Saturday, March 1, 2014

Yosemite HD II

Yosemite HD II from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

First of March Weekend Reads

Here's a few things to check out for the weekend:

Northern Lights illuminate the UK - BBC.  I love me some aurora borealis.

Potholes that Ate Indianapolis Devour U.S. City Budgets - Bloomberg  Failing empire watch.

Why I Left the GOP - Jeremiah Goulka  As a former political conservative (as opposed to the personally conservative person I consider myself now), there are several things in this essay I can strongly relate to.

Tapped Out Luling Turns Oil Wells Into Art and Slideshow: Luling Pump Jack Art - Texas Tribune

Ukraine in Maps - New York Times.  Also, Crimea's Challenge - Wall Street Journal.

Hydrologic Cycle - Ritholtz.  I linked to this mainly because I mentioned my fascination with hydrology a couple of days ago.

A Question of Mercy - Texas Monthly

The Murmurations of Starlings - The Atlantic

A Star in a Bottle - The New Yorker

Northern Lights-BBC

Friday, February 28, 2014

Where Lightning Strikes

Source: USGS
The map is a plotting of lightning "events" over a 15-year period, arranged by county. Darker-red areas show where these events – categorized as injuries, fatalities, and instances of property and crop destruction – have tended to happen more regularly. A couple possible correlations pop out: There appears to be more lightning carnage happening near some cities and the Northeast Corridor, no doubt due to the heavier population density. And a broad red wash across Florida suggests it won't be giving up its claim as the most lightning-cursed state in the union.
It's tempting to see more event-prone counties as the ones with the most deaths; in many cases, like with the 13 fatalities logged in Florida's Broward County, it works out. But the organization that compiled this data, the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, is drawing from a variety of sources that include things like lightning-sparked fires and damage to electrical equipment. Thus, Texas' Tarrant County had 51 events but only two fatalities. It's best to click on each county to see the breakdown (or if you want even more detail, use this advanced search engine).
In a typical year, the U.S. is zapped by more than 22 million lightning strikes that kill 55 to 60 people and injure 400.
The story has more lightning maps available for your viewing pleasure or lightning-avoidance planning.

Fracking Boom Strains Houston Ship Channel


Much of the record U.S. growth in oil and gas output is transiting through Houston, the country’s largest export gateway and home to the greatest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants in the U.S. An average day on the channel in 2013 saw 38 tankers, 22 freighters, a cruise ship, 345 towboats, 6 public vessels, 297 ferries, 25 other transits, and 75 ships in port, Coast Guard data show. “Sometimes you can meet and be overtaken by a handful of ships, 10 to 15 of them,” says Tim Gunn, a tugboat captain for Buffalo Marine Service who has navigated these waters for 13 years. “When I first started it seemed like two or three.”
At the turn of the 20th century, Houston was a provincial cotton-trading hub with only slightly more inhabitants than its coastal neighbor to the east, Galveston, home to the region’s deepwater port. Buffalo Bayou, less than 10 feet deep, was the only navigable waterway that spanned most of the distance between the two cities. After a hurricane battered Galveston in September 1900, U.S. Representative Thomas Ball successfully lobbied Congress to dredge the bayou and Galveston Bay to a depth of 25 feet. “At that time, Houston was still a small town,” says Janiece Longoria, chairman of the Port of Houston Authority. “Houston owes all its bounty to the ship channel.”
The resulting waterway is 4 miles longer than the Panama Canal. About 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity lines its shores. The area is also home to the biggest petrochemical complex in the country. A network of pipelines connects the facilities to oil fields throughout the Midwest and Texas and the storage depots at Cushing, Okla. Companies’ access to the waterway is so vital that the port authority estimates its closure would cost an estimated $330 million a day in lost commerce.
The big question looming over the channel is how well its century-old infrastructure will accommodate the $35 billion in new projects and expansions that energy and chemical companies plan through 2015. That estimate is drawn from a 2012 study by Greater Houston Port Bureau, which figures investments by ExxonMobil, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP), Enterprise Products Partners (EPD), and others will create 265,800 jobs.
I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that the Galveston hurricane, the Ship Channel and Spindletop and the resulting Texas oil boom made Houston, although NASA certainly helped.  All occurred within the first 15 years of the 20th century.  Houston's population grew from 44,000 in 1900 to 2.1 million in 2010 (with a population of 6.18 million in the metropolitan area).  It will be interesting to see how much infrastructure work will be done to ensure that the Ship Channel will continue to facilitate the region's growth.

