Monday, September 24, 2018

September 24th Links

  • "I have heard rumors of visitors who were disappointed," J. B. Priestley once said of the Grand Canyon. "The same people will be disappointed at the Day of Judgment." [NY Times]
  • Every two years, the American valet-parking industry sends its best parkers—optimistically described as athletes—to compete in a head-to-head battle known as the National Valet Olympics. True to their Athenian namesake, the games push participants to the limit. Competitors sort keys. They pack trunks. They slalom through orange cones. They sprint across parking lots. Organized into corporate teams, they also dress in the snazzy uniforms of their trade. [Atlantic]
  • LAX is a city within a city. At more than five square miles, it is only slightly smaller than Beverly Hills. More than 50,000 badged employees report to work there each day, many with direct access to the airfield—and thus to the vulnerable aircraft waiting upon it. More than 100,000 passenger vehicles use the airport’s roads and parking lots every day, and, in 2015 alone, LAX hosted 75 million passengers in combined departures and arrivals. LAX is also policed like a city. The airport has its own SWAT team—known as the Emergency Services Unit—and employs roughly 500 sworn police officers, double the number of cops in the well-off city of Pasadena and more than the total number of state police in all of Rhode Island. [Atlantic]
  • Usually, the geologists at oil companies are working with people who know either much less geology than they do or, in some cases, almost no geology at all, yet they're trying to convince these people that this is where they need to explore, or this is what they need to do next. They find these maps very useful to show what the Devonian of North Dakota looked like, for example, which is a hot spot right now with all the shales that they're developing in the Williston Basin. What they like is that I show what the area might have really looked like. This helps, particularly with people who have only a modest understanding of geology, particularly the geologic past. [Atlantic]
  • Some cities, like Flagstaff, have lighting ordinances, of course. But one of the really interesting implications in your book is that, if you think about darkness as a common resource like water or clean air, we have environmental legislation and acceptable levels for pollution for them. Or, if you think about the health side, you could make the analogy with secondhand smoke and the ways in which we regulate that. At one point you mention the phrase "light trespass," which implies we could treat darkness like property. Would any of these be effective models for preserving darkness? [Atlantic]
  • But let us not forget that it is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — "that government of the people, by the people, for the people," should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i. e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all. Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg address? If so, I plead my aesthetic joy in it in amelioration of the sacrilege. [Mencken]
  • Abbott's senior brand manager Eric Ryan tells me the decision to woo adults was simple: "The beauty of the product is that the benefits haven't changed — Pedialyte is still a medical-grade hydration solution backed by advanced science. We don't endorse heavy drinking or claim to cure hangovers, but our users find confidence in having a trusted rehydration solution that works." [link]
  • Mr. Carlson-Wee now straddles the line between crypto kid and crypto king. He has pared back his time on online message boards to 15 minutes a day, from an hour or more in years past, to spend more time on the fund. He recently chopped off his mullet because being known for such an idiosyncrasy reminded him of "something a hedge-fund manager would do." [WSJ]
  • The news media silence was critical. If another news organization, particularly one with national reach, had run an obituary in 2009, we would have stood down, acknowledging that we had been napping back then and that it was way too late now to make up for the lapse. A competitive daily newspaper isn't keen on reporting something that happened seven years ago. [NY Times]
  • It would seem like a good history dissertation topic: who knew about Bletchley Park before 1974? How was a project with 10,000 people working on it, right on the main road between Oxford and Cambridge, kept a secret for so long? Did this vast conspiracy ever attract any conspiracy theorist interest or are conspiracy theorists never interested in true conspiracies? Did the KGB know in 1955? [Sailer]
  • The lack of serious attention to the nuances of gender and race is a pretty unforgivable and egregious flaw in St. John's philosophy of education. This kind of intense focus on the Westernized cannon just perpetuates Eurocentric neocolonialism. Sure— most of the mechanisms of modern globalism are based on Western thought. However, the primary reason that Western ideas are so dominant globally is because of the West's well-documented, centuries-long history of conquest, colonialism, prejudice and capitalism. Classical western thought is still prominent today, chiefly because Western nations systematically pillaged, subjugated, and otherwise murdered foreign societies and peoples who espoused alternate thoughts & philosophies. The study of marginalized people and the continuing ill effects of colonialism should not, under any circumstances, be optional. To center the Westernized cannon instead of scholarship produced by women and people of color is essentially to perpetuate white supremacy. [NY Times]
  • I like to walk places (a lot). I also prefer to avoid taking taxis or ridesharing services. At some point in college, I found myself at the Tweed New Haven airport at an odd hour, and decided to try my hand at walking downtown rather than taking a cab. I found that it was surprisingly pleasant, and the distance was not outlandish. From then on I have had a quasi-hobby of walking to/from the various airports that I fly. The general goal is to go between the terminals and the downtown of whatever city the airport serves (though I will bend those rules if convenient). Sometimes the walk is fun, sometimes it is unpleasant, but it always takes me through different parts of the city than most visitors usually see. [link]
  • One of my best vacations ever was a week spent on Nai Yang beach in Phuket, perhaps two miles from the airport terminal, which I chose because I love planes and wanted to planespot, and everything went perfectly. Photos like this were an everyday occurrence and yes, it is walkable - perhaps forty minutes from terminal to sand at a slow amble. Sitting on the beach with the FlightRadar app in one hand using the AR function to literally tell you what plane that is while drinking a cold beer? Bliss. [link]

Monday, September 17, 2018

September 17th Links

  • Sketching in a foreign city is not simply a matter of plonking yourself down in front of the local masterpiece, Baedeker in hand. First you need to find the building or view that is genuinely interesting and this may be a building unknown to the art historians. My father always took great pleasure in drawing a great work which was never written up. All too often people are led to appreciate architecture through the eyes of art historians or the celebrity status of the architect. This my father sometimes took to extremes. I remember once in Borromini's St Ivo in Rome he took great pleasure in rendering a fairly banal picture frame rather than the church itself. [Quinlan Terry]
  • [T]he best building materials are practically inert, whereas the great defect of all modern materials is their high coefficient of expansion, as shown in the chart. This means that their seasonal and diurnal expansion and contraction is such that expansion joints are essential. Even a modern brick wall has to have expansion joints every 30ft. This in turn breaks up the monolithic nature of any structure into little isolated blocks with expansion joints. The weathering and attrition at these joints is an obvious long-term weakness, whereas a traditionally built structure has none of these problems because the matrix is lime instead of cement. Think of the Pantheon in Rome, built in brick and lime mortar. It has a diameter of 142ft and has stood for nearly two thousand years. No reinforced concrete structure could last anything like so long because once air and moisture have penetrated to the reinforcement there is nothing which can permanently inhibit its breakdown. It does not even make a good ruin! [Quinlan Terry]
  • The traditional materials, brick, stone, lime mortar are all virtually inert to changes in temperature and therefore have an A rating, whereas modern materials like reinforced concrete, steel, glass, aluminium and pvc get a B or C rating. This is because they have such a high co-efficient of thermal expansion that they require expansion joints at regular intervals. This is the main cause of their short life span, because the expansion joint (filled with mastic which breaks down under sunlight) cannot protect the building from driving rain and water ingress. [Quinlan Terry]
  • Without any maintenance at all, a new bottom-mount-condenser refrigerator will run with no problems through the five-year warranty period and then will be likely to conk out in the sixth or seventh year. "However, if just once a year, you'll take the time to clean the accumulated dust off the coil, you can prevent compressor failure and extend the life of your refrigerator to 10 to 15 — maybe even 20 — years," Richter explains. [link]
  • If money is no object, get a Sub-Zero and keep the coils clean. You'll be very happy. But don't expect it to last longer. Sub-Zeroes have a habit of losing their gas. So plan on a $500 repair every ten years. [link]
  • There are many people for whom the ornately carved and richly upholstered furniture made for the French royal palaces between 1680 and 1790—a span that encompasses the Enlightenment, rococo, and neoclassical periods and the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI—represents a high point of Western culture. The designer Patrick Hourcade has called it "the period when furniture became art for the first time." Leon Dalva, a prominent New York dealer in French antiques, describes the era's output as "the finest expression on earth of natural materials and man-made artistry." In the preface to Pallot’s book, Karl Lagerfeld, an early mentor and prominent collector, wrote, "With the exception of Watteau, Fragonard, Chardin, and a few others, the language of these craftsmen was almost more universal than the language of French painters of the same period." [Vanity Fair]
  • Essential facilities doctrine has traditionally been applied to infrastructure such as bridges, highways, ports, electrical power grids, and telephone networks. Given that Amazon controls key infrastructure for e-commerce, imposing a duty to allow access to its infrastructure on a nondiscriminatory basis make sense. And in light of the company's current trajectory, we can imagine at least three aspects of its business could eventually raise "essential facilities"-like concerns: (1) its fulfillment services in physical delivery; (2) its Marketplace platform; and (3) Amazon Web Services. While the essential facilities doctrine has not yet been applied to the internet economy, some proposals have started exploring what this might look like. Pursuing this regime for online platforms could maintain the benefits of scale while preventing dominant players from abusing their power. [Yale Law]
  • Senator Sherman stood before his colleagues in Congress, determined to free the American economy from the grip of anti-competitive practices and entities. "Monopolies," he declared, are "inconsistent with our form of government... If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life. If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade..." [DOJ]
  • Mr. Bradley's height score—like his actual height—was an extreme outlier (4.2 standard deviations above the mean). This appears to be driven by an increased proportion of homozygous genotypes for SNPs associated with increased height when compared to the average ADNI and Cache County genotype values. Despite this, his height score only predicted him to be 10.32 mm taller than average. This suggests that while Mr. Bradley's extreme polygenic score could accurately rank his height amongst 1020 individuals, it does not accurately predict his actual height measurement, demonstrating that there are significant factors unaccounted for. [link]
  • Studies of mortality are an important tool in the identification of occupational hazards. Previous studies of mortality in physicians have found increased death from brain tumors and suicide in pathologists; leukemia, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, and skin cancer in radiologists; and suicide, accidental death, and drug related death in anesthesiologists. In the case of radiologists, the recognition of increased cancer risk associated with occupational exposure to ionizing radiation led to institution of fundamental radiation safety practices. In the case of anesthesiologists, the recognition of increased risk of drug-related death and suicide led to institution of intervention programs aimed at identification and rehabilitation of at-risk physicians. [J Neurosurg]
  • For 46 years, from 1951 to 1997, we were no more and no less rich than our economy grew. That's the neutral vision of monetary policy, where you're not trying to pull forward future growth through leverage and easy money in order to create more wealth today. For the past 20 years, however, we have had a series of wealth bubbles – first the Dot-Com bubble, then the Housing Bubble, and today the Financial Asset Bubble – that have made us (temporarily) richer than our economy grows. [Epsilon Theory]
  • A col is the lowest point on the saddle between two mountains. Graham Robb has spent years uncovering and cataloguing the 2,002 cols and 105 passes scattered across the British Isles. Some of these obscure and magical sites are virgin cols that have never been crossed. Dozens were lost by the Ordnance Survey and are recorded only in ballads or monastic charters. The eleven cols of Hadrian's Wall are practically unknown and have never been properly identified. [link]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ford vs Tesla

