Saturday, April 25, 2015

Faster, Stronger and Cheaper

Late April Weekend Links

We're a week away from the Kentucky Derby, I have 6 acres of corn planted (which I shouldn't have planted), but I think these stories will keep you entertained for a little while:

Chris Rock: Baseball's current fan base is like "a tea party rally" - Vox.  I think I made a comment along these lines last week.

Manny Pacquaio has won so much, some wonder what he may have lost - Washington Post

Football Stadium Arms Race Pushed This School Deeper Into Debt - Bloomberg.  Stupid.

The Remaking of Coss Marte - SBNation

Robots Step Into New Planting, Harvesting Roles - Wall Street Journal

Ice Cream Town USA Reeling After Deadly Outbreak - Bloomberg and Jeni's Recalls Its Ice Cream After Blue Bell Listeria Scare - Bloomberg.  You know, I've never eaten either one, not that I was worried about any food poisoning.

Rye is rising: A new whiskey trend that goes with the grain - AP.  Actually, it has been covered here before, but I wanted to link to one final story I saw at Big Picture Agriculture, which is sadly ending its run as the best source of agricultural news I know of (Kay will still post her Luddite photos here).  Thank you, Kay, for doing a hell of a job keeping people informed about the good and bad things we run into with modern agriculture.  For another whiskey story, see Craft Distiller Wants to Save Small Farms - Modern Farmer

How The Beer Garden Came To Be - The Atlantic.  The world (and definitely my little part of it) needs more beer gardens.

At Last: Kentucky Authorities Bust Ring Behind Great Bourbon Heist - The Salt

Will Pope Francis Break The Church? - The Atlantic.  Only if conservatives insist on breaking it.

Catholic Church launches campaign to reshape Junipero Serra's image - LA Times.  Dude's been dead for 231 years (and is reputed to be in Heaven), but he still gets a publicity campaign.

The Drought Isn't California's Only Water Problem - Wired.  That tunnel project is stupid AND dangerous.

A lethal nostalgia - Aeon.  I'm guilty of this nostalgia.  Hell, even my stock investments reflect this.  I own stock in 3 coal companies and 5 steel companies.

The Asshole Factory - Medium.  Well, we are still good at making something.

The Last Man On Earth - Grantland.  Dwight Yoakam, not Will Forte.

Graves of the Dead - longreads

Why Can't America Have Great Trains - National Journal.  Three reasons: no large constituency for them, not enough population density and knee-jerk resistance to them from conservatives who hate environmentalists and urbanists.  The article is very interesting, though, because of the Mississippians who support rail transit.  Ohio really fucked the dog when Kasich spiked the 3C rail plan.  Even if it was slow as hell, something is better than nothing.  And we've got nothing.

#NoNewsIsBadNews - Cincinnati Magazine.  There are some very important points made in this article about civic participation.

Payday at the mill:  How sophisticated financiers used a Maine program they devised to wring millions of dollars in risk-free returns at taxpayer expense - Portland Press Herald.  More like legalized theft.  This article proves one of the points about local newspapers made in the story above.

Bradley's 'China Mirage' Portrays A Long-Running U.S. Mistake in Asia - Morning EditionA Grand Delusion, by Robert Mann, does a good job of relating how this 'China Delusion, and Republican politicization of it, led to the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and since I was reading it in the run-up to Iraq, I would posit charges of Democratic weakness then led to that failed war, too.

U.S. Shale Fracklog Triples as Drillers Keep Oil From Market - Bloomberg.  While this is significant, I think we'll find out well depletion rates and the decrease in rig count trump the fracklog overall.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How To Destroy Millions of Chickens

Suffocating foam, then composting.  Seriously:
And despite all that, the virus has managed to infect flock after flock, more than 40 in all, mostly in Minnesota. Wherever the virus is detected, those flocks are killed with a suffocating foam. The carcasses usually are composted in the barns where the birds had been living. It can be months before the farms are back in operation.
The biggest infected flock, by far, were the 3 million egg-laying chickens identified this week in Iowa. A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture tells The Salt that the birds will be euthanized later this week. In this case, the birds may not all be composted. Some could also be buried, or sent to rendering plants.
Robert O'Connor, a veterinarian and senior vice president of Foster Farms, a large producer of chickens and turkeys on the West Coast, says no one is quite sure how the virus is evading the industry's careful biosecurity efforts. "We're all trying to answer that. There's a lot of speculation about how it might be getting into enclosed houses," he says.
John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ticked off several theories. Perhaps wild ducks are getting into stored poultry feed. Or maybe strong winds are blowing dirt and debris into the houses. "We've had some strong winds in Minnesota, 20 mile-an-hour winds to 40 mile-an-hour winds," he says.
The weather soon may come to the industry's aid: Hot summer temperatures usually kill off this virus.
It probably will resurface in the fall, though. By that time, Clifford says, he wants to have a better idea how this virus is spreading — and how to stop it.
Man, that would be so depressing.  And so disgusting.

