Saturday, October 11, 2014

Columbus Day Weekend Links

Here are some entertaining stories for your weekend:

The best of Bad St. Louis Cardinals Writing - SBNation.  Also, to dampen down the Cardinals fans are great meme, we've got: Some Fools Are Selling Darren Wilson Cardinals Shirts - Deadspin

Hunter S. Thompson's 1958 cover letter for a newspaper job - BoingBoing

Finding a Video Poker Bug Made These Guys Rich, Then Vegas Made Them Pay - Wired

Shale Boom Tested as Sub-$90 Oil Threatens U.S. Drillers - Bloomberg

The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy - IEEE Spectrum.
On 23 December 1924, a group of leading international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would alter the world for decades to come. Present were top representatives from all the major lightbulb manufacturers, including Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric. As revelers hung Christmas lights elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the worldwide incandescent lightbulb market, with each national and regional zone assigned its own manufacturers and production quotas. It was the first cartel in history to enjoy a truly global reach.
The cartel’s grip on the lightbulb market lasted only into the 1930s. Its far more enduring legacy was to engineer a shorter life span for the incandescent lightbulb. By early 1925, this became codified at 1,000 hours for a pear-shaped household bulb, a marked reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours that had previously been common.
Farmers Gain Weapon Against Devastating Pig Virus - New York Times

EPA Withdraws From Clean Water Case, Farm Bureau Declares Victory - Modern Farmer

Why History Should Replace Economics in the 21st Century - io9 (h/t Crazy Canuck).  Also,see Bonfire of the Humanities - Aeon

The Team That Invented the Birth Control Pill - The Atlantic

Our cities' water systems are becoming obsolete. What will replace them? - Vox

In Defense of Obama - Krugman

When The Snows Fail - National Geographic.  See also, Draining California

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Introducing Carrot

Introducing Carrot from Carrot on Vimeo.

Still not going to eat one.

Advancing Human Knowledge

Last month, I got a survey in the mail from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.  It asked if I had a dog, and if I kept livestock at home.  It had a number of questions about the dog, and whether he had access to the livestock, and whether he might eat feed, manure, placentas or castrated testicles.  Of course, the answers to each of those is yes.  According to the letter that accompanied the survey, the study was aimed at discovering whether there was a link between the interactions of farm dogs and livestock, and the spread of salmonella and drug-resistant bacteria in livestock.  I figured that my answers might be useful in representing one real dimension of the life of farm dogs, and might help in the study.

Yesterday, I got a large, bulky envelope from OSU.  When I opened it, I found the following supplies:

Apparently, I was selected for a follow-up survey, which requested that I collect (3) samples of dog shit, to be analyzed for the study.  Included were three specimen bottles, rubber gloves, tongue depressors for placing the shit in the specimen bottles, a sealable bag marked for bio-hazards and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to send the shit back through the U.S. Mail (God bless our letter carriers).

Here is the letter that was enclosed with the dog shit collection kit:

and here were the sample collection instructions:

My favorite part is this line: "Each sample should come from separate bowel movements (poops)."  I'll let Billy Madison take it from here:

Of course, since I strongly support scientific research, especially when it is aimed at the improvement of the agricultural arts, I will participate in the follow-up. In fact, I collected my first poop [giggle] sample tonight.

One Example of the Idiocy of German Austerity

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

The Kaiser Wilhelm Canal in Kiel is crumbling. Last year, the authorities had to close the 60-mile shortcut from the Baltic to the North Sea for two weeks, something that had never happened through two world wars. The locks had failed.

Large ships were forced to go around the Skagerrak, imposing emergency surcharges. The canal was shut again last month because sluice gates were not working, damaged by the constant thrust of propeller blades. It has been a running saga of problems, the result of slashing investment to the bone, and cutting maintenance funds in 2012 from €60m (£47m) a year to €11m.

This is an odd way to treat the busiest waterway in the world, letting through 35,000 ships a year, so vital to the Port of Hamburg. It is odder still given that the German state can borrow funds for five years at an interest rate of 0.15pc. Yet such is the economic policy of Germany, worshipping the false of god of fiscal balance.

The Bundestag is waking up to the economic folly of this. It has approved €260m of funding to refurbish the canal over the next five years. Yet experts say it needs €1bn, one of countless projects crying out for money across the derelict infrastructure of a nation that has forgotten how to invest, sleepwalking into decline.

