Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Getting a Little Superstitious

Between 1919 and 1978, 11 horses that won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness went on to win the Belmont Stakes. In the 36 years since then, though, the 12 horses that won the first two legs of racing’s Triple Crown faltered before they got to the finish line — or even the starting gate — at Belmont Park.
Some superstitious New Yorkers say the recent record losing streak is not coincidental. They attribute it to a discordant break with tradition in 1997, one that might have California Chrome listening with a cocked ear on June 7 as he struts out of the tunnel leading to the track for the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes.
Call it the curse of Mamie O’Rourke — she is a character who pops up in “Sidewalks of New York,” a century-old song that had been considered the city’s anthem and that had been played at Belmont for decades as the horses made their way to the starting gate.
But in 1997, after racing officials deemed it too fusty, the song was replaced with “New York, New York,” which Frank Sinatra Jr. is scheduled to sing at Belmont this year. In 2010, hoping to appeal to an even hipper audience, officials experimented with Jay Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind,” but that proved too cutting-edge for the crowd.....
Belmont officials, bereft of a Triple Crown winner since 1978, are taking no chances and are resurrecting Mamie. After questions were raised, they said they would ask Sam (Sammy the Bugler) Grossman to play “Sidewalks” on his herald trumpet just before the Stakes, instead of before the Manhattan Handicap, an earlier race, as he usually does.
Good luck to California Chrome in his dash for immortality a week from Saturday.  

The Changing Map

The window for conservatives to accede to reality is swiftly closing:

I can't think of another display of such hateful, willful blindness to reality and common sense than the still bitter fight that conservatives continue to mount against gay marriage.  If I Republican legislator in any of the states which still had a ban, I would sponsor legislation to overturn it.  It's much better to get right with history and admit your prior stupidity and bigotry than to go down in flames claiming to be on God's side (which, if He or She or It is around, I'm guessing is incorrect).

Fox in the Henhouse

Actually, barnyard is more accurate.  I had lost a couple of chickens this weekend, and I was assuming a raccoon had come around again and made a home in my barn.  Yesterday, I let the chickens out of the coop since it was so hot out, even though I was afraid one or two might disappear if said raccoon got hungry.  I was driving up the back lane after working some washouts in a field, and happened to see two chickens in the pasture behind the barn fighting.  One chicken jumped on the other, they tumbled a little, then the chicken jumped on the other again.  As I got closer, the one took off, and I realized it was a red fox.  Disappearing chicken mystery solved.  I did end up losing one of the hens, but I found another one outside today healing up.  I already had a live trap out to catch the raccoon I was expecting to find, but I don't expect the fox to be dumb enough to wander in there.  To be honest, even if I did catch the fox, I would probably violate my 'dead trap' rule (nothing live leaves the live trap) and haul the fox off to another farm where I don't have chickens to fall prey to him.  You just don't see red foxes around very much any more.  In other wildlife sightings, I saw seven deer in the field I tried to plant last night, along with one coyote, and I saw another coyote (or maybe the same one) today when I actually got the field planted.  130 acres of beans to go right now.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

The Door to Hell

Smithsonian features the fiery sinkhole in Turkmenistan:

So how did this fiery inferno end up in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan? In 1971, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, a group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields. They found what they thought to be a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which couldn't support the weight of their equipment. The site collapsed, taking their equipment along with it—and the event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters by the time all was said and done.
The largest of these craters measures about 230-feet across and 65-feet deep. Reportedly, no one was injured in the collapse, but the scientists soon had another problem on their hands: the natural gas escaping from the crater. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which, though not toxic, does displace oxygen, making it difficult to breathe. This wasn't so much an issue for the scientists, but for the animals that call the Karakum Desert home—shortly after the collapse, animals roaming the area began to die. The escaping methane also posed dangers due to its flammability—there needs to be just five percent methane in the air for an explosion to potentially take place. So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks' time.
It's not as outlandish as it sounds—in oil and natural gas drilling operations, this happens all the time to natural gas that can't be captured. Unlike oil, which can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas needs to be immediately processed—if there's an excess of natural gas that can't be piped to a processing facility, drillers often burn the natural gas to get rid of it. It's a process called "flaring," and it wastes almost a million dollars of worth of natural gas each day in North Dakota alone.
But unlike drillers in North Dakota or elsewhere, the scientists in Turkmenistan weren't dealing with a measured amount of natural gas—scientists still don't know just how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was supposed to be a few-week burn has turned into almost a half-century-long desert bonfire.
Previously covered here and here.