Daily Kanban:

Automakers like Ford are rightly frustrated by the public and market’s readiness to believe Tesla’s narrative about disrupting automotive manufacturing, but there’s reason to believe that the wildly different standards to which Tesla and other automakers are held actually hurts the would-be upstart. After all, one of the main reasons that KTP [Kentucky Truck Plant] operates so efficiently and with such high quality is that it has no choice. Whereas Tesla has been able to count on investors and analysts to forgive its “production hell” fiascoes, KTP is the beating heart of Ford’s business, building some of the most high-margin and in-demand vehicles Ford has ever made.

With the new Expedition and Navigator flying off lots, the vehicles made at KTP are absolutely critical to the financial performance that markets demand. Since every minute of downtime means that at least one margin-padding truck or SUV won’t be delivered on time, the people of KTP know that the company’s financial performance depends on their perfect execution and attention to detail. Were Ford able to raise capital from the markets whenever its financial performance fell short, it’s easy to imagine a plant like KTP cutting corners or making excuses about “production hell.” But because Ford isn’t coddled like the self-described “disruptors,” workers here at KTP know that downtime and poor quality simply aren’t an option.

Monday, September 10, 2018

September 10th Links

  • Positive returns to scale. The more you learn, the easier it is to learn. You can start skipping over stuff you've read before, because you're familiar with the ideas or the methods of argument. (Do we still need to read that paragraph explaining, say, comparative advantage?) Thus one skips over the familiar stuff to get straight to the unfamiliar ideas. Okay, maybe these are saying the same thing: they boil down to a claim that knowledge can compound. [Wang]
  • I think we should try to hold on to process knowledge. Japan's Ise Grand Shrine is an extraordinary example in that genre. Every 20 years, caretakers completely tear down the shrine and build it anew. The wooden shrine has been rebuilt again and again for 1,200 years. Locals want to make sure that they don't ever forget the production knowledge that goes into constructing the shrine. There's a very clear sense that the older generation wants to teach the building techniques to the younger generation: "I will leave these duties to you next time." [Wang]
  • Returning to South Africa specifically, I do hope the farmers there have stayed strategically leveraged to the hilt. All they can steal is your equity, and if that has been cashed out in a mortgage, I'd hand the marauding Africans the key on the way out and remind them what day the payment is due. Those farmers are surely prudent enough to have kept their wealth out of easily pilferable assets and preferably in foreign accounts. [Kaki]
  • The company was established first as Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Company in Pennsylvania in October 1899 by John Barbey and a group of investors. The H.D. Lee Company (now Lee) was acquired by the company in 1969 and the corporate name was changed to VF Corporation to reflect the more diverse product line. Blue Bell Inc., the owner of such brands as Wrangler and JanSport, was acquired in 1986, effectively doubling the size of VF and making it the largest publicly held clothing company. [Wiki]
  • Why won't those angry, extremist Swedes listen to the wise advice of Somalis about for whom they should vote? After all, Somalis, unlike Swedes, are known worldwide for their political genius at forging workable political compromises. The only sensible solution is to bring in more Somalis until Swedes can no longer tip Swedish elections. We call that Democracy. [Sailer]
  • There's another aspect that reflects the new ownership. They try to squeeze two dimes from every nickel. This is becoming true of all sportsball events. The games are more marketing than game. Everything that can be monetized in some way is exploited to the point where the presentation is grubby and offensive. Watching a game at home is like being stuck in a room full of carnival barkers. There is something unseemly about billionaires trying to squeeze their middle-class customers out of their last dime. [Z Man]
  • The plaintiff, as the owner of a certificate for "one hundred shares interest in one-half the gross proceeds of the sale of the use of lots in Pinelawn Cemetery," a domestic corporation, brought this action to compel an accounting for the moneys received by the defendant for the sale of lots and to recover his share thereof. [Casetext]
