Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mid-October Weekend Links

Here are a few links to provide a little information and entertainment this weekend:

Inside AT&T Park's Gotham Club, a baseball VIP experience like no other - Yahoo.  Let me guess, popular with the techie assholes, the San Francisco version of Wall Street bros.

Steve Cunningham: Fighting for Her Life - Grantland

The Other Side of the River: A Football Coach in East St. Louis Tries to Bridge the Racial Divide - SBNation

The Evans Family is Living in This World - Cincinnati Magazine

The Secret Casualties of Iraq's Chemical Weapons - New York Times, and When Our Troops Are Abandoned and Neglected at Home: 6 Stories - Longreads.  A list of other stories highlighting how "Support our Troops" doesn't go much farther than bumper stickers and car magnets.

Wind Power Blows Away Coal and Gas in Nordic Countries - Scientific American

Radioactive coyotes and poisoned apples: The strange history of the Manhattan Project - Vox
Another great thing about the Trinity test that I absolutely love is that not too long afterward, Eastman-Kodak got a lot of complaints from customers that their film was fucked up. It was foggy. And they couldn't figure out what the problem was until eventually they realized that the cardboard packaging for the film, which was made out of these husks from corn that was grown in Indiana, was contaminated with nuclear fallout from the Trinity test a thousand miles away. Customers returning fogged up film caused Eastman Kodak to accidentally discover that the United States Army had detonated the world's first atomic bomb in the middle of the New Mexico desert. (more here)
The Berlin Wall's Great Human Experiment - Boston Globe

Lockheed Martin claims "technological breakthrough" in compact fusion - ars technica.  I'll believe it when I see it. See also, Scientists Are Bashing Lockheed Martin's Nuclear Fusion 'Breakthrough' - Business Insider

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground - Pacific Standard

Season for pie: Inside the outfit that's behind 85% of the canned pumpkin consumed in the United States - National Post.  I saw a version of this story in the Sunday paper, and was surprised all that comes from one plant.

A hard look at corn economics-and world hunger - Marketplace

Doctors Tell All-And It's Bad - The Atlantic

America's Favorite Sandwich Fillings - FiveThirtyEight

Friday, October 17, 2014

Through the Ground Glass

Through the Ground Glass from Taylor Hawkins on Vimeo.

Kansas City Royals Named After Livestock Show

Wall Street Journal:
As October rolls on, Royal mania is mounting. The days ahead will determine the champion: Will it be Thunder? Boomer? Blackjack? Or maybe Baldy?
You probably think the name of the Kansas City Royals, who on Wednesday won the American League pennant, is meant to associate the baseball team with castles and courts, purple and ermine.
Oh, no, it is something with a much grander local lineage: a livestock show.
It is called the American Royal, and unlike the Royals, who are playing October baseball for the first time in 29 years, it draws crowds every year at this time, including thousands of farm children and their prize-seeking sheep, hogs and cattle.
Even in Kansas City, few seem to know the Royals are named after the Royal. “Nobody around here is talking about cows—man, we’re talking about the World Series,” says Robert Kennedy, a 55-year-old street department foreman in Kansas City, Kan.
But in a neighborhood known as the stockyards, inside an arena that transforms into a barn every October, fans of the livestock show take pride that the hottest team in professional baseball is its namesake. The team’s naming “was a nod to our city’s heritage in the livestock industry,” says Bob Petersen, the American Royal’s chief executive.
A 1968 contest to name the city’s new baseball franchise attracted proposals such as “Mules” and “Cowpokes.” A now-deceased Kansas City engineer named Sanford Porte proposed “Royals,” in honor of what he called “Missouri’s billion-dollar livestock income, Kansas City’s position as the nation’s leading stocker and feeder market and the nationally known American Royal parade and pageant.” Mr. Porte’s entry prevailed.
Soon after the team’s 1969 debut, livestock references fell silent. This coincided with a civic effort in the 1970s to dissociate Kansas City from its stockyards, where 64,000 cattle a day once transformed into steaks and packaged meat.
“A campaign was launched to promote Kansas City as a ‘glamour city,’” Kansas City native Calvin Trillin wrote in a 1983 New Yorker article. “The standard headline for stories planted by the campaign’s New York public-relations firm was ‘COWTOWN NO MORE.’”...
Some powerful members of Kansas City’s business royalty have long supported the American Royal, and for good reason. A 2006 report by a Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City executive found about one in six jobs in the area were agriculture-related. And while many locals might prefer to tout area high-tech players like Sprint Corp. and Garmin Ltd., one of the American Royal’s most-committed benefactors is Neal Patterson, CEO of Cerner Corp. , a Kansas City-based health-care-technology firm.
The American Royal is a nonprofit that raises money for agricultural-related scholarships, in part via champion-livestock auctions. Last year, Mr. Patterson and his wife paid $170,000 for the Grand Champion steer, then gave the animal to charity. The American Royal’s Mr. Petersen notes Mr. Patterson “grew up on a small farm, raised hogs to put himself through school and he’s never forgotten his roots.”
Didn't know that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Evolution of Corn

