Assorted links

1. Heat your house with someone else’s computer.

2. The depression of George Scialabba.

3. Japanese mag lev trains hit near airplane speeds.

4. I, too, am enjoying Serial.

5. When was the greatest Finnish Great Depression?

6. “Already, we are in the midst of what could be the longest streak of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years.”  The link is here, I bet against us being anywhere close to peak chocolate.


3. The real miracle is that Japan's public railways operate without government subsidy. Surely that's of greater interest to an economics blogger than mere incremental improvements in technology?

I watched a program on PBS about India which mentioned their national railway produces a profit every year. I was impressed by that, if it's really true. Their rolling stock seems rather dismal, but what do you expect? Being a self-sufficient national railway seems like quite an accomplishment, no matter where you are.

They made a loss last two years. I think.

Ticket prices are not cheap in Japan. However, it is quite expensive to own and drive a car, so the cost of train tickets don't seem so bad. Also the rail system is very extensive and well run, although I have had a driver almost fall asleep at the dead man switch. (Sleepy man switch?)

Indirectly subsidized, heavily, by tax write-offs for companies paying workers to commute by rail.

Having a long, thin, heavily populated island with a humongous industrial center is now miraculous?

These miracles are only possible because of population density and restrictive geography.

Even the high priced California coast isnt as feasible for a train given low cost airline flights. But if Cal was heavily populated between the coastal cities, rail would be inevitable.

Yes, it is miraculous. How many archipelagos are blessed with a "humongous industrial center"?

That tiny info-nugget about an experimental mag-lev (500 km/hr!) seems meaningless without more info.

Such as, what is its noise signature? High speed trains are noisy, and no more so than in a mountainous country such as Japan where they boom as they emerge from tunnels. A (subsonic) airplane is noisy near an airport, but a train is noisy over its entire corridor. 500 km/hr isn't all that useful unless it can actually be used over much of its route, is it?

People tend to think of trains as using less energy than airplanes, and a slow train surely does. So how does energy use per seat-mile in a mag-lev compare with that of an airplane? One advantage of a train is it doesn't need to produce lift (unless it's a mag-lev, of course). The advantage of an airplane is that in high-altitude cruise, it moves through air that is much less dense than the air a train must move through. (And, yes, I know, they're difficult to directly compare, as airplanes use significantly less energy per seat-mile as the length of the flight increases, as the most energy-efficient part of the flight is the high-altitude cruise. And planes are mostly used for longer trips anyway, where the speed advantage becomes more important.)

I guess my complaint is that it's just a "Gee Whiz" article ("look at that!") with little substance, a pretty (but tasteless) little nugget of into-tainment. Wow, 500 km/hr!

#4: Reasons
1) Jay knew where Hae's car was.
2) Adnan did not try to call Hae after she disappeared
3) Adnan's cellphone was near Leakin' Park around 6:30

That's about all.

He was charged with accessory to murder after the fact, but his cooperation had it waived. I bet some of that could be consistent with an accomplice after the fact.

I thought episode 8 was the most damning for Adnan, but I don't know why. I just noticed myself far more sympathetic afterwards to the notion that he did it.

I can totally see the case against Adnan, but I still can't see how it gets one to guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

That's what strikes me as so odd about this case. If Jay is lying, the whole thing crumbles, and I don't see how that wouldn't put a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror.

Also, if he's guilty, it seems like Adnan is pretty much a textbook sociopath.

It's super fascinating to me that all twelve members of the jury not only got to beyond a reasonable doubt, but also got to it in just two hours and apparently some of them are still convinced enough to this day.

Like scott, I too finished ep 8 with a greater sense of Adnan's potential guilt. However, the statement that Adnan, if guilty, is a 'textbook sociopath' is completely unsupported. In all the descriptions of him by friends, family, the police, and Jay, there are no other signs of sociopathy. Jay, on the other hand, does have some signs . . .

I'm always skeptical when I hear about putative shortages of agricultural commodities. I've been hearing about cacao shortages forever. Same with coffee. Apparently there were real shortages of oranges and pork recently, but I never noticed.