  • Try to keep this on the down low. There's a road about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles that is nearly empty every weekday, and it's one of the best any of us has driven. Oh, and here's a map and directions, but, again, let's just keep this between us. Come on, be cool. [Car and Driver]
  • Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall soon flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of man! A spring of pure truth shall flow from it! Like a new star, it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine among men. [Gutenberg]
  • Google had changed the way people sought information. "They only want information based on the information they think they want," he said. As a rule, he said, archivists at the library should give you the box you've asked for — but also suggest another box. There are fewer opportunities, now, to stumble into a world you don’t already know. "It's important to look outside of your own existence." [link]
  • That's the promise: you will live more curiously if you write. You will become a scientist, if not of the natural world than of whatever world you care about. More of that world will pop alive. You will see more when you look at it. [Somers]
  • Being fast is fun. If you're a fast writer, you'll constantly be playing with new ideas. You won't be bogged down in a single dread effort. And because your to-do list gets worked off, you'll always be thinking of more stuff to add to it. With more drafts in the works, more of the world will pop alive. You will feel flexible and capable and practiced so that when something demanding and long arrives on your desk, you won't back down afraid. [Somers]
  • What about radiation resistance? Here's a case in the literature where radiation resistance was improved 100,000-fold. 10-fold using e14-deletion. 50-fold using recA. 20-fold using yfjK. And 10-fold using dnaB. See Ecoli, Byrne et al, eLife 2014 ("Evolution of extreme resistance to ionizing radiation via genetic adaptation of DNA repair"). This only requires 4 mutations. There is a wide variation in natural organisms, but the only difference here is those 4 mutations. [link]
  • A Russian Course does not equip its learner with survival Russian, unless she's trying to survive in an extremely ideologically motivated concrete factory. A large portion of the material is set in the fictional Concrete City, where the author illustrates the principles of Russian grammar using the classic battle of good versus evil. In this case, the embodiment of good are the udarniki, or shock-workers, model Soviet citizens who love achieving efficiency in industrial settings. They always work with enthusiasm. They never sit on the grass in parks. They stay away from the "Hanky-Panky Club" in West Blinsk, where people listen to "wild jazz." They understand that "happiness is to sit by the Great Blinsk Sea and build hydroelectric power stations." [LARB]
  • Typically, the first person you meet at Patagonia's headquarters, in Ventura, is a receptionist and former freestyle Frisbee world champion who goes by Chipper Bro. When I visited, in May, he invited me to surf with him at dawn the next day. When I left reception, he said, "Nice hanging with you." [New Yorker]
  • As with stracciatella gelato, I make the coating for homemade Klondike Bars using a combination of chocolate and refined coconut oil. Cutting the milk chocolate with oil lowers its melting point, so it won't sit on your tongue like a waxy lump when frozen; meanwhile, using a saturated fat like coconut oil helps create a crunchy snap. [Serious Eats]
  • My first impression: On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic. Some downright brutal types among them. They would obey any order. And outside the doors, the Oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country. [link]
  • In an alternate world where humans and tailless anthropomorphic animals live side by side, BoJack Horseman, the washed-up star of the 1990s sitcom Horsin' Around, plans his big return to celebrity relevance with a tell-all autobiography that he dictates to his ghostwriter Diane Nguyen. [Wiki]
  • Phil Knight was not some jock (as I would have expected) but rather a scrawny kid who loved books. His main partner who helped him build the business barely had enough space for a bed in his place, as he had books and shoes strewn everywhere. Ever since I read that Charlie Munger quote about not knowing any wise people who didn't read all the time, I see the evidence for it everywhere. (Confirmation bias?) Another thing that shocked me was Knight's view towards marketing: he saw it as fairly useless. I think of Nike as purely a marketing company, but maybe it evolved into this or maybe I'm totally wrong. Knight is a product guy who appeared to belittle the marketing guys. [Karsan]

Review of Helium: The Disappearing Element by Wheeler M. "Bo" Sears Jr.

Helium is rare on Earth - so rare that it was first discovered in the sun, not here on terra firma. In 1868, astronomers performing spectroscopy during a total solar eclipse noticed a yellow spectral line that did not correspond to any known elements.

It was not until 1895 that helium gas was isolated on Earth, by Scottish chemist William Ramsey who studied the gasses released by uranium ore when dissolved in acid. In a spectroscope, one of the gasses isolated exhibited the same yellow line as the mystery gas in the sun's chromosphere. Thus, helium was named after the Greek word for sun (ήλιος).

In the sun, and in all stars, helium is formed by the nuclear fusion of hydrogen. Four hydrogen nuclei form a helium-4 atom via a proton-proton chain reaction. There is a slight reduction in mass of the product compared to the inputs, which corresponds to a release of energy.

This is not how helium is formed on Earth. Our terrestrial helium comes from the decay of radioactive elements in the crust, like uranium and thorium. (And as we have previously noticed, elements heavier than iron were created in supernovae. There is iron 60 from recent supernovae.)

Earnest Rutherford collected alpha particles from the radioactive decay radon in a glass and through spectroscopy discovered that they showed the same spectrum of helium. Alpha particles are helium nuclei! This led to the famous gold foil experiment and thence to a new, more accurate model of the atom.

The decay of uranium 238, which has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, produces the most helium atoms on its decay series which leads to a stable final isotope: lead 206. Once the decay series starts (with the U238 decaying to thorium 234 and releasing a helium nucleus), the rest of the decay takes a little over 300,000 years.

Earth has a lot of uranium and other radioactive elements decaying in the crust, all of which produce a helium nucleus when they go through an alpha decay on their decay series. One estimate is that a gram of helium produces 100,000 atoms of helium per second. Given the quantity of radioactive material in the crust, Sears estimates something like 10^33 helium atoms are produced per year. That would be about 10^10 moles and at standard temperature and pressure a mole of gas is about one cubic foot. Ten billion cubic feet, or ten million MCF, which would be worth $2 billion at current prices.

