Thursday, December 18, 2008

University of Southern Mississippi Wind Ensemble concert: April 11, 1987

Thursday, December 11, 2008

home on Google Maps

View Larger Map

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hollywood studio logos

You see these opening logos every time you go to the movies, but have you ever wondered who is the boy on the moon in the DreamWorks logo? Or which mountain inspired the Paramount logo? Or who was the Columbia Torch Lady? Let's find out:

1. DreamWorks SKG: Boy on the Moon

In 1994, director Steven Spielberg, Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, and record producer David Geffen (yes, they make the initial SKG on the bottom of the logo) got together to found a new studio called DreamWorks.

Spielberg wanted the logo for DreamWorks to be reminiscent of Hollywood's golden age. The logo was to be a computer generated image of a man on the moon, fishing, but Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren of Industrial Light and Magic, who has worked on many of Spielberg's films, suggested that a hand-painted logo might look better. Muren asked his friend, artist Robert Hunt to paint it.

Hunt also sent along an alternative version of the logo, which included a young boy on a crescent moon, fishing. Spielberg liked this version better, and the rest is history. Oh, and that boy? It was Hunt's son, William.

The DreamWorks logo that you see in the movies was made at ILM from paintings by Robert Hunt, in collaboration with Kaleidoscope Films (designers of the original storyboards), Dave Carson (director), and Clint Goldman (producer) at ILM.

Photo courtesy of Robert Hunt - Thanks for the neat story, Robert!

2. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM): Leo The Lion

In 1924, studio publicist Howard Dietz designed the "Leo The Lion" logo for Samuel Goldwyn's Goldwyn Picture Corporation. He based it on the athletic team of his alma mater Columbia University, the Lions. When Goldwyn Pictures merged with Metro Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Pictures, the newly formed MGM retained the logo.

Since then, there have been five lions playing the role of "Leo The Lion". The first was Slats, who graced the openings of MGM's silent films from 1924 to 1928. The next lion, Jackie, was the first MGM lion whose roar was heard by the audience. Though the movies were silent, Jackie's famous growl-roar-growl sequence was played over the phonograph as the logo appeared on screen. He was also the first lion to appear in Technicolor in 1932.

The third lion and probably most famous was Tanner (though at the time Jackie was still used concurrently for MGM's black and white films). After a brief use of an unnamed (and very mane-y) fourth lion, MGM settled on Leo, which the studio has used since 1957.

The company motto "Ars Gratia Artis" means "Art for Art's Sake."

Sources: MGM Media Center | Wikipedia entry on "Leo The Lion"

3. 20th Century Fox: The Searchlight Logo

In 1935, Twentieth Century Pictures and Fox Film Company (back then mainly a theater-chain company) merged to create Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation (they later dropped the hyphen).

The original Twentieth Century Pictures logo was created in 1933 by famed landscape artist Emil Kosa, Jr. After the merger, Kosa simply replaced "Pictures, Inc." with "Fox" to make the current logo. Besides this logo, Kosa was also famous for his matte painting of the Statue of Liberty ruin at the end of the Planet of the Apes (1968) movie, and others.

Perhaps just as famous as the logo is the "20th Century Fanfare", composed by Alfred Newman, then musical director for United Artists.

4. Paramount: The Majestic Mountain

Paramount Pictures Corporation was founded in 1912 as Famous Players Film Company by Adolph Zukor, and the theater moguls the Frohman brothers, Daniel and Charles.

The Paramount "Majestic Mountain" logo was first drawn as a doodle by W.W. Hodkinson during a meeting with Zukor, based on the Ben Lomond Mountain from his childhood in Utah (the live action logo made later is probably Peru's Artesonraju). It is the oldest surviving Hollywood film logo.

The original logo has 24 stars, which symbolized Paramount's then 24 contracted movie stars (it's now 22 stars, though no one could tell me why they reduced the number of stars). The original matte painting has also been replaced with a computer generated mountain and stars.

Paramount logo history, for more details, see: CLG Wiki

5. Warner Bros.: The WB Shield

Warner Bros. (yes, that's legally "Bros." not "Brothers") was founded by four Jewish brothers who emigrated from Poland: Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner. Actually, those aren't the names that they were born with. Harry was born "Hirsz," Albert was "Aaron," Sam was "Szmul," and Jack was "Itzhak." Their original surname is also unknown - some people said that it is "Wonsal," "Wonskolaser" or even Eichelbaum, before it was changed to "Warner." (Sources: Doug Sinclair | Tody Nudo's Hollywood Legends)

In the beginning, Warner Bros. had trouble attracting top talents. In 1925, at the urging of Sam, Warner Bros. made the first feature-length "talking pictures" (When he heard of Sam's idea, Harry famously said "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"). That got the ball rolling for the studio and made Warner Bros. famous.

The Warner Bros. logo, the WB Shield, has actually gone many revisions. Jason Jones and Matt Williams of CLG Wiki have the details:

Warner Bros. Logo History - see the full details at CLG Wiki

If you're interested in WB cartoons, you can't go wrong with Dave Mackey's Field guide: Link

6. Columbia Pictures: The Torch Lady

Columbia Pictures was founded in 1919 by the brothers Harry and Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt as Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales. Many of the studio's early productions were low-budget affairs, so it got nicknamed "Corned Beef and Cabbage." In 1924, the brothers Cohn bought out Brandt and renamed their studio Columbia Pictures Corporation in effort to improve its image.

Vintage Columbia Pictures Logo (Source: Reel Classics)

The studio's logo is Columbia, the female personification of America. It was designed in 1924 and the identity of the "Torch Lady" model was never conclusively determined (though more than a dozen women had claimed to be "it.")

In her 1962 autobiography, Bette Davis claimed that Claudia Dell was the model, whereas in 1987 People Magazine named model and Columbia bit-actress Amelia Batchler as the girl. In 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times named a local woman who worked as an extra at Columbia named Jane Bartholomew as the model. Given how the logo has changed over the years, it may just be that all three were right! (Source)

The current Torch Lady logo was designed in 1993 by Michael J. Deas, who was commissioned by Sony Pictures Entertainment to return the lady to her "classic" look.

Though people thought that actress Annette Bening was the model, it was actually a Louisiana homemaker and muralist named Jenny Joseph that modeled the Torch Lady for Deas. Rather than use her face, however, Deas drew a composite face made from several computer-generated features (Source: Roger Ebert, Photo: Kathy Anderson)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Top Gear Ground Force": part 4

"Top Gear Ground Force": part 3

"Top Gear Ground Force": part 2

"Top Gear Ground Force": part 1

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Sweet Georgia Brown" tractor

pistol shrimp

Friday, November 21, 2008

rollerblading bottle musician

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

a cat and his fun boxes

cat n box

sheep from Hell

Sheep From Hell

Posted using ShareThis

a real ninja turtle

Real Ninja Turtle

Posted using ShareThis

spiders on drugs and alcohol

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Spider Webs

Posted using ShareThis

walking table

Did you see this walking table before????

