Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 National Geographic Photo Contest Winners

Holy shit!:

Grand Prize and Nature Winner. Jaw-dropping, rare anti-cyclonic tornado tracks in open farmland narrowly missing a home near Simla, Colorado, on June 5, 2015


Who renewed his professional engineering license 26 hours before it expired? This guy! Why? Probably because he completed his 30 hours of continuing education about eight hours before that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

From Timber To Tide

From Timber To Tide from Pixillion on Vimeo.

Oil States Struggle With Low Prices

As the price of crude falls for a second year, marking the steepest decline since the recession, the impact is cascading through the finances of states, cities and counties, in ways big and small. Once flush when production boomed, some governments in major energy producing regions are facing a new era of unwelcome austerity as wells are shut -- along with the tax-revenue gushers they spouted.
Alaska, Louisiana and Oklahoma have seen tax collections diminished by the rout, which has put pressure on credit ratings and led investors to demand higher yields on some securities. In Texas, the largest producer, the state’s sales-tax revenue dropped 3 percent in November from a year earlier as the energy industry exerted a drag on the economy.
Further west, Colorado’s legislative forecasters on Dec. 21 estimated that the state’s current year budget will have a shortfall of $208 million, in part because of the impact of lower commodity prices. In North Dakota, tax collections have trailed forecasts by 9 percent so far for the 2015-2017 budget...
On Dec. 23, Moody’s Investors Service said Oklahoma may be downgraded from Aa2, the third highest rank, because of the prospect for a “prolonged, muted recovery in prices and production.” In February, S&P and Moody’s cut their outlooks on Louisiana’s rating -- which is now the third highest from both -- because of oil’s impact, which left the state with a $487 million mid-year deficit. Alaska is at risk of loosing its AAA rating from S&P, which cut its outlook on the state in August after the government’s revenue was cut by more than half.
The outlook has led investors to demand higher yields relative to other debt. A 10-year Louisiana bond traded last month for a yield of 2.64 percent, or 0.56 percentage point over top-rated debt, more than triple the gap when they were first sold a year ago. That difference on a 10-year Alaska bond has nearly doubled since August to 0.31 percentage point.
These states have been getting a free ride for a hell of a long time.  I'm not losing sleep over whether Alaska, Oklahoma or Louisiana might have to raise taxes or slash spending.  I was tired of hearing about Texas and North Dakota anyway.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

December 23:
Geminid Meteors over Xinglong Observatory
Image Credit & Copyright: Steed Yu and
Explanation: Where do Geminid meteors come from? In terms of location on the sky, as the featured image composite beautifully demonstrates, the sand-sized bits of rock that create the streaks of the Geminid Meteor Shower appear to flow out from the constellation of Gemini. In terms of parent body, Solar System trajectories point to the asteroid 3200 Phaethon -- but this results in a bit of a mystery since that unusual object appears mostly dormant. Perhaps, 3200 Phaethon undergoes greater dust-liberating events than we know, but even if so, exactly what happens and why remains a riddle. Peaking last week, over 50 meteors including a bright fireball were captured streaking above Xinglong Observatory in China. Since the Geminids of December are one of the most predictable and active meteor showers, investigations into details of its origin are likely to continue.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Boxing Day Weekend Links

Hopefully everyone had a very fine Christmas.  Here are some entertaining stories for your enjoyment this holiday weekend:

The Last Wrestler - SB Nation.  Looking at the decline of college wrestling and the Tea Party's concept of the decline of America through the athletic biography of Jim Jordan, who is my concept of the do-nothing government employee.  The article is very interesting, though.  I may have to revisit it in depth, if I get a chance.

Jerry Tarkanian and Walter Byers: Adversaries Who Left Mark On N.C.A.A. - New York Times

The Best Eleven Minutes In Sports in 2015 - The New Yorker

U.S. Bread Basket Shifts Thanks to Climate Change - Scientific American.  This is why farmers ought to be concerned about global warming.

Boxing Day, explained - Vox.  I could handle the drinking part.

America's Top Shale Gas Basin In Decline - OilPrice

The Siege of Miami  - The New Yorker

When  the KKK Was a Pyramid Scheme - PriceonomicsOne of many in the history of politics for conservative bigots.

The last time an American tycoon exploited terrorism - Pando

Manifest Injustice - St. Louis Magazine

The Koch-like Family You've Never Heard of Influencing State Legislatures - Political Research

Hey, Hipsters: Please Save Us From Ted Cruz - P.J. O'Rourke

Republican Poverty: 93 of the Poorest 100 Counties in America Are In Red States - Addicting Info

The State of Rural America in 2015 - Modern Farmer.  Remember, this is at the end of the biggest boom in agriculture in almost 40 years.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The County

The County from Guardian News & Media Ltd on Vimeo.

Where Did Your Christmas Tree Come From?

Christmas trees are grown commercially in 44 states. But in most places it's a tiny industry, and production hovers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands. Only four states produced more than a million Christmas trees in 2012. Oregon was the top Christmas tree–producing state, with more than 6.4 million trees produced in 2012.
The Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association — which is a real organization that exists — estimates that the Christmas tree industry generates $110 million annually in revenue for Oregon. Ninety-two percent of Christmas trees produced in the Pacific Northwest (both Oregon and Washington) are ultimately exported out of the state, with the biggest customer being California. Only 4 percent make it all the way to the East Coast.
North Carolina was the second-largest producer of Christmas trees (4.3 million), followed by Michigan (1.7 million) and Pennsylvania (1 million). Overall, 17.3 million Christmas trees were produced in 2012.
The three best-selling species of Christmas trees include the Fraser fir (7.6 million), noble fir (4.9 million), and Douglas fir (3.9 million). North Carolina is the leading producer of Fraser firs, and Oregon is the leading producer of both noble and Douglas firs. An estimated 60 million to 70 million Christmas tree seedlings are planted yearly, and the industry employs on average at least 100,000 people.
I think the last year I got a tree was 2007.  I'm pretty sure that one came from North Carolina, and it was a Scotch Pine.  I'm not surprised Scotch Pine isn't included amongst the most popular trees listed above.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015