A major problem is that helium, as a noble gas, is unable to form compounds and is continually lost into space because it cannot "hold on to" another element and, say, form a solid or a mineral. Think about how even lighter hydrogen would vanish too - except that it can pair with oxygen and make water, or carbon and make myriad other (extremely useful) compounds. Also, the helium that does not escape out into space might instead be trapped in the rock that contained the radioactive elements. Something has to happen to fracture the rock and release the helium: faulting, volcanism are ways that this can happen.

So the raw production is there. But the important things are the processes that gather the helium atoms closer to the surface and trap them there for us, without them escaping into space, which brings us to Helium: The Disappearing Element. At the time of publication in 2015, author Bo Sears had been exploring for helium for 15 years under Weil Helium LLC.

His book is basically the first principles of helium and the U.S. helium market: the history of its discovery as an element, its isolation from radioactive ores, identification in underground gas deposits, use as a lifting gas for lighter-than-air craft, evolution of other uses, production, and government regulation.

As we know, lighter-than-air craft were replaced by heavier-than-air ones (making for one of the few bad calls in John McPhee's career as a scientific observer). Airships were big and slow and had to fly low, where weather is a bigger problem.

Weather balloons are now the biggest use as a lifting gas, although lifting is no longer a very important use. One of the more important uses is in rocketry - helium is the only gas that will work to pressurize liquid hydrogen and oxygen rocket fuel tanks. Now the biggest use is superconductivity - cooling the superconducting magnets in medical MRI scanners and NMR spectrometers. You can see that and the other applications, for which many would not have any ready substitute. (Unlike silver!)

Helium is harder to trap in rock formations than other gasses like CO2, N2, and methane, which all have diameters an order of magnitude greater than the helium atom (about 15 times wider, to be precise).

But the keys are generation, migration, and entrapment. Commercial helium deposits vary by more than an order of magnitude in concentration, and the variation is explained by deficiency or relative absence of one or more of those key factors.

Four Corners gas was the highest concentration ever discovered. The "carrier gas" with which the helium migrated was CO2 from all the volcanic activity in northeastern Arizona. (Lots of volcanism - the youngest is Sunset Crater only ~1k years ago.) These helium deposits were found at shallow depths - he thinks they were all depleted.

The first non-US helium resource discovered was in Swift Current, SK. Another was in the Wood Mountain area. Sears says that Weil Helium was putting Wood Mountain into production.

Then under the Clinton administration, Congress passed the Privatization Act of 1996 to get the federal government out of the helium business. What quickly happened was that demand increased, supply from the Hugoton fell off, and rather than being a supply of last resort, draining the federal reserve at an unsustainably low price became the first resort.

The result was Helium Stewardship Act of 2013. The BLM started holding helium auctions in 2014. We’ve now just had the 2018 one. Prices have been rising.

Qatar and Algeria have been able to produce helium despite low concentration resources because of LNG business. They are liquifying gas anyway (unlike natural gas producers in the U.S.) which lowers the marginal cost of taking the helium out.

The overall pattern over the past century an alternation between gluts and supply crunches. Just like other commodity markets. Sometimes a supply has built up and a use - like military airships - has gone away. Then the price collapses. But recently demand has been growing, there are no obviously stupid uses (except a small amount of party balloons), and it was in the interest of the industrial gas companies to be able to buy helium ("molecules") from the BLM at an artificially low price. The result is that there is hardly anyone competent out there exploring for helium.

Sears' book points to some further information sources that look worthwhile. He seemed to get a lot of the early helium industry history from Helium: Child of the Sun. There was also a committee report from the Committee on the Impact of Selling the Federal Helium Reserve. Arizona has also published stuff to try to reignite interest in helium exploration there. (The big name there is Steve Rauzi with the Arizona Geological Survey.)


An investment in helium that can be extracted at a reasonable cost seems like a great, uncorrelated investment to make. The question is how to get the exposure. Here is what I think is an exhaustive list of companies that purport to be exploring for helium:

In Arizona the Oil & Gas Commission regulates helium exploration so you can read their meeting minutes and see what people are doing.