250 Year-Old Design Most Accurate Mechanical Pendulum Clock Ever

 The Burgess B clock trial revealed the truth of the claim by John Harrison that he could build a land timepiece to keep time to within a second over 100 days.  Photograph: National Maritime Museum /.

The Guardian:
One of Guinness World Records’ more unusual awards was presented at the National Maritime Museum yesterday. After a 100-day trial, the timepiece known as Clock B – which had been sealed in a clear plastic box to prevent tampering – was officially declared, by Guinness, to be the world’s “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air”.
It was an intriguing enough award. But what is really astonishing is that the clock was designed more than 250 years ago by a man who was derided at the time for “an incoherence and absurdity that was little short of the symptoms of insanity”, and whose plans for the clock lay ignored for two centuries.
The derision was poured on John Harrison, the British clockmaker whose marine chronometers had revolutionised seafaring in the 18th century (and who was the subject of Longitude by Dava Sobel). His subsequent claim – that he would go on to make a pendulum timepiece that was accurate to within a second over a 100-day period – triggered widespread ridicule. The task was simply impossible, it was declared.
But now the last laugh lies with Harrison. At a conference, Harrison Decoded: Towards a Perfect Pendulum Clock, held at Greenwich yesterday, observatory scientists revealed that a clock that had been built to the clockmaker’s exact specifications had run for 100 days during official tests and had lost only five-eighths of a second in that period.
“It is a quite extraordinary achievement and a complete vindication of Harrison, who suffered ridicule over his claim to be able to achieve such accuracy,” said Rory McEvoy, curator of horology at the Royal Museums Greenwich. “This is a wonderful device.”
Harrison was a self-educated carpenter and clockmaker who achieved considerable fame in the mid-18th century for the marine chronometers that he designed to solve the problem that sailors then faced in determining their longitude while at sea. Pinpointing where they lay on the notional lines that run vertically on a map proved extremely difficult for navigators. However, Harrison – in response to a government challenge – developed watches that contained a pair of counter-oscillating weighted beams connected by springs that turned out to be remarkably precise and allowed navigators to determine their position accurately. This was done by measuring local time and then comparing it with the time at Greenwich (which was provided by the chronometer).
Harrison was eventually awarded a considerable sum of money for his efforts and he died a rich man. Not long before his death, however, he produced a book in which he lambasted some of his rivals and proclaimed that he could build a timepiece for use on land that was more accurate than any built by his rivals. This machine – which would have a large pendulum arc, relatively light bob, and a recoil grasshopper escapement – would be able to keep time to within a second over 100 days (though it would need to be wound regularly)....
At the start of the trial, it was noted by witnesses that the clock was running quarter of a second behind Greenwich Mean Time. At the end of the trial yesterday morning, the clock read 7/8ths of a second behind GMT. It had lost 5/8ths of a second in the 100-day trial.
Given that mechanical clocks of this accuracy were not developed until the 20th century, Harrison’s remarkable design can now be seen for what it was: a masterpiece.
 That is amazing.  The man was apparently a mechanical genius.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Navarre, The Land of Light

NAVARRE, THE LAND OF LIGHT - TIMELAPSE (2015) from Iñaki Tejerina on Vimeo.

The Price Is Right

This is entertaining:

This is worthwhile journalistic research:

 On Monday evening, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price went on a profanity tour de force. In his daily pre-game briefing with reporters, Price uttered 91 obscenities while fuming over the Cincinnati Enquirer’s accurate report that All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco was not with the team for Sunday’s game.
His tirade lasted 5 minutes 34 seconds, and according to the Enquirer, which posted a transcript of the exchange on its website, it included “77 uses of the ‘F’ word or a variant and 11 uses of a vulgar term for feces (two bovine, one equine).” He later apologized for using “wholly inappropriate language,” though adding that “I stand by the content of my message.”
Price, whose team had lost seven of its previous eight before beating the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, joined a number of managers/coaches whose meltdowns in front of the media went viral. But was Price’s outburst the most profane among those caught on tape?
In terms of the sheer total, it may have been. A quick search of notable coach/manager tirades in front of the media failed to turn up an expletive tally anywhere close to 91. But baseball is a game of rate statistics—batting average, earned-run average and so on. And in that regard, Price didn’t quite make history.
Price averaged one profanity every 3.7 seconds—impressive, no doubt, but not as prolific as Hal McRae. In 1993, while managing the Kansas City Royals, McRae responded to a question about strategy by unleashing 32 expletives in 85 seconds, or one every 2.7 seconds. He also threw several objects off his desk and concluded by saying, “Put that in your f— pipe and smoke it.”
Notably, Price did manage to curse at a higher clip than former Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia. In his infamous 1983 rant against Cubs fans, Elia uttered 48 profanities in 3:07, averaging one every 3.9 seconds.
One amazing thing about baseball is that grown men can act like this and nothing is going to happen to them.  That is, as long as they do it to a sportswriter and not some average Joe.  

Death By Frack Oil?

Wall Street Journal:
The deaths of Trent Vigus and at least nine other oil-field workers over the past five years had haunting similarities. Each worker was doing a job that involved climbing on top of a catwalk strung between rows of storage tanks and opening a hatch.
There were no known witnesses to any of the men’s deaths. Their bodies were all found lying on top of or near the tanks. Medical examiners generally attributed the workers’ deaths primarily or entirely to natural causes, often heart failure.
But in the past few months, there has been a shift. Though still unsure of the exact cause of the deaths, government agencies and some industry-safety executives are now acknowledging a pattern and are focusing on the possible role played in the deaths by hydrocarbon chemicals, which can lead to quick asphyxiation or heart failure when inhaled in large quantities....
According to some industry-safety and government officials. The industry has been ignoring warning signs for years and has been resistant to implementing some steps that would reduce or eliminate the risk to workers.
“I was trying to get workers into respirators and all kinds of things and running an uphill battle,” said a former industrial hygienist for a large oil company who said he had noticed dangerously high hydrocarbon levels in some of his testing as far back as 2009. “They say, ‘Everyone does it this way.’ But that doesn’t make it any less right or wrong.”
The documented deaths date back to 2010, with six last year. Three were in North Dakota, three in Colorado, one in Texas, one in Oklahoma and one in Montana, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which first highlighted the pattern in May 2014. This year there was at least one death, in North Dakota. It’s still under investigation and may fit the pattern, federal officials said....
It’s unclear why these types of deaths were noticed only recently, and the cause is still under study. Unlike many previous oilfield deaths involving toxic fumes, the culprit doesn’t appear to be hydrogen sulfide, which has long been well-known in the industry as a hazard. Some experts have focused on the unusually high levels of certain hydrocarbons, including benzene, in the type of crude that is now common in the U.S....
Some industry and government experts say they believe the danger may be exacerbated in part by a recent environmental rule designed to protect public health.
In 2012 the Environmental Protection Agency enacted a rule that new oil-field tanks would have to capture hydrocarbons coming out of well sites rather than vent them into the atmosphere. As a result of the requirement, the same dangerous chemicals that had been emitted regularly were now more likely to build up pressure inside the newer tanks, industry and government scientists say....
Some industry experts say the industry knew the plumes could unleash potentially dangerous vapors and should have been monitoring the chemical levels all along. And, they say, companies could implement safety fixes that would reduce or remove hazards. One option is to use automated or remote methods to read tank levels. That is done regularly elsewhere, including in Canada.
“There’s no question in my mind it was absolutely known” that there were dangerously noxious fumes coming from the tanks, said Dennis Schmitz, a safety consultant for oil companies in North Dakota. “You are absolutely required to evaluate that hazard before you put that employee up there.”
I would wager that the main issue is that a lot of the fracked oil is actually condensate and natural gas liquids, which are much more volatile than traditional crude oil.  That is the reason why many refineries in the U.S. are not set up to handle the fracked crude, and it is also the reason why so many train derailments have led to massive explosions.  I bet it's why these workers have been dying.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Canada Loves Poop

So says The Atlantic (Ralph Waldo Emerson would be proud of the publication he co-founded):
The French love the heart emoji.
Canadians prefer pizza—and the pile of poo.
And Americans? The land that gave the world the iPhone, the Declaration of Independence, and the Kinsey Report prefers emoji that depict technology, royalty, and… eggplants. 
These preferences were revealed in a new report from SwiftKey, a software company that makes keyboards for iOS and Android phones. The report describes global trends in emoji usage and breaks them out by country and by language. Like nations themselves, it seems, emoji usage is also shaped by culture, climate, and geography.
Yes, this post is useless, but I really wanted to publish that headline.