How could the south be +8 Happy Holidays while the evil left coast be +3 Merry Christmas.  90% of the population in the west is in Washington, Oregon and California.  My world is turned upside-down.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

U.S. Ag Advantage: Genetics

Three hundred thirteen-five is a beauty and sure to have beautiful babes, too. Born on March 30, the fifth piglet in litter 313, she’s an elite sow, bred to produce several generations of breeding pigs that will ultimately produce delicious piglets—a lot of them. She’s a Yorkshire, a breed known for strong maternal traits, like the size of their litters, the birth weight of their piglets, and a relatively short interval between litters. The best ones grow up fast and produce lean meat, too.
Even among Yorkshires, though, 313-5 comes from exceptional stock. Her father, a boar with the romantic name BTI4 the Unit 30-6, was ranked, as of Dec. 15, sixth in the U.S. among Yorkshires on the “sow productivity index,” a measure of maternal traits, and fourth on the “maternal line index,” which combines maternal traits with edible traits, like stores of back fat and muscle. Her mother is a descendant of the late Wisconsin Steel, the champion boar at the 2009 Wisconsin State Fair; the name is a play on the relatively cheap price, $2,500, paid for the boar—a “steal” for such a productive stud. In short, 313-5, her children, and even her grandchildren will be bred to breed and enhance a widening gene pool. Her great-grandchildren, though, will be raised for slaughter. And though she doesn’t know it yet, she’s going global. She’s headed to the Philippines.
One evening in May, several men weighing 313-5’s fate gather in a conference room in rural Albion, Ind., for a sales presentation on a “customizable approach to genetic improvement.” The room is in the basement of Whiteshire Hamroc, a 20-year-old company that specializes in swine genetics, the porcine equivalent of rose breeders crossing hybrids to yield a singular flower. A map of China adorns one wall, and framed aerial photographs of Whiteshire Hamroc’s farm hang on the others.
Mark Brubaker, an applied geneticist, works through a PowerPoint presentation that rates the farm’s pigs with statistical precision—feed-conversion ratio, estimated breeding value, terminal sire index. He boasts that the data paint a picture of “pounds of pork through a system” and “how efficient that system is.” But don’t get the wrong idea. These are animals, not pounds of pork, adds Scott Lawrence, director of domestic sales and marketing. “Our philosophy is: How can we advocate for the pigs?”
Edwin Chen listens attentively, interrupting occasionally to parse the data. “The yield is with the head on or the head off?” he asks. (Head on.)
Chen is a slight 55-year-old with neatly parted black hair and wire-rim glasses. As president of Hypig Genetics, he oversees a 6,000-sow operation on several farms in the Filipino countryside. He wants to triple that number, in part by buying thoroughbred pigs from the U.S., where he says swine genetics is decades ahead of that in the Philippines. Chen says his family’s desire to expand quickly is based on potential as much as current demand. The gross domestic product per capita in the Philippines is about $2,900 a year. When it reaches $5,000, Chen predicts, demand for meat will explode. “We have to get ready,” he says.
Whether it is grain or livestock, the U.S. has a strong genetic focus.  However, I get the feeling our focus on productivity may hurt us down the road.

Lottery Company Official Accused of Rigging Lottery Drawings

I knew lottery games were rigged, but jeez:
The former security chief for a national group that operates state lotteries personally bought two prize-winning tickets in Kansas worth $44,000, investigators said Monday, bringing to five the number of states where he may have fixed games to enrich himself and associates.
Investigators recently linked the winning 2010 Kansas tickets to Eddie Tipton, former security director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, Iowa assistant attorney general Rob Sand disclosed in court documents. The evidence will show that Tipton associates who claimed the prizes returned half of the money in cash directly to him in early 2011, he wrote.
Tipton allegedly purchased two winning tickets to the "2by2" game at separate locations while traveling through Kansas on business in December 2010, the Kansas Lottery said. Each was worth $22,000, the prize for any player with the day's winning numbers, and were allegedly passed on from Tipton to individuals from Iowa and Texas who claimed them, the lottery's statement said.
In his job at the association managing lotteries for 37 states and territories, Tipton managed random number generators that pick winning numbers for some national games such as Hot Lotto and games played in individual lotteries.
Kansas Lottery officials said they were asked to look into the 2010 tickets by Iowa investigators earlier this month. Any alleged fixing happened at the association headquarters in Urbandale, Iowa, where "2by2" is administered and drawn, they said.
Wow, that would be a pretty crooked operation.

Don't Miss the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

One of the more ridiculous college football bowl games kicks off at 3:30 PM EST today.  At least it doesn't take itself too seriously:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Development Waste Leads To Massive Chinese Landslide

A massive landslide rocked an industrial park in China’s southern city Shenzhen on Sunday (Dec. 20), burying 33 buildings and leaving at least 85 people missing by Monday. Authorities said the collapse of a huge mound of soil and construction waste caused the disaster. The landslide might have also led to an explosion along a nearby stretch of natural gas pipeline, state news agency Xinhua reported...
The landslide occurred at around 11:40am on Sunday (local time) in the Hengtaiyu industrial park in northwestern Shenzhen’s Guangming New District. It deposited more than 100,000 square meters (1.1 million square feet) of debris at the site, Xinhua reported. A sea of brown soil—with an average thickness of six meters (20 feet)—has covered an area of more than 60,000 square meters, geological experts told Xinhua.
The mound of construction waste that collapsed had become too large and its angles too steep, the ministry of land and resources said Sunday evening on its Sina Weibo account (link in Chinese, registration required)....
Shenzhen, a mainland manufacturing hub near Hong Kong, has been aggressively building new housing estates, subway lines, and other projects. The amount of the municipality’s waste mud has increased significantly in recent years, expanding to 30 million cubic meters (1.1 billion cubic feet) last year from 9.5 million cubic meters in 2007.
The nine dumping areas currently licensed by the city—which includes the one that burst yesterday—have a combined capacity of about 50 million cubic meters, local media report (link in Chinese). Many companies have reportedly been dumping waste mud at roadsides and illegal sites.
That is a massive landslide.  Why in the hell would they be stockpiling that much soil in giant waste piles?  That doesn't make any sense to me.