$60 Million High School Stadium Closed Due To Concrete Cracking

Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas
AP, via AOL:
A $60 million Texas high school stadium that got national attention for its grandeur and price tag will be shut down indefinitely 18 months after its opening, school district officials said Thursday.
Eagle Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Allen will be closed until at least June for an examination of "extensive cracking" in the concrete of the stadium's concourse, the district said in a statement Thursday. The closure will likely affect home games at the stadium this fall, the district said.
Built in 2012 as part of a $120 million bond issue, Eagle Stadium seats 18,000 people and sports a 38-foot-wide video board. Eagle Stadium's opening was a moment of triumph for the community of Allen, a fast-growing Dallas suburb that has become home to a high school football powerhouse. The Eagles won the Class 5A Division I state championship last year....
Officials said an engineering firm has completed about 10 percent of its review of the stadium. It is expected to recommend "appropriate" repairs, the statement said.
PBK Architects, the Texas firm that designed the stadium, did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
D'oh.  $60 million just doesn't buy what it used to.  That doesn't look good for anybody involved.  Seriously, though, $60 million for a high school football stadium?

Business vs. the God Botherers

Politico looks at the fight against the Arizona Discrimination Against Gays Act:
As Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer prepared to make a career-defining decision — whether to veto a bill that would free business owners to discriminate on the basis of their religious preferences — a letter arrived at her office early this week with a stern warning from some of the biggest names in the local business community.
Signed by the heads of four Arizona business consortiums, with board members including officers of Bank of America, Intel and the Arizona Cardinals football franchise, the letter urged Brewer to strike down the measure known as S.B. 1062. The letter raised the prospect that the legislation could stain Arizona’s national reputation and touch off a wave of unpredictable litigation thanks to the bill’s broad, vague wording.“We are troubled by any legislation that could be interpreted to permit discrimination against a particular group of people in the marketplace,” the missive read. “We all have a fervent desire for Arizona to be a welcoming, attractive destination for the top talent that will be the cornerstone of our continued economic growth.”
In other words, "give us the tax cuts and deregulation, but keep your crazy religion shit out of our way.  We don't want folks thinking we're a bunch of backwards redneck bigots, thank you very much."

Spirit Canoe

Spirit Canoe from Symbols of the West on Vimeo.

Sweet ride.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Squeezing Blood From a Horseshoe Crab, For Medicine

A still from the PBS Nature documentary Crash ( PBS
The thing about the blood that everyone notices first: It's blue, baby blue.
The marvelous thing about horseshoe crab blood, though, isn't the color. It's a chemical found only in the amoebocytes of its blood cells that can detect mere traces of bacterial presence and trap them in inescapable clots.
To take advantage of this biological idiosyncrasy, pharmaceutical companies burst the cells that contain the chemical, called coagulogen. Then, they can use the coagulogen to detect contamination in any solution that might come into contact with blood. If there are dangerous bacterial endotoxins in the liquid—even at a concentration of one part per trillion—the horseshoe crab blood extract will go to work, turning the solution into what scientist Fred Bang, who co-discovered the substance, called a "gel."
"This gel immobilized the bacteria but did not kill them," Bang wrote in the 1956 paper announcing the substance. "The gel or clot was stable and tough and remained so for several weeks at room temperature."
If there is no bacterial contamination, then the coagulation does not occur, and the solution can be considered free of bacteria. It's a simple, nearly instantaneous test that goes by the name of the LAL, or Limulus amebocyte lysate, test (after the species name of the crab, Limulus polyphemus).
The LAL test replaced the rather horrifying prospect of possibly contaminated substances being tested on "large colonies of rabbits." Pharma companies didn't like the rabbit process, either, because it was slow and expensive.
So, now, the horseshoe blood test is a big business. "Every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using LAL," PBS's Nature documentary noted, "as do surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices."
Wow, I sure as hell didn't know that.  I also didn't know that horseshoe crabs were ground up back in the day for fertilizer.  But that blue blood...eww.