From James Kennedy, via Vox:

The evolution of corn (maize) is a fascinating story. For a long time, scientists couldn't figure out where domesticated corn originally came from — it doesn't look like anything that grows in the wild. It took serious sleuthing by geneticists, botanists, and archaeologists to figure out that maize split off from teosinte grass some 9,000 years ago. (The two are surprisingly similar at the DNA level, differing by just a handful of genes.)
As maize became domesticated in Mesoamerica, it was radically altered through selective breeding. Early farmers would examine their plants and save the seeds of those that were larger, or tastier, or whose kernels were easier to grind. By 4,000 BC, cobs were already an inch long. And within just a few thousands years, cobs had grown to many times that size.
Nowadays, corn is grown all over the planet and selective breeding is still ongoing — though in recent decades it's also been combined with genetic engineering. Scientists have inserted genes from Bt soil bacteria into corn in order to ward off pests. And some researchers are now hoping to develop corn varieties that can withstand drought. And so on.
Pretty amazing.  Heck, in my lifetime, corn yields have gone up by over 40%.  They also have charts for watermelons and peaches.

A Report from Flyover Land

Rolling Stone has an interesting feature on Lima, Ohio.  It pretty well captures the sad decline of a minor city in the industrial Midwest.  It also discusses Tea Party loon and congressman for Lima, Jim Jordan:
Jordan has made a myriad of public statements about what he's called the ''arrogant and out-of-control federal government,'' a perspective that – be it rooted in genuine frustration or in the perspective of right-wing media – has now become synonymous with the white working class, a group that's held fast to these ideals since the Reagan era. Jordan's own father, a longtime plant worker for General Motors and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was a Reagan Democrat who, having switched parties in 1980, never swung back. In the mid-Nineties, he retired from GM and started a business making handcrafted bows for hunters. He now listens to Rush Limbaugh. ''He's as conservative as they come,'' says Jordan.
In Jordan's view, Lima's future lies in the businesses it already has: oil, chemicals, heath care, construction. I mention alternative energy and Shawn Smith, who – just as Jordan says his father once advised him as a kid – worked hard, set a goal and trusted that good things would happen. Except, in Smith's case they didn't. ''For every one of those examples, we have examples of what we do have happening,'' Jordan says. ''I'm 100 percent for green energy. I'm for ethanol, I'm for wind power, that's all great. But I don't believe in picking winners and losers by giving tax breaks to some industries and not to others. You don't want bureaucrats in Washington deciding what works and what doesn't; you want people to decide in the grand marketplace we have.''
The problem with this argument, though, is that government exists in part to help manage economic crisis. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, whose 2012 book, The Price of Inequality, deconstructs the effects of income inequality, believes the only way out of the current crisis is a comprehensive overhaul of the economic structure. ''And that's where government has failed,'' he says. ''We have a few jobs in high-tech, but even Apple has only about 50,000 jobs, more than half of which are retail. That's not going to create a middle-class economy. You've got huge jobs in North Dakota from fracking, but that's not going to create the millions of jobs you need. Meanwhile, the right wing is condemning these communities to death. Their answer is the market will take care of it. Well, we've been watching, and it hasn't happened.''
So Jordan doesn't believe in giving tax breaks to some industries and not to others?  So he has worked hard to strip the oil and gas industry of tax breaks?  Actually, he might have, because his biggest belief is that we have to get rid of government spending so we can continue to cut taxes, since the last thirty years of economic history show no connection between tax cuts and job creation. Jordan means well, but he is just not very smart.  An excellent wrestler, but a bad public servant.  His policies help out rich folks on the coast, and hurt the struggling middle-class in his own part of the country.  But his faith in crackpot economic theories and bullshit remains strong.  At least he'll end up with a fat government pension.  Too bad most of his constituents won't.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Boston Layer-Lapse

Boston Layer-Lapse from Julian Tryba on Vimeo.
Traditional time-lapses are constrained by the idea that there is a single universal clock. In the spirit of Einstein's relativity theory, layer-lapses assign distinct clocks to any number of objects or regions in a scene. Each of these clocks may start at any point in time, and tick at any rate. The result is a visual time dilation effect known as layer-lapse.
Like most everything else about relativity, this makes no sense to me.