Madeline the Robot Tamer

Madeline the Robot Tamer from Pier 9 on Vimeo.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 18:

Herbig-Haro 24
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA) / Hubble-Europe Collaboration
Acknowledgment: D. Padgett (GSFC), T. Megeath (University of Toledo), B. Reipurth (University of Hawaii)
Explanation: This might look like a double-bladed lightsaber, but these two cosmic jets actually beam outward from a newborn star in a galaxy near you. Constructed from Hubble Space Telescope image data, the stunning scene spans about half a light-year across Herbig-Haro 24 (HH 24), some 1,300 light-years or 400 parsecs away in the stellar nurseries of the Orion B molecular cloud complex. Hidden from direct view, HH 24's central protostar is surrounded by cold dust and gas flattened into a rotating accretion disk. As material from the disk falls toward the young stellar object it heats up. Opposing jets are blasted out along the system's rotation axis. Cutting through the region's interstellar matter, the narrow, energetic jets produce a series of glowing shock fronts along their path.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Odds Against a White Christmas

We're not going to have a White Christmas here, but here's the historic probability of one:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Lewis Hamilton

Weekend Before Christmas Links

"'Twas the weekend before Christmas, and all through the land, not a Republican would give a Syrian a hand."
Well, that GOP debate was very ugly, but here are some stories to keep you entertained if you already have your shopping done (I may get started):

Oasis in the Desert – SB Nation  

The King of Tides - Southwest: The Magazine.  From Longreads Best of 2015 Sports Writing

A Tale of Two Sisters - Psychology Today 

Fish Stocks Are Declining Worldwide, And Climate Change Is On The Hook – The Salt

The Ominous Story of Syria's Climate Refugees - Scientific American.  Yes, grandpa, climate change isn't a hoax, and it has deadly consequences (what I'd like to say at Christmas dinner, but won't).

A White-Hot Christmas Wraps Up Earth's hottest Year On Record - Bloomberg

The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker: A Jedi’s Path to Jihad – Decider and This is the state where people are most nuts about Star Wars – Wonkblog.  Hmm, the rebel alliance as a cult, and this data point...  

In Lincoln, Neb., a View of Full Employment – Wall Street Journal

The Wright Brothers: Pioneers of Patent Trolling - Time.  (h/t the family patent lawyer).  This is the part of the Wright Brothers history that doesn't get much attention locally, but was brought to my attention by Jonathon Larson a few years back.  I'd like to note that Dayton, and much of the rest of industrial Midwest, was the Silicon Valley of the industrial age at the turn of the last century.  Apparently, innovation and patent law bring out the worst in some folks (the Wright brothers, Apple, Samsung, Martin Shkreli, etc.)

The Inventor of Auto-Tune - Priceonomics 

For Republicans, bigotry is the new normal - Washington Post.  Well, it always has been in my lifetime, but it seems to get stronger and stronger as the nation continues its demographic change.  It makes me cringe anytime one of the GOP presidential candidates says, "we have to take back our country."

Can we stop pretending Republicans care about the deficit now? - The Plum Line

The GOP's Foreign Policy Fantasy Problem - Daniel Larison.  And Larison is no Democrat or Obot.

How a Quiet Corner of Iowa Packs Such a Fierce Conservative Punch – The Upshot.  These are the folks to blame for foisting Steve King on an innocent nation.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Stagg Bowl: Mount Union vs. St. Thomas

Well, for once the game isn't Mount Union vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater. Mount Union will probably win, but I'm pulling for the Tommies. If you don't have anything else to do tonight, and you want to watch some fundamentally sound football, you ought to tune into this game.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Five Stone of Lead

Five Stone of Lead - Jonny Madderson from Just So on Vimeo.

