• Texas beer industry experiences major growth

    In this July 7, 2012 photo, Tanks are in place in preparations for the Texas Big Beer Brewery to open in Buna, Texas.
    In this July 7, 2012 photo, Tanks are in place in preparations for the Texas Big Beer Brewery to open in Buna, Texas.

    Looking for a way to increase job creation, innovation, economic growth? Texas seems to have found a way to make these tough times easier by generating huge profits through its craft beer industry.

    According to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild Economic Impact Study, craft brewers contributed $608 million to the state’s economy in 2011. Craft beer sales increased 13 percent compared to 2010, and the number of barrels produced increased 46 percent.

    TCBG defines a craft brewery as a business that produces no more than 75,000 barrels each year.

    The number of breweries has also increased during the last four years, from 35 to 78. Our alcohol purchasing readers have no doubt encountered the increasing presence of local beers sold in establishments across Austin.

    It’s no wonder that beers from Real Ale, 512, Austin Beerworks and Live Oak are becoming more popular. They offer varieties that the macro-breweries simply fail to provide, and are also an attractive option for locavore beer drinkers.

    The study found that while craft beer consumption amounts to less than one percent, the percentage of craft brewery jobs is 51.2 percent of all brewery jobs in the state.

    That percentage is set to increase, and the TCBG study found that craft breweries plan to invest $29 million during the next five years.

    Not only have the numbers shown craft brewers to play an important economic role in Texas, the TCBG suggests that there is enormous potential for the industry, which is currently off limits due to restrictive beer laws.

    Currently, Texas law prohibits brewers and manufacturers from directly selling their beer to customers at the brewery, and are only able to sell to authorized permit holders (bars, stores, etc.). In addition, brewpubs like Black Star Co-op are only allowed to sell their beer on-location.

    If Texas’s regulations on beer sales were comparable to that of wine sales, the TCBG estimates the craft brewing industry in Texas would contribute $5.6 billion and 52,000 jobs to the economy during the next 10 years. The state should take note of the potential for revenue, since craft breweries have contributed $16 million in taxes, according to the report.

  • UT Energy Poll shows increased belief in climate change

     In this Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 file photo, Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo, Texas. A combination of the long periods of 100-plus degree days and the lack of rain in the drought-stricken region has dried up the lake that once spanned over 5400 acres. The year 2011 brought a record heat wave to Texas, massive floods in Bangkok and an unusually warm November in England. How much has global warming boosted the chance
    In this Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 file photo, Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo, Texas. A combination of the long periods of 100-plus degree days and the lack of rain in the drought-stricken region has dried up the lake that once spanned over 5400 acres. The year 2011 brought a record heat wave to Texas, massive floods in Bangkok and an unusually warm November in England. How much has global warming boosted the chance

    According to a recent poll conducted by UT, the number of people who believe in climate change has increased, while the number of climate change deniers has decreased.

    Seventy percent of respondents said they believed in climate change, while 15 percent are still not convinced, down from 22 percent in 2010.

    The change in poll numbers seems to correspond with the abnormally hot weather the U.S. experienced this year, whereas in 2010, record snowfall led to a low point in climate change acceptance of 52 percent, according to a Brookings Institution poll.

    The institution is also reporting high numbers for this year, with 65 percent responding ‘yes’ to the question of whether or not the Earth has been getting warmer over the last 40 years.

    According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the poll and UT’s Energy Management and Innovation Center, said climate change is certainly the result of man-made causes.

    The public’s perception is in line with climate data. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the average landsurface temperature so far this year has been about two degrees higher than the average of the last 100 years.

    Higher acceptance of climate change may also be attributed to the drought that is currently affecting 55 percent of the U.S., which Texas is all too familiar with.

    What do higher temperatures mean for the planet? NASA reported Tuesday that 97 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet has experienced melting in July.

    This is a sharp increase from the average percentage of about 50 percent during the last 30 years. Scientists attribute the melting to a large "heat dome" of warm air over Greenland that has been present since May.

    Higher temperatures also lead to larger insect populations arriving earlier than usual. USA Today reported Tuesday that pest controllers are dealing with larger insect infestations this year due to high temperatures, which allow the insects to breed and develop much faster.

    Austin experienced the cricket invasion in full force last June, just as the city broke its monthly temperature record of 109 degrees.

  • Media duped by satirical call for destruction of pyramids

    When Egypt elected Mohamed Morsi on June 25, a Twitter user purporting to be an Islamic cleric from Bahrain called for the destruction of the pyramids in Egypt.

    Weeks later, several news outlets picked up the story as truth and connected it to instances of historical landmark destruction, which fueled fears about Morsi’s Islamist party sending Egypt on the path to radicalization.

    But the tweet was from a satirical account, and was completely false. To those unaware of the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics and history, there was no way to judge the legitimacy of a tweet in Arabic.

