Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Christmas Present Ever

Living in a tent, my feet get cold.  This is the best Christmas present ever!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all! 

May the Christmas Cheer find you wherever you are!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why I Love Lancashire

Other than the fact that my lovely wife was born here, and my brother-in-law, who is referred to as the "coolest brother-in-law in the world" resides here, there are two more reasons that I love Lancashire.

The first would be pies and pasties.  Pictured below from left to right are a meat pie, a Cornish pasty, and a cheese and onion pie.

Another reason, which I discovered today, is the live Christmas entertainment in the grocery stores.  Pretty much makes the American Salvation Army ringers look like a bunch of Tiny Tims.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Snow in Chorley

We awoke to a dusting of snow this morning that grew to a slushy, wet blanket by mid-day.

Given that it is Friday and the sun is sinking slowly along with the temperature, this should make for an interesting pub crawl this evening.

(Edit next morning)  Sure enough, wandering home in the wee hours of the morning, I stopped off for some late night munchies.  This sign was clearly targeted at me.

After a quick bite, all that remained was to slide down the black ice to my bed.

It was a quiet night in Chorley town centre.

But the sidewalks were good fun.

A Lovely Day in Rivington, Lancashire

What a lovely day for a walk around the reservoir, Jepson's Farm, and Lead Mine Clough in Rivington, Lancashire!  Of course, a lovely day in December in Rivington means that it's raining over there, and not here...

...and if you look to the coast, it might actually have been sunny a moment ago.

I've been here many times visiting family and friends, but I've always been confined to the inside of bungalows and pubs as there never seems to be enough time.  This is the first chance I've had time to take a leisurely walk around.  It is everything I imagined it to be.  The sharp wind on my cheek as we walked the ridge, the squish of black mud and fresh dung under foot, the sheep keeping clear as they sense my excessive libido, and everything wrapped in a hundred shades of green.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Goldman Sachs has a Great Deal for you, and it's FDIC-insured!

Feeling a little short of cash because your life savings is only getting 1/2% in that CD? Don't worry, Goldman Sachs has an "investment" that I'm sure you'll love. Only the "smartest guys in the room" could create a financial product this amazing.

It's a CD - Certificate of Deposit, so the FDIC insures the first $250,000. Sounds good so far, right? Words like FDIC and Guaranteed make me feel good. It gets better. It pays 0.5%, so nothing too exciting there. But wait! It's also linked to the changes in the Dow Jones Industrial average, so if this stock market index goes up, you earn more than 0.5%. You can earn up to 2% extra per month if the stock market goes up 2% or more! Amazing! Only Goldman Sachs could come up with a CD that is FDIC-insured and, as Bloomberg quotes the Goldman sales literature, offers "annual returns at a minimum of about 0.5 percent and a possible maximum of 24 percent, according to a preliminary sales document."

But wait, there's more! 

If you read down in the Bloomberg article, there's one paragraph that catches my eye: "The four-year CD tracks the monthly percentage change in the Dow, with gains capped at 1.5 percent to 2 percent and no floor on the declines. That means if the Dow advanced 5 percent, the monthly return would be recorded as no more than 2 percent, while a drop of the same amount would be taken in full."

Let's see, "a drop...would be taken in full" that line about "a minimum of about 0.5 percent" taken from the Goldman Sachs literature isn't exactly accurate, is it?  It should be "we'll give you a small taste of gains from the stock market in good months, and we'll keep everything you make above 2%, but in down months, you're going to eat the entire loss."  Goldman gets the gains, the investor takes the losses.  Perfect.  It's just like being a taxpayer.

Let's take a hypothetical example of the CD linked to the S&P500 that is structured this way using recent history.  The S&P500 was up almost 11% in Oct-11.  You get 2%, great!  Your banker gets 9%, but they deserve it for being such smart guys, right?  Sep-11, S&P500 down (7%), you lose (7%), your banker gets their fee.  S&P500 down (5%) in Aug-11, you lose (5%), your banker gets their fee.  It's the perfect product - for your bankster!

Disclaimer: of course, the CD may be structured using annual returns or net returns over the entire 4 year period, so my hypothetical example using monthly returns may be unfair.  If you're really interested, go read the sales document.  Lay down with the dogs, and get all the fleas you want.  I just enjoy anything that lets me say "your bankster keeps the gains, you take the loss."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve - Escape from L.A.

Mono Lake is among the oldest lakes in North America, and it anchors the western end of the Great Basin with Great Salt Lake on the eastern end.  The Great Basin has no outlet to the ocean, so water is lost only through evaporation.  The salts left behind create a salty and alkaline environment that supports a surprising amount of life.  Between 4 trillion and 12 trillion brine shrimp populate Mono Lake, along with the alkali fly which begins its life underwater, and is also found in abundance during warmer months.  Thanks to the prodigious number of shrimp and flies, Mono Lake provides a nesting ground for over 2 million migratory birds each year!

Thankfully, one man, David Gaines, realized how special this place was in 1978.  At the time, the Vampire that is Los Angeles had sucked over half of the water out of Mono Lake by diverting the creeks that flow into it with callous disregard for the destruction of the environment.  David Gaines realized that L.A. had sucked the life and every drop of water out of Owens Lake, and that Mono would be next.  His activism, with the support of many others, and ultimately the action of the California court system, saved the lake.  By 1982, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had sucked more than half of the water out of Mono Lake.  In human terms, they lowered the lake level by 45 feet, taking it from 4.3 million acre-feet of water to only 2.1 million acre-feet.  Thanks to David Gaines, LADWP now only receives 25% of the water that should flow into Mono Lake, and guidelines are in place to prevent the lake from being drawn down to levels that would risk killing all life.  As the lake level dropped, the salinity doubled, putting the brine shrimp and alkali fly populations at risk.  No shrimp, no flies - no birds.  Fortunately, the Mono Lake Committee had the foresight to negotiate a deal whereby LADWP received funding to build a waste water reclamation facility, so now L.A. residents can drink their own excrement instead of the clean water of the High Sierra.

On a beautiful winter day with none of the wind that has been whipping across northern California, the Tufa rising out of Mono Lake create an otherworldly spectacle.

Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve provides a number of trails to access the lake, and an unimproved boat ramp.  Only a few days ago, another threat to Mono Lake, California's inability to control its public debt, was deflected.  This park was slated for closure, but funding has been found in the form of parking fees for the park. 

The Tufa shown in these photos are the equivalent of fossilized springs.  As fresh water rises up through fault lines and enters the hypersaline water of Mono Lake, the interaction of calcium-rich fresh water and carbonates in the salt water forms these calcium carbonate towers.  As the water levels were drawn down, the tufa towers were exposed.  Check out the moon keyholed in a tufa tower below!

Thanks again to the incredible loss of water in Mono Lake, the loop trail at South Tufa takes you through immense gardens of tufa now exposed on dry land.

The unique and interesting tidbits about Mono Lake just keep coming!  Did you know that NASA found the first organism ever that is able to replace some of its phosphorus with arsenic in order to sustain its growth when starved of phosphorus?  This discovery is still being debated.  As well, Storm Thorgerson's fantastic photo The Diver was taken here for the album Wish You Were Here.  It shows a man diving into Mono Lake without creating a ripple, with the Tufa Towers in the background.  It was created by having the diver do a handstand until all of the ripples had faded away.