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, November 17, 2008

a turtle in boots

The Turtle Who Wear Boots

Posted using ShareThis

invisible octopus

Invisible Amazing Octopus

Posted using ShareThis

one musician, two pianos

1 Musician 2 Pianos

Posted using ShareThis

odd video clip

Weirdest Clip of All Time

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, November 13, 2008

snoring duck

Friday, November 07, 2008

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Qawwali

My favorite Pakistani singer...I wish he were still alive!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Contact" intro

So neat!

more Jocelyne Wildenstein

Brittany Murphy and Jocelyne Wildenstein

Friday, October 31, 2008

long-arm squid

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

tipping Echidna: Sydney Australia

Friday, October 10, 2008

Three Stooges

The Origin of The Three Stooges

The following is reprinted from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.


There are so many different stories about the Stooges' origin that it's hard to know which is correct. Probably none of them. Anyway, here's one that sounds good:

There was a vaudevillian named Ted Healy, a boyhood friend of Moe and Shemp Horwitz. One night in 1922, some acrobats working for him walked out just before a show. Desperate, he asked Moe to fill in temporarily, as a favor.

Moe, in turn, got his brother Shemp out of the audience, and the three of them did an impromptu routine that had the audience in stitches. Moe and Shemp loved the stage, so they changed their name from Horwitz to Howard and hit the road with their friend as "Ted Healy and the Gang" (or "Ted Healy and His Stooges," depending on who tells the story.)

In 1925, the trio was on the lookout for another member and spotted Larry Fine (real name: Louis Feinberg) playing violin with an act called the "Haney Sisters and Fine." Why they thought he'd be a good Stooge isn't clear, since he's never done comedy before. But he joined as the third Stooge, anyway.

They traveled the vaudeville circuit for years under a variety of names, including Ted Healy and His Racketeers ... His Southern Gentlemen ... His Stooges, etc. Then they wound up in a Broadway revue in 1929, which led to a movie contract.

In 1931, Shemp quit and was replaced by his younger brother, Jerry. Jerry had a full head of hair and a handsome mustache - but Healy insisted he shave them both off ... hence the name "Curly."

Three years later, after a bitter dispute, the boys broke up with Healy. They quickly got a Columbia film contract on their own, and the Three Stooges were born.

Here's the very first Three Stooges short film, "Woman Haters" (1934)
[YouTube Link Part I | Part II], about 10 min. each.

Over the next 23 years, they made 190 short films - but no features. For some reason, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, wouldn't allow it (despite the Stooges' popularity and the fact that they were once nominated for an Oscar.)

From the '30s to the '50s, the Stooges had four personnel changes: In 1946, Curly suffered a stroke and retired; Shemp then returned to the Stooges until his death in 1955; he, in turn, was replaced by Joe Besser (Joe) and Joe DeRita (Curly Joe).


Two-Fingered Poker
One day backstage in the '30s, Larry, Shemp, and Moe were playing cards. Shemp accused Larry of cheating. After a heated argument, Shemp reached over and stuck his fingers in Larry's eyes. Moe, watching, thought it was hilarious ... and that's how the famous poke-in-the-eyes routine was born.

Profitable Experience
By the mid-'50s, the average budget for a Three Stooges' episode - including the stars' salaries - was about $16,000. Depending on the time slot, Columbia Pictures can now earn more than that with one showing of the same film ... in one city.

So What If He's Dead?
By the mid-'50s the demand for short films had petered out. So, in 1957, Columbia unceremoniously announced they weren't renewing the Stooges' contracts. Moe and Larry were devastated. After 23 years, what else would they do? Moe was rich from real estate investments, but Larry was broke - which made it even harder. They decided to get a third Stooge (Curly and Shemp were dead) and go back on tour. Joe DeRita, "Curly Joe," was selected. They started making appearances in third-rate clubs, just to have work.

Meanwhile, Columbia, hoping to get a few bucks out of its old Stooge films, released them to TV at bargain prices. They had no expectations, so everyone (particularly Moe and Larry) was shocked when, in 1959, the Stooges emerged as the hottest kids' program in America. Suddenly the Stooges had offers to make big-time personal appearances and new films. And they've been American cult heroes ever since.

The article above is reprinted with permission from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Indonesian Mimic Octopus

10 American financial meltdowns of the past century

10 American Financial Meltdowns in the Past Century

Banks failed, stock prices collapsed, and panic descended on Wall Street. Americans were holding their collective breath as a rescue plan was hastily drafted. The 2008 financial crisis? Nope - it was the Panic of 1907, and again in 1929, 1987, and so on.

Since its independence more than 230 years ago, the United States has grown to have the largest economy in the world (GDP of $13.8 trillion as of 2007, by the way. That's $13,800,000,000,000). But we didn't get there without quite a few bumps on the road.

To put today's economic trouble into perspective, let's take a look at the 10 financial disasters in the United States in the past century:

1. The Panic of 1907

Floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 1907. Photo: Helen D. Van Eaton

Background: At the time, the young US stock market was in a decline - it was off 25% since the beginning of the year and Wall Street was jittery over the tight money supply.

Trigger: Then along came Otto Heinze with his get-(even)-rich(er)-quick scheme. In October of 1907, Otto, along with his brother, a copper magnate named Augustus Heinze, and the ice king (yup, he sold ice - remember, this was before the age of household refrigerators) Charles W. Morse, aggressively bought shares of United Copper, thinking that they could corner the market on the stock. Their plan failed spectacularly, and immediately bankrupted the trust companies and banks that provided the financing.

Runs on banks immediately ensued as depositors pulled their money from banks that had dealings (or rumored to have dealings) with the trio. In a little less than two weeks in the Panic of 1907, a chain reaction had left 9 trust companies and banks bankrupt.

The Solution: At the time, the United States had no central bank (President Andrew Jackson had abolished the Second Bank of the United States some 6 decades earlier), but we had J.P. Morgan.

The 70-year-old financier stepped in to bail out, er ... save trust companies worth saving and let those who were too far gone to fail. The infusion of cash helped stop the domino effect of failing trust companies, but more money was needed.

So here's what he did:

Morgan gathered 50 trust company presidents at his library, told them to come up with $25 million on their own and left them in a large room. He withdrew to his librarian's office. At 3 a.m., he called in one of his sleep-deprived lieutenants, Ben Strong, for a review of a trust company's books. Strong gave his report, then headed to the library's front doors and found them locked. Morgan had the key in his pocket. No one would leave until the trusts ponied up. The presidents continued to talk. At 4:15, Morgan walked in with a statement requiring each trust company to share in a new $25 million loan. One of his lawyers read it aloud, then set it on a table. "There you are, gentlemen," said Morgan.

No one moved.

Morgan drew Edward King, head of the Union Trust, to the table. "There's the place, King," he said, "and here's the pen." King signed. The other presidents signed. They set up a committee to handle the loan and supervise the final-stage bailouts of endangered trusts. At 4:45, the library's heavy brass doors swung open and let the bankers out. (Source)

Aftermath: The government realized that only having people like J.P. Morgan in charge of saving the entire country's economy was kind of a bad idea, so it created the Federal Reserve System.

2. Wall Street Crash of 1929

The trading floor of the NYSE right after the crash.

Background: In the Roaring Twenties, optimism was everywhere: the Great War, as World War I was called back then, was over and advances in technology seemed limitless. Along with that optimism was an incredibly speculative bull market: stocks went up four fold in value in that decade.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans borrowed money to play the stock market. They bought stocks with just a fraction of the value in cash and financed the rest by borrowing from the broker ("buying on margin," if you've never heard it before). Needless to say, stocks became overvalued fast.

The Crash: What goes up, must come down - but it doesn't have to come down all in one day. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 came in forms of three "black" days.

In the morning of October 24, 1929 - later nicknamed "Black Thursday"- a massive sell-off happened. More than 3 times the normal amount of shares were traded and stock prices tumbled. Richard Whitney of J.P. Morgan and Company came to the trading floor ... and instead of halting trading like everyone expected, he started buying confidently and the market recovered. The market actually went up the subsequent Friday and a little down on Saturday (back then, they traded on Saturdays). And then ... the bottom fell off.

On Monday, October 28, 1929, nicknamed Black Monday, the market fell 13% and the next day, nicknamed Black Tuesday, the market fell another 12%. Financiers like General Motor's William C. Durant and the Rockefeller family stepped in and bought stocks to show confidence, but their efforts failed to stop the slide. (Source)

That week (with heaviest losses over the first two days) the market lost $30 billion, ten times more than the annual budget of the government and more than what the US had spent in all of World War I.

Over the next few weeks, the stock market suffered sharp declines though the true bottom wasn't reached until July 1932. Over three years, the stock market dropped a staggering 89%. It would take about 25 years for the stock market to recover and re-attain the 1929 level. (Source)

Aftermath: The Wall Street Crash of 1929 led directly to ...

3. The Great Depression

"Migrant Mother," a photo by Dorothea Lange depicting Florence Owens Thompson,
a destitute pea picker in California, mother of seven children, age 32. (Source)

Background: Stung by heavy losses on Wall Street, consumers began cutting expenditures. With lowered demand, businesses started laying off people (US unemployment rate rose to 25% by 1933) - which fed an ever-worsening cycle and plunged the US economy into a depression.

As debtors defaulted on their loans, banks began to fail, which led to bank runs as depositors attempted to withdraw their money en masse, triggering even more bank failures. Today, your deposit is insured in the event of a bank failure, but in 1930s, there was no such thing: when a bank failed, its depositors lost all of their money. In the first 10 months of 1930, 744 US banks failed and their depositors lost more than $140 billion. Before the decade was over, about 9,000 banks failed. (Source)

Hooverville in Levittown, New York (Source)

Hooverville: Many people thought that President Herbert Hoover did nothing to save them from the Great Depression. That's just not true: Hoover did a few things, including deporting about 500,000 Mexicans to Mexico (half of which were actually born in the US and thus were legal citizens) and increasing tariffs on imports - which caused other countries to retaliate and US exports to plunge by more than half, but nothing worked.

Hard Times Are Still "Hoover"ing Over Us, photo of two children in a Hooverville (Source)

Many of the people made homeless by the Great Depression lived in makeshift shantytowns called Hoovervilles. They used "Hoover blanket" (old newspaper) to keep warm, wave "Hoover flag" (an empty pocket turned inside out) and drink "Hoover soup" at restaurants (poor people would pour ketchup, salt and pepper into their drinking water at restaurants, then tell the waitress that they didn't see anything they wanted on the menu). Those who were relatively better off drove "Hoover wagon" (a car pulled by a horse because the owner couldn't afford gas). (Source)

Solution: In 1933, the newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the New Deal, which included work relief program for the jobless, financial aid to farmers and business reform, including setting minimum wages and maximum weekly hours. Roosevelt encouraged trade unions and forced businesses to work with the government to set prices (later found to be unconstitutional).

In Roosevelt's first term, unemployment fell by two third and the economy stabilized; full recovery, however, didn't occur until the start of World War II.

Aftermath: The Great Depression had a far reaching effect, even until today. Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Federal Housing Authorities are direct products of the New Deal that are still active today.

4. 1973 Oil Crisis

Cars waiting in line at a gas station (1979).
Photo: Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress

Background: In October 1973, Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack on Israel on the Jewish day of atonement or Yom Kippur. This set off a twenty day war known as the Yom Kippur War (or Ramadan War), in which the Arab forces were defeated.

The embargo: Angry over Western nations' support of Israel, members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as Egypt and Syria shut off oil export to the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.

The crude oil price immediately quadrupled to $12 per barrel (I know. Twelve bucks. How quaint when compared to today's prices!) which led gasoline price at the pump to jump 40% from 38.5 cent to 55 cent per gallon in 1974 (again, I know). The oil shock led to a huge drop in the stock market. The New York Stock Exchange lost $97 billion in value in just six weeks.

US Government responded by rationing gasoline. Long gas lines formed at the pump. In many places, motorists with even-numbered license plates were allowed to buy gas only on even-numbered dates and those with odd-numbered plates could buy only on odd-numbered dates. (Source)

Aftermath: To help reduce consumption, the federal government imposed a national maximum speed limit of 55 mph and mandated fuel efficiency standards for car manufacturers. The government also created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Department of Energy.

5. Black Monday (1987)

The Crash: On Monday, October 19, 1987, the US stock market crashed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 508 points or 22.6%, the largest one-day percentage decline in the stock market history. At one point during the day, so many shares were being sold that "the New York State Stock Exchange ticker fell behind and TV newscasters couldn't tell how much the market had fallen." (Source)

The Culprits: The most popular culprits for the 1987 Black Monday were program trading and a new financial hedging method called portfolio insurance. These two things caused massive stock sell offs and drove down the stock price (note that other factors such as the weak dollar, large US trade deficit, and overvaluations of stock values might have played a role as well) (Source)

Program trading is easy to explain: in the early 1980s, the use of computers became increasingly popular in Wall Street. Traders began to use computers to execute rapid trades based on a pre-determined condition (say, sell when a stock price dropped to a certain point). Dropping stock prices trigger these automated trades, which flood the market with stock shares and caused an even steeper decline in stock prices.

Portfolio insurance is a little bit (okay, a lot) more complex. In 1976, two young Berkeley finance professors named Hayne Leland Mark Rubinstein thought of a way to "insure" a portfolio investments of stocks similar to the way insurance protects an asset. For a price (a kin to an insurance premium), their trading system can guarantee that an investment never loses more than a pre-set (and relatively small) amount.

To do this, portfolio insurance uses financial instruments called derivatives. Most people understand buying and selling stocks - if you buy a share of stock for $1 and sell it for $3, then you've made a profit of $2. Derivatives, on the other hand, let you speculate on the future price of a stock (or a commodity, or really anything at all) without ever owning a single share. For example, you can buy a futures contract, essentially an agreement to purchase a stock say a week from now for $1. If the price of the stock is greater than $1, then you've made money. If the price of the stock is less than $1, then you've lost money. At no point in time do you actually buy the stock!

In the case of portfolio insurance, say you have $1000 in stocks that you want to safeguard from falling in value by next week. Then you sell a futures contract for the stocks. If the value of your stocks dropped, you've lost value in your stocks but gained money from the the futures contract. (Yes this is simplistic, but that's the basic idea).

Without getting into mind boggling technical details, suffice it to say that the portfolio insurance method linked stock prices to the futures index. The whole thing would work but for one teensy flaw: during a panic sell off, there is little market liquidity - you can try to sell stocks, but without any buyer, you effectively can't sell it at any price.

Aftermath: In response to Black Monday, the New York Stock Exchange instituted trading rules (the so-called "circuit breakers") to pause trading if the market fell precipitously. The Federal Reserve also get to play a really big role in ensuring liquidity by pumping billions of dollars into the banking system.

Remember the term derivatives. We'll see that again, soon enough!

6. Savings & Loan Crisis (1989)

Lincoln Savings and Loan, back in its heyday of 1965 (Source)

Background: A Savings and Loan institution is kind of like a bank: people deposit their money in it in the forms of savings, and the S&L gives out mortgages (or loans) to the local community. S&Ls have existed since the 1800s and they were tightly regulated until the late 1970s.

In the late '70s, the newly available money market funds offered much higher interest rates than the S&L, so people started pulling their money out of S&Ls. As a response, S&Ls asked for government deregulation (which they got*) - effectively, S&Ls could then raise interest rates on deposits and make way more loans than before with little oversight. There was a regulatory body, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB), but it was understaffed and its officers were accused of being chummy with the industry.

The S&L Crisis: In the real estate boom of the early '80s, many S&L grew extremely large, extremely fast. Between 1982 and 1985, S&L assets (many of which were speculative real estate holdings and commercial loans) grew 56%. In Texas, 40 S&Ls tripled in size, with some doubling each year. (Source) Needless to say, many were overextended (some were technically bankrupt, but according to the new deregulation rules, they could remain open and thus continued to make bad loans).

By 1987, 505 S&L institutions failed. Some, like those in Texas, failed spectacularly - losses in just that one state comprised more than half of all S&L losses nationwide. The deposits were guaranteed by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC, just like the FDIC guaranteed bank deposits) - but because of the amount, it turned out that the FSLIC itself was bankrupt!

All in all, by 1995, 747 S&Ls or half of all the S&L institutions in the United States went bankrupt.

The Keating Five: You may have heard of the term "Keating Five," here's the story in a nutshell. In 1984, construction magnate Charles Keating bought Lincoln Savings and Loan of Irvine, California. Before then, Lincoln S&L was a profitable yet conservatively run Savings and Loan institution. Keating fired the existing management and loaded up Lincoln's investment portfolio from $1.1 billion to $5.5 billion by buying land and junk bonds.

In 1986, the FHLBB initiated an investigation on how Lincoln was doing business. Keating, who was politically connected, asked 5 US senators, for whom he had made large contributions, to intervene (which they did). In 1989, Lincoln went bankrupt and more than 21,000 mostly elderly investors lost their life savings (Lincoln had misled them to switch their FDIC-insured holdings to bonds that weren't guaranteed).

The five senators, namely Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, Donald Riegle, John Glenn, and John McCain, were investigated by the the Senate Ethics Committee. Cranston was reprimanded, Riegle and DeConcini were criticized for acting improperly, whereas Glenn and McCain were cleared of impropriety but criticized for poor judgment.

The Solution: In 1989, newly elected President George H.W. Bush announced that he would rescue the troubled Savings and Loan industry. The bailout was priced at a shocking $60 billion, which actually turned out to be overly optimistic. The total cost of the S&L mess was closer to $153 billion, of which $124 was footed by the taxpayers. (Source)

Aftermath: A whole bunch of reform, including the dissolution of the FHLBB and the FSLIC, to be replaced by other regulatory bodies. Freddie Mac, which had been under control of FHLBB, was put under the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which gave it one additional goal: to buy subprime mortgages to enable low-income families to afford buying houses (we'll see this again).

*Note: The deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry happened with the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. The bill was very popular - one of its provisions was allowing adjustable rate mortgages or ARMs. (Yup, you've guessed it - we'll see ARMs again)

7. Long Term Capital Bailout (1998)

Background: In 1994, legendary bond trader John Meriwether left Salomon Brothers and founded his own hedge fund. He attracted the top financial minds at the time, including two Nobel Prize economists, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton. The hedge fund was named Long Term Capital Management. Meriwether raised $1.25 billion in capital from investors to start. It was the largest funding raised for a hedge fund in history.

LTCM, as the hedge fund was commonly known, wanted to make money the scientific way: in leveraged arbitrage.

At this point, it's probably necessary to define the terms for some people. Hedge fund is a private investment fund that aims to make money using a variety of (often exotic) financial instruments. These funds typically don't buy stocks or bonds, instead they trade derivatives (see "Black Monday" above). The "hedge" in hedge fund comes from their habit of "hedging" their portfolio - meaning that if they hold an asset, they will also place a bet that the value of the asset would go down. If their asset did go down in value, that "hedge" bet would pay off to offset the loss. In theory, this allows the fund's investments to be risk-free. In practice, as we shall see, that's obviously not the case.

Arbitrage is a fancy name for a simple concept: the way to make money by exploiting price differences in two different markets. For example, say that you spot a vase selling for $10 in one swap-meet and for $15 in another. If you buy that vase for $10, then go to the other swap-meet and sell it for $15, you've just made a profit of $5 (less cost of gas, of course).

Leverage is another fancy name for a simple concept, namely borrowing. For example, instead of paying $100 to buy $100 worth of stock or derivatives, you can pay $10 (i.e. 10%) and borrow the rest. So, if you have $100 in your pocket, you can "buy" $1,000 worth of stock or derivatives. Say that a week after you bought that stock, it rose to $130. If you bought 1 share at $100, then you've made $30. But if you leveraged your purchase, you would've "bought" $1,000 worth of stock and you would've made $200 (that's $300 - $100 capital, and of course less borrowing cost). So leveraging lets you amplify your profits but if you lost, it also amplifies your losses.

The arbitrage that LTCM dealt with was in government bonds. Their strategy was complex, but suffice it to say that Myron Scholes famously summarized that LTCM would make money by being "a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up nickels that everyone else had overlooked." (Source)

From 1994 to 1997, LTCM could do no wrong: it returned 40% in profit per year. In early 1998, LTCM's managed portfolio grew to well over $100 billion, with net asset of $4 billion, and it was hard-pressed to find enough profitable deals in bond arbitrage. So, with over $1 trillion-worth of arbitrage, LTCM started to look at emerging markets, specifically in Russian bonds.

The Collapse of LTCM: In August of 1998, faced with their own financial crisis, the Russian government did something that no one thought they would: they defaulted on 281 billion rubles (US$13.5 billion) of its Treasury bonds. This resulted in a fiscal panic and a massive loss for LTCM. In two weeks, it lost $1.9 billion in equity. (Source) That's a rate of about $95,000 a minute!

