Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween / All Saints Weekend Reads

Some interesting stories to browse:

No Guarantee of Safety: Inside the Belgrade Derby - SBNation

Horned and Dangerous: How Defensive Guru Gary Patterson Built College Football's Most Prolific Offense at TCU - Grantland

Candy Corn Is Garbage - Deadspin.  Haters gonna hate.  I disagree.  Some candy corn history here.

A Rare Peek Inside the Factory Where Ferraris are Born - Wired. See also, Amazing Things Happen When Texans Get Their Hands On Ferraris - Business Insider

The Biggest Ship in the World (Though It Isn't Exactly a Ship) - New York Times

It's Not Just Tang: NASA's widespread influence on everyday design - Medium

The little-know Soviet space mission to rescue a dead space station - Ars Technica

The Great Paper Caper - GQ.  The greatest counterfeiter ever?

One of Us - Boston Magazine. Growing up black in Southie.

The Lowe's Robot and the Future of Service Work - The New Yorker.  Sure this won't eliminate jobs.  Tell me another one.

John Maynard Keynes is the Economist the World Needs Now - Businessweek.  Germans and Republicans disagree, to the detriment of all.

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted - Pacific Standard

Even Israel's Best Friends Understand That It Is Disconnecting From Reality - Jeffrey Goldberg

Mississippi's Race to the Bottom - Slate

Democrats Lose Their Grip on Voters With Keys to the House - Wall Street Journal.  It's always about the welfare and the brown people when it comes to rural whites.  The chart tells me that it probably won't matter much in the not-too-distant future.  It still depresses the hell out of me that so many decent, rural folks are so virulently racist.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Water Main Leaks Add Up To Trillions of Gallons of Lost Water

In Chicago, fresh water is drawn into water intake cribs in Lake Michigan and piped to the enormous Jardine Water Filtration Plant on the lakefront, adjacent to Navy Pier.
Jardine is the largest water filtration plant in the world by volume, pumping about 1 billion gallons of purified drinking water out through hundreds of thousands of miles of pipes to 5 million people in Chicago and 125 surrounding communities.
But not all of that treated, potable water makes it through the system to homes and businesses. In fact, quite a bit of it is lost.
The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainability, recently put out a report that estimates "about 6 billion gallons of water per daymay be wasted in the U.S.," says Danielle Gallet, the group's water supply program manager.
Where does it go? Much of it just leaks out of aging pipes and water mains that crack and break.
"We do have a crumbling infrastructure issue," Gallet says. "It is old."...
A recent study by Gallet's group and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning found the Chicago area alone is losing 22 billion gallons of treated water per year through leaky pipes.
"We figured that that could fill the residential needs of about 700,000 people in a year," says Tim Loftus, water resource planner for the agency.
"That's a big city," he says. "That's a year's worth of residential water use."
Nationwide, the amount of water that is lost each year is estimated to top 2 trillion gallons, according to the American Water Works Association. That's about 14 to 18 percent (or one-sixth) of the water the nation treats.
And it's not just water that's going down the drain, but billions of dollars in revenue too because utilities can't charge customers for water that is lost before it gets to them.
But fixing the nation's water systems isn't going to be cheap.
"Our estimates are that this is a trillion-dollar program," says David LaFrance, CEO of the American Water Works Association. "About half of that trillion dollars will be to replace existing infrastructure. The other half will be putting into the ground new infrastructure to serve population growth and areas that currently aren't receiving water."
Of course, there are some jackasses who think talk of spending money on infrastructure is just a government-driven scam to waste money:
But some government spending watchdogs are skeptical.
"Anytime somebody tells me that we have to spend more money, I'm going to look at who is telling me that and do they have an interest in it," says Steve Ellis of the Washington-based group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
He says water utilities stand to gain from massive water infrastructure spending, as does the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the nation's water infrastructure a barely passing grade of "D."
Ellis says that doesn't mean big spending on water infrastructure isn't needed. Voters just need to make sure there's proper oversight, as well as investments in better technologies and conservation.
I would say that having a water system that leaks about 15% of the water produced would qualify as infrastructure in need of spending.  Imagine if 15% of the gas you put in the gas tank leaked out before it could be combusted.  That would be a major loss.  Same with these water systems.  It would take a carefully-crafted scheme to manage to spend a bunch of money repairing major city water systems and be wasting money.  I'd suppose that water leaks probably follow the 80/20 rule, and repairing a few would go a long way toward cutting losses.