The Legend of Galloping Gertie

Alex Pasternack has a fascinating story at Motherboard about how the explanation of resonance causing the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows bridge isn't accurate.  And there are a ton of cool videos and GIFs:
The wind on November 7, 1940 was possibly the strongest wind the bridge had ever experienced, and it came at a crucial time: the bracing under the deck was likely weakened during a midnight storm several days prior, according to reports at the time.
Just after 10 a.m., as the bridge's undulations reached new heights, causing each side of the bridge’s suspension cables to alternate between taut and slack, one of those cables snapped into two piece of varying lengths. This created an immediate imbalance. Whereas the deck had earlier exhibited an up-and-down “galloping” motion like a roller coaster, now it was lopsided and capable of twisting along its center axis, which it began to do. As it interacted with the wind in this twisting motion—and with gravity, with the cables, and with its two fixed ends—its twisting movement didn’t dampen the effect of the wind as it continued to nudge the bridge: the twisting increased it.
Each time the bridge twisted, that is, it twisted a little bit more, not less, back in the other direction, in a steady buildup of twisting energy that was reinforced by the wind. After an hour or so of this, it finally twisted itself apart.
Gertie's mechanical suicide was the result of feedback—of a structure entering a self-sustaining vibration as it responds to the steady force of the wind, absorbing more energy than it can dissipate in the process. It's also known as aerodynamically-induced self-excitation, or simply, flutter.
"You will find it a challenge to explain!" Donald Olson, a physics professor at Texas State University, warned me. He is the co-author or a new study about the collapse and some problems with the footage that captured it (more on that to come). While he said ninety-nine percent of the physicists reading his study will have been teaching the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as resonance, "subsequent authors have rejected the resonance explanation, and their perspective is gradually spreading to the physics community."
According to the most complete recent research, he and his co-authors write, "the failure of the bridge was related to a wind-driven amplification of the torsional oscillation that, unlike a resonance, increases monotonically with increasing wind speed."...
The bridge responded to each twist with a slightly larger twist, buffeted by the wind and by new, larger vortices shedding off its edges, all of which were helping to nudge the bridge just a little bit further each time it twisted.
While the earlier vortices—the von Karman vortex street—may have led to the initial oscillations, the bridge's new movement was self induced, its new vortices the result of flutter wake. (If the vortex street was in effect, the bridge would have shed vortices at about 1 hertz, or one vortex per second, but this is out of synch with the .2 hertz torsional vibrations that Farquarson observed when the bridge was twisting.)
Each time the deck of the bridge twisted now, it sought to return to its original position (inertial forces). And as it did so, twisting back with a matching speed and direction (elastic forces), the wind and the vortices caught it each time, pushing the deck just a little bit more in that direction (aerodynamic forces). With each twist and each twist back, the size of the twisting slightly increased.
And as the deck flexed slightly higher and higher in its new twisting motion, it released even greater eddies of wind along its sides, which shed larger vortices, further contributing to the deck's instability.
Another interesting fact I didn't know was that some of the footage of the bridge was filmed at a slower speed, making the oscillations of the bridge appear to be faster than they really were.  The whole article is worth reading, especially if you are an engineering nerd.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Moving the World's Commodities

Here is an interesting story about one of the world's largest commodity trading firms, Vitol:

Simply put, Vitol is one of the biggest trading companies on the planet. It is the ninth largest corporation in the world by revenue, behind only Shell and BP from the FTSE 100, and comfortably ahead of Volkswagen, Apple and Chevron. Last year Vitol’s sprawling empire raked in $270bn in sales.
The firm is among handful of mega-trading houses, that have been quietly operating in the shadows at the heart of global trade and commodity markets, keeping the world economy running with a constant supply of fuels, base metals, chemicals and foodstuffs.
The rise of these companies has coincided with the commodities super-boom of the past 15 years and the seismic shift in world trade from west to east. As China, India and Brazil have become the new international powerhouses, Vitol, and its rivals Glencore, Trafigura, Gunvor, and Mercuria, have emerged as the powerbrokers pulling the levers of the global economy.
Yet despite its size and reach, very little is known about Vitol or what it really does. This has fuelled accusations of secrecy, reports of dodgy deals with corrupt regimes, criticism of its tax affairs, and growing questions of whether its grip on world markets is too great....
The scale of Vitol’s operations is mind-boggling. Last year, it made more than 6,000 journeys and traded 128 million of tonnes of crude oil. On a good day, it can move 5 million barrels, more than China’s total daily output. It also shipped 26 billion cubic meters of natural gas; 8.9 million tonnes of LPG; a million tonnes of naphtha; 34 million tonnes of coal; and 600,000 barrels of physical gasoline a day. At any one time, it can have more than 200 ships on the world’s oceans, roughly the size of the US navy’s battle fleet.
Profit margins in commodities trading are ultra-slim, often less than 1pc on each trade. But thanks to Vitol’s sheer size and scale, it does not take long for the profits to rack up. That means bumper pay days at the employee-owned firm.
In 2014, pre-tax profits doubled to $1.67bn, $1.2bn of which was shared between the company’s 300 or so employee shareholders. While much of the oil industry, including the majors, has been laid low by the slump in oil prices, last year was one of the best in Vitol’s history.
Wow.  Those guys have done a ton of work in Kurdish Iraq, Libya and other unstable warzones and hellholes.  Considering my small amount of experience with the logistics of a small manufacturing firm in a stable nation, I can't imagine all the hassles and headaches moving all those commodities through some of those disaster areas.  While it is clear they are able to get more than their share of the pie, I have to give them credit: they are doing much more actual work and productive activity than most folks on Wall Street.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

December 7:
Comet Catalina Emerges
Image Credit & Copyright: Fritz Helmut Hemmerich
Explanation: Comet Catalina is ready for its close-up. The giant snowball from the outer Solar System, known formally as C/2013 US10 (Catalina), rounded the Sun last month and is now headed for its closest approach to Earth in January. With the glow of the Moon now also out of the way, morning observers in Earth's northern hemisphere are getting their best ever view of the new comet. And Comet Catalina is not disappointing. Although not as bright as early predictions, the comet is sporting both dust (lower left) and ion (upper right) tails, making it an impressive object for binoculars and long-exposure cameras. The featured image was taken last week from the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa. Sky enthusiasts around the world will surely be tracking the comet over the next few months to see how it evolves.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

December Heatwave Weekend Links

We're supposed to have highs in the mid-sixties and lows in the mid-fifties here two weeks before Christmas.  If you aren't wondering whether Old Man Winter kicked the bucket this fall, you might want to check out these stories:

One Last Smile With The Snake - SB Nation

My run-in with hate speech at a Minnesota Vikings game - Star-Tribune.

How the first turbaned NCAA basketball player responded to becoming a racist meme - Washington Post.  Not only are American racists generally stupid, they just can't figure out the difference between Sikhs and Muslims.

Antibiotic Use On Farms Is Up, Despite Promises To Kick The Drugs - The Salt.  I hate to tell you farmers, but this issue isn't going away.  