Bird Flu Hits Iowa Egg Producer Hard

Des Moines Register:
About 5.3 million laying hens in northwest Iowa will be destroyed after tests confirmed a second outbreak of avian influenza in the state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.
It's the largest operation in the nation to be hit with the virus since December, federal documents show. The commercial egg-laying facility, located in Osceola County, more than doubles the number of birds destroyed so far in the country because of the disease.
"It's one of the bigger farms in the state," said Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture. "But when there's an outbreak like this, you have to make sure the disease doesn't leave."
Because of avian influenza, the state's $2 billion commercial egg-laying industry has been on high alert this spring. Iowa, the nation's largest egg producer, has about 50 million hens and supplies nearly 1 in every 5 eggs consumed in the United States...
Last week, H5N2 avian influenza was discovered in a flock of 27,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County. Those birds also were euthanized to contain the spread.
Before Monday's announcement, more than 2.6 million birds had been killed by the disease or by authorities working to prevent it from spreading.
The virus is capable of killing an entire flock within 48 hours.
The names of the Iowa operators or their locations haven't been released. Olson said the family-owned operation in Osceola County provided liquid eggs for use in baked goods.
Destroying your whole flock would be just brutal.  It is believed the disease has been spread by migrating birds in the Mississippi River flyway.  At least officials don't believe there is any threat to human health.

American Demographics and Voting Patterns, In Maps

From the Wall Street Journal.  Not surprisingly, rural areas are generally older, whiter, poorer and more poorly educated than other parts of the country.  They also vote heavily Republican.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Broken Landscape

Video by Michael T. Miller
India is home to thousands of unregulated, unmonitored coal mines. Migrant workers risk their lives in these underground "rat hole mines," chipping away coal with pick axes and hauling it away in baskets. More than 5 million metric tons of coal are mined by hand every year.
The environmental damage caused by this mining is spectacular: landscapes destroyed, fresh water polluted, fish and wildlife killed. "The river was our source of water," Kip Amtra, a village headman, tells filmmaker Michael T. Miller. "Now, the people do not touch it. They are repulsed by it."
In Miller's short documentary, miners in the northeastern state of Meghalaya struggle to find work after an Indian judicial agency shuts down the mines indefinitely. "With the mines closed," says Nishant, a Nepali migrant, "there's really no reason to live here. There is no other work."
This documentary is a production of the Woodrow Wilson Center in association with Think Out Loud Productions.

Author: Chris Heller

Sunday, April 19, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

April 18:

The Great Crater Hokusai
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ. APL, Arizona State Univ., CIW
Explanation: One of the largest young craters on Mercury, 114 kilometer (71 mile) diameter Hokusai crater's bright rays are known to extend across much of the planet. But this mosaic of oblique views focuses on Hokusai close up, its sunlit central peaks, terraced crater walls, and frozen sea of impact melt on the crater's floor. The images were captured by the MESSENGER spacecraft. The first to orbit Mercury, since 2011 MESSENGER has conducted scientific explorations, including extensive imaging of the Solar System's innermost planet. Now running out of propellant and unable to counter orbital perturbations caused by the Sun's gravity, MESSENGER is predicted to impact the surface of Mercury on April 30.

Bad News in the Bakken

Ron Patterson at OilPrice:

Production in the Bakken’s most productive county, McKenzie, has fallen 45,784 bpd since December and is currently about 1,000 bpd below September production level.
Mountrail peaked in September and has since dropped over 25,000 bpd from that peak and is currently almost 2,000 bpd below its July production level. It appears that Mountrail had reached its peak, or nearly so, before the price collapse began. WTI prices averaged $93.21 in September and $84.40 in October when Mountrail had its biggest hit in production.
Mountrail peaked in September and has since dropped over 25,000 bpd from that peak and is currently almost 2,000 bpd below its July production level. It appears that Mountrail had reached its peak, or nearly so, before the price collapse began. WTI prices averaged $93.21 in September and $84.40 in October when Mountrail had its biggest hit in production.
A 10% decrease in production in two months in the largest production county in the Bakken formation?  That is not good at all.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months in the Bakken, Eagle Ford and Permian.  I think the Permian will peak further down the road, but the Bakken and Eagle Ford have probably already maxed out.  We may be seeing higher oil prices not too many months out.

Corky Miller: Minor League Legend

Tom Archdeacon profiles the former minor-leaguer and occasional Cincinnati Red who's now a coach for the Dayton Dragons:
The new Dayton Dragons coach played 17 seasons of professional baseball. A journeyman catcher, he was called up to the major leagues on 11 different occasions — seven times by the Cincinnati Reds, once each by Minnesota, the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta — and played for seven minor league teams, including a record 10 seasons and 548 games with the Triple-A Louisville Bats.
He’s something of a real life version of Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis — also a journeyman minor league catcher — in the movie Bull Durham. Miller, though, is less grizzled and more easy-going than the silver screen character.
In Louisville, he just might make the city’s Mount Rushmore of athletes now, his likeness chiseled right alongside Muhammad Ali, Rick Pitino and one of the great Kentucky Derby winners, like War Admiral, Secretariat or Citation.
On Aug. 31 last summer, Miller’s No. 8 was retired by the Bats — the first time the Louisville club ever so honored a player....
In the offseason he had jobs with a demolition crew, laying floors, pouring concrete and being a short order cook.
On the field he was meat and potatoes, too.
Although not much of a hitter, he was a superb catcher — in 2003, International League managers named him the league’s best defensive catcher — and he was especially adept at working with up-and-coming pitchers.
And along the way the legend was further enhanced by some unlikely exploits. Five times in his career he was brought in to pitch and promptly floated up knuckleballs, which he learned to throw from former big-league pitcher Jared Fernandez.
Stocky and not known for his speed, Miller had one stolen base in his 216 major-league games. And, of course, it was of home plate.
I always liked Corky Miller, but I didn't realize he threw a knuckleball.  Now I like him even better.

Experts Concerned About Farmer Suicides

Farmer suicides tend to increase when farm economics falter. The 1970s were a prosperous decade for American farmers: Exports more than doubled and gross farm income rose about 4 percent each year. Riding the wave of financial success, many farmers took out new loans to fund their expanding businesses. But farm prices dropped dramatically in the ’80s. President Carter embargoed grain exports to the Soviet Union in 1980, resulting in surpluses. Drought struck in 1983. By 1984, the country’s agricultural debt topped $216 billion. In just five years, between 1981 and 1986, more than 60,000 farmers were left homeless due to foreclosures.
In turn, many American farmers took the financial hardship out on themselves. Throughout the 1980s, more than 900 farmers died by suicide in the Upper Midwest alone, in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. The Oklahoma farm Brock visited on that tragic morning was one of hundreds she visited during her decades-long career as a crisis counselor for a Farm Aid-sponsored line. Sometimes she averaged 48 calls a day....
Today, some experts worry the issue of farmer suicide is far from over. "In California and southeastern Colorado, where the drought is still pronounced and other places where there is severe drought, yes, there are parallels," says Robert Fetsch, who counsels farm and ranch families as co-project director of the Colorado AgrAbility Project at Colorado State University. Last year alone, California was predicted to lose more than $800 million in crop revenue and more than $200 million in dairy and livestock — and the state’s megadrought shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
Even within the last 10 years, high-profile farmer suicides have made national news. Take Dean Pierson — a dairy farmer from Copake, New York — who shot his 51 milking cows in their heads one January morning in 2010 before taking his own life with a rifle shot to the chest. Or Jelle Hans Reitsma, a California farmer, who at 37 and millions of dollars in debt for his two dairies, shot himself in a walnut orchard in 2008. A note left for the manager of his local bank branch read, "Welcome to the kill." Theirs are just two of many untold stories.
In New York state, a brutal winter has taken its toll on dairy farmers in particular (about 60 percent of New York’s farms are dairy operations). Edward Staehr, the executive director of NY FarmNet, a crisis hotline center, says call volumes have spiked of late — over 50 a week in some cases. That’s because wind and heavy snow have lead to a lot of structural damage on farms, like roof collapses. At the same time milk prices have nosedived, leading to lower profits. (New York dairymen aren’t alone: In September, I wrote about how California’s dairy industry is also teetering on the edge of collapse). Staehr says his hotline now receives 6,000 calls a year.
We've had seven financially very good years in a row in the Corn Belt, and it looks like things are going to get pretty tough for the next several.  Farms have sold during this boom at record high prices, and I don't think the land market can stay that high with grain prices going down.  I would anticipate that financial stresses will increase mental health issues amongst farmers.  Hopefully, I'll be wrong about these things.