Then things started to go really bad for LTCM. It had thousands of derivative positions that it couldn't sell without incurring massive losses. But LTCM wasn't alone in this: for every deal it made, there was a counterparty that held the opposite position (for every buyer, there is a seller, and vice versa). If LTCM failed, then it would drag down everybody.

In September 1998, just weeks after the whole thing started to unravel, a consortium of banks and investment firms bailed out LTCM. Under guidance from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Salomon Smith Barney, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers ... virtually all who's who in banking contributed to the $3.6 billion bailout (no government money was used).

Aftermath: LTCM wasn't supposed to fail. It was managed by the rocket scientists of the financial world, and theoretically, in a rational market, it would always turn a profit. Indeed, after the bailout, the market calmed down and the positions formerly held by LTCM were eventually liquidated at a small profit. But, as economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, "the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent."

8. Dot-com Bubble (2000)

Background: In 1995, the Internet burst into the public's consciousness. The Internet brought with it a new frontier to do business and everyone and their uncle wanted in on the new gold rush. Venture capitalists poured money into start up firms with poorly thought out business plan (other than "get big fast"), then took them public in an Initial Public Offering.

For a while, it worked: stocks in dot-coms went only one way from 1995 to 2000 and that is up. NASDAQ, the trading market that lists a lot of technology companies, went from 750 in January, 1995 to a peak of 5132 on March 10, 2000.

Despite the warning by the Fed chairman Alan Greenspan in 1996 about the market's "irrational exuberance" and the then-dowdy-but-now-prophetic refusal of legendary investor Warren Buffet to invest in dot-com stocks, companies with no profit and even those without any viable plan to profitability were valued in the millions.

The Bubble Popped: Then, the party was over. Fueled with easy money from venture capitalists and IPOs, dot-com companies spent their way to bankruptcy: spent $188 million in just 6 months in attempt to create a global fashion store. raised $82.5 million in an IPO only to go bankrupt nine months later. spent $3.5 million, or more than half of its budget, in 90 seconds ads during the Super Bowl. That's a staggering $38,889 a second!

The biggest dot-com company that crashed and burned was, hands down, WebVan. The company aimed to deliver groceries to homes and businesses. It raised $375 million in an IPO, expanded to 8 cities (with plan to expand to 26 cities), built $1 billion-worth of infrastructure in forms of high-tech warehouses, and spent lavishly on pretty much everything (they bought 115 Herman Miller Aeron chairs at over $800 a piece!), all before turning a dime in profit. (Source)

WebVan forgot that it was actually in the grocery business, which has razor thin margins to begin with. In a mere 18 months the company had spent itself to bankruptcy.

From March 2000 to October 2002, the dot-com bubble crash wiped out $5 trillion in market value of tech companies and more than half of all dot-com companies went out of business.

9. California Electricity Crisis (2001)

Background: In 1996, state lawmakers decided to deregulate California’s energy market. In the old system, prices were set so consumers faced stable prices but because of the price cap, energy companies didn’t find it profitable to invest in new power plants.

The deregulation was supposed to lower electricity price in the long term by attracting new competitions. Indeed, companies proposed new power plants that would’ve increased California’s capacity by almost 50%. But because of the cumbersome approval process, no new plants were actually built.

The deregulation plan, however, was flawed from the beginning: utilities were forced to sell power plants to the private sector (to companies like Enron and Reliant Energy) and then buy back electricity from them to distribute to homes and businesses. Worse, the utilities weren’t allowed to negotiate long-term contracts - rather, they had to buy on the "spot market" where the prices were very high. Furthermore, the utilities couldn’t pass on the cost to the consumers as retail prices of electricity were still regulated.

The Manufacturing of the Crisis: In June 2000, the market condition was ripe for manipulations. A draught reduced the amount of electricity supplied to California by dams in the Pacific Northwest. At the same time, the demand for electricity rose during the hot summer months.

Enter Enron. Traders at the Texas-based energy company manipulated the electricity market by persuading power plants to shut down for unnecessary "maintenance," laundering electricity (basically, shipping electricity out of California and then charging a higher price by selling it back from out of state), and creating artificial congestions over power transmission lines. The traders called their manipulation strategies by colorful names like "Fat Boy," "Richocet," "Get Shorty," and even "Death Star." (Source) By these means, traders increased the wholesale price of electricity from $45 per megawatt to over $1,400!

The Crisis: Utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison were hit hard. On one hand, they had to pay Enron upwards of 50 cents per kilowatt hours wholesale but could only charge 6.7 cent to their retail customers (Source). PG&E and SoCal Edison racked up $20 billion in debt (PG&E later filed Chapter 11 protection under bankruptcy laws). As a result, rolling blackouts affected millions of households.

Political Fallout: The California Electricity Crisis ended Governor Gray Davis’ political career. Though he inherited the deregulation mess, people blamed him for being too slow to act during the energy crisis. In 2003, he was recalled and Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor to replace him.

The Bankruptcy of Enron: In late 2001, a scandal involving Enron was brewing. Investigations into the company on its role in the crisis revealed that the company had created offshore entities to hide its debt and made it look much more profitable than it actually was. (Again, like the trading manipulations, Enron gave its offshore entities really colorful names like "Jedi" and "Chewco.") (Source)

Enron’s stock imploded and the company brought down the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, who was found guilty for its role in auditing the company.

10. Subprime Mortgage and Credit Crisis (2007 - )

Photo: respres [Flickr]

Background: To understand the ongoing subprime mortgage and credit crisis, let’s go back a few years. The end of the Dot-Com Bubble was the start of another, even larger bubble: the housing bubble.

From 2000 to 2005, the median sales price of existing homes increased year over year and speculative investment in properties skyrocketed. "Flipping" or buying a house, doing some quick renovation or repair, then selling it for a handsome profit, became sort of a national pastime, with cable TV shows dedicated to it. In 2005 we saw the launch of not one but two shows, one called Flip This House and another - completely unrelated - called Flip That House.

When property values kept on increasing, home loans became very easy to get (after all, if the borrower defaulted on the mortgage, then the bank got the house - which value kept on increasing anyway!). New mortgage products became popular: subprime loans for borrowers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for loans because of their lack of creditworthiness (hence the term "subprime") and adjustable-rate mortgage, which, as its name implies, have a variable interest rate. In addition to ARMs, there were also interest only loan - which let the borrower pay only the interest and not the principal on the loan for a period of time, and negative amortization loan (or NegAm) which let the borrower pay a portion of the monthly payment (the rest got added to the total amount borrowed - in this type of mortgage, the amount you owe gets larger year after year!).

