, withstand enormous pressure deep underwater in an offshore oil well. The metallurgical expertise the steel unit acquired in creating these advanced materials, they said, translated into products for other customers like medical device makers and drillers.
There were other structural reasons for the two companies to stay together. Because the steel business can be very profitable but is much more volatile, the bearings division served as ballast for the combined company. Excess cash from the bearing side smoothed out those peaks and valleys and helped pay for big investments like the huge caster.
But Mr. Larrieu and Relational maintained that if the money couldn’t be invested in the business now or in the foreseeable future, it should be returned to shareholders, who are, after all, the owners of the company...
Although Mr. Timken is on the board of the new bearing company, its chief executive is not a family member. And the new management seems to be hewing more closely to the activists’ playbook.
Buried in a November Timken investor presentation is a chart bound to please Wall Street. Titled “Yesterday and Tomorrow,” it sketches how capital was allocated before the split, and how it will be used now. Pension fund contributions drop from nearly a third of cash flow to near zero, while capital spending is roughly halved. And instead of using 12 percent of cash flow to buy back stock, share repurchases will consume nearly half of cash flow over the next 18 months. In other words, less cash is being invested in the business or earmarked for benefits to employees, and more money is going to investors. While TimkenSteel’s board has authorized a three million share buyback by the end of 2016, Timken has plans to repurchase 10 million shares by the end of next year.
Even if TimkenSteel and Timken manage to avoid a takeover for the time being, the separation is likely to make both firms more vulnerable over time, said Suzanne Berger, a professor of political science at M.I.T. who researches globalization, innovation and production.
Not only will they both be less financially nimble than before, she said, the steel maker in particular will lack the scale to invest and innovate the way it could under the old corporate structure. Foreign steel makers in Asia and Europe are vastly larger, and face much less pressure for short-term results, enabling them to pour more money back into their businesses.
“In the microcosm of Timken, you can see the larger forces playing out in manufacturing in America,” said Ms. Berger, who studied the company for a 2013 book she wrote, “Making in America.” “It’s not classic greed, like ‘Barbarians at the Gate.’ But we’ve set up financial markets in a way that’s injurious to long-term investment and industrial companies.”
“We’ve got a financial system in the U.S.,” she said, “where California teachers have to protect their pension funds by hurting manufacturing in Ohio.”
Goddamned MBAs and the "world's dumbest idea," the belief that corporations' only goal should be to maximize shareholder value, have ruined our country's economy.  The Timkens have run their business the right way, and a bunch of outsiders looking for an easy score have come in and fucked everything up.  Just reading about the plans for the bearing company lead me to believe that it will be a shell of itself in the not-too-distant future.  It's also telling that Ward Timken decided to stay on the steel side of the business.  The fact that the outside investors didn't understand the obvious connection between the steel business and the bearing business makes me think they don't know their asses from a hole in the ground.  If you want to know why our manufacturing economy has been dismantled in the past 40 years, you don't have to look beyond this story.  As much as I wish that more American workers had pensions to rely on, it is the financial decisions made by giant pension funds that are at the heart of the rise of the belief in maximizing shareholder value.  That has been terrible.

Columbus Tunnel Project Sees Unexpected Challenges

Water and a giant hunk of bedrock 200 feet beneath Columbus has bogged down the city’s giant boring machine, leading to a two-year delay and a $29.5 million cost overrun.
The machine, nicknamed “Marsha,” is boring a 4.5-mile, 23-foot-wide tunnel that was originally to be completed this month. The tunnel is supposed to catch sewer overflows that would otherwise spill into the Scioto River during storms. The project was originally estimated to cost $342 million....
The $26 million custom machine, like something out of science fiction, was built to drill through mostly dry bedrock. But city engineers’ estimate of water levels didn’t account for millions of gallons of water that travel underground, below the Scioto River.
Instead of grinding through dry rock, Marsha was choking on a water/rock/mud mixture called slurry, which is kind of like wet concrete.
The 500-foot-long drilling machine is a cross between a submarine and a huge mechanical worm with a 95-ton cutting wheel on the front. The machine was built in Germany to digest dry rock by sending it back through a crushing screw shaft in its belly, depositing the crushed rock on conveyers that take it to the surface.
The Kenny Construction Co., based in Illinois, and the Japanese-based Obayashi group designed Marsha based on specifications provided by the city....
Marsha was to be able to drill through and remove about 68 feet of dry rock a day, or about 40 feet a day if there was water. The steel cutters on the machine have to be replaced about every 500 feet.
But the unexpected amount of water in the ground forced it to remain closed. The pipes weren’t big enough to handle the slurry because large chunks of rock would make it through the grinder.
For much of the past two years, Marsha has drilled about 25 feet per day.
At one point when the cutters needed to be replaced, the city had to hire expert divers for $1 million. The divers could work only for minutes at a time in the high-pressure underground water to replace the cutting wheels.
Davies said engineers then spent nearly a year reconfiguring Marsha with new, larger pipes and ripping out the conveyer system to add another large screw that would break down the rock even more.
Dax Blake, an engineer and the city’s sewers and drains administrator, said the city had drilled about 200 holes to test the ground before the project began.
“You never really know what’s that far underground, so all we could do was take those samples and calculate out what was down there,” he said.
 Wow, 200 test holes is a bunch.  I bet some engineer is feeling pretty bad about this project.