Overall, though, we are screwed on infrastructure spending.  As this quote from the story says:
"The infrastructure and the massive investment that our grandparents, great-grandparents, some of us our great-great-grandparents put in, is coming to the end of its useful life, and the bill has come due on our watch," Gallet says.
Not only that, we cut taxes and increased deficits while blowing trillions on live and proxy wars we lost, ridiculously expensive health care (compared to any other developed country) and terribly planned development of suburbs while leaving our central cities to rot.  We will spend trillions in the future futilely attempting to maintain our standard-of-living, but we will be left with a decrepit infrastructure system that is a net money loser.  Our days of reaping bountiful returns from infrastructure investment are probably in the past.  Now those investments will be a further tax to pay for our lack of planning in the post-war period, and our lack of investment since the late '70s.  Basic systems, such as water, sewer, electric and transportation networks will slowly crumble.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Stormscapes 2

Stormscapes 2 from Nicolaus Wegner on Vimeo.

Pumpkin Production

From USDA:

Pumpkin production is widely dispersed, with crop conditions varying greatly by region. In 2013, U.S. farmers produced 1.13 billion pounds of pumpkins. Illinois remains the leading producer of pumpkins, with a majority of supplies processed into pie filling and other uses. Supplies from the remaining top five States are targeted toward the seasonal fresh market for ornamental uses and for home processing.

Demand for specialty pumpkins continues to expand as consumers look for new and interesting variations. Retail prices in 2014, on average, were down compared with last year’s average (September-November). Specialty varieties with wholesale prices reported in 2014 include Big Mack pumpkins (a giant variety), Fairytale (deep ribs, mahogany color), Knucklehead (medium size, upright, with lumps of various size and color on the skin), and heirloom varieties.


U.S. pumpkin planted area, total in top six States: 1/
2011: 50,900 acres (17,400 in Illinois, 7,200 in Michigan)
2012: 53,800 acres (20,400 in Illinois, 6,800 in Michigan)
2013: 53,200 acres (20,400 in Illinois, 6,600 in Michigan)

U.S. farm value of pumpkin production, total in top six States: 1/
2011: $113 million ($24 mil. in New York, $22 mil. in Illinois)
2012: $149 million ($33 mil. in New York, $33 mil. in Illinois)
2013: $150 million ($47 mil. in Illinois, $30 mil. in California)

U.S. pumpkin production, total in top six States: 1/
2011: 1.07 billion pounds (0.52 bil. in Illinois, 0.17 bil. in California)
2012: 1.24 billion pounds (0.56 bil. in Illinois, 0.19 bil. in California)
2013: 1.13 billion pounds (0.55 bil. in Illinois, 0.19 bil. in California)

U.S. pumpkin production, top six States, 2013: 1/
Illinois: 547.6 million pounds
California: 194.7 million pounds
Ohio: 100.4 million pounds
Michigan: 97.8 million pounds
New York: 96.0 million pounds
Pennsylvania: 94.2 million pounds

U.S. pumpkin yield per acre, top six States, 2013: 1/
Illinois: 27,000 pounds
California: 33,000 pounds
Ohio: 16,500 pounds
New York: 16,000 pounds
Michigan: 15,500 pounds
Pennsylvania: 14,500 pounds

Share of U.S. pumpkin area harvested for the fresh market, in top six States, 2012: 2/
Illinois: 23 percent
California: 99 percent
Ohio: 97 percent
Michigan: 88 percent
New York: 96 percent
Pennsylvania: 97 percent