How easy was it to get a mortgage? One mortgage provider, HCL Finance (motto: "Home of the ‘no doc’ loan" - no doc refers to no documentation of income required) had a product called the NINJA loan. It stood for No Income, No Job (and) no Assets! (Source)

In 2006, home prices started to go down and a year or so later, borrowers of subprime mortgages started to default on their loans. In 2007, almost 1.3 million properties were being foreclosed - a jump of 75% over the year before. (Source) As late as March 2008, it was estimated that 8.8 million homeowners (about 10.8% of total homeowners) have zero or negative equity in their homes, meaning they owe more than their houses are worth. (Source)

Had that been it, the crisis probably would’ve been isolated. Sure some banks would undoubtedly fail because they made bad loans, but the subprime crisis had since spread to the credit markets and created a massive credit crunch that is larger and far more dangerous than the subprime crisis.

Securitization: To understand the current credit crisis, it’s important to understand something called "securitization." Securitization is an old process by which an asset that generates a cash flow can be converted into a security (like a bond), that can then be bought and sold in the market just like any other security.

A great example is the Bowie Bond. In 1997, musician David Bowie issued a bond (basically a loan note) secured by the current and future royalty revenues of his first 25 albums (a total of 287 songs … here it was the "asset"). The 10-year Bowie Bonds were bought for $55 million by Prudential Insurance Company, who then would collect on the royalties for ten years. So David Bowie got $55 million up front, and Prudential could either keep the bond (and get the song royalties) or sell the bond for profit. (Source)

Back to the topic at hand. Traditionally, banks hold mortgages until maturity, with profits being interest of the loan. But Wall Street had an idea: why not do to mortgages what David Bowie did to songs? So they (and by they, I mean Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and 12 Federal Home Loan Banks) pooled together mortgages and bundled them up into asset-backed securities (ABSs) and sold the package to get up front money (the investor would get the monthly mortgage payments from all of the homeowners whose mortgages got bundled).

But wait - these mortgages all had different risks. Some were safe, stodgy 30-year mortgages whereas others were subprime loans that though were more risky, also had higher interest rates and thus were more profitable. Not to worry: Wall Street split the ABSs into "tranches" (just a fancy word meaning sections or classes): the safest were rated AAA (by rating agencies whose sole job was to gauge how risky something was … and got paid by those whom it rated - talk about a conflict of interest!), the rest were medium and low-rated tranches.

The logic was this: one borrower might default on his loan, but if you bundled them together, there’s safety in number: it’s unlikely that ALL borrowers would default all at once.

But wait - there’s more. The medium and low-rated tranches were riskier investments, but it’s unlikely that all of them would default at the same time. So let’s take all those medium-to-low rated ABSs and pool them together to create something called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). And through the magic of rating, we once again could turn some of these risky securities into - tada! - A-rated securities fit for pension funds. Repackage these CDOs a few more times and pretty soon you wouldn’t know how much subprime loans were actually in them. (Source)

The Credit Crisis: So how did the housing downturn infect the credit markets? Well, when the housing price dropped, a large number of borrowers began to default on their mortgages. Suddenly, ABSs and CDOs looked very suspicious as no one knew how much exposure to the subprime mortgage mess these securities actually had. The market for ABSs and CDOs dried up and holders of these securities couldn’t sell them. In many cases, these companies leveraged their purchase of these securities, which really amplified their losses.

Just as the market worsened and investment firms and companies found that their holdings of ABSs and CDOs were worth far less than they had paid for them (and thus had to write off that loss in their books - causing a number of hedge funds to collapse), another domino fell: Credit-default Swaps (which took down AIG).

Credit-default Swap: Credit-default Swap (or CDS) is basically insurance on debt. Say that a bank buys a large amount of bonds from a company. As with any debt, there is a risk of the debtor fail to pay the money back. To protect against the company defaulting on its bond payments, the bank would buy CDS. In case of a default, the bank go to the insurer and cash in its CDS.

American International Group or AIG was the creator and the largest seller of CDS. It thought that CDS was an insurance product just like a homeowner’s policy, but obviously it was wrong. "Any one house burning down doesn’t increase the likelihood that lots of other houses will burn down," explained Adam Davidson of NPR, "That doesn’t apply to bond insurance." (Source)

In case of bonds, a default can create a domino effect: as investors lose confidence and sell, the price of bonds go down and the interest rates go up. Borrowers who can’t find capital to meet their obligations would start to default on their bonds and the cycle deepens. (Photo: Gone-Walkabout [Flickr])

To make sure that AIG would actually pony up and pay the CDS in case of a bond default, it had to post a collateral. This collateral depended on their credit ranking - as their credit was downgraded, it had to post more collateral. Because of its worthless mortgage-backed securities assets, AIG’s creditworthiness would be downgraded - which meant that it would need to post as much as $250 billion, which of course it didn’t have laying around, in collateral in a matter of weeks!

Why Bail Out AIG? Over the years, the CDS market has grown into a $70 trillion a year business. And since no one knew who has CDS from AIG, the failure of AIG would mean that a lot of companies are holding bonds that are significantly riskier than they first thought. Companies that had "hedged" their bets by buying CDS would find their books suddenly unbalanced, which means they have to sell off assets to cover their risks or they would become insolvent. This failure would propagate throughout the entire economy and create a "systemic failure." That, by the way, was what the government was trying to avoid by bailing out AIG. (Source)

The Credit Crunch: The basic essence of the credit crunch is this: banks won’t lend because they can’t be sure that they’ll be paid back. Companies with excellent credit ratings found themselves unable to get a loan (after all, all those ABSs and CDOs had excellent ratings, so who’s to say that the ratings are worth anything?). Even some banks find themselves unable to borrow money from other banks!

The Solution? As you well know by now, the White House requested, and the Congress passed a $700 billion bailout program. The idea is to for the government to buy distressed asset, especially mortgage-backed securities, from the nation’s banks, which would inspire banks to lend again. The bailout remains unpopular with the general public, who perceive it as bailing out Wall Street, who caused this mess in the first place.

Whether the bailout will work or not remains to be seen.


I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this article greatly oversimplifies many things that are very, very complex (like derivatives). We’ve also skipped many subjects (like the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, the bailout of Freddie Mac, and so on). We didn’t talk at all about the international aspects of some of these crises.

In all fairness, it is not meant to be a treatise on these economic failures. Even the experts can’t come to an agreement on some of these stuff. Despite having over 50 years to analyze the Great Depression, economists still can’t agree on what caused it!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Scott Armit drum salute: Loon Mountain 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

baby lynx makes bread

Those paws are HUGE!!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rhymes with Orange: dog/cat comic strip

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stuart Highland Pipe Band Gr II Loon Mountain 2008

We placed third as a band and won the drumming.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

1973 Alex Duthart/Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia drum salute

at the 1973 World Pipe Band Championships

Steven Whirter plays Alex Duthart drum salute

Alex Duthart: backsticking and stick clicking

World Pipe Band Championships 2008: Simon Fraser University medley

World Pipe Band Championships 2008: Simon Fraser University MSR

playing their march, strathspey, and reel set

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Alex Duthart/British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band: Drum Salute

surviving velociraptor attach

I could survive for 54 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk Beds Pedia

Friday, September 12, 2008

escaping a hurricane by car

How To Escape A Hurricane By Car

Evacuating from a hurricane involves more than just getting into your car and driving away from the coast. Of the estimated 120 deaths associated with Hurricane Rita, 107 of them were related to the mass vehicular evacuation rather than the storm itself. With hurricane watches being issued for the Mid-Atlantic and a major hurricane approaching the Bahamas, we thought it was a good time to review the proper steps an individual should take when evacuating from a storm in a motor vehicle.