If I were working for the carrot board, you can bet that every year there would be some press release going out about the impending Great Carrot Crisis. Carrot blight devastating U.S. carrots! Chinese buying up U.S. carrot crop! Parsnip futures rising in response to high carrot prices!

Don't forget the lime-pocalypse about a year ago.

With 7 billion people, to be 10 billion in a generation, all of them aspiring to be like the 300+ Americans, one of these days inflation will rear its ugly head.

@myself-- Davao region in the Philippines produces a nice cacao, and, due to soaring demand, not only can you not buy chocolate from there anymore, but they are chopping down and replacing durian fruit with cacao--shame for a durian fruit lover like me.

Chinese interests bought a huge portion of the US cotton crop a couple of years ago when the prices seemed to have bottomed out. Having the cotton, which isn't very perishable, probably seemed like a better investment to them than US government debt.


Ive heard stories of millions of tons of steel and coal piling up on their docks. No better investment with such low returns unless there is ultimately nothing to do with the supply. A crash in China will crash the world.

Because the drop in orange supply is preceded by a bigger drop in orange juice consumption. Trees are dying but people don't drink that much juice anymore.

I don't know what can happen with cacao. Perhaps, Snickers reduces by 2% the cacao content in every bar, put more peanuts and problem solved. Prices may go a little up, but considering cacao is like 10% of the final product, price can double and the consumer will only see a 10% increase. Luxury products can afford this increase and more, perhaps commodity products like Snickers will suffer more.

Cacao, like coffee, is grown in tropical regions throughout the Third World. If prices surge because of a shortage, it will only take a few years for new production to begin in regions that had been producing something else. That's why there can never really be a long-term shortage.

Snickers bars contain 2% cacao? Who knew?

I should have thought it was sugar all the way down.

Wow, a train that's almost as good as an airplane. Of course, it could be more convenient than airplanes: all that is necessary is to condemn significant amounts of land in Manhattan (say a couple million per square foot) and through the densely-settled, incredibly wealthy suburbs between Washington and Boston (hey, those people don't vote or anything).

I'm not even sure this would be coherent if I were sober.

They mean that it is like an airplane that literally demolishes everything under its flight path.

You apparently arent drinking enough because his pointed snark is obvious.

Those train windows looked exactly like airplane windows too and very tiny too. Generally trains go for large windows. Is there a technical reason why these fast trains need small windows? Unlike a plane the body shell doesn't need to withstand a large pressure differential, does it?

As an aside, even the boarding system was reminiscent of an airport terminal's gate.

1. As feed-in tariffs for rooftop solar decline, mini-data centers might be a good deal for buildings that export a lot of electricity to the grid. The mini-data center people could get lower cost electricity and the building owners would get more than the feed-in tariff for their solar power. (Not much of an issue in North America yet, but in Europe it is something to be considered.)

5. The great depression is called in that way because of the huge absolute negative impact it had on output, specially industrial output over the short run: in 3 years, industrial output in US and Germany (countries which together corresponded to 54% of the world's manufacturing in 1929) collapsed by 50%. We could call the current "depression" the great stagnation instead, we had 6 years of relative stagnation.

Household heating is too distributed. Industrial and office heating makes more sense. In the summer, demand for heating air is near zero. Heating water makes more sense. Also, you'd only need to capture a small amount of the demand for heat to satisfy all of the need for datacenter heat disposal, so this will never be widely deployed among users of heat.

Heating large swimming pools might make sense, but demand would be less in the summer. Industrial drying operations might make sense, like dried fruit and raisins, but demand is seasonal with the crop. Maybe heating long pipelines for heavy petroleum products like shale oil might be the most nearly constant demand. Google could put their servers along the Keystone XL pipeline.

Refining sugar requires boiling away water. Vacuum is used to lower the boiling point of the syrup because the sugar would be broken down by boiling at ambient pressure. The chips in a datacenter might (just barely) get hot enough to boil the syrup under vacuum. More likely, they could be used to preheat the syrup so you'd only need to burn fuel to raise the temperature from the preheat temperature to the boiling temperature.

Heat is money. That's why unitary rooftop equipment doesn't make any sense, blowing billions of BTUs into the sky every summer that are removed from occupied space which could be used to heat water or even stored until needed. Literally all the electrical energy used in computing systems becomes heat. Wasting it is crazy.

A suggestion or two: Preheat garbage to increase its energy content prior to burning it to generate electricity. I presume the supply of trash is pretty constant. It could also be used to warm sewage prior to thermal depolymerization to convert it into useful hydrocarbons. I'm pretty sure the supply of poo is pretty constant. And of course data processing heat could always be used to warm coal, biomass, or natural gas or other fuel before its used for electricity generation.

Feels like district heating would be a natural fit for cloud computing.

A 2500 sqft home would need, say, 100,000 BTU/hr for heating. That's ~22 kW. Assuming something like a Dell R730 rackmount server average power drawn might be ~700 W.

So about 32 servers ought to suffice. If you factor in the cost of a new furnace, the gas bills versus the land rent & electricity for the cost center it sure sounds like a Win-Win.

Maybe the company has a subsidary sitting in Australia so they can cancel out the seasonal demand....The idling capex for 32 servers would be pretty large though. That'd be ~$50,000 worth of idle assets in summer.

Rahul, I can't recommend Australia for the off season servers, it just doesn't get that cold here. Try New Zealand or Chile, they are both chilly and they both have faster internet speeds than we do. We were going to get faster internet, but apparently the internet isn't very useful and we don't need to jump on every bandwagon that comes along. With regard to the cancelled upgrade to optical fibre our Prime Minister said, "Do we really want to invest $50 billion of hard earned taxpayers' money in what is essentially a video entertainment system?"

And do you agree with your prime minister's opinion?

I think twisted pair copper wire is just great! We don't need fibre optic! Many's the time I've watched a youtube video without it stuttering and I've only had to have a technician repair my ADSL twice in two years! And just think of the great boost in tourism we'll soon be getting as people, jaded by high speed internet, come here to enjoy the slow life. One appreciates kitten pictures more when they take time do download. I think it's only a matter of time before people in other countries take stock of their lives and say, "You know, our internet is just too damn fast."

Snark, @Ronald Brak, has been delivered over twisted pair copper :)

Luckily, there's a consistent and strong inverse correlation between the quality of a website and the number of pictures or videos that attempt to load the moment you fire it up.

Also, isn't most of the Internet infrastructure privately owned? Why does the government have to invest? If there's a demand for faster internet won't the telecom companies add to their backbones?

It's a long story, Rahul. Or maybe just a silly one. Anyway, telecommications was state owned, then it was privatised badly and the new telecom had no incentive to upgrade the country's bandwidth so the National Broadband Network was going to be installed to get around that.

@#4 - Serial, about a so-called "real murder", which typically would be embellished for the sake of audience interest. T. Capote among others made a living doing this.

@#5 - Economic depression in EU is greater now than in 1930s? - this is dishonest. The author is merely saying based on projected potential output, the EU is in a greater depression than in the 1930s (but provides no figures, even DeLong's cited piece is about the USA and not Europe and does not mention Great Depression). Quote: "Brad DeLong has suggested that we rename the Great Recession the GreatER Depression in Europe as the crisis in terms of real GDP lose [sic] now is bigger in Europe than it was it during the Great Depression.". Games economists play.

GDP loss isnt the sole determinant of a recession/depression, not now and not ever.

6. Does cocoa have natural or artificial substitutes like oil?

6. Here a kilogram of cocolate that currently has maybe $1.20 worth of cocoa beans in it sells for about $13+. So if the price of cocoa beans increases by another 15% that will increase the price of chocolate by about 18 cents a kilogram. This is serious stuff, but I've planned for such an emergency and I think I might just pull through.

Yes. Carob.

No. Carob is no more a substitute for cocoa than seitan is for real meat, or melamine is for milk powder

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