This Scientist Uncovered Problems With Pesticides. Then the Government Started to Make His Life Miserable - Mother Jones.  The guy may have an agenda, or may be a kook, but I don't think that trying to silence him is the best way to disprove his claims. If he's wrong, trying to replicate his results ought to do the trick.

Everything You Know About Latkes is Wrong - The Atlantic
A Biofuel Dream Gone Bad - Fortune

The Long Haul: One Year of Solitude on America's Highways - Esquire

The Guinness Brewer Who Revolutionized Statistics - Priceonomics

The Scandalous Legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Collector of Art and Men - Vice

These Canadians Own Your Town - Fortune

When Catholics Were America's Muslims - The Broken Elbow.  I always keep historical American anti-Catholicism in mind when listening to today's bigots, many Catholic.

A Missouri town demands substantive due process - Washington Post.  I would guess George Will's opposition has more nefarious roots, but I'll second his opinion about excessive fines in this community.

A House Divided - The New Yorker.  Good piece on the rise of the Jim Jordan-led "Freedom Caucus," and the inability of mildly sane Republicans to restrain them.

Dow, DuPont Deal Cements Activists' Rise - Wall Street Journal.  We'll see more ag mergers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Interesting News on the Agribusiness Front

Dow Chemical Co. is in late-stage merger talks with DuPont Co., people with knowledge of the matter said.
A deal could be announced as soon as this week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. After the merger, the company would break into two or three businesses because of regulatory and other issues, the people said. There is no guarantee a deal will get done and talks could still fall apart, the people said.
A combination would create the world’s second-biggest chemical company behind BASF SE and the world’s biggest seed and pesticide company, surpassing Monsanto Co.
Representatives of both companies declined to comment.
Whether this happens or not, there will be mergers in agribusiness.  The near-term future will not be kind to businesses in agriculture.

Experimental Orchard Flooding in California During El Nino

Scientific American:
Those most critically affected by the state's four-year drought are the Central Valley's farmers, whose livelihoods are threatened. Without rain to irrigate croplands, growers repeatedly turn to underground aquifers, but the overpumping has taken a toll, causing water tables to drop dramatically.
Fortunately, this winter's forecast in California calls for plenty of rain, most likely amplified by strong El NiƱo conditions. Storm drainage systems typically redirect most floodwater out to sea, but given the region's intense water deficit, hydrology scientists at the University of California, Davis, are experimenting with so-called groundwater banking, which involves sending storm water to flood fallow fields where it can percolate into the soil and replenish aquifers. Storm water absorbed in the winter can then serve as a reservoir of summer refreshment for growing crops, says U.C. Davis's Helen Dahlke.
For two months this winter Dahlke and her team will flood almond orchards in the Central Valley near Davis to a depth of two feet by redirecting rainfall through a network of ditches originally designed to divert floodwater away. To measure success, they will then monitor how much water filters into the water table over the course of two years. They will also test the quality of the infiltrated water and check trees for root rot, which could be detrimental to crop yield. If the method pans out, pear, plum and walnut tree orchards might also benefit from intentional flooding, according to a recent study led by Anthony O'Geen of the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Previous tests of the technique have proved successful. In 2011 Terranova Ranch manager Don Cameron diverted Kings River floodwater in Fresno County onto 240 acres of vineyards and other farmland, inundating them for five months. “They looked like rice fields, but the grapes did fine,” Cameron says. Seventy percent of the water percolated into the water table, where it was available for pumping back onto fields during the next growing cycle.
Questions remain about groundwater banking's effects on tree physiology and the extent to which salts and nitrates from fertilizers could migrate into drinking water.
Wow.  It is hard to imagine how that would be good for fruit or nut trees if the water was going to sit there for a very long time.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

A Force from Empty Space: The Casimir Effect
Image Credit & Copyright: Umar Mohideen (U. California at Riverside)
Explanation: This tiny ball provides evidence that the universe will expand forever. Measuring slightly over one tenth of a millimeter, the ball moves toward a smooth plate in response to energy fluctuations in the vacuum of empty space. The attraction is known as the Casimir Effect, named for its discoverer, who, 55 years ago, was trying to understand why fluids like mayonnaise move so slowly. Today, evidence indicates that most of the energy density in the universe is in an unknown form dubbed dark energy. The form and genesis of dark energy is almost completely unknown, but postulated as related to vacuum fluctuations similar to the Casimir Effect but generated somehow by space itself. This vast and mysterious dark energy appears to gravitationally repel all matter and hence will likely cause the universe to expand forever. Understanding vacuum energy is on the forefront of research not only to better understand our universe but also for stopping micro-mechanical machine parts from sticking together.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Repeal Day Weekend Links

Happy Repeal Day!  Go knock back a shot of whiskey (maybe not before noon) and check out these stories:

Six-Man Football: How Small Texas Towns Hold on to the Game They Love - Vice Sports

The Samoan Pipeline - California Sunday Magazine

High School Football's Friday Night Bloat - The Upshot.  I forgot about this last week.

Notes From the Underground: The faux battle for the secret crown of New York - SB Nation

How Chicago's Slaughterhouse Spectacles Paved The Way For Big Meat - The Salt

Ranchers denied the drought while collecting drought subsidies - Reveal.  I'm shocked.

An Interstate Battle for Groundwater - The Atlantic.  No surprise that farmers are in the middle of it.

This Is the Longest Buffalo Has Gone Without Measurable Snow - Bloomberg.  El Nino at work.

Is the 2 degree C world a fantasy? - Nature.  Yup, I think we are screwed.

Kurt and Bernard - Slate

'If I burn out, I burn out': Meet Taylor Wilson, nuclear boy genius - The Guardian

Rick Dyer's Believe It Or Not! - Texas Monthly.  Bigfoot on tour.

A grim bargain - Washington Post.  Very interesting

1,052 mass shootings in 1,066 days: this is what America's gun crisis looks like - The Guardian.  Pretty amazing in a horrifying way.

What Would It Take To Turn Blue States Red - FiveThirtyEight

Why the Economic Fates of America's Cities Diverged - The Atlantic.  The deregulation and anti-trust angle is interesting, but tax policy, zoning, geography and a number of other things have shaped it.

Kasich's 'Plan' to Balance Budget Does Not Exist - New York Magazine.  Whodathunkit?  You mean the trickle-down knucklehead that is in charge of my state is innumerate and full of shit?

How to Satisfy the World's Surging Appetite for Meat - Wall Street Journal

Monday, November 30, 2015

Let's Not Jump To Conclusions

What moved a man to kill three people and wound nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado has not been disclosed. But the suspect accused of carrying out the shooting spree, Robert Lewis Dear, made remarks about "baby parts" to investigators after his surrender, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Dear, 57, told them he has anti-abortion and anti-government views, but that doesn't mean those opinions were his motive for allegedly shooting up the Colorado Springs clinic on Friday, the official said. It's too early to tell, as investigators are still processing evidence.
Well, Occam's Razor could probably be used to determine what motivated the shooter, but it doesn't appear that Ted Cruz is using it:
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is the latest presidential candidate trying to downplay the role anti-abortion rhetoric may have played in motivating the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs Friday afternoon. When a reporter asked him at an Iowa campaign stop Sunday evening about suspect Robert Lewis Dear saying he was motivated by “no more baby parts,” Cruz countered that he’s also been reported to be a “transgendered [sic] leftist activist.”
Cruz explained, “We know that he was a man registered to vote as a woman.” This discrepancy on Dear’s voter registration was first reported by The Gateway Pundit, a self-described “right-of-center news website,” under the claim that he “identifies as [a] woman.” Conservatives have since run with the claim that Dear is transgender.
There is actually no evidence to suggest that he is transgender, nor a “leftist,” nor any kind of activist. In fact, all of the available information suggests he was none of those things....The Times’ profile also identifies him as “generally conservative,” having been raised as a Baptist, but as someone who did not discuss politics much. According to his ex-wife, “he believed wholeheartedly in the Bible” and believed that abortion was wrong. He also distributed pamphlets criticizing President Obama to his neighbors in Colorado. On the voter registration form with the gender discrepancy, his party is listed as “UAF,” meaning unaffliated.
I'll bet against that transgender theory.  I'll also bet against the theory that Ted Cruz isn't a slimy, manipulative charlatan who pretends to be religious.

NASA Photo of the Day

November 27:

Gravity's Grin
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical - NASA/STScI
Explanation: Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, published 100 years ago this month, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that's what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group's two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group's total distribution of gravitational mass dominated by dark matter. In fact the two large elliptical "eye" galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving / OSU-Michigan Weekend Links

Here are a few interesting stories for your long holiday weekend:

Wojo's Pigskin Picks: UM, OSU keep sights on rivalry - Detroit News.  This is an OSU-Michigan tradition, but not one of his best efforts.  Michigan's decade of struggles have taken some of the fight out of him.

Bandwagon: Once a national TV staple, Grey Cup now restricted to specialty channels - Ottawa Citizen.  Ottawa notices once they have a team again which makes the Grey Cup (Ottawa vs. Edmonton for those of us in the States).

Cold Turkey - SB Nation.  In which a man tries to avoid football for an entire season.

The Central Valley is sinking: drought forces farmers to ponder the abyss - The Guardian

How Long Can Florida's Citrus Industry Survive? - The Salt

Fattest-Ever U.S. Cattle Herd Signals End to Record Beef Prices - Bloomberg

Don't Try This At Home: Cincinnati's Legendary Beer Gulpers - Cincinnati Magazine 

How potatoes rule the US, in 2 charts - Vox

The Miserable Life of the Presidential Turkey - Priceonomics

Palm Oil Facing 'Powerful Cocktail' of El Nino, Fuel Demand - Bloomberg

Making a Great Wool Blanket Is Harder Than You Think - Bloomberg.  US made.

Bertha: The big risks may lie ahead - Crosscut.  Example number one of a massive infrastructure project gone bad.

How an ugly, brutally effective warplane won the battle for its future - Reuters.  The A-10, of course.

The pretend war: why bombing ISIL won't solve the problem - Andrew Bacevich

Over There - Texas Monthly.  A little more optimistic than I might be about the "War on Terror."

How Chicago tried to cover up a police execution - Chicago Reporter and The Corrupt System that Killed Laquan McDonald - The Atlantic

Who Turned My Blue State Red - New York Times.  Democrats will be challenged to turn out lower income voters while Republicans consolidate gains among traditionally Democratic working-class whites (who are still employed).

How America's Demographic Revolution Reached The Church - National Journal

Who said it: Donald Trump or Mr. Burns from 'The Simpsons'? - Washington Post.  Harder than I anticipated.  Satire has been eclipsed by reality.

Some Parts of America Are Aging Much Faster Than Others - FiveThirtyEight.  Very interesting maps.  This one doesn't bode well for the Great Plains, although some areas also lead in population under 20 (I would guess that skews Hispanic in the Texas Panhandle and Kansas, while it is Mormon in the Mountain West, Catholic in Mercer County, OH, Amish in Holmes County, OH and NE Indiana, and Dutch Reformed in Sioux County, IA and Holland, MI ):

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What's On The Side?