France may look like the sick of man of Europe, but Germany’s woes run deeper, rooted in mercantilist dogma, the glorification of saving for its own sake, and the corrosive psychology of ageing.
Since I operate my budget in much the same way the Germans do, I tend to understand them.  However, I'm also crazy, and an entire nation can't operate like I do.  Germany is killing the European Union all by itself with its fiscal policy.  There is no reason why they can't be investing steadily in infrastructure.  By the way, here is a map of the Baltic Sea, showing how big of a shortcut the Kiel Canal is:

But if you take the shortcut, you can't see the line where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet:

Oil Companies Pitch Larger Reserves to Investors Than to SEC


Lee Tillman, chief executive officer of Marathon Oil Corp., told investors last month that the company was sitting on the equivalent of 4.3 billion barrels in its U.S. shale acreage.
That number was 5.5 times higher than the one Marathon reported to federal regulators.
Such discrepancies are rife in the U.S. shale industry. Drillers use bigger forecasts to sell the hydraulic fracturing boom to investors and to persuade lawmakers to lift the 39-year-old ban on crude exports. Sixty-two of 73 U.S. shale drillers reported one estimate in mandatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission while citing higher potential figures to the public, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) Co.’s estimate was 13 times higher. Goodrich Petroleum Corp.’s was 19 times. For Rice Energy Inc., it was almost 27-fold.
“They’re running a great risk of litigation when they don’t end up producing anything like that,” said John Lee, a University of Houston petroleum engineering professor who helped write the SEC rules and has taught reserves evaluation to a generation of engineers. “If I were an ambulance-chasing lawyer, I’d get into this.”...
The SEC requires drillers to provide an annual accounting of how much oil and gas their properties will produce, a measurement called proved reserves, and company executives must certify that the reports are accurate.
No such rules apply to appraisals that drillers pitch to the public, sometimes called resource potential. In public presentations, unregulated estimates included wells that would lose money, prospects that have never been drilled, acreage that won’t be tapped for decades and projects whose likelihood of success is less than 10 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The result is a case for U.S. energy self-sufficiency that’s based more on hope than fact.....
Predicting how much oil can be pumped out of shale has been controversial since the boom began about a decade ago. Companies combined horizontal drilling with fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Fracking involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into deep underground layers of shale rock to free hydrocarbons.
Innovators such as Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) said that drilling vast expanses of oil-soaked rock formations is more predictable than the traditional, straight-down method of exploration. Regulators agreed and requirements were loosened starting in 2010.
This will not end well.  But I believe that anybody who thinks the U.S. will achieve energy independence is smoking some really good stuff.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chart of the Day: Google Searches and Political Leanings

From Wonkblog:

Specifically, Cara C. MacInnis and Gordon Hodson of Brock University found that residents of more religious and more politically conservative states -- often in the South -- are more likely to Google things like ‘‘sex,’’ ‘‘gay sex,’’ ‘‘porn,’’ ‘‘xxx’’, ‘‘free porn,’’ and ‘‘gay porn" than their peers in more secular states. The study, published this month in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, analyzed state-level Google Trends data for 2011 and 2012, and combined it with measures of religiosity and political conservatism from Gallup surveys....
The authors look at two different groups: political conservatives and religious conservatives. Political conservatism was associated specifically with an increased interest in sexually explicit images.
On the other hand, religious conservatives-- measured by the share of residents who say religion is important in their lives -- are highly correlated with searching for sex online, but not necessarily "non-traditional" sex. The study notes: "It may be that these 'sex' searches were conducted with the intention of delivering 'traditional' sexual content (e.g., information regarding monogamous, married, heterosexual sex)."....
The study's findings comport with previous research. In 2009, for instance, a Harvard researcher discovered a significant correlation between social conservatism and subscriptions to online porn sites at the state level.
You generally don't hear about liberals being found dead in wetsuits fully involved with dildos, but that is probably just because the liberal media doesn't report it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Words of Wilderness

This video is pretty cool, but the combination of the images, music and voice-over could just as easily be an ad for insurance or mutual funds. #jaded #goddamnmarketers