...Your Risk
Hurricanes rarely appear out of nowhere and modern forecasting technology typically gives citizens days to prepare. If you live in an area on or near the Atlantic Coast or the Gulf of Mexico, it's possible that you are at risk. If you live hundreds of miles inland, like in Oklahoma, you don't need to worry. Michigan? Yeah, probably not an issue for you either. Check with your local Office of Emergency Management or state government for information about whether your house is within an evacuation zone. Below are examples of hurricane evacuation maps:

...Your Threat
If it appears that a hurricane could head your way in a few days resist the urge to immediately panic. A storm deep in the Atlantic could take as long as a week to reach the United States coast after being named. Check with the National Hurricane Center, your local weather forecasters, newspapers and television to see how likely the threat really is and the timing of the storm.


Your Vehicle

The stress of an evacuation isn't just felt by your family. It is also felt by your car. Make sure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, fueled up and able to drive at least a few hundred miles. Things you'll need:

  • A full tank of gas
  • Insurance information and maps
  • Properly inflated tires with a spare tire
  • Phone charger
  • Functioning A/C (very important, especially when traveling with elderly or children. Also, if you have to turn off your car to save gas you'll want to cool down when you get moving again)
  • Flashlight
  • Money, specifically cash, to fill up your car multiple times

...Your Family & Pets
During the Rita and Katrina evacuations there were families that spent nearly a day in their cars, with an average time on the road of over 10 hours for Rita. Think about what your family and pets need to survive for at least one day in a car and possibly for multiple days on the road. This list below is just a start and may vary based on the age and special needs of the people traveling.

  • Water
  • Ice in a cooler if possible (it gets hot)
  • Non-perishable food, snacks
  • Toiletries
  • Clothing
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Music, games, cards and anything else to distract yourself and others
  • Toilet Paper — you may have to go on the road
  • Sanitary gel like Purell, see above
  • Medications
  • Pet items such as a leash

...Your Documents
As opposed to merely driving off for a regular road trip, leaving your home during an evacuation means, God forbid, you may not have anything to return to and you may have to register with the government for help or seek medical care. These are the basic documents you will need, though you should also consider other important information.

  • Drivers license and Social Security card for all those traveling
  • Health insurance information
  • A copy of your homeowner's/renter's policy, just in case
  • Certificate of vaccination for pets, in case you have to board your pet or enter a shelter
  • Photos of your house if you have time

...Your House
Assuming that you aren't suddenly caught off guard by the storm, it is important to protect your house from damage and secure items like patio furniture that could turn into missiles during a storm. The National Hurricane Center has a great guide outlining how to secure doors and windows.


...Your Routes
Every coastal state has their own evacuation route that shows, for the area, the best way to evacuate. These are large highways built to handle large traffic loads and, typically, designed to be adjusted for hurricanes. Unfortunately, during a mass evacuation these roads can become crowded and it may be better to take a different route. Assuming you have the option you should plan multiple ways of escape.

Try to avoid smaller roads you don't know well, since construction, flooding and other hazards can slow you down. Always prioritize official hurricane routes first because these are the areas where emergency personal will set up relief stations with fuel and water. In some situations, local officials will set up contraflow lanes in order to alleviate traffic, something that won't happen on other roads. During storms, most local authorities will waive tolls on toll roads and open up all of those lanes.

Examples of state evacuation routes:

...Your Final Destination
With a hurricane on your doorstep your first instinct is to get away, often with little concern as to where you are actually going. If you have family nearby — but further inland in a place that is safe from storms — then that is often the best place to stay. There's no need to spend a day on the road if there is a safe location just hours away.

If you have no friends or family to stay with, consider, as early as possible, booking an affordable hotel safely inland from where you are. You may have to try for a while as hotels along the route are quickly booked. If you can't find a place to stay or can't afford a hotel, the Red Cross and other organizations will set up shelters during a major storm. Check the radio for shelter locations.

...Your Departure Criteria
One of the biggest challenges for emergency planners is the presence of "shadow evacuation" situations, when a large mass of people who do not need to evacuate suddenly do, clogging up the roads for those who really need to get out. If you live far inland in a well-built structure in an area that rarely floods, then you may not need to evacuate from the path of a weak storm.

Consider the threshold for when you stay and when you go so that you avoid panic when a storm gets closer. Meteorologists use the Saffir-Simpson scale to determine the strength of the storm. Is it safe for you to stay during a Category 1 storm? What about a Category 3 storm? Check with local authorities to see what, if any, threshold your area may already have in place.

If local authorities order a voluntary or mandatory evacuation then you need to go as quickly and as safely as possible.


...Quickly To The Threat
If an evacuation is ordered or it seems likely that your threshold for evacuation is going to be reached soon, quickly gather your friends, family and safety material. Something important to look for is a hurricane watch or a hurricane warning.

A hurricane watch means hurricane-type conditions are likely within the next 24 to 36 hours. A hurricane warning means conditions are likely within 24 hours. If you are within a hurricane watch and the storm is stronger than you think you can safely handle, then that's a good indicator that you should leave.

...Carefully To Sudden Changes
Forecasters have gotten much better at predicting landfall for hurricanes and traffic planners have gotten much better at preparing roads for mass evacuations, but that doesn't mean either are perfect. Listen closely to the weather radio and news because the path of the storm might change and you could find yourself driving somewhere that's in the path of the storm.

Before Hurricane Alicia, our family fled from the south Texas coast to Houston to avoid the storm. When we arrived we found out that the storm had changed directions and was now heading towards Houston. Thankfully, the place we were staying was far enough inland to be safe.

During the Hurricane Rita evacuation we were following our planned route north when the radio announced that all toll lanes had been opened for the remainder of the evacuation. We were able to change our route and likely saved at least an hour in travel.

...Calmly When Confronted With Traffic And Communication Failures
Traffic is going to happen. There's just no getting around it unless you leave exceptionally early or the storm is minor. If you have a properly prepared car, you've considered all the routes and everyone in the vehicle can stand the trip then the best option might be to just continue forward as opposed to turning back or wildly deviating from your safe routes. Listen to the radio for guidance on how to avoid traffic or to get time estimates.

With everyone on the roads and jumping on their cell phones at once it is possible that it may be difficult to get through when the service is overwhelmed. We learned during Rita that, typically, text messages will get through when phone calls will not. If it isn't an emergency message try talking with people via messaging.


...Only When Cleared By Authorities
Once the storm has passed your instinct is going to be to race back home to see how your property fared. If your area took a direct hit it may not be safe to do so. There may be no power, no water, destroyed bridges and standing flood water waiting for you. Your authorities will tell you when it is safe to return.