FiveThirtyEight looks at the regional differences in Thanksgiving meals:

Going deeper, the Southeast is the definitive home of canned cranberry sauce; respondents from the region are 50 percent more likely to pick that over the homemade variety. The Middle Atlantic states disproportionately have cauliflower as a side — 17 percent in the region versus 9 percent nationwide — while Texas and central Southern states see cornbread as far more necessary than the rest of the country, with 40 percent of respondents from those regions having it at dinner, compared with only 28 percent of the nation.
The Southeast prefers their carbs in the form of mac and cheese — 35 percent of respondents in that region include the dish on their Thanksgiving menu versus 20 percent of the country overall. Meanwhile, New England is losing its mind over squash, with 56 percent demanding it on their table, compared with only 18 percent of the nation as a whole. This is, by far, the most confusing finding of this whole pursuit. Did Gronk endorse squash or something?
What about dessert? Every region enjoys pumpkin pie. But beyond that, there are three Americas: The America that disproportionately has apple pie (New England and the Middle Atlantic), the America that has pecan pie and sweet potato pie (the assorted South), and the America that consumes cherry pie (the Midwest and West).
Wait, there are people who don't have rolls with Thanksgiving?  People eat squash?  I thought it was for decoration.  And don't get me started on salad.

Wisconsin Cranberry Harvest

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finland - Timelapse

FINLAND | Timelapse from Riku Karjalainen on Vimeo.

Farm Bill Funnels Money to Overproducing Peanut Farmers


A mountain of peanuts is piling up in the U.S. south, threatening to hand American taxpayers a near $2-billion bailout bill over the next three years, and leaving the government with a big chunk of the crop on its books.Peanut growers in states including Georgia and Alabama boosted sowing acreage by a fifth this spring and now are wrapping up harvesting their 3.1-million-ton crop, the second-largest ever, even as prices plumb seven-year lows...
One way or another, U.S. farmers look set to keep producing more peanuts than Americans can consume, leaving taxpayers on the hook.
First, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is paying farmers most of the difference between the "reference price" of $535 per ton (26.75 cents per lb) and market prices, now below $400 per ton. A Nov. 18 report to Congress estimates such payments this year for peanuts exceed those for corn and soybeans by more than $100 per acre.
Secondly, government loan guarantees mean once prices fall below levels used to value their crops as collateral, farmers have an incentive to default on the loans and hand over the peanuts to the USDA rather than sell them to make the payments....
Through forfeitures, the USDA amassed 145,000 tons of peanuts from last year's crop, its largest stockpile in at least nine years, according to data compiled by Reuters.That stockpile is enough to satisfy the average annual consumption of over 20 million Americans - more than the population of Florida - and puts the administration in a bind.Storing the peanuts in shellers' and growers' warehouses comes at a cost. Selling them could depress the market further and in turn would add to the price subsidy bill.
Payments to peanut farmers could total between $960 million and $1.9 billion through fiscal 2018, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and USDA projections cited in the Congressional Research Service report.
The higher costs come as the 2014 Farm Bill set high peanut reference prices relative to historic averages and cut support for production of cotton, an alternative crop, encouraging growers to dedicate more acres to peanuts, the report and experts said.
The government spends far more on big cash crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans, with support for corn alone expected to cost $3.6 billion this year, according to CBO estimates. Yet relative to crops size and value, peanut crops are costlier, with payments worth more than a third of the crop's value.
I anticipate we are going to see a massive increase in government subsidies to farmers in all of the commodity programs.  Most corn and soybean farmers signed up for the program that guaranteed them payments in the next two years, but if prices continue to fall, I expect disaster payments or other program modifications to be made to ensure that farmers receive larger payments.  We had a massive commodity bubble, and the popping of that bubble will be extremely painful for rural areas which only had that bubble to keep them from being pummeled through the recession which mangled the manufacturing and construction sectors of the economy.  Farmers vote, and politicians know this.  There will be a multitude of articles similar to this in the next few years, although many will focus on other commodity crops.  We had our seven good years, you can expect we'll have seven or more bad ones.

Big Money College Sports Get Bigger

Washington Post:
Big-time college sports departments are making more money than ever before, thanks to skyrocketing television contracts, endorsement and licensing deals, and big-spending donors. But many departments also are losing more money than ever, as athletic directors choose to outspend rising income to compete in an arms race that is costing many of the nation’s largest publicly funded universities and students millions of dollars. Rich departments such as Auburn have built lavish facilities, invented dozens of new administrative positions and bought new jets, while poorer departments such as Rutgers have taken millions in mandatory fees from students and siphoned money away from academic budgets to try to keep up.
To examine why so many big college athletic departments struggle to profit, The Washington Post reviewed thousands of pages of financial records from 48 public universities in the “Power Five,” the five wealthiest collegiate conferences. All 2004 figures are adjusted for inflation.
Among the findings:
●From 2004 to 2014, the combined income of the 48 departments nearly doubled, from $2.67 billion to $4.49 billion. The median department saw earnings jump from $52.9 million to $93.1 million.
●After a decade marked by surging income, 25 departments still ran a deficit in 2014. Twelve departments, including Auburn and Rutgers, actually lost more money in 2014 than in 2004.
● While some athletic programs have eliminated or reduced mandatory student fees earmarked for sports, other programs are charging more than ever. Students paid $114 million in required athletics fees in 2014, up from $95 million in 2004.
Athletic directors at money-losing departments defend their spending as essential to keeping pace with competition. Their programs benefit universities in ways that don’t show on athletics financial statements, they said, like media exposure that can cause increased applicants and help fundraising.
There are some great graphics and more details in the article (I'd have some of the graphics here, but the Post has gone all New York Times on screwing over free use of their graphics).  Just like in the rest of society, the rich get richer and the poor go broke trying to keep up with the Joneses.  Also much like the real economy, massive rewards go to some despite contributing little or nothing to the betterment of society. This is one of the better examples of how skewed our priorities are.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

November 19:

Centaurus A
Processing & Copyright: Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari
Image Data: Hubble Space Telescope, European Southern Observatory
Explanation: What's the closest active galaxy to planet Earth? That would be Centaurus A, only 11 million light-years distant. Spanning over 60,000 light-years, the peculiar elliptical galaxy is also known as NGC 5128. Forged in a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies, Centaurus A's fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, pinkish star forming regions, and imposing dark dust lanes are seen here in remarkable detail. The colorful galaxy portrait is a composite of image data from space- and ground-based telescopes large and small. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.

