Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some long-form articles worth your time

Nothing connects these articles, other than that they're all interesting (to me, that is).

And they're all long.

  • Invasion of the Hedge Fund Almonds
    Our increasing fondness for nuts—along with a $28-million-a-year marketing campaign by the Almond Board of California—are part of what has prompted the almond boom. But the main driver comes from abroad. Nearly 70 percent of California's almond crop is exported, with China the leading customer: Between 2007 and 2013, US almond exports to China and Hong Kong more than quadrupled, feeding a growing middle class' appetite for high-protein, healthy food. Almonds now rank as the No. 1 US specialty crop export, beating wine by a count of $3.4 billion to $1.3 billion in 2012. (Walnuts and pistachios hold the third and fourth spots, each bringing in more than $1 billion in foreign sales.) As a result, wholesale almond prices jumped 78 percent between 2008 and 2012, even as production expanded 16 percent.

    According to UC-Davis' Howitt, the shift to almonds and other tree nuts is part of a long-term trend in California, the nation's top agricultural state. Farmers in the Central Valley once grew mostly wheat and cattle. But over time, they have gravitated toward more-lucrative crops that take advantage of the region's rare climate. "It's a normal, natural process driven by market demand," Howitt says. "We grow the stuff that people buy more of when they have more money." Like nuts, which can replace low-margin products such as cotton, corn, or beef.

  • How crazy am I to think I actually know where that Malaysia Airlines plane is?
    Meanwhile, a core of engineers and scientists had split off via group email and included me. We called ourselves the Independent Group,11 or IG. If you found yourself wondering how a satellite with geosynchronous orbit responds to a shortage of hydrazine, all you had to do was ask.12 The IG’s first big break came in late May, when the Malaysians finally released the raw Inmarsat data. By combining the data with other reliable information, we were able to put together a time line of the plane’s final hours: Forty minutes after the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, MH370 went electronically dark. For about an hour after that, the plane was tracked on radar following a zigzag course and traveling fast. Then it disappeared from military radar. Three minutes later, the communications system logged back onto the satellite. This was a major revelation. It hadn’t stayed connected, as we’d always assumed. This event corresponded with the first satellite ping. Over the course of the next six hours, the plane generated six more handshakes as it moved away from the satellite.
  • Proving that Android’s, Java’s and Python’s sorting algorithm is broken (and showing how to fix it)
    After we had successfully verified Counting and Radix sort implementations in Java (J. Autom. Reasoning 53(2), 129-139) with a formal verification tool called KeY, we were looking for a new challenge. TimSort seemed to fit the bill, as it is rather complex and widely used. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to prove its correctness. A closer analysis showed that this was, quite simply, because TimSort was broken and our theoretical considerations finally led us to a path towards finding the bug (interestingly, that bug appears already in the Python implementation). This blog post shows how we did it.
  • Mastering Git submodules
    Submodules are hair-pulling for sure, what with their host of pitfalls and traps lurking around most use cases. Still, they are not without merits, if you know how to handle them.

    In this post, we’ll dive deep into Git submodules, starting by making sure they’re the right tool for the job, then going through every standard use case, step by step, so as to illustrate best practices.

  • Mastering Git subtrees
    A month ago we were exploring Git submodules; I told you then our next in-depth article would be about subtrees, which are the main alternative.

    As before, we’ll dive deep and perform every common use-case step by step to illustrate best practices.

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