Archive for January 3rd, 2013

Unintended consequences.

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Actual headline from the Y Combinator Twitter feed that made me click through to the article:

So why did the train cross the border 24 times and never unload? My first thought was “to get to the other side”. Turns out that was wrong.

I’ll spoil the riddle for you:

The cargo of the train was owned by Bioversal Trading Inc., or its US partner Verdero, depending on what stage of the trip it was at. The companies “made several million dollars importing and exporting the fuel to exploit a loophole in a U.S. green energy program.” Each time the loaded train crossed the border the cargo earned its owner a certain amount of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which were awarded by the US EPA to “promote and track production and importation of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.” The RINs were supposed to be retired each time the shipment passed the border, but due to a glitch not all of them were. This enabled Bioversal to accumulate over 12 million RINs from the 24 trips, worth between 50 cents and $1 each, which they can then sell on to oil companies that haven’t met the EPA’s renewable fuel requirements.

This was all perfectly legal, at least according to the companies involved. The US and Canadian governments are investigating, according to the article, so the “perfectly legal” part may be in dispute.

(Wouldn’t you have enjoyed being a fly in the cab of that train and listening to the crew talk as they went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth across the border?)

More things I did not know.

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Commenting over at Tam’s place led me to Wikipedia, to refresh my memory of the Rankine scale.

And a footnote there, in turn, led me to something I’d never heard of before: VSMOW. That’s Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water, “a water standard defining the isotopic composition of freshwater”.

Very pure, carefully distilled VSMOW water is important in the manufacture of high-accuracy temperature measurement reference standards.

You see, if your water doesn’t have the exact right isotopic composition, you may see errors in your calibration of up to “several hundred microkelvin”.

I prefer being a time geek, but I have to admit that being a temperature geek does appear to have some thrills.

Random notes: January 3, 2013.

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

The shooting, on Nov. 26, was one more jarring reminder of just how common killings seem to have grown on the streets of Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, where 506 homicides were reported in 2012, a 16 percent increase over the year before, even as the number of killings remained relatively steady or dropped in some cities, including New York.

How’s that strict gun control working for you, Chicago?

First they came for the large sodas, and I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t drink soda. Then they came for the energy drinks

Obit watch: Patti Page. NYT. A/V Club.

The NYT profiles Christopher Tinker, auto mechanic in Baltimore. Why? Christopher Tinker’s great-grandfather was Joe Tinker.

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Yeah, that Joe Tinker.

In 1993, he paid $220 for one of the original baseball cards, which were issued by tobacco companies. But the card was eventually lost, and Tinker thought about how to replace it. One day he walked into a Baltimore tattoo parlor, and the idea hit him. Six hours and nearly $500 later, he had his great-grandfather’s image engraved on his arm.

Lake Tahoe has a bear problem. Actually, Lake Tahoe has two bear problems:

More than a thousand bear complaints a year are reported to officials on the lake’s California side alone. They break into homes to forage in refrigerators, at times surprising terrified residents. They den under porches and have learned to twist the tops off food jars. They make the trash-can exploits of the Southern California bruin nicknamed Glen Bearian look like the fumblings of an amateur.

Problem #2:

It’s not uncommon for people who have sought state approval to have a bear killed to receive an onslaught of threats. Homes have been vandalized. Even complaining about a problem bear to game wardens — who some see as the enemy — can bring scorn.
“People have been approached and yelled at in grocery stores simply for reporting bear activity,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Ausnow. “They’ll say, ‘You can’t do that because they’re going to kill it.’ This is a very emotional issue here.”