Bacon's Death and Resurrection

Bacon has been a staple of the American diet since the first European settlers, but until recently it was consumed in a predictable, seasonal pattern. The bulk of sales came from home consumers, diners, and pancake houses, which fried it up along with eggs for breakfast. “For a long time bacon was sold 80 percent at retail and only 20 percent in food service,” says Leathers, who worked selling and marketing pork to both supermarkets and restaurants over the decades. In summer, sales would spike along with the annual tomato crop—peak season for Cobb salads, BLTs, and club sandwiches. When the tomatoes ran out by October, bacon retreated to the breakfast table till the next summer. The pork belly futures contract was born at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1961 as a result of this cycle: Farmers with an excess supply of pork bellies sold them to cold storage warehouses, thus locking in a price long before tomato season hit. Pork belly traders made money speculating on the spread between the price of bellies on those contracts and the price they got when they finally sold the frozen meat to a smokehouse, where it was made into bacon.
All of this changed in the 1980s when powerful health and diet trends transformed the American food industry. Based on evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol were at the core of everything from heart health and obesity to cancer rates, eating lean became the collective mantra, and the food world responded by marketing to fat phobia. Diet sodas became the rage, margarine replaced butter everywhere, and the words “Fat Free” could sell a car. Bacon, which is essentially two-thirds fat, was doomed. “First the fat scare began, and then the nitrate scare,” recalls Leathers. “That was big. That was really the first food scare. I’ll bet you bacon sales fell off 35-40 percent.”
The Pork Marketing Board worked with advertising and marketing firms to position the pig as a sort of four-legged chicken—a healthy part of any low-fat lifestyle. The Other White Meat campaign launched in 1987 and was so successful at selling lean pork cuts, it actually hurt the rest of the pig. “The parts of the pig that were not white, middle meat, suffered from that period of time,” Gerike says. “Bacon was the big victim.” Bacon was sacrificed for the good of the hog, as producers chased the lean diet trend by drawing a line from pork loin to chicken breasts. “The common wisdom at the time was that the big guys would continue to market, sell bacon,” says Robin Kline, who worked with the Pork Board for more than a decade and now runs Savvy Food Communications in Des Moines. “But for the good of the entire industry, moving all the rest of that lean product was really what we defined as our job for the pork industry.”
As warehouses accumulated unwanted piles of frozen pork bellies, prices dropped, dipping as low as 19¢ per pound. The U.S. government encouraged meatpackers to sell bellies as a cheap export to the Soviet Union and as food aid to impoverished African states. “I was on a trade mission to sell bellies to Poland,” Leathers says. “We just had freezers full of bellies. There was such little demand that the U.S. was literally giving them away.”
But finally, the pendulum swung back:
By 2008, bacon had completed its journey from an ignored, unwanted meat to a viral meme—the edible equivalent of cat videos. That year, according to the website Babycenter, 11 out of every million babies born in America were named Bacon.
With each bacon lovers festival and Bacon baby conceived with bacon-flavored lube, the price of pork belly futures rose. At one point in 2010, futures jumped from 90¢ per pound to a record $1.40 in just four months. Bacon prices rose from about $3 a pound in 2005 to around $5.40 today, according to government statistics.
This incessant demand drained the volatility out of the pork belly futures market, and trading on belly contracts slowed to a trickle. In 2012, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ceased the trade in pork belly contracts, due to lack of volume. The shouts of the belly pit, where broad-chested men once made great fortunes on fatty pig parts, fell silent. “[Bacon’s] the reason the market died,” says Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, a market research firm specializing in the pork business. “That market had a well-deserved reason for volatility. It was a speculators playground because it was so vulnerable. As the volatility shrank, the volume of the trades shrank.”
11 out of every million babies in 2008 were named Bacon?  According to the CDC, there were almost 4.25 million babies born that year, so that would mean there were 47 babies named Bacon that year.  Really?  Seriously, I love bacon.  If I ever end up on death row, my last meal will be a bacon cheeseburger with french fries. However, I don't think I'd name my child Bacon.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Metal Items Aren't Allowed in the MRI Machine

Via The Nurse and I Fucking Love Science:

Map of the Day

From FiveThirtyEight:

Republicans have missed their chance to get ahead of this wave, so they will continue to look like hateful bigots when it has been obvious which way the tide is heading.  Catering to a bigoted base is bad foe the future in a more diverse, tolerant population.  Oh well.

Bad Idea #4,279

Using a potato as a birth control device:
A 22-year-old woman in Honda, Colombia, was recently admitted to a local hospital after complaining of abject abdominal pain. The culprit? A germinating potato inside her vagina.
“My mom told me that if I didn’t want to get pregnant, I should put a potato up there, and I believed her,” the presumably mortified patient told the hospital staff.
We all know what happens to a neglected tuber: roots, and lots of them. In the young woman’s case, those dogged sprouts proliferated over a couple weeks’ time, leading to her intense discomfort and eventually making an, um, external appearance (we’re treading so lightly here). Thankfully, the dud of a spud was removed sans surgical intervention, and the woman was expected to recover fully. No further details were provided, nor needed.
Yikes.  I'm not going to add anything to that.

U.S. Oil Production

Via Ritholtz:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

October 3:

Aurora and Milky Way in a Little Sky
Image Credit & Copyright: Göran Strand
Explanation: Stepping stones seem to lead to the Milky Way as it stretches across this little sky. Of course, the scene is really the northern hemisphere's autumnal equinox night. Water and sky are inverted by a top to bottom, around the horizon stereographic projection centered on the zenith above Lake Storsjön in Jämtland, Sweden. In the north the Milky Way arcs from east to west overhead as fall begins, but the season is also a good time for viewing aurora. Geomagnetic storms increase in frequency near the equinox and produce remarkable displays of northern lights at high latitudes, like the eerie greenish glow reflected in this watery cosmos.