    Egyptians were more keen on picking up the satire, and pointed out the Western media’s trend in believing other hoaxes.

    The Daily News Egypt News reported “several news agencies ran stories about a proposed bill in the Egyptian parliament, which would have allowed men to have sex with their deceased spouse up to six hours after they passed away. The reports were also discovered to be unfounded.”

    The Egyptians are not unfamiliar with using social media to outsmart traditional media and government entities.

    During the 2011 revolution, an Egyptian blogger posted a video to YouTube urging people to protest in Tahrir Square.

    In order to evade Hosni Mubarak’s security forces, the time announced in the video was hours after the actual protest began, which was secretly announced through word of mouth and text messaging.

    The government had temporarily shut down mobile phone service, Twitter and eventually the entire Internet to quell the protests that eventually ousted Mubarak.

  • Student loans affected by LIBOR scandal

    The London Interbank Offered Rate scandal has rocked the financial world, sending bank stocks tumbling and damaging the already fragile reputation of big banks in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

    The LIBOR benchmark, a financial metric set by the British Bankers Association every day based on the rate banks would charge each other for loans, has a wide reaching effect on loans and mortgages taken out at every level of the financial system, including student loans. In total, $800 trillion is affected by the LIBOR benchmark.

    According to the New York Times, the LIBOR benchmark determines the rate for about 50 percent of the private variable-rate student loans, 45 percent of adjustable rate prime mortgages and 80 percent of subprime mortgages.

    At the center of the scandal is Barclays Bank. The institution was fined $453 million for manipulating the rate in 2005 to 2009, and its CEO Bob Diamond and other top executives resigned last week under heavy fire.

    The British government is investigating Barclays, as wells as Citigroup, UBS, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland.

    The scandal was uncovered after a series of emails revealed that financial traders asked Barclays to set its LIBOR submission higher or lower depending on their interests for that day. Banks also submitted lower figures to appear healthier during the financial crisis, since the actual higher rates would have exposed a bank’s weakness.

    The manipulation requests were very frank and made no attempt to hide the corruption. Here is an email sent by a trader to a Barclays employee in 2006, according to the New York Times.

    "Hi Guys, We got a big position in 3m libor for the next 3 days. Can we please keep the lib or fixing at 5.39 for the next few days. It would really help. We do not want it to fix any higher than that. Tks a lot."

    The Associated Press reported this exchange between an investor and a banker regarding LIBOR fixing that highlights how easy it was to ask for manipulated submissions.

    "If it comes in unchanged I'm a dead man," lamented an investor. The Barclays employee granted the wish and then received this message of gratitude.

    "Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I'm opening a bottle of Bollinger."

    What was supposed to be an optimal average of the rates banks would charge each other for loans became the plaything for investors to manipulate.

  • Good and bad news for astrobiologists

    Scientists have been studying the biochemistry of life on Earth for years, but how might life function outside the boundaries of our pale blue dot?

    In 2010, a NASA-funded study announced the discovery of life that used arsenic, a poison to most organisms, instead of phosphorus to accomplish fundamental cell functions.

    The study was criticized immediately after publication, and the journal Science, where the NASA study was published, released two studies on Sunday that “clearly” falsified the original findings.

    The new studies rule out the possibility that the GFAJ-1 bacterium uses arsenic and suggest that the bacteria were exposed to trace amounts of phosphorus, unbeknownst to the researchers.

    The team touted their discovery of the exotic bacterium found inside the arsenic-rich Mono Lake in California as ushering in a new era that would have altered biology textbooks and “expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth.”

    The main implication of the supposed discovery was that if life on Earth can use arsenic to survive, then there would be reason to believe that arsenic-rich environments elsewhere in the galaxy might be teeming with life.

    Life on Earth is based on carbon, and scientists and science-fiction writers have been speculating for years about the other possible foundations for life that might exist outside of our planet. Silicon shares similarities with carbon and is an alternative candidate for a basic biochemical element, along with nitrogen and phosphorus.

    The falsification of the NASA study may have set back research on lifeforms with exotic biochemical structures, but another set of recently published studies shows that more familiar organisms seem to be faring well in outer space.

    In 2008, a shipment of organic compounds was sent to the International Space Station to test how well the organisms survived in orbit without any protection from the sun’s extreme temperature and ultraviolet radiation. For example, the lichens survived for 18 months in space by adapting to the harsh conditions. Cosmetics companies are interested in this research to use the UV resistant properties to develop sunscreen.

    Another experiment that began in 2004 sent a package of worms on a Soyuz spacecraft into orbit. Upon their return to Earth, researchers discovered that the worms had increased life spans, possibly due to changes in gene expression levels.

    One of the most extreme examples of life from Earth surviving in space is the tardigrade. Many of the microscopic specimens, known as water bears, were able to withstand the vacuum of space and extreme UV radiation, conditions that would instantly kill a human. After returning to Earth, the survivors could also reproduce and repair damaged DNA.