NASA Photo of the Day

A relatively local one.  May 24:

A Circumhorizontal Arc Over Ohio
Image Credit & Copyright: Todd Sladoje
Explanation: Why would clouds appear to be different colors? The reason here is that ice crystals in distant cirrus clouds are acting like little floating prisms. Sometimes known as a fire rainbow for its flame-like appearance, a circumhorizon arc lies parallel to the horizon. For a circumhorizontal arc to be visible, the Sun must be at least 58 degrees high in a sky where cirrus clouds are present. Furthermore, the numerous, flat, hexagonal ice-crystals that compose the cirrus cloud must be aligned horizontally to properly refract sunlight in a collectively similar manner. Therefore, circumhorizontal arcs are quite unusual to see. This circumhorizon display was photographed through a polarized lens above Dublin, Ohio in 2009.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Challenges Facing Shale Gas

Leaving aside issues of what all the fracking for gas might be doing to our drinking water and the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, there is no question that fracking-for-gas has increased our supplies rapidly in the last few years. However, like all good things the rate of growth in our natural gas production is slowing rapidly and may even stop growing long before most expect. U.S. natural gas production grew by seven percent in 2011 and five percent in 2012, but only by one percent in 2013. Some 75 percent of the growth in U.S. natural gas production is now coming from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Nearly everywhere else in the country, production is flat or declining.
The gas industry’s underlying problem in recent years has been overproduction, which has kept market prices below the costs of production in many areas. Some gas fields produce “wet” gas, which contains valuable liquids that can be sold to offset the loss of producing gas alone. Unfortunately the most productive region of the Marcellus shale gas field is largely “dry” gas, so that many areas drillers are losing money on every well drilled but are forced to keep drilling and fracking to meet contractual obligations.
Another factor having a major impact on growing our gas supply is that when one strikes gas in the hills of Pennsylvania, there is no easy way to get it to market. While pipelines are being built or upgraded, many wells are shut-in or are forced to sell their gas locally at a steep discount to the prevailing national price. Until recently Wall Street has been happy to finance the billions being spent on drilling and fracking money-losing wells. Loans to money-losing natural gas projects presumably were made in hopes that natural gas prices would soon rise to profitable levels and the money would be paid back. However, basic economics is starting to kick in and it seems as if drilling-at-a-loss may not have much of a future. If this happens, it clearly will not be good for refilling our gas caverns for the winters ahead. The whole issue is murky at the minute. The number of rigs drilling in the Marcellus shale has fallen in recent years, but the industry says it has gotten so much better at drilling and fracking gas wells that the lost drilling rigs were no longer needed. The issue is further muddied by some recent natural gas production reports from the Department of Energy that conflict with other reporting suggesting that some of our gains in natural gas production may be optimistic estimates rather than fact.
The article focuses on the challenges of adding to gas storage caverns before winter comes.  This previous winter shows how extreme weather stresses an energy system that is nearly maxed out, with little in the way of margin for error.  That is the biggest reason that eternal growth is unattainable.  The economic challenges of the past 40 years can be traced to the energy crisis of the early '70s.  Other factors have played a role, too, but the transition from cheap energy to more expensive energy has been very bumpy.  I anticipate it will get worse, and that in the not-too-distant future.

One Final Time

Jim Nabors gives his final performance of "Back home Again in Indiana" at the Indy 500 today:
This year marks the last time Jim Nabors will sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" before the Indianapolis 500.
The tradition goes back to 1972 and fans had a special opportunity Friday to talk with Nabors and say thanks.
The actor and singer is legendary at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and has become synonymous with race day and his rendition of the song.
RTV6 Sports Director Dave Furst joined the 83-year-old for a question and answer session. Fans gave Nabors a warm reception and asked how his yearly performance began.
Nabors first sang the song in 1972 at the request of then-IMS owner Tony Hulman. Nabors told the crowd that he thought he would be singing the national anthem only to learn five minutes before the race it was actually "Back Home Again in Indiana" that he would be performing.
Fans also asked Nabors who should replace him at the race and he said he thinks the crowd should sing the song -- not just one performer.
 Just one more thing that's changing at the Indianapolis 500.  I can remember when the 500 dominated the sports section for the entire month of May.  The Wide World of Sports would broadcast qualifying and radio stations would broadcast live on Carburetion Day.  Then we'd listen to the race on the radio during the day, and watch the tape delay broadcast in primetime.  It seems like it was a different world than the one we live in now.

Fire, in Slow Motion

Here is some lab work I could get into: