Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Today In Lithium

FMC 79.05-3.54 (-4.29%)

SQM 50.59-1.97 (-3.75%)

ALB 101.24-10.33 (-9.26%)

Huh. Go figure.

Feb 26
"Lithium Miners' Pain Is Tesla Gain As Prices Seen Plunging This Much"
Feb 19
"Lest We Forget, In April 2017 Platts Forecast Lithium Supply Would Outweigh Demand by 2018"
Jan. 7
Lithium: Here Comes the Supply Surge

"Dolce & Gabbana used drones to carry handbags down the runway instead of models"

First some background from December's "Fashion, Maslow and Facebook's control of social":
As mentioned in "IRAN reacts to U.S. President's Comments On Colin Kaepernick By Launching Missles While North Koreans Chant ‘Death to Trump’ Over Steph Currey Dis":
Due to threatened budget cutbacks we are considering consolidating our politics, sports, national security and fashion coverage....
Well, the cutbacks weren't just a threat, departments are being combined, which is why you've seen posts on the St. Louis Fed's FRED clothing line, 3D printed couture and such stories as:

European Bankers on Top of The League Tables For Fashion Sense
Barney's New York Introduces a $375 Antifa Jacket
This Father's Day, #Boycott Dolce & Gabbana.... this $245 #Boycott Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt: 
So, unfortunately for patient reader, the trend continues as the powers that be decree the cat video pivot now has to be combined with something as well. So here's strutting the catwalk. I am so sorry....
Thank goodness the subjects of the stories are now doing the combining for us!
From The Verge:

Because human models are so last season
It’s 2018, and as further proof that we’re already living in the future, what’s more fashionable than drones? Drones with handbags, according to Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabanna, which sent a bunch of flying drones down its runway during the house’s fashion show in Milan on Sunday.
Fashionista reports that audience members were asked to turn off Wi-Fi on their phones, as well as any personal hot spots. The show was also 45 minutes late to start, and now we know why....MORE

We like D&G and not just for their response to a boycott threat from some group or other: this $245 #Boycott Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt:

At D&G's website.
Trolling is an art form.

Or, in the words of the philosopher Larry the Cable Guy:
"I don't care who you are, that's funny"

Although, truth be told, since they discontinued the By Dolce & Gabbana cologne I don't stop by as often.
I missed a trick on the cologne. When D&G discontinued the scent you could still procure it in size for $95-125. It's now being offered out at $400-500 on eBay albeit with the huge caveat: there are a lot of knock-offs.
Anyhoo somehow related to all of the above, the intro to 2017's "Fashion: Bernie Sanders Is the Inspiration For Balenciaga’s Fall 2017 Menswear Collection":
A couple weeks late to this but interesting as a reflection of bizarro world Zeitgeist.

That said however, should  Dolce & Gabbana come out with an Eau De Bernie I will probably just curl up in a corner of the office to await the end times....

"Giant viruses with huge tails found in Brazil"

Well that's just effin' great.

I am so close to going full-on Howard Hughes...
Image result for mr burns as howard hughes

Smithers, where are my Kleenex box slippers?
From Cosmos:

Viruses visible to the naked eye raise all sorts of interesting questions...
Ya think!!!!
Two newly discovered species of giant virus both have the largest assembly of protein-coding genes ever found in the virus realm.

And the viruses themselves aren’t exactly tiny. A paper in the journal Nature Communications describes them as “optically visible” – a highly unusual characteristic.

The two new species, note a team of scientists led by Bernard La Scola from Aix-Marseille University, have a protein shell, known as a capsid, around 450 nanometres long and a cylindrical tail roughly the same length. The tail is the largest ever discovered.

By comparison, a polio virus is typically just 70 nanometres long. A smallpox virus tops out at about 300 nanometres.

The two closely related species were discovered in, or near, Brazil, one in a soda lake, and the other in sediments at the bottom of the deep ocean – both extreme environments known to support ancient lifeforms....MORE
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Solar System, other little critters are doing Monty Python bits:
Boffins: Red planet microbes may just be resting
"No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn'it, ay?"

Indicators: "A Late Picasso ‘Musketeer’ Leads a Healthy $206 Million Impressionist & Modern Sale at Christie’s London"

From artnet:

Picasso's painting of a musketeer with a nude woman sold for £13.7 million.
Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire et nu assis (1967). Courtesy of CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2018.
On a chilly, snow-spattered evening, Christie’s kicked off a fortnight of auctions in London that are expected to collectively generate as much as £782 million ($1.1 billion). If achieved, it will be a record for a series of Impressionist and Modern and contemporary art sales in London, where a peak of £709.5 million ($1.2 billion) including premiums took place in February 2014.
Aiming high—and without regard for anyone’s dinner plans—the house piled 97 lots into their evening sale. In front of the packed room, in which many had attended in order to catch a preview of the Rockefeller treasures that will be sold later this spring in New York, the sale realized a healthy £149.6 million, squarely within its estimated total of £122 million-£167 million. (Prices include premium, estimates do not.)

The total was Christie’s second highest in this category for a London sale and included £36 million from a catalogue of 34 Surrealist works. Twenty-two percent of the total lots failed to sell.
A modest four lots were guaranteed in the Impressionist and Modern section, including the top two by value. One of Picasso’s many late musketeer paintings sold for £13.7 million (with a £12 million low estimate). The buyer was Harry Smith, chairman of the London-based art advisors and valuers Gurr Johns. It last appeared at auction in 2007, when it sold for £6.8 million. Smith then went on to buy all seven Picassos in this section of the sale, spending more than £40 million of his client’s money and outbidding challengers from Asia, and the Acquavella and Lefevre galleries—all without ever breaking into a smile. But strangely he left before the Surrealist sale, in which there were other Picassos.
Edgar Degas, In the Wings (1982-85). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, 2018.
The second top lot, Edgar Degas‘s theatrical scene In the Wings (1882-85), had been bought in Paris in 1997 for £2.5 million, doubling its estimate. Now guaranteed with an £8 million low estimate and, although not designated as such in the catalogue, known to be the property of British billionaire collector Lord Graham Kirkham, it sold apparently to the third-party guarantor without competition for £9 million. A sale nonetheless....

Dear Elon, Here Comes Some More Competion: Nio Files For $2 Billion IPO

Everybody wants to get into the act.

From the Silicon Valley Business Journal:

Ex-Cisco CTO's Chinese electric car startup eyes $2 billion U.S. IPO
A U.S. IPO that could raise as much as $2 billion could be coming later this year from the Chinese electric vehicle company whose American headquarters is in San Jose.

Reuters cited unnamed sources who said that Nio has hired eight banks, including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, to work on an offering that would raise between $1 billion and $2 billion in the second half of this year. 

Nio's U.S. operations are led by Padmasree Warrior, the former chief technology officer at Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO).

At the high end of the projected IPO range, Nio's offering would be the biggest Chinese listing in the U.S. since Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE:BABA) raised $25 billion in 2014. The next biggest after that is the October 2016 IPO in which ZTO Express (NYSE:ZTO) raised $1.41 billion....MORE

"As Sunspots Fade, Will Crop Yields Fall?"

We've looked at the correlation a few times, one of the posts after the jump.

From Barron's Commodities Corner, Oct. 31, 2015:
NASA predicts fewer sunspots, which may mean cooler weather, lower crop yields, and higher prices. Betting on a correlation as old as Galileo.

A decades-old government crop report, combined with the very latest data from NASA, seem to indicate that there will be poor growing conditions and lower grain yields over the next few years. As a result, traders should expect prices for wheat and corn to rise.

The report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published almost four decades ago, studied crop yields in the U.S. from 1866 to 1973. The paper, “Do Sunspot Cycles Affect Crop Yields?” by Virden Harrison, an agricultural economist with the commodity economics division of the USDA’s economic-research service, matched historical crop-yield data for wheat, corn, rice, and cotton with sunspot activity. And National Aeronautics and Space Administration forecasts for sunspots forming on the solar surface suggest that the sun is commencing lower activity that will last for the next five years.

THAT’S BAD NEWS FOR growers because historically fewer sunspots are associated with colder weather and lower crop yields. It has only recently become apparent that the solar cycle hit its peak last year, with the sunspot count in decline since then. “Sunspots are a proxy for the total solar effect,” says Joe D’Aleo, chief meteorologist for agriculture at Weatherbell Analytics. The activity manifests itself as more, or less, ultraviolet radiation, cosmic rays, and geomagnetic activity, all of which act as “magnifiers” to warm, or cool, the planet, he said in a 2014 white paper for INTL FCStone.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of skeptics who would disagree as to how much alterations in solar activity affect temperatures around the globe and if there is any causation between sunspots and weather. Whether it’s a coincidence is irrelevant for investors as long as the correlation holds, which it has for some time now.

In fact, says Don Coxe, of Coxe Advisors, “It’s a coincidence that has occurred consistently since Galileo’s time.”

Broadly speaking, fewer sunspots, as NASA is projecting, mean chillier weather. That results in lower crop growth and reduced yields. “On the basis of this [forecast for fewer sunspots], we feel the chances of having the kind of growing weather we have had recently is decreasing,” Coxe adds.

HE SAYS THAT THE actual effect partly will depend on where you are on the globe. Most of the world’s grain is produced within northern climates....MORE
Back in 2009 we had:

Herschel and Me (Sunspots and Wheat)
This story at Accu-weather reminded me of William Herschel:

Herschel Takes A Picture; Endeavour Tank
As you may know, the Herschel and Planck spacecraft were launched back in May. The first images captured by Herschel have come back to Earth, and as luck would have it, they are of one of my favorite Messier Objects; M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, in constellation Canes Venatici. Herschel took the first images using its Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) instrument. Charles Messier first observed the object around 1773 and it lies about 35 million light-years away; it was the first galaxy discovered with a spiral structure. The image was taken at 70, 100 and 160 microns after Herschel's cryocover (essentially its lens cap) was opened. Herschel is the first space-based observatory to cover the entire wavelength spectrum from the far Infrared to the sub-millimeter band (60-670 micrometers)....MORE
Okay, maybe you had to be there.
Last year, at the peak of the wheat market I wrote "Wheat Market Gone Wild and "Do We All Die in 2027?":
See important note.*
During a misspent youth one of my follies was following in William Herschel's footsteps.
First, this report on prices at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange for Hard Red Spring Wheat (the good stuff)....
...And Herschel? In 1801 he announced** he had spotted a correlation between sunspots and wheat prices. Here's a mention in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1823.

The question has been argued for 200 years and Herschel has, off and on, been the subject of ridicule***. Here's a headline from the New York Times in 1903:

SUN SPOTS NO PROPHETS; Science Destroys Theories That Disasters Follow Their Appearance. Interesting as Solar Curiosities with Possible Relation to Electrical Conditions of Earth....Source
Here's the cached version
A while later I came on the scene, couldn't figure out how to make money out of Herschel's idea and having the attention span of a gnat, moved on. So why bring it up? Since I first looked at the matter there's been a lot of research and it appears the correlation may not be as spurious as I thought. The wheat price series is one of the longest we have, it extends back to 1250, I've got a paper chart that starts in 1300 (although some of the prices are dubious).

The CBOT has a wheat chart that starts in 1477.

Google Scholar has 285 ref's to Herschel and wheat prices. Gregory Yom Din of the Israel Cosmic Ray Center, Tel Aviv University and Israel Space Agency, seems particularly interested, here, here, here, and note below.

*I am not saying current wheat prices are trading off the solar cycle. La Niña, the very low carry-over and corn planting in former wheat fields is enough to account for today's prices. But looking ahead....

We seem to be in an unusual solar cycle. The start of cycle 24 has been delayed longer than usual, so we're stuck at the quiet end of 23. From NASA:...

Well, 24 finally got started, it was much weaker than the preceding three or four cycles, we're sliding into another cycle minimum but this time it might be a grand minimum along the lines of the Dalton or, hopefully not,  Maunder, and it's time to play our theme song:

"Modeling volatility of Baltic dry bulk freight index"

I'll be referring back to this paper sometime next month so this post is as much an aide-memoire as anything.
Via IEEEexplore:
The paper is to investigate features of fluctuation of international dry bulk shipping market using Baltic dry bulk freight index. After fundamental statistical analysis on data, R/S and GPH tests are employed to model long memory of volatility of the indices, which interprets the existence of long memory and then leverage effect in the market subdivided by ship types including Handymax, Panamax, and Capesize. Moreover, VaR (value-at-risk) of spot freight rates in the dry bulk shipping market with EGARCH (Exponential ARCH) VaR model is used to further the study on volatility of the indices because of the daily return series with factors of volatility clustering and significant ARCH (Autoregressive Conditional Heteroskedastic) and the distribution with characteristics of fat tail. The empirical results suggest the operators and investors in the dry bulk shipping market to increase operational profits and reduce investment risks according to the long memory and the VaR.

"Kazakh mining company ERG looks to spin off and list assets - sources"

Neil Hume I need you.
From Reuters:
Kazakh mining company Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), formerly known as ENRC, is working on a plan to eventually spin off and list some of its assets to help repay debt, three banking sources said.

The company, then called Eurasian National Resources Corporation (ENRC), was taken private by its three founders and the Kazakh government in 2013 in a $4.5 billion buyout, six years after listing on the London stock exchange.

While listed in London, the company was dogged by boardroom battles, weak commodity prices and an investigation into fraud and bribery at some of its subsidiaries. 

ERG, which is registered in Luxembourg, has ferrochrome, aluminum, iron ore and energy operations in Kazakhstan, copper and cobalt assets in Africa and iron ore mines in Brazil. 

The assets sales will help ERG pay off some of its debt, the sources said. VTB agreed last year to extend the terms covering $3 billion of ERG’s debt to 2022. As of July 2016, ERG owed $5.8 billion to its main creditors, VTB (VTBR.MM) and Sberbank (SBER.MM).....MORE 
Mr. Hume is the commodities editor of the FT. Back in 2016 we politely queried: "a small request for the Financial Times: Can you tell us what the old ENRC is up to these days?" Now I'll add:

Capital Markets: "It Takes Powell to Convince the Market that Yellen was Right"

From Marc to Market:
Many market participants think they heard Fed Chair Powell give a fairly strong signal that he favored a more aggressive course. The implied yield on the December Eurodollar futures rose five basis points to 1.535%. The December Fed funds futures contract rose three basis points.

The market moved not to pricing in a fourth hike this year, but to fully price in the third hike
, which the December dot plots implied. A third hike would bring the effective Fed funds rate to 2.17% and the implied yield of the January 2019 Fed funds futures contract is 2.155%. It took Powell's apparent comfort with a more aggressive path to convince the market of something the Fed's dot plot indicated more than two months ago.

We do not think that Powell will be pleased with the market's reaction. It seemed to misconstrue. He prefaced his comment by saying he did not want to prejudge the FOMC, but that his personal outlook for the economy had strengthened. This is important. What strengthened? Powell's outlook. What does that mean? We think it means that he is more confident that the Fed is on course to reach its mandated objectives.

We continue to believe that the superior strategy here is not to change the dot plot to four hikes this year.
The anti-inflation credibility of the Powell Fed will already be bolstered by a hike at his first meeting as Chair. The Fed need not signal its intention to hike more aggressively. By the June FOMC meeting, the trajectory of prices and the economy will be clearer.

Ironically, a couple of hours before
Powell testified, data were reported that prompted economists to revise down Q1 18 GDP forecasts. Taking the recent softness in housing starts into account as well, the Atlanta Fed GDPNow tracker lowered its estimate to 2.6% down from 3.2% on February 16. It began the month near 5.4%. It is the lowest estimate in four months.

To be sure
, it is not just in the US that the synchronized global recovery has met the New Year. Surveys and sentiment indicators in the euro area warn that economic momentum may have peaked. One exception to a string of mostly softer than expected reports was the February German employment data released today. Unemployment fell more than expected, with the unemployment queues shrinking by 22k instead of the 22k the median in the Bloomberg survey expected. Unemployment fell by an average of almost 16k a month in 2017. The three-month average now stands at a -25.3k, the most since April 2011.

Price pressures remain steady
. Today the preliminary estimate of February CPI was reported at 1.2%, in line with expectations, down from 1.3% in January. Last February headline eurozone inflation reached 2.0%. The core rate was steady at 1.0%. It was steady at 0.9% throughout Q4 17, which is also where it was in February 2017. Progress?

The Japanese economy
practically stagnated in the last three months of 2017. It has begun the new year on weak footing. Consider January retail sales. The 1.8% drop in the month was three-times more than expected and is worth six-month of sales at the average monthly gain in 2017 (0.3%). Industrial output slumped 6.6% in January. It is the largest decline since 2011. The market had expected around a 4% fall after December's 2.9% gain.

China disappointed as well
. ...

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

That Time A Dozen Norwegians Stopped the Nazis From Developing the Atom Bomb and Possibly Saved Europe

This isn't the story of Birger and Andreas having to take a break from the brown cheese and herring and, well, we marked that anniversary with "That Time A Couple Of Old Norwegian Guys Put Down Their Coffee, Sank A Nazi Warship and Saved Western Civilization".

Rather, our headline event happened a few years later but first, I know everyone reading can't wait for a History-of-Norwegian-Industry-ca-1900 - 1915-diversion so here goes. We've posted on Kristian Birkeland more than once, this is part of last year's "Shipping: He May Not Have Received His Nobel Prizes But The World's First Fully Electric Autonomous Container Ship Will Be Called the Birkeland"

...the introduction to the Plasma Universe entry on Birkeland:
Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland (13 December 1867 - 15 June 1917) was a Norwegian scientist who has been called "the first space scientist"[1] and "the father of plasma experiments in the laboratory and space"[2] [3] [4]. He is perhaps most well-known for his scientific work on the aurora using a terrella (a magnetized globe), and as inventor of an electromagnetic cannon, and, a method of electrically producing artificial fertilizer. He also became a full professor of physics at the University of Oslo at the age of 31.

Birkeland also had astrophysical research published on cathode rays,[5] the Zodiacal lights,[6] comets,[7] the Sun and sunspots,[8] the origin of planets and their satellites,[9] the Earth's magnetism.[10]
Some of Birkeland's other contributions to science included:[2] • Derived the general expression for the Poynting vector • Gave the first general solution to Maxwell's equations [11] • Pioneered the field of charged-particle beams • Utilized the concept of "longitudinal mass" • Constructed the first foil diodes • Pioneered the field of visible-light photography of electrical discharges • Advocated charged-particle propulsion engines for space travel • Created Norsk Hydro's nitrogen-fertilizer industry (the Birkeland-Eyde method for production of potassium nitrate) • Invented an electromagnetic rail gun capable of firing a 10-kg projectile • Established Birkeland's Firearms company • Anticipated cosmic rays (discovered in 1911) with his calculations involving energies of several billion electron volts • Held patents on the electromagnetic cannon,[12] electric blankets, solid margarine, and hearing aids.

In 1969 when field-align currents had been identified in the Earth's atmosphere, they were named in his honor: Birkeland currents.[13]....

He also co-founded Norsk Hydro and got his picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone Norway's 200 kr banknote:

The note will become invalid at the end of this year and the old boy will be replaced by a cod and a herring....

It was that Norsk Hydro bit that is important to this tale.
Norsk Hydro made nitrogen fertilizer using giant arcs to fix nitrogen in the air to nitric oxide which could be further manipulated to become nitric acid which can then be used to make explosives or fertilizer or other stuff. The process was very energy inefficient but hey, it was the early 20th century and we're talking Norway. They have a few waterfalls.  Fast forward thirty years and despite the efforts of Birger and Andreas the Nazis have invaded and are intent on grabbing them some heavy water, of which Norsk Hydro has become the go-to source, as a byproduct of the now-modernized (no more Birkeland-Eyde process) fertilizer operation.

And it is here the story of February 28, 1943 really begins. From The Conversation via Scientific American:

Operation Gunnerside: The Norwegian Attack on Heavy Water That Deprived the Nazis of the Atomic Bomb
February 28 marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and important military missions of World War II
The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.
The Conversation
After handing them their suicide capsules, Norwegian Royal Army Colonel Leif Tronstad informed his soldiers, “I cannot tell you why this mission is so important, but if you succeed, it will live in Norway’s memory for a hundred years.”

These commandos did know, however, that an earlier attempt at the same mission by British soldiers had been a complete failure. Two gliders transporting the men had both crashed while en route to their target. The survivors were quickly captured by German soldiers, tortured and executed. If similarly captured, these Norwegians could expect the same fate as their British counterparts, hence the suicide pills.

Feb. 28 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Gunnerside, and though it hasn’t yet been 100 years, the memory of this successful Norwegian mission remains strong both within Norway and beyond. Memorialized in moviesbooks and TV mini-series, the winter sabotage of the Vemork chemical plant in Telemark County of Nazi-occupied Norway was one of the most dramatic and important military missions of World War II. It put the German nuclear scientists months behind and allowed the United States to overtake the Germans in the quest to produce the first atomic bomb.

While people tend to associate the United States’ atomic bomb efforts with Japan and the war in the Pacific, the Manhattan Project—the American program to produce an atomic bomb—was actually undertaken in reaction to Allied suspicions that the Germans were actively pursuing such a weapon. Yet the fighting in Europe ended before either side had a working atomic bomb. In fact, a rehearsal for Trinity—America’s first atomic bomb test detonation—was conducted on May 7, 1945, the very day that Germany surrendered.

So the U.S. atomic bomb arrived weeks too late for use against Germany. Nevertheless, had the Germans developed their own bomb just a few months earlier, the outcome of the war in Europe might have been completely different. The months of setback caused by the Norwegians’ sabotage of the Vemork chemical plant may very well have prevented a German victory.

Nazi bomb effort relied on heavy water
What Colonel Tronstad, himself a prewar chemistry professor, was able to tell his men was that the Vemork chemical plant made “heavy water,” an important ingredient for the Germans’ weapons research. Beyond that, the Norwegian troops knew nothing of atomic bombs or how the heavy water was used. Even today, when many people have at least a rudimentary understanding of atomic bombs and know that the source of their vast energy is the splitting of atoms, few have any idea what heavy water is or its role in splitting those atoms. Still fewer know why the German nuclear scientists needed it, while the Americans didn’t.

“Heavy water” is just that: water with a molecular weight of 20 rather than the normal 18 atomic mass units, or amu. It’s heavier than normal because each of the two hydrogen atoms in heavy H2O weighs two rather than one amu. (The one oxygen atom in H2O weighs 16 amu.) While the nucleus of a normal hydrogen atom has a single subatomic particle called a proton, the nuclei of the hydrogen atoms in heavy water have both a proton and a neutron—another type of subatomic particle that weighs the same as a proton. Water molecules with heavy hydrogen atoms are extremely rare in nature (less than one in a billion natural water molecules are heavy), so the Germans had to artificially produce all the heavy water that they needed.

In terms of their chemistries, heavy water and normal water behave very similarly, and you wouldn’t detect any differences in your own cooking, drinking or bathing if heavy water were to suddenly start coming out of your tap. But you would notice that ice cubes made from heavy water sink rather than float when you put them in a glass of normal drinking water, because of their increased density.

Those differences are subtle, but there is something heavy water does that normal water can’t. When fast neutrons released by the splitting of atoms (that is, nuclear fission) pass through heavy water, interactions with the heavy water molecules cause those neutrons to slow down, or moderate. This is important because slowly moving neutrons are more efficient at splitting uranium atoms than fast moving neutrons. Since neutrons traveling through heavy water split atoms more efficiently, less uranium should be needed to achieve a critical mass; that’s the minimum amount of uranium required to start a spontaneous chain reaction of atoms splitting in rapid succession. It is this chain reaction, within the critical mass, that releases the explosive energy of the bomb. That’s why the Germans needed the heavy water; their strategy for producing an atomic explosion depended upon it.

The American scientists, in contrast, had chosen a different approach to achieve a critical mass. As I explain in my book, “Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation,” the U.S. atomic bomb effort used enriched uranium—uranium that has an increased concentration of the easily split uranium-235—while the Germans used unenriched uranium. And the Americans chose to slow the neutrons emitted from their enriched uranium with more readily available graphite, rather than heavy water. Each approach had its technological trade-offs, but the U.S. approach did not rely on having to synthesize the extremely scarce heavy water. Its rarity made heavy water the Achilles’ heel of the German nuclear bomb program.

Stealthy approach by the Norwegians 
Rather than repeating the British strategy of sending dozens of men in gliders, flying with heavy weapons and equipment (including bicycles!) to traverse the snow-covered roads, and making a direct assault at the plant’s front gates, the Norwegians would rely on an alternate strategy. They’d parachute a small group of expert skiers into the wilderness that surrounded the plant. The lightly armed skiers would then quickly ski their way to the plant, and use stealth rather than force to gain entry to the heavy water production room in order to destroy it with explosives...MUCH MORE

"Maker of addictive tech (Google) criticized by chairman of addictive tech maker (Alphabet)"

From The Register:

Google – plus Facebook and Twitter – also gets a shoeing from Obama, newspapers
There is no love for online giants Google and Facebook right now, with even their friends sticking the boot in.

Audio of a secret address given by Barack Obama last week has emerged in which the 44th US President criticized the monster corporations for not recognizing the dangerous negative impact they are having on society.

"Our social media platforms are just a tool," he noted. "ISIS can use that tool. Neo-Nazis can use that tool. I do think the large platforms - Google and Facebook being the most obvious, Twitter and others as well, are part of that ecosystem – have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise. They're not just an invisible platform, they're shaping our culture in powerful ways."

Obama and his administration had an especially tight relationship with Google while Barry was in power – Google execs met senior White House officials an extraordinary 230 times in the first five years of Obama's term, averaging once a week, while Comcast, for example, had just 20 such meetings.

But despite that long relationship, (oh, and here's two more instances) it didn't stop Obama sticking the boot in when it comes to fake news and Russian bots.

Opinions count
"Essentially we now have entirely different realities that are being created with not just different opinions, but now different facts," Obama said. "And this isn't just by the way Russian inspired bots and fake news. This is Fox News versus The New York Times editorial page. If you look at these different sources of information, they do not describe the same thing. In some cases, they don't even talk about the same thing. And so it is very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term in those circumstances."

He argued that Facebook and Google would do well to keep in mind that the US government will ensure that "basic rules of the road [are] in place that create level playing fields."

Talking of newspapers, the News Media Alliance (NMA), which represents over 2,000 papers in the United States, has also had enough of Facebook and Google and their special status.

It has launched a new political action committee – yes, a PAC – to "ensure that regulatory and legislative initiatives facilitate investment in news media and allow member companies to operate and develop new business models."...

"EU plans new tax for tech giants up to 5 percent of gross revenues"

From Reuters:
The European Commission wants to tax large digital companies’ revenues based on where their users are located rather than where they are headquartered at a common rate between 1 and 5 percent, a draft Commission document showed.

The proposal, seen by Reuters, aims at increasing the tax bill of firms like Amazon [AMZN.O], Google [GOOGL.O] and Facebook [FB.O] that are accused by large EU states of paying too little by re-routing their EU profits to low-tax countries such as Luxembourg and Ireland. 

The plan resembles a French proposal on an equalization tax that was supported by several big EU states. However, it is likely to face opposition from small countries that fear becoming less attractive to multinational firms. 

The document says the tax should be applied to companies with revenues above 750 million euros ($922 million) worldwide and with EU digital revenues of at least 10 million euros a year....MUCH MORE

"AMD GPU Shipments Increased Big Time in Q4 2017, NVIDIA and Intel Decline – Over 3 Million Graphics Card Sold To Crypto Miners in 2017"

From the gaming geeks at WCCF Tech:
The latest GPU market report from Jon Peddie research has been released and shows that AMD gained a good chunk of the GPU market share during fourth quarter of 2017. At the same time, both NVIDIA and Intel witnessed decline in GPU market share.
AMD Gained Huge Chunk of GPU Market Share in Q4 2017, NVIDIA and Intel Fall Behind – Crypto Miners End Up Gobbling Over 3 Million Discrete Graphics Cards
According to the report from Jon Peddie, the overall GPU shipments decreased in Q4 2017 when compared to the previous quarter. The decrease was about -1.5% which follows normal seasonal shipments. Then again, year to year comparison shows that GPU shipments decreased -4.8%, the desktop graphics decreased -2% and notebook graphics decreased -7%. The report also states that 3 million discrete graphics cards were consumed by miners alone during 2017 which amounted to $776 million in sales.
When breaking down the numbers, it looks like AMD won this quarter big time with a market share increase of 8.1%. At the same time, NVIDIA decreased -6% while Intel decreased -2%. The current market share looks like the following:
  • AMD @ 14.2% (versus 13.0% Last Quarter)
  • NVIDIA @ 18.4% (versus 19.3% Last Quarter)
  • Intel @ 67.4% (versus 67.8% Last Quarter)
AMD was the main benefactor [sic] of the total mining hardware sales of $776 million as reported in the article. When comparing the graphics chip market segments, almost the entire industry saw a downward trend in Q4 2017 which includes discrete graphics for desktop, notebook integrated and embedded for mobility systems. The discrete notebook market and desktop integrated and embedded platforms saw an increase in growth rate of 3.6% and 3.0% respectively....MORE

"His new gig, 'fake news,' and the future of technology": Checking in With Alphabet Chair John Hennessy (GOOG)

From IEEE Spectrum:
John Hennessy has had a busy month. The former president of Stanford University was just named chairman of the board for Alphabet, Google’s parent company. And he just helped name the first class of 49 Knight-Hennessy scholars, his new program aimed at turning graduate students into leaders that will improve the world. (He called all of them personally to give them the news—he was that excited.)

I caught up with Hennessy to find out a little more about how he plans to juggle his multiple roles, how Google can “Do the right thing” (as the company’s new motto states), and his views on current hot-button issues in technology. Here’s what he had to say.

On taking on the chairmanship of Alphabet, and how it fits with his day job:
How much time will Alphabet take? Hennessy says: “I’m planning to be down there once a month—twice as much as before. [In order to do that] I will probably compress my schedule a little bit, I’ll take some things off. I’m finishing up a book on leadership that I’ve been working on for the past year, so that will free some time.” He will continue on as director of the Knight-Hennessy scholars program, and teaching will likely stay in the mix. At the moment, he says, “I’m teaching a graduate course on advanced multicore computer architectures.”

On not being evil, doing the right thing, and changing things for the positive:
Google in recent years changed its company motto from “Don’t be evil” to “Do the right thing.” The Knight-Hennessy scholars will “Change things for the positive.” Fine differences in meaning, to be sure, but different nonetheless. Hennessy explained his perspective on doing good and avoiding evil: “The change from ‘Don’t be evil’ to ‘Do the right thing,’” he says, “was an attempt to push the company in the direction of using technology to do the right thing, that’s more than just avoiding evil.”

“For Google, sometimes that means the right answer is to change something. Sometimes it’s to make what you have better,” he adds.

Doing the right thing, Hennessy says, also means thinking about what will be good for both users and shareholders in the long term. “If you focus so much on the short-term money,” he says, “you won’t be doing either your long-term shareholders nor your users any particular good. I worry today that there are too many startups that just want a quick hit, not to make a long-term investment, and that’s not what Silicon Valley was built around. You look at our history—at Hewlett and Packard or Gordon Moore. They built great companies because they believed those companies could produce products that could make people’s lives better—that is what we should be aiming for.”

On the dangers of “fake news,” social media, and the presence of technology everywhere:
“It’s not technology that has created the rifts in our communities,” says Hennessy, “so much as it is that the country and the world are divided; tech just enables anyone to put their opinions out there.”
“However,” he says, “we should be able to determine and control truly fake news, information that is patentable false. And we should be able to figure out how to identify videos that truly incite violence and not be associated with that.”

He acknowledges: “That’s not going to be easy; censorship is a difficult thing to do. It presents a big challenge for the tech industry.”

Hennessy also worries “about young people becoming so focused on electronic devices that they reduce personal interactions, reading books, and other experiences. When I was growing up, we had extremely strict limitations on when we could watch TV or not; there was absolutely no TV during the week, and only limited viewing time on weekends,” he says. “We have to do the same with young people and their devices today.”

On artificial intelligence (and why it’s not overhyped):
“I think AI is a gigantic change,” says Hennessy. “We argue back and forth about whether it is an even bigger change than the Internet itself; it might not be, but it is going to change a lot of things.”
AI has taken off, he says, thanks to the increase in computational power, of course, but also, oddly enough, thanks to spam.

“One of the early successes for machine learning was spam detection,” Hennessy points out. “What made that possible was that we had millions of messages tagged by users as spam or not spam....

"Threatening to Fire Workers Doesn’t Make Them More Productive" (but here's what does)

Our old pal, random positive reinforcement.

A couple reposts, first up November 2010's:
Okay, Enough With Politics: Attention Managers, You Can Improve Corporate Efficiency by Randomly Promoting Employees
It sounds like a Dilbert strip but it's true.
From the abstract at Physics arXiv:
The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study
...Here we show, by means of agent based simulations, that if the latter two features actually hold in a given model of an organization with a hierarchical structure, then not only is the Peter principle unavoidable, but also it yields in turn a significant reduction of the global efficiency of the organization.

Within a game theory-like approach, we explore different promotion strategies and we find, counterintuitively, that in order to avoid such an effect the best ways for improving the efficiency of a given organization are either to promote each time an agent at random or to promote randomly the best and the worst members in terms of competence. 
Here is the paper presented at Econophysics Colloquium 2009 (55 page PDF)...MORE
And another from January 2014:
Correctly Assuming Guilt, Deutsche Bank to Randomly Suspend Traders During Various Probes

Arbitrary and capricious.
That's the ticket.

"Poker, Speeding Tickets, and Expected Value: Making Decisions in an Uncertain World"

From Farnam Street:
“Take the probability of loss times the amount of possible loss from the probability of gain times the amount of possible gain. That is what we're trying to do. It's imperfect but that's what it's all about.”
— Warren Buffett
You can train your brain to think like CEOs, professional poker players, investors, and others who make tricky decisions in an uncertain world by weighing probabilities.

All decisions involve potential tradeoffs and opportunity costs. The question is, how can we make the best possible choices when the factors involved are often so complicated and confusing? How can we determine which statistics and metrics are worth paying attention to? How do we think about averages?

Expected value is one of the simplest tools you can use to think better. While not a natural way of thinking for most people, it instantly turns the world into shades of grey by forcing us to weigh probabilities and outcomes. Once we've mastered it, our decisions become supercharged. We know which risks to take, when to quit projects, when to go all in, and more.

Expected value refers to the long-run average of a random variable.
If you flip a fair coin ten times, the heads-to-tails ratio will probably not be exactly equal. If you flip it one hundred times, the ratio will be closer to 50:50, though again not exactly. But for a very large number of iterations, you can expect heads to come up half the time and tails the other half. The law of large numbers dictates that the values will, in the long term, regress to the mean, even if the first few flips seem unequal.

The more coin flips, the closer you get to the 50:50 ratio. If you bet a sum of money on a coin flip, the potential winnings on a fair coin have to be bigger than your potential loss to make the expected value positive.

We make many expected-value calculations without even realizing it. If we decide to stay up late and have a few drinks on a Tuesday, we regard the expected value of an enjoyable evening as higher than the expected costs the following day. If we decide to always leave early for appointments, we weigh the expected value of being on time against the frequent instances when we arrive early. When we take on work, we view the expected value in terms of income and other career benefits as higher than the cost in terms of time and/or sanity.

Likewise, anyone who reads a lot knows that most books they choose will have minimal impact on them, while a few books will change their lives and be of tremendous value. Looking at the required time and money as an investment, books have a positive expected value (provided we choose them with care and make use of the lessons they teach).

These decisions might seem obvious. But the math behind them would be somewhat complicated if we tried to sit down and calculate it. Who pulls out a calculator before deciding whether to open a bottle of wine (certainly not me) or walk into a bookstore?...

If interested see also:
Paul Tudor Jones On 'Imperfect Information'

Chinese billionaire sees a goldmine in French fields

AFP via Farmlandgrab:
In the peaceful French village of Thiel-sur-Acolin, retired farmer Marc Bernardet is ambivalent about having a Chinese billionaire for a neighbour.
Over the past four years Hu Keqin has quietly snapped up 3,000 hectares of wheat fields in the central Indre and Allier regions, including next door to Bernardet.
His purchases are part of a Chinese buying-spree in recent years stretching from the US to Australia. And in France, struggling farmers fear a landgrab.
“It’s a piece of French heritage that is being taken, but that’s globalisation and that’s the trend at the moment,” Bernardet told AFP.
“If it wasn’t the Chinese, it would be someone else.”
The fields may be bare for winter, but Hu has big dreams: eventually they’ll provide some of the flour for 1,500 French bakeries in China, catering to a burgeoning middle class.
But he is keenly aware of the suspicions his project faces in France, where farmers say their traditional family ownership model is under threat from a huge rise in investor purchases.
“We take extremely good care of our land, and we’re using only French people to cultivate it,” the 57-year-old insisted in an interview at his Beijing offices.
“Many foreign investors are buying land in France,” added the understated businessman with a net worth estimated at $1.22 billion by Forbes magazine.
“Are we so different from the Germans or the English? Shouldn’t we, like the others, encourage the local economy to develop?”
Macron vows crackdown
Hu cannily used legal loopholes – buying almost all of each farm rather than the entirety – to skirt rules that can allow the French government to block sales of farmland...

Way back in 2012 it was:

"French Farmland Offers Better Value than UK Land"
We've been posting on British Farmland for years but, outside of the odd Chateau listing and the effects of climate on wine growing I think this is the first French farmland post.
Two things to be very, very wary of: The Common Agricultural Policy and the French tax code....
And then in 2016:
China Buying Farmland In Central France
"Chinese Investors Are Buying Up French Farmland"

Monday, February 26, 2018

"The Man Who Claimed to Invent Bitcoin Is Being Sued for $10 Billion"

From Motherboard:
Craig Wright is being sued by Ira Kleiman, brother of deceased coder Dave Kleiman and representative of his estate.

Bitcoin’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but two people have lurked at the edges of its mythology for years: A paralyzed coder named Dave Kleiman who died in 2013 as a result of complications from an illness, and Australian Craig Wright, who claimed to be Bitcoin’s anonymous creator in 2016.
Now Dave Kleiman’s estate is suing Wright for up to 1,100,111 bitcoins worth over $10 billion USD and intellectual property related to Bitcoin software, according to a lawsuit filed in a Florida court February 14. The suit, filed on behalf of Ira Kleiman, Dave’s brother and the representative of his estate, alleges that Wright and Kleiman mined bitcoins together in the currency’s early days, and that since Kleiman’s death Wright has “perpetrated a scheme” to “seize Dave’s bitcoins.”

The lawsuit (embedded below) admits that the amount of bitcoins at issue must be determined at trial—basically, Kleiman isn’t sure how much is really at stake. But Kleiman’s lawyers have Wright’s own statements to go from, from which they extrapolated that, in their view, Wright owes Ira Kleiman up to one million bitcoins, which is the full amount of bitcoins allegedly mined by Wright and Kleiman. Ultimately, the lawsuit is seeking somewhere between 300,000 and 1.1 million bitcoins.

Notably, the lawsuit makes no claim on whether Kleiman or Wright, or both of them (or neither of them) actually created Bitcoin. It does, however, allege that the pair were in communication as early as March 2008—the Bitcoin white paper was published in October 2008—and that Dave told his brother Ira in 2009 that “he was creating ‘digital money’ with a wealthy foreign man, i.e. Craig.” The suit alleges that Kleiman and Wright “and two others” conducted a Bitcoin transaction on January 12, 2009, nine days after the very first block of Bitcoin transaction data was created by Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym used by Bitcoin’s inventor....MORE

In other theft news: 

Someone Stole Steve Wozniak's Bitcoins
Back in October, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak revealed that he was a huge fan of bitcoin - which he bought back when it was $700 - telling Bitcoin Magazine that it was better than both gold and the dollar, which is "kind of phony", while bitcoin is "genuine and real." The burly multi-millionaire also said that he likes bitcoin because "it is based on mathematics."

"Bitcoins to me was a currency that was not manipulated by the governments. It is mathematical, it is pure, it can’t be altered," Wozniak has said, explaining also why governments hate it so much....
"I had seven bitcoins stolen from me through fraud. Somebody bought them from me online through a credit card and they cancelled the credit card payment. It was that easy!"
 More at Zerohedge

Alibaba to buy major food delivery app For $9.5 Billion

From Asia Times:
Insider confirms that Chinese multinational will buy the company as a whole, in a deal reportedly worth about US$9.5 billon

Rumors circulating that Alibaba was planning the acquisition of, one of the major online food delivery platforms in China, has been confirmed by an insider close to the deal, reported.
Alibaba will buy the company as a whole, while the final purchase price is still in discussion. The current valuation of the platform is about US$9.5 billion.

What has become the focus is how will be integrated into Alibaba. The report said it is highly possible that the firm will be placed under the leadership of Zhang Yong, Alibaba’s CEO, to act as the infrastructure of Alibaba’s new retail strategy....

"Lithium Miners' Pain Is Tesla Gain As Prices Seen Plunging This Much "

We didn't post our reminder last week simply because we were trapped in a meeting and bored silly.

I mean that was part of it but "Lest We Forget, In April 2017 Platts Forecast Lithium Supply Would Outweigh Demand by 2018" had a couple good links as well.

Today's headline story is from Investor's Business Daily:
Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM), Albemarle (ALB) and other lithium stocks tumbled Monday, on worries that surging output to meet demand from Tesla (TSLA) and other makers of electric vehicles will weigh on prices.

 Analysts at Morgan Stanley said that new and expanded lithium mines in Chile "threaten to add" roughly 500,000 metric tons per year to global supplies by 2025. They predict lithium prices will crash 45% by 2021.

Tesla and other electric car manufacturers use lithium ion batteries to power their vehicles. Last month, SQM and the Chilean government reached a deal to increase production as battery demand climbs.

Morgan Stanley downgraded Albemarle to underweight from equal weight and lowered its price target to 85 from 100, and also downgraded SQM to underweight from equal weight.
Albemarle shares plunged 9.1% to 107.95 just past midday on the stock market today. SQM tumbled 8.3%. FMC Corp. (FMC) was down 3.1%. Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (LIT), which has holdings in Albemarle, SQM and FMC, fell 4.2%.

Tesla rose 1.5% to 357.38.

Albemarle will report quarterly earnings Tuesday, and SQM is on tap for Wednesday....MORE
Jan. 29

"Tesla is reportedly looking to invest in Chile’s largest lithium producer"
That might explain Mr. Musk kicking around Chile a month ago and SQM's regulator giving the green light to expand production....
Jan 18
Lithium: After Four Years of Negotiating, SQM and Regulator Reach Agreement On Increased Production (SQM; ALB)
Jan. 7
Lithium: Here Comes the Supply Surge
Dec. 29
"Welcome @elonmusk to Chile, the Saudi Arabia of lithium, a potential 'solar country' and a leader of world economic freedom."

August 2017
Eighteen months ago we went with cobalt over lithium as the battery material that would be in shortest supply and think that is still a correct assessment. However, if long-suffering reader is interested the 'search blog' box has quite a few hits for 'lithium'.... 

Lines on Charts of Commodity Trading Advisor Performance Seem To Be Running From Top Left to Bottom Right

From FT Alphaville:

A CTA disaster
Commodity Trading Advisors, the trend-following computer boffins responsible for almost a tenth of hedge fund assets under management, had a terrible February meltdown. The FT has a run down of lots of the better known names on Monday.
A small flavour:
Man AHL’s $1.1bn Diversified fund lost almost 10 per cent in the month to February 16, while the London investment firm’s AHL Evolution and Alpha funds were down about 4-5 per cent over the same period. The flagship funds of GAM’s Cantab Capital, Systematica and Winton lost 9.5 per cent, 7.2 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively between the start of the month and February 16.
To that, we‘d add a couple of milestones highlighted by JP Morgan, with our emphasis:
Quill Cloud
"Pure Trend Following CTAs... lost almost 11 per cent in the week ending Feb 8 th. This 11 per cent is the second highest recorded weekly loss since the 12 per cent Pure Trend Following CTAs lost in the week ending 5 th March 2007...."

DARPA Wants to Genetically Modify Marine Creatures to Track Enemy Targets in the Sea

Of course they do.

From the Maritime Herald:
The US Army wants something we have already seen in literature: to enlist an “army” of sea creatures to help them track enemy submarines in the sea. The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors program could also modify existing species to make them better spies.

To be more specific, behind this controversial program that has already encountered strong opposition from activist groups, DARPA, currently the research and development wing of the Pentagon, is located. The agency explained a few days ago through its website what PALS was about:
It is a program that will study natural and modified organisms to determine which can better support the sensor systems that detect the movement of unmanned and unmanned submarine vehicles.

Therefore, the idea is to record marine life, from bacteria, plankton and coral, to fish and mammals, which react in some way to the presence of nearby boats or targets. For DARPA, those reactions represent valuable data. ” The program simply plans to observe the natural and unique behaviors of marine organisms in the presence of targets of interest, and process that data to provide an alert.”
If the military can develop a system to detect the reactions of marine life to passing ships, in theory it could monitor all the world’s oceans in search of enemy activity, and do it more economically and effectively than with purely artificial sensors. According to DARPA.

Beyond pure ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone....

Amazon's Letter to the SEC Regarding "the risks arising from the public debate over Amazon’s growth and societal impact" (AMZN)

From Amazon's D.C. attorney's, Gibson Dunn via the Securities and Exchange Commission:
January 9, 2018
Office of Chief Counsel
Division of Corporation Finance
Securities and Exchange Commission
100 F Street, NE Washington, DC 20549
Re: , Inc.
Shareholder Proposal of AFL- CIO Reserve Fund
Exchange Act of 1934—Rule 14a-8
Ladies and Gentlemen:
This letter is to inform you that our client, , Inc. (the “Company”), intends to omit from its proxy statement and form of proxy for its 2018 Annual Meeting of Shareholders (collectively, the “2018 Proxy Materials ”) a shareholder proposal (the “Proposal”) and statement s in support thereof (the “Supporting Statement”) received from the AFL -CIO Reserve Fund (the “Proponent” ).

Pursuant to Rule 14a-8(j), we have:
• filed this letter with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission ”) no later than eighty (80) calendar days before the Company intends to file its definitive 2018 Proxy Materials with the Commission; and
• concurrently sent copies of this correspondence to the Proponent. 
Rule 14a- 8(k) and Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14D (Nov. 7, 2008) (“SLB 14D”) provide that shareholder proponents are required to send companies a copy of any correspondence that the proponents elect to submit to the Commission or the staff of the Division of Corporation Finance (the “ Staff”). Accordingly, we are taking this opportunity to inform the Proponent that if the Proponent elect s to submit additional correspondence to the Commission or the Staff with respect to this Proposal, a copy of that correspondence should be furnished concurrently to the undersigned on behalf of the Company pursuant to Rule 14a-8(k) and SLB 14D .

Office of Chief Counsel
Division of Corporation Finance
January 9, 2018
Page 2

The Proposal r elates to the Company’s growth and commercial success . Specifically, the Proposal states:
RESOLVED, that shareholders of Inc. (“Amazon”) urge the Board of Directors (the “Board”) to analyze and report to shareholders on the risks arising from the public debate over Amazon’s growth and societal impact and how Amazon is managing or mitigating those risks. The report should address risks related to Amazon’s role in providing physical and digital infrastructure, use of and control over data about customers and competitors, increasing reliance on automation and influence on the quality and diversity of content.
In the Supporting Statement, the Proponent states that “[a]s Amazon has grown, so has public debate over its size, dominant platforms and impacts on key constituencies.” The Proponent then cites to numerous websites that appear to raise concerns about the Company’s growth, such as the Company’s “informational advantages in product development and pricing” and the Company’s “impact on places in which it operates.”

A copy of the Proposal, as well as related correspondence with the Proponent, is attached to this letter as Exhibit A .

...MUCH MORE (15 page PDF)

HT: International Business Times, "Amazon Aims To Block Its Own Shareholders’ Questions About Growth".

On a lighter note, after checking Amazon's Investor Relations page to see if the proxy materials were out yet (they are not) I did a quick Google search for Amazon rule 14A and the second hit to come up was: : Rule 14A 3700 GPH Heavy Duty Bilge Pump, Non ...

"Guano Mania"

I too have fallen under the spell of the allure and mystique of guano.
From 99% Invisible:
In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine preserve in the world at the time. The expansion closed 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed ocean to commercial fishing and underwater mining.
Boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument via NOAA

The preserve is nowhere near the mainland United States nor is it all in close range to Hawaii. Still, President Obama was able to protect this piece of ocean in the name of the United States.

guano-islands-adTo understand how the U.S. has jurisdiction over these waters in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, one has to look back to the 19th Century when, for a brief period, the U.S. scoured the oceans looking for rock islands covered in guano. That is: seabird poop.

Guano was a great fertilizer and many believed it would revolutionize farming, which traditionally involved cycling crops or simply depleting soil nutrients and moving to new land.

While novel to Americans and Europeans, using bird poop as fertilizer was nothing new to the Quechua people of Peru who had long mined it from the Chincha Islands off the southwest coast of Peru. For centuries, seabirds nesting on the islands had piled up guano, sometimes close to a 100 feet deep, making it a rich and ready source of the stuff.

Europeans hadn’t shown any interest in guano until the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt visited the Peruvian coast in 1804, and saw laborers unloading ships filled with seabird poop. Von Humboldt took a sample and brought it back to Europe. A German chemist named Justus Von Liebig subsequently began promoting a theory that soil fertility came down to a few critical nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Peruvian guano was rich in all three.

It was the agricultural analogue to discovering gold.
The Peruvians began to mine guano on a commercial scale. Their operations relied on an abusive labor system, first with locally coerced laborers and then with imported Chinese workers. Miners lived on the islands in tents and shacks, working up to 17 hours a day. The wages were low, and the conditions were awful; guano is acrid, and caustic when inhaled.
The guano trade made its way to Europe via British merchants, and soon farmers across the continent were using Peruvian guano on their fields. Word of the fertilizing power of seabird poop reached the United States, and by the late 1840s the country had entered a state of what historians have called “guano mania.” Tens of thousands of tons of guano were being imported to the U.S. every year.

Mining a mountain of guano
British firms controlled the Peruvian trade, and guano was expensive. American interests resolved to break the monopoly. Entrepreneurs in the United States petitioned Congress to create a mechanism to help them claim their own guano islands. Some lawmakers opposed this effort, on the grounds that it smacked of the same kind of imperialism that various European countries were engaged in around the world at the time.

The U.S., of course, already had its own approach to imperialism, having taken over much of North America by stealing territory from indigenous people. But political leaders didn’t think of this as imperialism, since these lands were incorporated into the country, first as territories and then as states.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached: the guano islands would not be considered as subject to the sovereignty of the U.S. but rather as “appertaining” to the United States. While few knew what this meant from a legal perspective, it was softer than claiming full ownership.

In 1856, the Congress passed the Guano Islands Act. Over the next several years U.S. companies claimed more than 70 islands throughout the Pacific and the Caribbean....MORE
April 2017 
Today In Guano
We have an odd fascination with guano.
Let me rephrase that.
From Law 360:

Judge Kills Suit Seeking $213M On 140-Year-Old Guano Notes
May 2016 
Questions America Is Asking: "Are We Entering a New Golden Age of Guano?"
A topic of endless fascination.*
From JSTOR:...
*Errrm, maybe not endless but we do have a few prior posts:  
Sexy Clothes and Dim Lights ca. 1900
New York Guano
Munnawhatteaug: The Fish That Built America 
October 2010
New York Guano
More than you ever wanted to know. First a partial re-post:
Equity Valuation and Forecasting Future Returns and a Gift for our Readers

A subject near and dear to my heart. I may be the only person I've ever met who read every page of The Cowles Commission's Common Stock Indexes 1871-1937.
[you must be a blast at parties -ed]

Mr. Cowles is quite explicit as to the reasons the Commission didn’t go further back than 1871. (pg. 4)
A big one is the paucity of publicly traded industrials.
My favorite tidbit is the listing, among the pre-1871 industrials, of New York Guano.
Some things never change. 
Here’s Yale’s (and my) gift:
It links to a big ‘ol hog of a PDF.
...From Cabinet Magazine:

Islands and the Law: An Interview with Christina Duffy Burnett
...Christina Duffy Burnett is a professor of law at Columbia University, where she teaches legal history, immigration, citizenship, and the US Constitution. Much of her work deals with the legal problems that arise at the margins of empire. She spoke with Sina Najafi by phone in June of 2010.
This is a very general question, but let’s take a stab at it anyway: do islands matter in the law?
The best way to get at this may be to start with something quite specific. In the summer of 2003, I stumbled on a 969-page typescript treatise which is kept in the library of the US State Department. Flipping through this great leather-bound brick of onion-skin pages, I gradually absorbed that the whole massive volume had been put together in the 1930s by a lawyer working for the US Government who’d been given a killer assignment. Apparently somebody had walked over to the desk of this poor functionary, scribbling away in some basement office, and said something along the lines of: “You know, we have a bunch of islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean—little islands. How about you figure out what the deal is with all these places, legally speaking.” I was holding the result: The Sovereignty of Islands Claimed Under the Guano Act and of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Midway, and Wake. And it was splendid to behold: nearly a thousand pages of intricate legal arguments and historical documentation on the strange history of the United States’ nearly invisible, but surprisingly vast, insular empire.
The Guano Act? What is guano? It’s bat excrement, right? 
Yes. And bird doo, too. In this case, it refers to the bird version.
So there was a US law about bird droppings that somehow proves important for thinking about the law of sovereignty? 
Indeed. The Guano Islands Act of 1856 arguably laid the legal groundwork for American imperialism....MORE, if interested.
.... But that’s not the interesting part, really—although it’s curious enough, and there are some great stories about what goes down on these islands: shanghaiing Polynesian laborers, piracy (of course), mutiny, etc. Some of the islands are still claimed by various shady types. Indeed, a rather mysterious gentleman contacted me some years ago in connection with his alleged title to an uninhabited guano island in the Caribbean.  

A James Bond villain-type? 
 I don’t think I can speak any further on that matter over an unsecure line...