Oil Glut Crimps Activity in Shale Plays

Wall Street Journal:

More than 250,000 people world-wide have lost their jobs in the industry over the past year, according to Graves & Co., a Houston consulting firm. Many companies that were hoping to weather low energy prices without new rounds of layoffs and salary cuts may be forced to slash those costs yet again, said Eric Lee, an energy analyst with Citigroup.
“Who’s going to take the brunt of this? Shale has already cut back a lot,” Mr. Lee said, adding that new oil projects are being deferred around the world.
In a way, he added, oil companies are responsible for the current situation. During brief price rallies, they raced back into fields to drill new wells—adding to the global glut of crude and cutting off the price rebounds. Even as the number of rigs operating in the U.S. fell 60% so far this year, American oil production through August dipped just 3% from its April peak, federal data show.
What happened was a combination of declining costs for oil-field services and equipment and impressive feats of engineering. Companies doubled the amount of sand they pumped into wells, figuring out how to better prop open rock layers to draw out more oil and natural gas. Operators moved rigs into areas where crude flowed the most freely, cut the number of days it took to drill by nearly half and extended the length of horizontal oil wells to reach nearly 2 miles.
Costs for such big wells fell by as much as a third as oil explorers put extreme pressure on the suppliers that help them coax more fuel from the ground, including Halliburton Co. And producers became far more efficient. In the seven most prolific U.S. shale fields, they boosted oil production per rig by as much as 60% this year, according to federal estimates....
Earlier this month, EOG Resources Inc., a Houston-based shale driller, said some of its most prolific wells would yield a rate of return above 40%, even with U.S. oil prices at $50 a barrel.
But break-even prices don’t always give the whole picture of how much money a shale company must spend to pump oil and move it to market. They can exclude land costs, which for some companies amount to billions of dollars, and they don’t include the cost of using pipelines to transport crude, according to company financial statements and analyst reports.
In nearly all of its investor presentations this year, EOG has said it can turn a profit at prices at or below the prevailing oil price at the time of the presentation. Yet more than $6 billion in capital spending this year has produced nearly $4 billion in net losses over the past year for the company, which is an industry bellwether.
The company, which has said $40 oil is unsustainable, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
My understanding was that oil was cheaper to produce in the Permian, but that chart indicates that the Eagle Ford has a lower breakeven price.  So why is production increasing in the Permian and falling off precipitously in the Eagle Ford?  I love the line that in nearly all of its investor presentations EOG claims they can turn a profit at whatever the price of oil is at that time, all while losing their ass.  Nice.  I guess it is good Obama held back the shale oil boom, or oil companies would really be in trouble.  Thanks, Obama.  

Iowa Farmer Plows 'Bernie' in Field

Des Moines Register:

People driving by or flying over Mike Pattavina's farm in Clarinda will see one of the largest and unique political signs in the state. Pattavina plowed a quarter to a half-acre of his soybean field to spell "BERNIE," all free-hand, in support of the Democratic presidential candidate.
"I've never seen anything like this, so I thought I would do something different," Pattavina said. "I'm a huge supporter of Bernie's."
Pattavina said he came up with the idea after people stole his Bernie Sanders yard signs. He said it only took around 20 to 30 minutes to plow through the field with his tractor. This is his first time plowing a design in a field. The "B" in the field is nearly 60 feet tall.
"Of course, that can't be stolen," Pattavina said.
He plans on caucusing for Sanders and he will canvass for him in the winter.
"I think he's honest and he's working for the working-class people," Pattavina said. "He's sincere. When you go back and look at his past, he hasn't changed."
That's pretty cool.  I may spread manure to spell out "CRUZ."  That would best express my feelings for Tailgunner Ted.  If I did it, I would have to quickly incorporate it, lest somebody mistake me for a supporter of that jackass.  One thing is for sure, I'd never be quoted as saying Cruz was honest or working for the working class people because he is neither.  In case you haven't noticed I've settled on Cruz to replace Scott Walker as the candidate I most like to hate.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Clock of the Long Now

The Clock of the Long Now from Public Record on Vimeo.


Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend Links

Well, the holiday season is almost upon us.  Here are some interesting stories to check out before the relatives start showing up in town:

Why Him, Why Me? - ESPN the Magazine

Five Last Rounds In Louisville - SB Nation

The Best Offense in College Football is Also the Laziest - Wall Street Journal

Use of High-Tech Brooms Divides Low-Tech Sport of Curling - New York Times

Paddy-whacked - The Economist 

Say Hello to the Apple that Never Browns - Buzzfeed

Entrepreneurs Pitch Sustainable Seafood Ideas; Investors Take The Bait - The Salt

Heat Records Shatter as a Monster El Nino Gains Strength - Bloomberg, and Record-crushing October keeps Earth on track for hottest year in 2015 - Washington Post.  Check out the graph in the Post article, it is scary.

The History of Plaid - Pacific Standard

How to Be a Lawyer Without Going to Law School - Priceonomics 

Our Own Private Disaster - Boston Review and How To Decimate a City - The Atlantic
Unfollow - The New Yorker

'The Attacks Will Be Spectacular' - Politico.  On the CIA before and after September 11.

The GOP Clown Car Rolls On - Rolling Stone

Republicans still can't explain why their economic ideas keep failing - Washington Post

NFL Owner Stan Kroenke Wants to Take Over L.A. - Bloomberg