U.S. farm price for pumpkins: 1/
2011 average: 10.60 cents per pound
2012 average: 12.00 cents per pound
2013 average: 13.30 cents per pound

U.S. wholesale price for pumpkins, week ending October 11, 2014 average: 3/ 4/
Howden-type (Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins): $136.14/36” bin
Pie-type: $244.50/ 36” bin
Miniature, orange: $16.22/1/2 bushel carton
Miniature, white: $16.08/1/2 bushel carton
Heirloom varieties: $193.50/24” bin

U.S. advertised retail price for pumpkins: 4/
2013 average: $5.07 each
Sept. 5, 2014: $3.76 each
Sept. 12, 2014: $5.30 each
Sept. 19, 2014: $4.07 each
Sept. 26, 2014: $3.94 each
Oct. 3, 2014: $3.94 each (22 percent below 2013 average)
Oct. 10, 2014: $3.62 each (29 percent below 2013 average)

Sources: 1/ USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Vegetables. Data provided only for top six States. According to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture, these States accounted for approximately 50 percent of U.S. total pumpkin area. 2/ USDA, NASS, 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture. 3/ Simple average of all quoted markets (excluding organic) for the listed type and container. 4/ USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Fruit and Vegetable Market News.
I knew none of that. 16,000 pounds per acre at 13 cents a pound sounds pretty good.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mineralogy in the News

An entirely new mineral was discovered in a mine in Western Australia:

Putnisite is a newly discovered mineral that occurs as tiny crystals on volcanic rock. One such crystal, just 0.4 millimeters across, shown here, was recently found at the Armstrong mine in Widgiemooltha, Western Australia.
Credit: Peter Elliott
A new purple-pink mineral that has a chemical composition and crystalline structure unlike any of the known 4,000 minerals has been discovered at a mining site in Western Australia, researchers report.
Now called putnisite, the mineral was discovered in a surface outcrop of Polar Bear Peninsula, Southern Lake Cowan, north of Norseman. While workers with a mining company were prospecting for nickel and gold, one of them noticed the bright-pink grains and sent the mineral to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and then it was sent to Peter Elliott, a research associate with the South Australian Museum, for examination....
And, sure enough, the crystal was novel.
Elliott added, "Putnisite, a strontium calcium chromium sulfate carbonate, has both a unique chemical composition and a unique crystal structure." (The color of putnisite crystals ranges from pale to dark purple, with a pink streak, according to the researchers.)
Found on volcanic rock, the new mineral occurs as tiny crystals just 0.02 inches (0.5 millimeters) in diameter, and looks like spots of dark pink on dark-green-and-white rock; under a microscope, the mineral appears as cubelike crystals.
"When the rocks in the Lake Cowan area were deposited millions of years ago, they contained small concentrations of strontium calcium chromium and sulfur," Elliott said. "Over time, weathering released these elements and concentrated them, allowing putnisite to crystallize."
At times you would think that everything that could be discovered has already been found.  Then you come across something like this.  I took a mineralogy course in college, but about all I can do is identify quartz, feldspar and mica in some rocks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

October 24:

AR 2192: Giant on the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Randall Shivak and Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)
Explanation: As you (safely!) watched the progress of yesterday's partial solar eclipse, you probably also spotted a giant sunspot group. Captured in this sharp telescopic image from October 22nd the complex AR 2192 is beautiful to see, a sprawling solar active region comparable in size to the diameter of Jupiter. Like other smaller sunspot groups, AR 2192 is now crossing the Earth-facing side of the Sun and appears dark in visible light because it is cooler than the surrounding surface. Still, the energy stored in the region's twisted magnetic fields is enormous and has already generated powerful explosions, including two X-class solar flares this week. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) associated with the flares have not affected planet Earth, so far. The forecast for further activity from AR 2192 is still significant though, as it swings across the center of the solar disk and Earth-directed CMEs become possible.