Saturday, December 6, 2014

Toronto Porn

Toronto Skyline Porn from Ryan Emond on Vimeo.

Oh, wait. Toronto Skyline Porn. Yeah, I knew that.

Championship Games / Bengals-Steelers Weekend Links

More stories to get you through the weekend:

The Ride of Their Lives - The New Yorker.  Aspiring youth rodeo cowboys.

The Weight of Guilt: Inside the secret world of competitive bass fishing cheaters - Grantland

Honoring His Grandfather, Boy Breaks Baseball News - Weekend Edition.  An interview with Devan Fink, 13-year-old operator of Cover Those Bases, a baseball news blog.

The Inheritance - Cincinnati Magazine.  The history of the Bengals and the Brown family.  A must-read for Bengals fans.

Rabobank Projects Low Crop Prices in 2015 - AgWeb.  Also, quite a few stories recently on debt and dealing with ag lenders. Hmm......

Only Sixty Years of Farming Left If Soil Degredation Continues - Scientific American.  That may be a little dramatic, but I do believe harder rains (probably due to climate change) are causing significant water erosion.  Happy World Soil Day (yesterday).

New Analysis: Unlimited Crop Insurance Program Fuels Land & Wealth Consolidation in Minn. & Across the U.S. - Land Stewardship Project

Beef Cattle Statistics - University of Kentucky.  For grandpa.  He swore on Thanksgiving that Florida has led the nation in beef cow population for most of modern history, while I told him that Texas had the most beeves.  More beef statistics here.

History of Detroit Lions games on Thanksgiving - Detroit Lions.  Also for grandpa.  Also from Thanksgiving.  He swears the Bears and the Lions played every year for a very long time.  He may also have claimed it was the Lions and Packers other years, which is more accurate.  We have this argument every year.  The best part is that dad looked it up this year and grandpa wouldn't believe him.

My Great-Great-Aunt Discovered Francium.  And It Killed Her. - New York Times

The Invention of the Slinky - Priceonomics.  Easier to untwist than the slinky itself.

How a Single Mom Created a Plastic Food-Storage Empire - Mental Floss

You Want A Dialogue On Racism? These Black Teens Are Living It - TPM

Sub-$50 Oil Surfaces in North Dakota Amid Regional Discounts - Bloomberg.  Efficient markets, my ass.

No wonder landowners are scared.  We are starting to find out who owns Britain. - The Guardian.  This sounds crazy.  No public land register?  No real property taxes?  Really?

The 85 Most Disruptive Ideas in Our History - Businessweek.

A glut of oil? - James Hamilton.  I don't believe the green portion of the U.S. production graph will keep growing like that.

Natural Gas: The Fracking Fallacy - Nature.  A University of Texas study predicts the shale gas revolution isn't all that.I'm with the pessimists (surprise).  Well worth the read.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where Did All The MRAPs Go?

MuckRock and the Marshall Program compiled a list of all the recipients of military surplus equipment distributed to local police departments and other governmental agencies through the 1033 program, including MRAPs, rifles generator sets, helicopters and other goodies:
The armored vehicles and M-16s get all the attention, but the 1033 program has its lighter side. The non-tactical transfers include games and toys, musical instruments, personal electronics, and exercise equipment.
In addition to two dump trucks and two sedans, the go-getters at the New Lothrop, Michigan, police department scored enough instruments to start a band – two snare drums, a bass drum, an electric guitar, a bass guitar and accessories – in addition to four treadmills and a VCR to watch while exercising.
Other goodies from the five-sided big-box store:
  • 6 french horns
  • 3 saxophones
  • 372 televisions (designated “for personal/home use”)
  • 387 sets of dumbbells
  • 58 softballs
  • 121 treadmills
Oh, and more than 3,700 boxes of ready-to-eat meals, 2,800 of them to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Insert donut joke here.
Locally, the city of Piqua got an MRAP ($733,000 estimated value), the county sheriff's department got 12 .223 rifles, and the shithole burg of St. Paris got 2 .223 rifles, 5 .45 pistols and 2 .308 rifles.  But the beggar kings of Ohio are in the Allen County Sheriff Department, which brought home more than $10 million worth of lucre, including 21 generator sets, 13 utility trucks, 2 tractors, 1142 pandemic preparedness kits, 13 ground ambulances, a backhoe, 4 forklifts, 2 surveying instruments  9 bomb disposal robots (9!?) and dozens of high dollar items.  Holy shit, I'm in the wrong line of work.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Chicken Farmer Opens Up

Watts went into chicken farming because, where he lives, there were not many alternatives. His parents and relatives had been row-crop farmers, but after the tobacco economy began to collapse, that looked like not a great way to make a living. Out of college, he began working as a field technician for an agricultural-chemicals company, but he disliked cubicle life and wanted to get back outside. When an advance man for Perdue came calling, showing spreadsheets of how lucrative chicken farming might be, he decided to give it a try.
It worked for him at first; he said that he was, intermittently, a top earner in the slaughterhouse complex that buys his chickens. But over the years, he chafed at the economic conditions the vertically integrated business imposed on farmers, who always seemed to get the raw end of the deal, and he grew increasingly uncomfortable with what intensive farming did to the chickens themselves. He began speaking out: first writing op-eds, then testifying at a government hearing exploring unfair contract conditions, and then talking to advocates and journalists.
And now he has taken his boldest step yet — really an extraordinary one, given the closed-door nature of most corporate farming: He has made a video, in cooperation with the animal-welfare group Compassion in World Farming, in which he escorts cameras into his broiler barns.

The video is a collaboration with Leah Garces, Compassion’s US director (who introduced me to Watts last summer). They appear onscreen together, walking through his broiler flock, discussing the strict company rules he operates under, and examining the sad condition of his birds:  leg deformities, ulcerated bellies from barn litter soaked with urine, chicks too frail to eat or stand.
It is difficult to watch, but it is essential to view because it is so unusual. When we see video from inside intensive meat production, it is almost always something that was shot covertly by activists working undercover, trying to document conditions that consumers would not otherwise see. For a farmer to admit to letting activists in —  and to appear with them on camera, explain the contract conditions he is compelled to work in, and document the poor health of the birds he is sent — is unheard-of. (And, for Watts, almost certainly a breach of contract. It will be important to keep track of whether he experiences consequences from the company.)
Very interesting. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

30 Years After Bhopal

The Atlantic features a photo series reminding us of the largest industrial disaster ever:
Thirty years ago, on the night of December 2, 1984, an accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released at least 30 tons of a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, as well as a number of other poisonous gases. The pesticide plant was surrounded by shanty towns, leading to more than 600,000 people being exposed to the deadly gas cloud that night. The gases stayed low to the ground, causing victims throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths. Estimates of the death toll vary from as few as 3,800 to as many as 16,000, but government figures now refer to an estimate of 15,000 killed over the years. Toxic material remains, and 30 years later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned up, but they say the efforts were slowed when Michigan-based Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001. Human rights groups say that thousands of tons of hazardous waste remain buried underground, and the government has conceded the area is contaminated. There has, however, been no long-term epidemiological research which conclusively proves that birth defects are directly related to the drinking of the contaminated water.
 A worker cleans dust as he displays a panel of photographs of some of the thousands of people who died in the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster at the forensic department of Gandhi Medical college in Bhopal on June 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne) #

To me, the pictures of the children born with birth defects are the most troubling, and that applies even if the birth defects can't be tied to the disaster.


WANDERMENT from The Upthink Lab on Vimeo.

Commodity Bloodbath

MoneyBeat, via Ritholtz:

Sure, few have been hit quite as hard as oil, crude prices are down 39% on the year’s highs. Nonetheless pain is being felt across the asset class. The Dow Jones-UBS soft commodities–coffee, cocoa, wheat and fruit–sub-index is down 25%, other agriculturals have lost 24%, the precious metals sub-index is down 18% and the industrial metals index is down 15%.
But even that’s only part of the story. Losses on this year’s highs are marginal compared with the drop most of these classes of commodities have suffered from their peaks, generally hit in the spring of 2011.
Oil prices are down 42% from then–and down 53% from its all-time high in 2008. Softs are down 58% from the spring of 2011. Precious metals are down 47%. Industrials have lost 40%. Agriculturals are down 35%. Overall, non-energy commodities have tumbled a third from their April 2011 highs....What is a worry, however, is the degree to which firms in these commodity-producing countries borrowed in dollars to fund new investment to ramp up output. These investments tend to be massive sunk costs in expensive capital goods–think mines, earth movers the size of houses, railway spurs and port facilities.
Which raises another question: how willing will producers be to mothball expensive investments to reduce supply now that the money’s been spent and needs to generate a revenue to cover the financing costs?
Over the near and medium term, supply is fairly inelastic, which will keep downward pressure on prices. But at the same time, demand doesn’t look likely to ramp up. Not only is the global economy subdued–leading forecasters have been ratcheting down their expectations for growth in the coming year–but, crucially for commodities, China’s investment boom is sputtering.
Indeed, Chinese stockpiling seems to have been the primary driver of some classes of commodities, particularly the industrial metals. If falling prices force Chinese investors into selling off their holdings, the carnage might only just be starting.
Yeah, I probably should have stuck with my gut and not invested in iron ore, steel and coal stocks earlier in the year.  Even more amazing, after considering shorting Continental Resources and other Bakken plays late in the summer, I decided not to.  But after watching CLR get whacked over the holiday weekend, I decided to jump into it yesterday.  I'm up a few percent, but I may get shellacked on that, too.  Oh well, if I did too well in the stock market, I'd want to retire.  Getting my ass kicked keeps me working.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fluid Dynamics Video Awards Announced

 A laser beam obliterates a drop of ink. A winner of the Milton Van Dyke award.

Fluid mechanics is the science of breaking waves, explosions, bubbles, ripples, clouds, and currents. So when editors of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics declared, in 1967, that their discipline was “photogenic,” their vanity was justified.
That sense of self-love still pervades the field. So much so, that the centerpiece of the annual American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting is a competition to see who made the most beautiful science that year. At the 2014 meeting, held here November 23-25, the contest featured nearly 100 video submissions.
The topics explored ranged from everyday fascinations—dogs lapping water, sloshing beer, and roiling clouds—to the esoteric, like a strangely zen-like movie of a laser beam obliterating an inkspot....

The competition, which began in 1983, was inspired by a book that came out the year before, An Album of Fluid Motion by Milton Van Dyke. A Stanford professor, Van Dyke understood how important visualizations were to the field, but saw that there were no books showing all the basic ways that fluids move. He’d already set up his own publishing company, and was able to sell the book for $10, making it available to all students. Winners of the competition are given copies of the now out-of-print book.
The video contest has two prize categories, each with three equal winners. The more prestigious of the two is named after Van Dyke, and has a cash gift of $200. The second is simply called the Gallery of Fluid Motion award.
 More cool fluid dynamics gifs here.

Calgary Defeats Hamilton To Capture Grey Cup

In case you missed it, the Calgary Stampeders beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to take home the Grey Cup.

Bumper Crop Hurts Cranberry Growers

 Cranberry Harvest in New Jersey (Wikipedia)
As you pack away the leftover Thanksgiving cranberry sauce (and there is always leftover cranberry sauce), consider the plight of Wisconsin’s cranberry growers.
This state, which grows more cranberries than any other, is awash in the fruit. Two years of record harvests have sent prices plummeting, and growers are in a desperate race to get rid of their own leftovers.
As millions of pounds more than usual sit in storage nationwide, a fog of worry has settled in over the sandy cranberry marshes here that provide a living for nearly 4,000 people. “It’s one of the deepest pits we’ve been in, I’ll tell you,” said Michael Gnewikow, who married into the fourth generation of growers who tend the 190-acre Wetherby Cranberry Company in central Wisconsin....
Only 3 percent of the cranberries grown here and in Massachusetts, New Jersey and the Pacific Northwest are sold as whole, fresh berries, which are in great demand this time of year. The rest are either dried, pressed into juice, canned as sauce or made into pharmaceutical powders. The sweetened dried cranberry, popularized when the grower cooperative Ocean Spray introduced the Craisin as a baking item in the 1990s, is a darling of the snack aisle.
Still, there are too many cranberries. Wisconsin broke a record last fall when it harvested 600 million pounds, more than 60 percent of the national supply. Though the amount dropped a little this year, it was the second-largest harvest since growers began raising cranberries commercially here in the 1830s. For some growers who sell cranberries to processors, a pound that brought in 90 cents in 2008 was worth about 12 cents this year.
 It is not that more land has been turned into cranberry bogs. Growers in the United States and Canada have discovered new varieties and farming techniques that allow them to pull more fruit from each acre. “Everybody’s gotten better at growing the big crops,” said Ray J. Habelman, whose family company in nearby Tomah, Wis., is the nation’s largest producer for the fresh cranberry market. “We just need to get better at selling it.”
That sucks.  I drove through cranberry country in Wisconsin once while I was on vacation.  That was interesting to see.  As for me, my consumption of cranberries has historically been limited to juice, but I will say that Craisins beat raisins hands down. That isn't saying much, though, because I hate raisins.

NASA Photo of the Day

November 27:

Galileo's Europa Remastered
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SETI Institute, Cynthia Phillips, Marty Valenti
Explanation: Looping through the Jovian system in the late 1990s, the Galileo spacecraft recorded stunning views of Europa and uncovered evidence that the moon's icy surface likely hides a deep, global ocean. Galileo's Europa image data has been newly remastered here, using improved new calibrations to produce a color image approximating what the human eye might see. Europa's long curving fractures hint at the subsurface liquid water. The tidal flexing the large moon experiences in its elliptical orbit around Jupiter supplies the energy to keep the ocean liquid. But more tantalizing is the possibility that even in the absence of sunlight that process could also supply the energy to support life, making Europa one of the best places to look for life beyond Earth. What kind of life could thrive in a deep, dark, subsurface ocean? Consider planet Earth's own extreme shrimp.

The Science of Sports Fan Hatreds

Wall Street Journal:
The most intriguing study so far is an experiment that turned up neural proof of rivalry-related schadenfreude. The subjects in this paper, published in 2011 in the journal Psychological Science, were avid New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans who were asked to monitor baseball plays. They couldn’t lie about their feelings, though: Their brains were being scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines.
As expected, the die-hards were giddy when their teams made positive plays, which the researchers confirmed with activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain that correlates with pleasure. But the study was more revealing in people who felt greater aggression toward their rivals. The ventral striatum was engaged not only when their teams succeeded but also when their rivals failed—even against other teams. Cody Havard, a sports commerce professor at Memphis, calls this phenomenon “GORFing,” which is short for “glory out of reflected failure.”
Rivalries also bring out emotions that fans would rather suppress. One group of Kentucky psychologists studied schadenfreude (pleasure from others’ misfortune) and gluckschmerz (displeasure from others’ good fortune) by having the region’s rabid basketball fans read articles about injured Duke players. In this study, the most obsessed Kentucky fans felt schadenfreude when Duke’s players were severely hurt and gluckschmerz when they recovered or the injuries were actually mild, according to a paper published in the journal Motivation and Emotion this month.
“This is what is so fascinating about groups and sports fans in particular,” said Cikara, who led the study of baseball fans. “People get invested and worked up about events and games over which they have no control.”
In a sport as tribal as college football, though, fans play an outsize role in rivalries. The players in this weekend’s games were recently fans themselves. More than half of the rosters in this year’s Egg Bowl come from the state of Mississippi. Many of them grew up rooting for—or against—the schools they attend. Only some will have bulletproof bragging rights after Saturday.
Unfortunately, OSU will once again have bragging rights for the coming year.  There is definitely something to hatred in the sports fan experience.  Since my teams disappoint me every year, part of the fun is rooting for the teams I hate to lose.  And I hate a lot of teams.