News of the Obvious - Entrepreneurs and Tax Cuts Edition

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Cutting state taxes to attract entrepreneurs is likely futile at best and self-defeating at worst, a new survey of founders of some of the country’s fastest-growing companies suggests.  The study, which is consistent with other research, should be required reading for state policymakers — especially those in Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin who are pushing for large income tax cuts.
The 150 executives surveyed by Endeavor Insight, a research firm that examines how entrepreneurs contribute to job creation and long-term economic growth, said a skilled workforce and high quality of life were the main reasons why they founded their companies where they did; taxes weren’t a significant factor.  This suggests that states that cut taxes and then address the revenue loss by letting their schools, parks, roads, and public safety deteriorate will become less attractive to the kinds of people who found high-growth companies.  (Hat tip to urbanologist Richard Florida for calling attention to the study.)
As I wrote last year on why studies show state income tax cuts aren’t an effective way to boost small-business job creation, “Nascent entrepreneurs are not particularly mobile.  Rather, they tend to create their businesses where they are, where they are familiar with local market conditions and have ties to local sources of finance, key employees, and other essential business inputs.”
I also argued that state tax cuts could be counterproductive, impairing states’ ability to provide high-quality services that make a state a place where highly skilled people want to live.
The new survey provides further evidence for these arguments.  It found that:
  • “The most common reason cited by entrepreneurs for launching their business in a given city was that it was where they lived at the time.  The entrepreneurs who cited this reason usually mentioned their personal connections to their city or specific quality of life factors, such as access to nature or local cultural attractions.”

  • “31% of founders cited access to talent as a factor in their decision on where to launch their company. . . .  A number of founders also highlighted the link between the ability to attract talented employees and a city’s quality of life.”
  • “Only 5% of entrepreneurs cited low tax rates as a factor in deciding where to launch their company” and only 2% mentioned “business-friendly regulations” and other government policies.  The report’s authors concluded, “We believe that the lack of discussion of these factors indicates that marginal differences in these areas at the state or municipal level have little influence on great entrepreneurs’ decision-making processes.”
I love the bullet point that says,"The most common reason cited by entrepreneurs for launching their business in a given city was that it was where they lived at the time."  No fucking shit?  Somebody who is putting their financial stability at risk is going to move away from the place he or she knows people and to a place where they are total strangers just to avoid a few percent in tax on income they have no idea whether they will make or not?  Maybe some dumbfuck Republican believes that, but I sure as Hell don't.  And yet, our dipshit governor is pushing for yet another income tax cut because government services haven't been bled completely dry quite yet.  If the sun shines, John Kasich proposes a tax cut.  If it rains, he proposes a tax cut.  If somebody takes a shit, Kasich proposes a tax cut.  If the sun comes up...

Snowmoving Professionals


Austerians, Keynes and Kalecki

James Montier of GMO is interviewed at Welling on Wall Street, with analysis at FT Alphaville.  He criticizes the central banks for puffing up asset prices with the QE programs, but acknowledges that the real problem are conservative ideologues' blind spots toward government and "free markets:"
Though, that’s not to say Montier begrudges the state support the economy’s been getting. He explains that on this front he’s been greatly influenced by the work of Polish economist Michal Kalecki, whose theories follow a similar vein to those of Keynes.
Indeed, the whole point of Keynes’ and Kalecki’s arguments about countercyclical policy, he says, is that during a collapse of business profitability, the government — through fiscal transfers and stimulus — should plug the gap.
And yet, he adds, business is so hung up on the idea that government is inherently bad and interferes in their markets — and because business likes the idea of having power over its workers which tends to be eroded by things like fiscal deficits — that business ends up supporting policies that actually undermine its own profitability.
It is, in his opinion, very bizarre behaviour and one of the paradoxes of capitalism, which many free market types just don’t get. Montier, unsurprisingly, is no fan of austerity as a result.
That is the thing that Republicans don't seem to get.  The private sector screwed its' own pooch, no matter how hard they try to blame government for supposedly forcing banks to lend to brown people.  Regular folks are too far in debt to keep the economy going, so you need government spending to prop it up.  Because Republicans in Congress are too stupid or too convinced of their own bullshit to allow the spending, the Fed has to take a less palatable and less effective method, which is buying assets from banks.  The resulting speculative mania leads to more unstable markets.  It would be much better for the government to run large deficits to get the economy going stronger, and then raising taxes, especially on the wealthy, to pay for it.  They could even raise taxes on the very wealthy right now and not slow down the economy any, because a man's 5 millionth dollar isn't very crucial to his spending habits.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Trail Therapy

Trail Therapy from on Vimeo.

Desalination Projects Underway in California

All Things Considered:
On the coast in Carlsbad, Calif., construction workers are building what will be the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. When finished in early 2016, it is expected to provide up to 50 million gallons of fresh drinkable water every day.
"That's enough water for 112,000 households here in the region," says Peter MacLaggan with Poseidon Resources, the developer of this $1 billion plant.
The process, MacLaggan explains, involves taking water from the Pacific Ocean, removing the silt, sand and "organics," then pressurizing the water through very fine membranes. The technical name is reverse osmosis. And the result? "Every 2 gallons of seawater that goes in, 1 gallon of high-quality drinking water comes out," he says.
And MacLaggan says the best part is it's droughtproof.
"It's droughtproof because it's not dependent on snowpack in the Sierras, it's not dependent on rainfall here in San Diego," he says. "You're getting water from the Pacific Ocean."
The word "droughtproof" carries a lot of weight in California. That snowpack in the Sierra Nevada he's talking about is still less than half of what it should be for this time of year. Farmers, environmentalists and cities like nearby San Diego have been fighting over what little water there is.
"San Diego currently imports about 70 percent of its water," says Bob Yamada, the water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority..... Statewide, 17 desalination plants are in some stage of planning on the California coast.
The program also featured a story about the opportunities for and challenges of rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling as methods of decreasing dependence on imported water in southern California.

I have to admit that stories like the California drought or large floods on the Mississippi River really intrigue me, since they cover some of my favorite topics: hydrology, hydraulics, infrastructure, agriculture and severe weather.  Yes, I'm a nerd.  But what do you expect from an engineer and a farmer?

The Nicaragua Canal?

 In spite of numerous environmental concerns and a $40 billion estimated cost, a Chinese developer wants to build one.  And there doesn't seem to be an economic case for the project either:
The Panama canal celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and it’s nearing the end of a $5.25 billion expansion project. When the new and improved canal opens early next year, it will allow ships with three times the cargo capacity to pass through, and it will handle up to 16,000 ships a year, roughly a 15 to 20 percent increase, says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, an expert on transportation economics at Hofstra University. “It’s going to take a while for this capacity to be absorbed, if it ever is,” Rodrigue says. “In the medium term, there will not be a need for another canal.”
Proponents of the Nicaragua canal have pointed out that even the new canal in Panama won’t accommodate the latest generation of mega container ships, the so-called Triple E class, which can carry up to a third more cargo. But Rodrigue notes that few ports in the United States, Caribbean islands, or Latin America are equipped to handle these massive ships. Some ports may be overhauled to accommodate these massive ships by the time a canal could be built in Nicaragua, and a few ports in the U.S. have already gotten started on this, but it’s not clear how many will follow suit.
There’s also no geographic advantage to a canal in Nicaragua, Rodrigue says. The few hundred miles shaved off major shipping routes between Asia and North America would be balanced out by longer transit times through a canal that’s more than three times as long as its competitor in Panama.
All in all, Rodrigue says, “At this point in time, from a commercial standpoint, this project does not make sense.”
Parallel canals to split the traffic demand doesn't make any sense, especially with that $40 billion price tag.

California Drought Porn

From The Atlantic:

Two-and-a-half years ago, this reservoir was at 97 percent of its capacity (and 130 percent of its historical average for summer). But last month it was as if somebody had pulled out a massive sink plug and drained the lake into a quagmire. The lake was at a mere 17 percent capacity, and 35 percent of its historical average, with vast stretches of its basin the concrete color of the nearby Folsom Dam.
That is not pretty.

The Higgs Bosun Re-explained

PhD Comics, via Ritholtz:

Yeah, I still don't understand it.  But hey, maybe I'll look a little smarter by posting it.  Yeah, that's the ticket.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


The crazy Dutch 120-mile speedskating race:
As the 2014 Winter Olympics draw to a close, one thing, at least, is clear: The Dutch are the greatest speedskaters in the world. The Netherlands won 23 speedskating medals in Sochi; the second-most-successful nation, Poland, only won three. Why are the Dutch so good at speedskating? For one thing, the sport is a bonafide national obsession. (Seriously: I hope someday to care about anything as much as the Dutch apparently care about speedskating.) And if you want to understand the depths of that obsession, it helps to understand the Elfstedentocht.
The Elfstedentocht—Dutch for “Eleven Cities Tour”—is a 200-kilometer outdoor speedskating race over the frozen canals of Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands. It has been described as “the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and World Series rolled into one”—and it might just be my favorite athletic event of all time. The race was first held in 1909, and has since become a national tradition, an epic test of Dutch citizens’ endurance, athleticism, and sanity. On the website Cafe Babel, a fan posted an ominous ode to the race: “Think, endless stretches of ice in a barren landscape/ Think, the wind cutting on your face and sweeping snow in your eyes/ Think, frozen toes, fingers, noses and ears/ Think, the hardest race in the world.” Sign me up!
There’s no set schedule for the Elfstedentocht; it only happens when the ice is sufficiently thick—at least 15 centimeters in depth throughout. But the impromptu nature of the race is a big part of what makes it so exciting. Once the organizers decide that the conditions are right for an Elfstedentocht, plans are made, and the race is held within 48 hours of the official announcement. The race kicks off at 5:30 in the morning, and must be completed before midnight that same day. The skaters pass through 11 cities, collecting a stamp in each one, cheered by millions of spectators. Though professional speedskaters are the ones competing for the fastest times, thousands of ordinary Dutch citizens skate the route, too, just for fun.....
The most memorable Elfstedentocht happened in 1963, when temperatures were so low and conditions so snowy and windy that fewer than 200 out of approximately 10,000 participants actually finished the race. Countless skaters suffered frostbite and other weather-related injuries.....There hasn’t been an Elfstedentocht since 1997, when the race was won by Henk Angenent, a speedskater and Brussels sprout farmer, who finished in 6 hours and 49 minutes. But every winter, the Dutch hope that the race might happen. In 2012 temperatures dipped low enough that an Elfstedentocht seemed possible, and the Netherlands went crazy.....Unfortunately, the organizing committee decided that the ice was insufficiently thick, and the race was canceled.
Wow.  Racing 120 miles in the cold sounds like a good time, said I never.

California Agriculture

From Mother Jones:

California, supplier of nearly half of all US fruits, veggies, and nuts, is on track to experience the driest year in the past half millennium. Farms use about 80 percent of the state's "developed water," or water that's moved from its natural source to other areas via pipes and aqueducts.
As the maps above show, much of California's agriculture is concentrated in the parts of the state that the drought has hit the hardest. For example: Monterey County, which is currently enduring an "exceptional drought," according to the US Drought Monitor, grew nearly half of America's lettuce and broccoli in 2012.
That is amazing.  92% of all U.S. strawberries?  I am assuming that is 92% of U.S. production, and not 92% of U.S. consumption.  I know a lot of vegetables and strawberries are imported from Mexico.  But even as a percentage of production, that is unbelievable.  The link also has an interesting chart of how much water it takes to produce a head of broccoli, an almond and other produce.

The Current California Water Plan, and the Past

Alexis Madrigal puts together a great story looking at the $25 billion so-called Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and the long tangled history of the Sacramento-San Joachin River Delta, agricultural interests, Southern California cities and the massive State Water Project and Central Valley Project.  I highly recommend reading the whole thing.  Here is a pretty good description of the size and scale of those two massive engineering projects, and the agricultural beneficiaries of them:
If water is sitting in a reservoir or being bought or sold, then people talk about acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water equals 43,560 cubic feet, or 325,851 gallons. An unofficial rule of California water politics holds that if you want to make an amount of water sound large, use gallons. If you'd like to make it sound small, set your units to acre-feet or even million acre-feet.Compare: 1) Los Angeles uses about 600,000 acre feet of water per year. 2) Los Angeles uses 195,510,600,000 gallons of water per year.

For the rest of this article, I'll go with acre-feet because it reflects the scale of these projects better. They are not working at your puny human level.

So, to set the scene: All of the golf courses, parks, and other “large landscapes” in the state use 700,000 acre-feet. That's a bit more than Los Angeles uses.

But then take a look at Kern County, at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Last year, it consumed 2.7 million acre-feet of water. The vast majority of it went to agriculture. Kern County's water usage could support an urban population of 15.9 million people at LA's per capita consumption rate.

Not to let the thirsty southern Californian cities off the hook, but agriculture soaks up the vast majority of water in the state. Depending on the year, up to 80 percent of the water diverted by people goes to farms and ranches. If you include water used for environmental purposes, like having flowing streams and places for aquatic animals to live, then agriculture's share drops to 40 percent, with the environment getting roughly the same amount, and all urban uses gulping down the last 20 percent.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Got Milk? is Out. Milk Life is In

Milk Life?  WTF?  That's the new dairy campaign:
The long-running "Got Milk?" slogan promoting milk consumption in the U.S. has been nixed.
The Milk Processor Education Program, funded by milk processors, has launched a new ad campaign that aims to emphasize milk's protein content to get Americans to drink more milk.
Rather than feature celebrities sporting milk mustaches, the new ad campaign -- "Milk Life" -- touts milk's nutritional qualities and urges Americans to drink more of it in the morning.
In one ad, a young man is shown break dancing amid a swirl of milk, and the text reads: "What 8 grams of protein looks like when you're breaking the laws of physics."
The group said in a statement that it aims to highlight "moments of accomplishment, achievement and enjoyment." The slogan "brings to life how including milk’s protein at breakfast can help families make the most of their day."
Milk consumption has been declining steadily since the 1970s, a trend that the dairy industry has been struggling to reverse. In the past four decades, per-capita consumption has fallen from nearly a one-cup equivalent per day to 0.61-cup equivalent per day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found in a 2013 report.
I don't see "Milk Life" changing that trend.  I wonder how much money some ad whizzes got paid to come up with that shit.  Don Draper could come up with a better campaign while he's shitfaced.  Then again, Don Draper is a fictional character.  Ok, I could come up with a better slogan than "Milk Life" when I'm drunk. 

What a terribly shitty ad.

That makes me want to drink, but I wouldn't be drinking milk.

The Con Artist

This guy really knew what he was doing. If only the paint was labeled correctly, he might still be selling forgeries.

RIP Harold Ramis

Dead at 69.  One of his classics:

Hagel Proposes Cuts To Army

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel is recommending shrinking the Army to its smallest size since the buildup to U.S. involvement in World War II in an effort to balance postwar defense needs with budget realities, defense officials said Monday.
Hagel is expected to announce that and other recommendations Monday in a speech at the Pentagon outlining his priorities for next year's defense budget.
Army leaders have been saying for months that they expect their size would shrink as the nation prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan this year.
The Army, which is the largest of the armed services, currently has 522,000 active-duty soldiers and is scheduled to shrink to 490,000 by 2015 from a wartime peak of 570,000. Hagel is expected to propose cutting it further to between 440,000 and 450,000.
Earlier this month, Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that an army of 420,000 would be too small for a world that has such an uncertain national security landscape. The minimum size, he said, would be about 450,000. He said shrinking to 420,000 would make a big difference in the capabilities of the force.
He's also recommending eliminating the A-10 (which is an awesome, but aged plane).  I'll believe it when I see it. No matter how inefficient, defense spending means jobs, and that's one thing we need.

Aaron Burr, Part 2

Bob Feller Museum Struggling

Omaha World-Herald:
The Bob Feller Museum is scheduled to reopen April 5, but financial troubles are threatening its survival in his central Iowa hometown of Van Meter.
The lack of money forced the museum to close on Jan. 3.
The museum was opened in 1995 to honor the Hall of Fame pitcher who was born near the central Iowa city, but it has faltered since his death on Dec. 15, 2010.
Museum board member Bob DiBiasio told the Des Moines Register that Feller “was the engine that powered that museum.” Since his death, membership has fallen, and the museum has been unable to attract the Hall of Fame-caliber stars who in turn attracted patrons.
“The museum itself just can't move forward,” DiBiasio said. “And that's nobody's fault. But it just cannot continue to move forward. It cannot be an entity that loses money.”
Feller won 266 games in 18 seasons with the Cleveland Indians. He had 2,581 career strikeouts and pitched three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility....It's unclear how long the museum can operate after it reopens, because the organization has less than $10,000 in savings, Sawalich said. Museum and Van Meter officials are discussing sharing the building, but that would leave less space for baseball memorabilia. Some items could be moved to a museum in Cleveland, but there are no plans to move the entire museum there.
That's a shame, as there can't be anything else to draw people to visit Van Meter, and Feller was one of the best ever.  I know one thing, though.  Considering how shitty Feller was about Pete Rose and the Baseball Hall of Fame, I wouldn't expect the Hit King to come to the museum unless there was a lot of money offered.  Of course, Pete would sign autographs in Hell if a lot of money was offered.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Will Cellulosic Ethanol Make It?

Des Moines Register:

The line of headlights begins close to 6 a.m. as trucks and other vehicles file into the $250 million construction project south of this northwest Iowa town of 3,900.
Some of the 300 construction workers come from Iowa. But most — with license plates from Nebraska, Texas and Minnesota — fill about every apartment, hotel and trailer in a 30-mile radius. The workers pack the local Casey’s for breakfast pizza, line up at Fareway’s meat counter and drop by Don Jose’s for dinner.
“I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest construction project Emmetsburg has ever seen,” said Daron Wilson, general manager of the plant being built by Poet-DSM. He points out six cranes on the prairie skyline, a sight little seen in Iowa outside of Des Moines or Cedar Rapids.
Poet’s Project Liberty is one of three large-scale U.S. plants that will begin making cellulosic ethanol this year, using corncobs and husks collected from area farmers’ fields. It has taken a decade of research and $120 million in government subsidies at this plant alone to bring the ultra-green fuel to commercial-scale production.
But just as a new industry for Iowa is about to take root, a proposed change in government policy could limit demand for ethanol and send new plants and jobs to other countries. Think Brazil, China or European nations.....T
he proposed change in the federal government’s Renewable Fuel Standard turns the company’s financial plan on its head. Makers of next-generation ethanol will “lose money on every gallon that it sells in the United States” under the EPA proposal, Poet-DSM wrote the agency......
Taxpayers have a lot invested in the plant. The federal government provided $100 million — and Iowa taxpayers, $20 million — to help with developing the technology behind Project Liberty. Royal DSM is investing $150 million in the plant.
Personally, I'm guessing this is a black hole of unprofitable, difficult-to-scale technology. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

NASA Photo of the Day

February 18:

Crossing Dingo Gap on Mars
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS; Digital processing: Damia Bouic
Explanation: An important threshold on Mars has now been crossed. Landing in mid-2012, the Curiosity rover is searching for clues of whether life could ever have existed on the red planet. Recent findings of Curiosity include evidence for an ancient (but now dried) freshwater lake, and the non-detection of the biomarker methane in the Martian atmosphere. To continue its investigation, the car-sized rover is on an expedition to roll up Mt. Sharp, the central peak of the large crater in which it landed. Life might have shown preference for water that once ran down the Martian mountain. Two weeks ago, to avoid more dangerous and rocky terrain, Curiosity was directed to roll across a one-meter high sand dune that blocked a useful entrance to Mt. Sharp. Just after the short trip over Dingo Gap was successful, the robotic rover took the above image showing the now-traversed sand mound covered with its wheel tracks.

You're Better Off Not Knowing How Your Food Is Made

At least in some instances:
Baby poop sausages definitely sound disgusting. But in reality, they’re not nearly as gross as you’d think based on these sensationalistic news stories. In fact, you have probably already consumed foods or supplements made with a bacterial strain derived from human feces without even knowing it.
“Some probiotics—not all, but some—are isolated from feces,” says Mary Ellen Sanders, a consultant in probiotic microbiology. (Probiotics, recall, are any bacteria that confer health benefits.) Sanders gave the example of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, a probiotic that was isolated from human feces in 1983 and is now widely used in products such as “buttermilks, yoghurts, milk, fruit drinks, ‘daily dose’ drinks and fermented whey-based drinks.” (Incidentally, the Spanish researchers who made sausage with infant fecal bacteria compared it to sausage made with L. rhamnosus GG, which they classified as a commercial probiotic strain.) “It used to be a tenet of the field of probiotics that you wanted to isolate [bacteria] from human sources, because the thinking has always been that that would increase the likelihood that they would have beneficial physiological effects in humans,” says Sanders.
And there’s no reason to be skeeved out either by the yogurt in your fridge that contains L. rhamnosus GG or the sausages containing those newly isolated infant fecal bacteria.
Like beef enhanced with pink slime, sometimes taste tops how it's made.  Of course, I've never actually eaten yogurt, so maybe I shouldn't say too much.