A New Category of Clouds

And they are badass:

Those are undulatus asperatus (agitated or turbulent wave) clouds, a type of cloud that is starting to get consideration as a wholly new category. From what I can tell, they are formed when there’s rising air that creates wide-spread cloud cover, together with wind shear that blows across the rising air. This can set up gravity waves, where air moves up and down as buoyancy and gravity battle it out, creating long rippling waves that carry the clouds up and down.
You can find out more about this on Slate’s Atlas Obscura blog.
Those are pretty scary looking clouds.  I wouldn't mind not seeing them up close.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beautiful Chemical Reactions

Via Slate. More here.

NASA Photo of the Day

October 10:

Moons at Opposition
Image Credit & Copyright: Rick Baldridge
Explanation: From the early hours of October 8, over the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos, California, the totally eclipsed Moon shows a range of color across this well-exposed telescopic view of the lunar eclipse. Of course, a lunar eclipse can only occur when the Moon is opposite the Sun in Earth's sky and gliding through the planet's shadow. But also near opposition during this eclipse, and remarkably only half a degree or so from the lunar limb, distant Uranus is faint but easy to spot at the lower right. Fainter still are the ice giant's moons. To find them, slide your cursor over the image (or just follow this link) to check out a longer exposure. While even the darkened surface of our eclipsed Moon will be strongly overexposed, Uranus moons Titania, Oberon, and Umbriel can just be distinguished as faint pinpricks of light.

Doing My Part for Science

Explanation here.

Demographics and the Decline of the Big Ten

The New York Times highlights how the Big Ten's  poor performance in recent decades has hurt member schools' recruiting efforts in their own states:
Depending on whom you ask, Jerome Baker, a senior at Benedictine High School here, is either the highest- or the second-highest-rated football prospect in Ohio from the class of 2015. He is a four-star linebacker, appraised from 36th to 72nd nationally....
Almost every pundit predicted Baker, 17, would become a Buckeye. But this summer, when he made his oral commitment, he said, referring to his team’s mascot, “This Bengal, next fall, will be a future Gator,” and slipped on a Florida visor.
Baker is both a symptom and a cause of an undeniable fact of the sport’s landscape: The Big Ten is not what it used to be.
Through the first five weeks of the season, Big Ten teams are 6-11 against the other major conferences and 4-9 against out-of-conference teams in ESPN’s Football Power Index top 50. Indiana lost to Bowling Green. Minnesota was crushed by Texas Christian. Michigan was roundly defeated by Utah at home in a game that the Wolverines paid the Utes $1 million to play.
Big Ten teams won only one title during the 16-year Bowl Championship Series era (Ohio State 2002) and have captured only one other national title since 1971 (Michigan 1997). Penn State won two titles and Nebraska won three titles in the past four decades, before joining the conference. The Big Ten’s relative decline could be further exposed this season because the College Football Playoff will feature only four teams, meaning at least one major conference will be left out. If the season ended this week, and the playoff were determined by The Associated Press poll, the Big Ten would be the only major conference without a representative.
While all that is depressing, the real story, as I've highlighted before, is demographics:
Probably the Big Ten’s biggest obstacle is that its members’ states do not produce top football players the way they used to. It is no coincidence that the Big Ten had postwar glory years, when the Midwest thrived on the back of the auto industry. The Rust Belt and the decline of Big Ten football are not unrelated.
Today, Texas and Florida each produce more than twice as many Division I football players as Ohio does, per Scout. com. In the last three classes, according to ESPN, the Big Ten’s 11 states produced six five-star recruits. Florida alone produced 11.
Josh Helmholdt, who covers Midwest recruiting for, said: “I always hear that a four-star in the Midwest is not as good as a four-star in Florida. That’s wrong. They’re every bit as good. The Midwest just doesn’t have enough of them.”
An instructive comparison is Michigan and Georgia. In 1960, Michigan had twice Georgia’s population; in 1990, it was nearly one and a half times as big; today, their populations are roughly equivalent. Over the past eight years, according to, Georgia has averaged 169.3 recruits per year to Michigan’s 64.1. In the last three N.F.L. drafts, 51 players from Georgia were selected, while only 16 from Michigan were. (In the first rounds of those drafts, the SEC had 33 players selected; the Big Ten nine.)
“Can the Big Ten compete?” Mike Farrell, Rivals’ national recruiting director, wrote recently. “My simple answer is this: only if it recruits in the Southeast.”
The problem is, just like when it comes to keeping retirees in the Rust Belt, the weather really works against us.  Add to that the fact that the SEC is so dominant, and it is going to be really hard for the Big Ten to compete for athletes in the Midwest, let alone in the southeast.  Urban Meyer has done ok at it, but the end of the season last year again highlighted how overrated and underchallenged the Buckeyes were all season.  What good does it do to dominate the Big Ten when the Big Ten sucks?  The difficulty for the Big Ten reflects the difficulty Rust Belt cities have stemming brain drain.  Demographics make things very tough.