September 12, 2014

Having a solar blast. (NASA's words, not ours.)     Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Solar Storms Threaten Gadgets This Weekend

Mass events could disrupt power and communication

A pair of solar events has the potential to disrupt power and GPS this Friday and Saturday, according to the U.S. Space Weather Center

Two coronal mass ejections—enormous discharges of plasma—will create magnetic storms when they interact with the earth’s magnetic field. These storms have the potential to disrupt power and communications infrastructure. Space Weather Center director Thomas Berger told Bloomberg that these storms are not expected to cause widespread outages, but the potential for disruptions to power grids and GPS remains.

On the other hand, increased solar activity also brings the potential for a more active aurora on Friday and Saturday nights. If you’re at higher latitude—Boston, Chicago, or Seattle—consider escaping city light pollution and seeking out a clear view. But maybe don’t plan on relying on your GPS to get home.


Rain: Good for barley, bad for business.     Photo: josh Rubin/Flickr

Beer Prices Likely Rising Due to Summer Rain

But don't cry into your brew just yet

The cost of beer is expected to rise in 2015 because of heavy August rain that caused American malt barley crops to germinate before the harvest had finished.

As reported in the Billings Gazette, farmers in North Dakota, Idaho, and now Montana—states that together produce most of the country's barley—have seen their crops oversaturated. The most affected areas were hit with germination in excess of 50 percent. 

"Barley was bad in Idaho, and it looked like Montana would be the savior," said Cassidy Marn, Montana Wheat and Barley Committee marketing director, in an interview with the Billings Gazette. However, only half the state's crops had been harvested by the time the rains came.

Flourishing barley means bad times for beer and the farmers that support it. America's largest brewing companies, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, purchase only malt barley that contains a percentage or two of germination. With less acceptable malt barley available, breweries might have to jack up beer prices. 

The industry has some buffer room. According to AgCanada, it's still too early to determine the extent of the damage as the harvest is ongoing, and 2013 was a record year for Canadian malt barley crops. Regardless, many American farmers have already sacrificed their crops as animal feed, which sells for less than half the price of malt barley.

"There is no panic yet. Everybody has been telling us not to panic. There is carryover from last year's malt supply," Tim Mohr, owner of Angry Hank's Brewery in Billings, told the Gazette. "Our prices are stable until January, but beer prices are going up."


Parkour enthusiasts may finally get the recognition—and rapt audience—they crave.     Photo: Matt Henry Gunther/Thinkstock

Olympics Committee Considering Parkour

But parkour community is split on whether it wants in

Several leaders of the parkour world met with the International Olympic Committee a few weeks ago. There's no word yet on whether parkour will show up as a summer Olympic sport, but both sides said the meeting went well. 

The IOC said in a statement that it was "an informative and positive discussion," but wouldn't offer any specifics of the meeting. Dan Edwardes, director of London-based Parkour Generations, told NPR that the meeting went well. 

The parkour community is divided on whether the sport should become a formal competition. Edwardes would like to see it in the Olympics eventually, but Jesse Danger, executive director of the Movement Creative, told NPR that parkour is more about competing against yourself than an opponent. Some also feel that a formalized competition would be unfair. Danger's colleague Jereme Sanders told NPR that his five-foot-six frame might not place him on an even playing field with someone with the same technical skill but who was six-foot-three. NPR also reports that most past parkour competitions have "flopped."

The timetable for a sport's inclusion in the Olympics can sometimes take decades, and David Wallechinsky, president of the International Committee of Olympic Historians, said that a sport has to be recognized. "There has to be a regular world championship. There have to be regular regional championships, and there have to be X number of national federations," he told NPR. Since meeting with the IOC, leaders in parkour and free running have formed a federation, called the Mouvement. The group's goal is to increase awareness of the sports and bring together a community of members.

Sports have been fast-tracked into the Olympics before, though. Snowboarding was admitted in 1998 to try to interest more young people in the Olympics despite not having much of an existing infrastructure. Wallechinsky told NPR the same thing could happen for parkour.