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.