...With An Eye For Debris & Water
Once you've been cleared to return home there may still be debris on the road. Be a vigilant driver and watch out for downed trees, debris and especially be wary of fallen power lines. One of the more frequent indirect storm deaths involves individuals driving over power lines and electrocuting themselves. If you see high water also be careful and turn around, don't drown.

Other Resources

This is a brief guide meant to get you thinking about what to do when hurricanes threaten your area. Your local news media and authorities will know better about your local situation and you know best as to what you can and cannot do before a storm. Rash decisions are often bad decisions. The more preparation you make the less likely you are to be in a situation where you'll make a rash decision.


[Photo Credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images, Evacuation From Hurricane Rita]

things you wanted to know about the hadron collider

10 Things About the Large Hadron Collider You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

Photo: Maximilien Brice, CERN

1. Why is it called the Large Hadron Collider?

The first one is easy: Large because it is really big. The LHC is a large circular tunnel with a circumference of 27 kilometers (17 miles), buried in the ground under an average of 100 m (328 ft) of dirt and rock.

In particle physics, hadron is a family of subatomic particles made of quarks and held together by the strong force*. Examples of hadrons are protons and neutrons. As you can guess from the name, the LHC uses mostly protons (with some ions) for its experiments.

Lastly, collider because the LHC accelerates protons into two beams travelling in opposite directions and then collides them to see what particles come out.

*There are four fundamental interactions: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force and gravity. Despite initial observations of the elusive metachlorian by Jinn, QG, et al (1999) Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the existence of "The Force" remains a controversial hypothesis unaccepted by most modern scientists.

2. Why is it underground?

Well, that's because finding 27 kilometers worth of real estate above ground is really, really expensive. Actually, the LHC uses a tunnel originally dug for a previous collider (the LEP or the Large Electron Positron collider), which was decomissioned in 2000.

All that dirt and rock also provide great shielding to reduce the amount of natural radiation that reaches the LHC's detectors.

3. Why is the LHC like a Werewolf?

Both are affected by the Moon! Like tides in the ocean, the ground is also subject to lunar attraction. When the Moon is full, the Earth's crust actually rises about 25 cm (9.8 in). This movement causes the circumference of the LHC to vary by (a whopping) 1 mm (out of 27 km, a factor of 0.000004%) ) but that's enough so that physicists need to take it into account. (Source: CERN FAQ: LHC, the Guide [PDF])

4. Why is the LHC like a Refrigerator?

The Large Hadron Collider is not only a cool particle physics gizmo, it's also a very, very cold one. Indeed, it is the largest cryogenic system in the world and is one of the coldest places on Earth.

To keep them at superconducting temperature, scientists have to cool the LHC's magnets down to 1.9 K (-271.3°C), which is lower than the temperature of outer space (-270.5°C). First, the magnets are cooled to -193.2°C using 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen. Then 90 tons of liquid helium is used to lower the temperature down to -271.3°C. The whole cooling process takes a few weeks.

5. Who the heck is CERN anyway?

In 1952, eleven European countries came together to form the European Council for Nuclear Research (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire in French, which gave it the acronym CERN).

Two years later in 1954 it was renamed the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which would've given it the French name of Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire or the acronym OERN). Nobody liked "OERN", so the acronym CERN stuck.

If CERN sounds familiar to you even before this whole LHC business got started, that's because the World Wide Web was started by CERN employees Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau (See: 10 Things You Should Know About the Internet)

6. How much does it cost, and who's paying for it?

The Large Hadron Collider is nearly 30 years in the making - and costs the member countries of CERN and other participating countries an estimated €4.6 billion (about US$ 6.4 billion). Like those late night infomercials, however, we can say "but that's not all!" Extra things like detectors, computing capacity, and extra warranty (just kidding!) cost an extra €1.43 billion.

The United Kingdom, for example, contributes £34 million per year, less than the cost of a pint of beer per adult in the country per year (Source).

The United States contributed approximately $531 million to the development and construction of components for the LHC (with the US Department of Energy shelling out $450 million and the National Science Foundation kicking in the remaining $81 million).

7. How much electricity is used to run the LHC?

It takes 120 MW to run the LCH - approximately the power consumption of all the Canton State of Geneva. Need a better comparison? 120 megawatt is equivalent to the energy used by 1,2 million 100 watt incadescent light bulb or 120,000 average California home.

It's estimated that the yearly energy cost of running the LHC is €19 million.

8. How much data is expected from the LHC?

The LHC experiments represents about 150 million sensors delivering data 40 million times a second. The data flow is about 700 MB/s, or about 15,000,000 GB (15 petabyte) per year. If you put all that in CDs, it'll stack 20 km tall each year! Perhaps it's better to put them in DVDs. That'll just be 100,000 DVDs every year ...

To prepare for the deluge of data, CERN built the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid - sort of a super-fast, private Internet connecting some 80,000 computers to analyze the data (Source).

9. Okay, will the LHC spawn a black hole that'll eat my planet?

Every time physicists come up with particle accelerators, party poopers come up with doomsday scenarios on how they will destroy Earth: black holes, killer strangelets, magnetic monopoles, and vacuum bubbles.

Let's talk about them one by one:

Micro black hole: Basically it's a region in space where gravity is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can escape. Planet-eating black holes are created when massive stars collapse on itself (and by massive, we mean massive - even our Sun isn't big enough to create a black hole if it collapsed. You'd need 10 times the mass of the Sun.)

There is a remote possibility that micro black holes can be created in the collisions at the LHC. These black holes are small: about 10-35 m across (the so-called Planck Length) and puny in mass (less than a speck of dust). These black holes would evaporate in 10-42 seconds in a blast of Hawking radiation. Even black holes with the mass of Mt. Everest would have a radius of about 10-15 m across. It would have trouble "eating" a proton, much less the entire planet. (Source: Pickover, C. (1997) Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide)

Strangelets: These are strange matters that, like the Ice-nine in Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, would turn all matters it touched into strange matters and eventually all of the planet will be transmuted into strangelets.

The problem with strangelet doomsday scenario, besides being very bizarre, is that no one has ever seen a strangelet. It remains a hypothetical particle. Previous particle accelerators that operated at lower energy than the LHC were actually better candidates to producing strangelets, and so far, we're still here.

Magnetic monopoles: These are hypothetical particles with a single magnetic charge (hence the name) - either a north pole or a south pole, but not both. Magnetic monopoles "eat proton."

Actually, physicists have been looking for magnetic monopoles for a long time - and so far they've never found it. By calculations, magnetic monopoles are actually too heavy to be produced at the LHC.

Vacuum bubble: It is actually a very interesting idea in quantum field theory. It states that life, the universe and everything aren't the most stable configuration possible. Perturbations caused by the LHC could tip it into the more stable state (called the vacuum bubble) and all of us "pop" out of existence.

In all of these cases - if micro black hole, strangelets, magnetic monopoles, and vacuum bubbles were a problem to begin with, they would've been created by cosmic rays already. The continued existence of Earth and the rest of the universe tend to discount the validity of these doomsday scenarios.