The 95/20 Ratio

From Wonkblog:

Do healthier cities experience greater income inequality? That’s one of the implications of a new Brookings Institution study released this week. Larger, more dynamic cities – think New York, San Francisco and DC – are more unequal than their smaller, less economically-diverse counterparts. As it turns out, a rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats.
The authors arrive at this finding by examining the “95/20 ratio.” In their words,
this figure represents the income at which a household earns more than 95 percent of all other households, divided by the income at which a household earns more than only 20 percent of all other households. In other words, it represents the distance between a household that just cracks the top 5 percent by income, and one that just falls into the bottom 20 percent.
They find that Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami and Boston lead the pack when it comes to this measure of inequality. In Atlanta, households in the top 5% made nearly 19 times as much money as households in the bottom 20%. To put this figure in context, this is higher than the CEO-to-worker pay ratio at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway.....One striking finding? In each city the median wage is a lot closer to the bottom of the income distribution than it is to the top.
One sad part of the study is that Detroit and Cleveland each have a high 95/20 ratio, even though their highest-paid workers don't make a huge amount, because their poorest residents make so little.

Not Shocking From a Historical Philadelphia Perspective

Karen Heller at the Philadelphia Inquirer comments on recent federal indictments of 10 Ironworkers Local 401 officials:
The Ironworkers were such busy, industrious goons. They allegedly destroyed sites and threatened developers who dared not hire them. Their specialties were not iron and steel, according to the recent federal indictment of 10 top Ironworker Local 401 officials, but extortion, arson, intimidation. You know, the works. Nothing was immune from these thugs' wrath, from a Quaker meeting house in Chestnut Hill to a toy store in King of Prussia.
The Ironworkers actually called themselves goons, so give them credit for candor, in an indictment that reads like lost pages from On the Waterfront. They were also self-described THUGs, as in "The Helpful Union Guys."
And, boy, were these Ironworkers helpful - at least to the union - allegedly brandishing their favored implements of destruction: acetylene torches, baseball bats, knives, crowbars, bolt cutters. In an act of creative accounting, they appeared to sometimes bill the union for tools and time. Members also used extortion to be hired for the long-suspected specialty of, as the feds put it, "unwanted, unnecessary and superfluous labor."
We might have thought the city was past this. The last big labor indictment involved the Roofers in 1987. This catalog of thuggery reads like a throwback to a seemingly bygone era, but several former federal investigators shrugged at the activities.
Wow.  You don't see that very much these days.  Not exactly a good way for the union crowd to attract sympathy.  I did think this note was interesting, in a confusing, Irish, labor, Democratic machine type of way:
Among the indicted is Joseph Dougherty, 72, the 1,010-member local's grand pooh-bah, its "business manager-financial secretary-treasurer," seemingly for life. (Joseph Dougherty is no relation to the electrical workers leader and Democratic political player John Dougherty.)
Ok, now that that is cleared is a thought-provoking piece on the UAW's failure in the VW organizing drive.

Congratulations, Great White North

Photo of drunk Canadian who isn't mayor of Toronto, from Photo Bucket

Wrapping up the Sochi Olympics, the Canadian men's hockey team has completed the sweep of men's and women's hockey and curling gold medals for our northern neighbor.  That has to brighten the seemingly never-ending winter and make the Molson taste a little better.

Also, this:


Olympic Ruins

Viral Forest features photos by Dado Ruvic of the abandoned facilties from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics being taken back by nature (h/t Katy-Maty).  One example, the bobsled track:

 The ethnic warfare and collapse of Yugoslavia after those games, along with the current political unrest in Ukraine and other parts of the world, highlight the limitations of the Olympic movement in the real world.  Hopefully, the people of Sochi, if not the facilities, will fare better than those in Sarajevo.