North American Helium files Form 45-106F1 in Canada when they raise money. They filed one in July saying they raised $12 million from accredited investors in the US. Their founder was quoted in Northern Miner with a useful observation about where helium comes (or doesn't come) from:
Like cobalt, which is produced as a by-product of nickel and copper production, helium is produced as a by-product of oil and gas production. "To get more cobalt you have to mine more nickel and copper, and to get more helium, you need more big, conventional oil and gas projects that happen to have a helium component, but frankly, most of those mega oil and gas projects aren't economic anymore because of the advent of shale gas," says Nicholas Snyder, founder of North American Helium. The shortage has been accelerated by the U.S. government's decision in the mid-1990s to sell off its helium stockpile.
This is the only helium company founder or executive which has been quoted in public with an intelligent remark. I guess that says something. Also a fundraising of $12 million makes them a much bigger player than almost all of the other companies listed above. All of the OTC/TSX listed players are smaller than this.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Monday, September 3, 2018

September 3rd Links

  • The true motivation for the takeout, I believe, is that Musk realised that Solar City was on the verge of financial catastrophe. Changing regulations (particularly given Trump's hostility to climate change policies) and unbundling billing practices was likely to mean that the company was going to need to provide massive subsidies/compensation to its customers (or let them walk away from existing contracts) to avoid both lawsuits and a a PR disaster, and this was a financial burden the company could ill-afford. Furthermore, such a public blow-up of one of Musk's companies could be highly damaging to his reputation and credibility, potentially impacting Tesla's ability to raise much-needed funding as well. It was preferable to absorb SolarCity's problems into the larger Tesla entity, where the losses/evidence and PR-fallout could be quietly buried, and public scrutiny avoided. [LT3000]
  • Among the issues: The cars can't always make left turns. During the year and a half that Waymo's self-driving cars have been tested on the streets of Chandler and nearby suburbs, they've sometimes had to stop trying to make left turns because the software wasn't safe enough. [link]
  • Alphabet's Waymo unit is a worldwide leader in autonomous vehicle development for suburban environments. It has said it would launch a driverless robo-taxi service to suburban Phoenix residents this year. Yet its self-driving minivan prototypes have trouble crossing the T-intersection closest to the company's Phoenix-area headquarters here. Two weeks ago, Lisa Hargis, an administrative assistant who works at an office a stone’s throw from Waymo's vehicle depot, said she nearly hit a Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan because it stopped abruptly while making a right turn at the intersection. [link]
  • Bay Laurel or Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis): This leathery-leaved plant is the easiest herb to grow indoors. You can place it in sun or partial shade or under a fluorescent lamp. Its growth is very slow, but it does grow, and it seems indifferent to the entire indoor temperature range, from 34 to 95F. By bringing your bay laurel indoors every fall and putting it back outdoors every summer (it can stay outdoors all year in zones 8 to 11), it will gradually become a fairly sizeable shrub or even a small tree, but that will take decades. [link]
  • "While it isn't perfect, a low-variety diet is psychologically very close to total abstinence (fasting), only it's safer to do in the long-term without all the risks of extended fasts. Basically, it turns a major complaint about monotonous diets (they're boring!) into a virtue. Getting bored with your food removes a lot of the reward that you get from eating. The urge to eat past the point of satisfying hunger fades, and meals become nothing more than a pit stop to refuel." [link]
  • This is curious, the company has a large coal deposit which hasn't been mined yet being carried for $700,000. When I read about this I wondered what 92m tons of coal would go for on the spot market. Using a NYMEX quote of $57.87 per ton that coal has a gross value of $5 billion dollars! Sure there are mining costs, and transport costs and all sorts of other things but remember that Central Natural Resources's market cap is $13,000,000, there is a lot of wiggle room there. The value of the coal alone is 400x the trading price of this company. [Oddball]
  • After a century, 16 of the iconic "Treasure Island" paintings created by N.C. Wyeth as illustrations for Robert Louis Stevenson's beloved novel are shown together for the first time. Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Penn., has reassembled these memorable images of pirates, swashbucklers, and high seas adventure in an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wyeth's illustrations for the classic tale. The 1911 edition of "Treasure Island" was a critical and popular success, establishing Wyeth among the period's foremost illustrators. His publisher, Scribner's, paid him $2,500, enough to buy 18 acres along the Brandywine River Valley that became home to generations of Wyeths, and their studios. [link]
  • As an illustrator of books, Wyeth was very sensitive to the author's words, and his philosophy was to avoid depicting scenes that the author describes in detail (what was the point?), and instead illuminate smaller moments that are only briefly mentioned, in order to enhance the story. The resulting illustrations are neither trivial nor superfluous, but help develop the characters and advance the story. He managed to choose just the right moment, which is an art in itself. [link]
  • In crystallography, crystal structure is a description of the ordered arrangement of atoms, ions or molecules in a crystalline material. Ordered structures occur from the intrinsic nature of the constituent particles to form symmetric patterns that repeat along the principal directions of three-dimensional space in matter. The smallest group of particles in the material that constitutes the repeating pattern is the unit cell of the structure. The unit cell completely defines the symmetry and structure of the entire crystal lattice, which is built up by repetitive translation of the unit cell along its principal axes. [Wiki]
  • For his scientific work, Pauling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954. For his peace activism, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. He is one of four individuals to have won more than one Nobel Prize (the others being Marie Curie, John Bardeen and Frederick Sanger). Of these, he is the only person to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes, and one of two people to be awarded Nobel Prizes in different fields, the other being Marie Curie. [Wiki]
  • I don't get what they mean by him working 100+ hour weeks. What does it mean when he goes down to the factory when the robot is malfunctioning? I'm assuming he's not programming, so is he working the assembly line? Stapling on the bumpers? It just seems like such an artificial mythology that he is working so hard when there is seemingly nothing practical for him to be doing other than doing meetings and helping with strategy. Additionally, if he is working so much, how does he have so much time to tweet about random stuff? [CoBF]
  • One key component of that growth of inequality is that the wealthy have high savings rates. r is typically around 4-5%, and g tends to be more like 1%, so the First Law is doesn't produce interesting results unless the wealthy save more than 20% of their income. Those savings rates seem more remarkable to me than r > g, yet Piketty treats those as if it were obvious that the wealthy can't spend most of their income. He seems to have some bias against caring about the savings rate, maybe because it undercuts his story about wealth not being due to merit. I consider a high savings rate to be a sign of merit. Not necessarily an especially important one, but enough for my attitude to differ noticeably from Piketty's. [link]
  • Eventually, the Left would run out of ways to address the immutable racial differences. That means they would run out of possible explanations, leaving them with just one conclusion. That is, racism is what defines white people, so the only way to achieve social equality is to get rid of white people entirely. This is why the media is full of over-the-top anti-white rhetoric. The Left is now entirely defined by a visceral hatred of white people. [Zman]
  • Instead of cash flow, I prefer using a less volatile valuation technique for asset-heavy commodity businesses. Specifically, I use replacement cost. In effect, my goal is to buy a dollar of reserves (oil, natural gas, gold, timber, etc) at a discount to the cost required to replace those reserves. For example, if it costs $300 to find and develop an ounce of gold and I can buy a proven and developed ounce for $150 in the equity market, I'm interested. Focusing on developed mines with a sufficient history in production and operating costs can also reduce risk. Accumulating reserves by building a new mine often comes with uncertain production, operating costs, and financing. In effect, instead of taking the risk of building a new mine, I'd rather buy the reserves of a developed and operationally efficient mine selling at a discount. [Cinnamond]
  • Correia's narration is notable for its sanity and practicality, and (a rarity in the gun world) for not viewing all problems as solvable with more and larger guns. He used to carry more than one gun on his person, plus a spare mag in case he needed to reload. But in his study of violent encounters, he has seen zero emergency reloads and zero uses of a backup gun (or bug, in gun lingo), so he seldom carries extra mags anymore and has stopped carrying an extra gun altogether. Overwhelmingly, the lesson of his videos is to avoid violence in the first place. "The answer to most social violence is: Check your ego." [Atlantic]
  • The size and bulbousness of a B.B.J. or an A.C.J. invite class resentment, and, worse, might remind onlookers of the easyJet they flew in on. A Gulfstream is regarded as a more prudent and tasteful choice. The G650, Gulfstream's flagship product, is currently the skyfaring object of greatest desire, and it is no exaggeration to call the $70 million aircraft the world's single greatest status commodity. Desire for them is so ardent in part because of their physical elegance — they have a phocine aspect, with a silkily sloping underbelly and large, widely spaced elliptical portholes, with an interior like a conch shell — and in part because they cut a more discreet profile. [NY Times]
  • I said, "Look, last year I sold my company for $22 million. I've got plenty of money. It's not an issue." He said, "Oh, just put 'retired' then. God you'll make our life a lot easier. You fill out one of these immigration cards. When it asks your profession just write 'retired.'" [Sivers]