Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Works in Progress Links

  • What if, Jackling asked himself, you could extract copper not just out of those high-grade chunks (copper content of over five per cent) but also out of the other stuff too? In many mines around the world there were vast volumes of ores which looked to the untrained eye like normal rocks but contained a few percentage points of copper. They were set aside because it was simply too expensive to justify refining them. But, wondered Jackling, might there be some way of changing the calculus? In 1904 at Bingham Canyon, just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, he answered that question in dramatic fashion. Vast quantities of explosives were deployed to blast massive chunks of low-grade ore out of the ground. Steam shovels and steam crushers were brought in to ferry and grind the ores. What was once a mountain was turned into a kind of dust, which was then mechanically and chemically processed in what became known as ‘flotation separation’: the ore dust was mixed with an oily compound and then sloshed and shaken inside large tanks, allowing copper particles to float to the surface before being smelted into solid metal. What might sound like an arcane set of process changes turned out to be utterly revolutionary. Jackling’s ‘non-selective techniques’, as they are sometimes called, meant you could extract copper from even low-grade ores in large quantities. All of a sudden, the metal was no longer in short supply; it was plentiful. Better still, new electrolytic refining methods meant that the quality of copper being turned out by these new mega-mines was even better than the kind previously produced by older reverberatory furnaces, which roasted processed copper ores and dominated the business back in the nineteenth century, when the UK refined most of the world’s metals. [Works in Progress]
  • Few materials fell from grace like asbestos. Once cherished as an almost-magical material, it is now the archetypal carcinogen. We spent over a century integrating it into buildings, wiring, pipes, brake pads, and more, and we now spend billions of dollars a year removing it. But the standard story of asbestos as a mistake – or even a crime – of massive proportions does not do justice to the real benefits it brought. Asbestos was central to mitigating urban fires, which cost thousands of lives each year as modern cities grew larger, denser, and more flammable. But as we learned to control urban fires without it, asbestos’s health costs seemed less and less worth bearing. Asbestos is in its final days and soon the material will almost disappear entirely. [Works in Progress]
  • Crack the nut of geothermal power and it will feed us for billions of years: the Sun will engulf us long before the Earth’s core stops providing us with heat. In the here and now, a successful geothermal industry would mean a neat repurposing of oil and gas infrastructure and expertise; little prospect of Putin-style energy blackmail; and, most importantly, abundant clean energy, available 24/7, regardless of geography. Perhaps equally thrillingly, we would have drilling that would make the Soviets’ Arctic Circle record breaker look like a hobbit hole. [Works in Progress]
  • Among other things, that meant bringing back American rye whiskey – the base ingredient for cocktails like the Manhattan. Rye whiskey ruled American bars before Prohibition, but during the second half of the twentieth century, it all but disappeared from the market. In the 1980s and 1990s, only a few US whiskey brands still produced rye whiskey at all, and production was in some cases limited to a single day a year. But as with crème de violette, rye came back in large part because of bartender demand. In Michael Ruhlman’s The Book of Cocktail Ratios, Audrey Saunders, a New York cocktail bar entrepreneur and important figure in the cocktail renaissance, describes becoming obsessed with Rittenhouse rye in the early 2000s after having been served a Rittenhouse rye Manhattan at Crobar in London, which she describes as a ‘hole-in-the-wall heavy metal bar’. [Works in Progress]
  • Making cocktails at home means seeking out bottles that are good values and can be used in a lot of drinks. And there just aren’t many ryes that can meaningfully compete with Rittenhouse. In an era of demand-driven whiskey shortages, it’s widely available. At $28 or so a bottle, it’s reasonably affordable. And it is often not only a good choice for standard versions of classic cocktails, but the very best choice, particularly for drinks in the Manhattan family. [Cocktails With Suderman]
  • A key advance was the growth of triangulation. The diagram below illustrates the basic idea: if you have the points A and B and measure the angles ɑ and β to C, this uniquely pins down the position of C. Further, if the length between A and B is known, the method also delivers the distances from A and B to C. Triangulation was attractive because it replaced expensive measurement of distances with cheap measurement of angles. After the mathematician Gemma Frisius explained how triangulation could be used for mapmaking in 1533, the method spread rapidly across Europe. In 1578, the astronomer Tycho Brahe used triangulation to map the island of Hven where his observatory was located, and the method is described in many textbooks published before the end of the century. [Works in Progress]
  • Very few people understand how difficult it was to build state capacity in the past. Others conclude that things like property rights, state capacity, and development happened easily, quickly, and automatically, and they can’t figure out why developing countries are having so much trouble. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto spent 13 years visiting land registries in rich countries, asking the experts that worked there how their respective countries created functional systems of property rights. None of them knew; they all admitted to never having thought of the question. While De Soto was focused on property rights, in this piece we will examine the development of state capacity in Mexico. There are lots of definitions of state capacity, but here I mean the ability of the Mexican government to enforce the laws in all of its territories, to be able to tax its people, and to formulate and enact policies. [Works in Progress]
  • Some scientific papers receive very little attention after their publication – some, indeed, receive no attention whatsoever. Others, though, can languish with few citations for years or decades, but are eventually rediscovered and become highly cited. These are the so-called ‘sleeping beauties’ of science. The reasons for their hibernation vary. Sometimes it is because contemporaneous scientists lack the tools or practical technology to test the idea. Other times, the scientific community does not understand or appreciate what has been discovered, perhaps because of a lack of theory. Yet other times it’s a more sublunary reason: the paper is simply published somewhere obscure and it never makes its way to the right readers. [Works in Progress]
  • Another important takeaway is that not only may Europe have had close to the ‘Goldilocks’ amount of competition between states, but it also benefited enormously from the ability of states to copy the successful innovations of others through means other than through annexation, and a relatively unified collective intellectual culture. Waves of institutional innovations brought about by newcomers forced other states to adapt and learn if they wanted to survive, just as with useful and technological innovations. The introduction of parliaments, the rise of fiscal capacity, and later on executive constraints and the rule of law went hand in hand with enhanced military might, leading to a virtuous cycle of better governance coupled with larger shares in the market of governance. [Works in Progress]

No comments: