Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The color of money

I finally got around to picking up a copy of Monopoly. I thought about getting an old one on eBay, but the standard edition is only $10, brand new. Oh, I could have got the electronic banker edition, or the Clone Wars edition, or the Indiana Jones edition for two to four times as much. I'm shocked that there wasn't a Hannah Montana edition. Perhaps they were just out of stock.

Anyway, old people like me will already have noticed something wrong with the picture above. Purple fifties and blue tens! The horror!

I played against the kids over the weekend -- Thomas and Ava as a team, Johanna & I each played alone. Ava lost interest pretty quickly, other than playing with the houses and hotels.

As Banker, I was constantly mistaking the blue tens for fifties. Despite this handicap, I was, after two grueling days, able to prevail over my opponents.

Apparently I just missed out on the old-style colors. It says here that they changed in August, after 60-odd years of the familiar white-pink-yellow-green-blue-tan-goldenrod.

Other changes: Mediterranean and Baltic are brown, not purple. The property deeds are narrower, which I think is good. The income tax is a flat $200 (I blame Steve Forbes), which is simpler, but not so good if you're poor. The design and some of the wording on the Chance and Community Chest cards has changed. The rules don't seem to have changed, but they've rewritten them to be easier to understand.

The board, the tokens, and the houses and hotels are, to my memory anyway, indistinguishable from the ones I used as a child.

Check out Monopoly-history.com for a wealth of information about the great variety of different editions over the years. I'll always have a soft spot for the old #11 deluxe edition, with the gray (not brown!) styrofoam deed holder and the gigantic red box.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bear Mountain Lookout

Here's the view from atop Bear Mountain Lookout in the Black Hills. This is a composite of 11 photographs. I used Hugin to stitch them together. Click the photo to see a slightly bigger version.

Kristopher clued me in on Hugin. He has some nice panoramas on his blog. I like this one of the HHH Metrodome.

UPDATE: I replaced the photo with a bigger one. Click on it to see.

Also, some notes on how I made this: I didn't use a tripod. I was fairly careful to keep the horizon straight as I turned and took each photo. I was on manual exposure to avoid differences between the sections of the final result. I was not on manual white balance, though I probably should have been. In this case, it didn't seem to matter much. I took many more photos than would be strictly necessary -- I think about double. That probably made for better results. Another thing I wish I'd done -- take the photos in portrait mode rather than landscape. I could have included more on both the top & bottom of the photo.

I found Hugin very easy to use. I had previously tried version 0.6; the current 0.7 gave me much better results, and is easier to use. It has weird display problem: when selecting control points (this is where you tell the program where the same point, e.g. the tip of a tree, is on two adjacent photos), it would sometimes obscure part of the screen with a partial copy of the photo. I worked around it by just knowing where the hidden "add" button was, and clicking there. I don't know if this is a Mac OS X-specific problem.

I didn't read any of the documentation or look at any examples. I was clicking away ignorantly the whole time, and it still gave me pretty good results. If you look very closely, you can find a spot or two where the stitching doesn't quite match up. I went back and added a few more control points in one case, which made it better but certainly not perfect.

Bottom line: Try it! It's really fun. You might want something faster than an old memory-starved iMac G4, though.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Remedial Math

To my four readers: you know me -- I don't write about politics, government, issues, that sort of thing. This morning's Sioux Falls Argus Leader had an opinion piece that was so astonishingly bad that I couldn't resist. I like an easy target as much as the next guy.

The entire South Dakota congressional delegation, all three of them, combined their talents to write in support of ethanol. No big surprise -- lots of corn farmers around here, and lots of ethanol plants. OK, fine. You're just pandering to the voters representing your constituents. But get the arithmetic right, will you?

Let's go over this.

Francisco Blanch, a Merrill Lynch analyst, estimated that the use of renewable biofuels keeps gasoline prices 15 percent below what they might be. With today's gas prices, that means a $.52 per gallon increase from $3.50 for gasoline today to $4.02.

So that means $3.50 is 15% less than $4.02, right? Wrong. It's about 12.9% less. Maybe they meant to say prices would be 15% above what they are now if not for ethanol, or maybe the Merrill Lynch analyst meant to say that. Either way, somebody got it wrong.

Iowa State University recently confirmed Blanch's estimations with a study that showed ethanol has reduced gasoline prices from $.29 to $.40 per gallon.

So, a $0.29 to $0.40 estimate "confirmed" a $0.52 estimate. Got it.

Today, the United States imports about 12 percent (16.9 billion gallons) of the total refined gasoline consumed nationwide. When all ethanol facilities currently under construction are completed, the United States will have approximately 13 billion gallons of ethanol capacity. This will displace 77 percent of the total amount of gasoline imported into the United States each year.

13 billion is in fact 77% of 16.9 billion. Hey! They got one right? Alas, no. The increase from today's 8.5 billion gallons to tomorrow's 13 billion is only 4.5 billion, which is only about 27%. Furthermore, this assumes that ethanol has the same energy density per gallon as gasoline. It is much lower. In other words, it takes more than a gallon of ethanol to replace a gallon of gasoline.

Still, the renewable fuels industry is in its infancy, and we can do more. United States farmers produced 13.1 billion bushels of corn in 2007, averaging 151.1 bushels per acre. USDA estimates that we will produce 178 bushels per acre by 2015. Additionally, many experts predict that we will produce 300 bushels per acre by 2030. If these projections are accurate, the United States will be able to produce 60 billion gallons of ethanol from corn in 2030 without diverting corn from other uses and without expanding planted acreage in the United States. Moreover, this projection does not take into account increased efficiencies that will be realized through new technologies.

So what does it take into account? Magic? How do we nearly double our corn production per acre without increased efficiencies through new technologies? Maybe they're talking about increased efficiencies in the ethanol conversion process. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Importantly, worldwide corn production increased by 2.7 billion bushels from 2006 to 2007, and during this period ethanol demand for corn increased by 600 million bushels - 2 percent of the total.

Maybe 2% of the total, but 22% of the increase. I guess this one falls under Disraeli's third category of lies.

Today, distillers grains are $66 per ton cheaper than feeding with corn. With corn at $5.56 per bushel, cattle feeders would pay $268 per ton of total digestible nutrients for corn while only paying $201 per ton of TDN for distillers grains.

$268 - $201 = $67. Or $66. Whatever.

The results are clear. Without ethanol, consumers would be paying more for gas at the pump and more for food at the store.

We'd be paying more for food without ethanol? Seems like I read somewhere that the opposite was true. Now where was that? Oh, right here -- you said it, just a few paragraphs ago:

[T]he White House recently has stated that "production of corn-based biofuels is estimated to account for only three percent of the 43 percent increase in global food prices."

Is our delegation in Washington really this bad at math, or do they just think we are?

We now return to our regularly scheduled program of self-indulgent cat photos.

UPDATE: The Guardian reports that a World Bank study shows that the increase in food prices due to biofuels isn't 3% like the White House says, but a whopping 75%. Yikes!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Potting plants for Mother's Day

Stupid flash tricks

I bought an old Nikon SB-26 flash on Ebay, and, serious photographic artist that I am, the first thing I tried was a dumb, gimmicky shot.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Johanna pointed out some squirrels on our deck today. I thought perhaps she would go outside and slay them, so I grabbed the camera. She stayed inside, and the rodents escaped with their lives.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The IKEA way

It was time for a new bed for Ava, so we stopped by the IKEA in Bloomington, MN on our way back from the Twins game last week. Our house would probably be full of their furniture if we lived near one of their stores.

The bed came in three packages, two of which were much too big to fit in the van along with all five of us. We strapped them on the luggage rack, and soon found out the resonant properties of our tie straps at 70 mph. The straps beat the top of the van like a snare drum. While I was adjusting them, it started to rain, which continued most of the way home. Lucky for us, corrugated cardboard isn't as leaky as it looks, and the bed survived the trip.

Today was finally the day to put it together. My Swedish-line-drawing-to-English translation skills are spotty at best, but I'm going to say this bit means "work alone, and you'll live a life of despair; find somebody to help you, and you'll achieve Nirvana."

So I found a helper:

The wordless instructions were really pretty good, and the design, materials, fit & finish were all good, too. The only problem I had was one of the screws:

A little tricky to drive a screw when there's no slot. I encountered that one early on, and set it aside, confident that there would be an extra. Alas, no. I guess you don't get to be one of the world's richest men by giving away extra screws.

It took about 4 1/2 hours. There were a couple of steps that would only have been sensibly attempted by two or more adults, which wasn't an option. Those slowed me down quite a bit. And there are a lot of parts.

The design is a little unusual, with both drawers and a trundle, though I guess it's not really a trundle. It can expand to twice its width. The downside is that there's no storage for the second mattress. I guess you'd just stack them if you had two. For our storage-starved house, that's a good trade-off.

The finished product:

Friday, April 25, 2008

This is April 25?

Would you believe there was a 5k road race this morning, before the rain turned to snow? Well, for me, a 2K. My left calf seized up on me shortly after the start.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Is it just me, or is the word "kerfuffle" about a thousand times more popular now than it was a year ago?