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Saturday, July 31, 2004


I run across only occasionally a major paper columnist willing to stretch out and cover interesting, unconventional topics as George Monbiot routinely does. His most recent Guardian column, discusses radio-assisted car monitoring.

He starts by mentioning the bicycling death of a friend at the hands of a rookie automobile driver. From there, the discussion turns in the direction sure to infuriate both civil-libertarians and the Nascar crowd in equal measure.

Nice to see Velorution, a very good cycling-for-the-masses-blog, doing their own monitoring of the Monbiot-mobile.

Update: How will we ever make minor strides to an energy-independent and car(e)free future when someone hollers: OBL Wants O-I-L?

Friday, July 30, 2004

Cursor Filter

From the world of the daily Cursor news digest, a densely linked summation of the current oil situation:

A Guardian commentary argues that "There were only two credible reasons for invading Iraq: control over oil and preservation of the dollar as the world's reserve currency." Inter Press Service interviews the project director on the Center for Public Integrity's, 'The Politics of Oil.'

With oil prices near record highs, a member of the Council of Energy Advisors says '2004 will be remembered as the year world oil production peaked.' Public Citizen explains how oil companies keep gasoline prices high and rake in record-setting profits.

Double-speak conundrums for the ages:
"We must save the village by destroying it"
"We must bring oil prices down to allow us to use more"

Thursday, July 29, 2004

"He allowed that he was a bit shaken up."

Today's installment of Bicycle Roadrash Theater 2000

Over the opening credits, a warrior appears over the horizon.

He takes on dangerous sections that would give veterans pause. He keeps a cramp-inducing pace on long uphill sections, panting hard, emitting low "hrrr, hrrr, hrrr" grunts with each stroke of the pedals, his shoulders bobbing up and down.

We watch the man-child clean up the competition.

Over an 18-mile ride that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, he burns about 1,200 calories and his heart rate reaches 168 beats per minute. That's nearly four times his resting rate and in the same range as Lance Armstrong's when the six-time Tour de France winner is pedaling hard.

Flashback; our hero and his team have hit hard times before.

On May 22, he lost traction on a dirt road, scraping his chin, upper lip, nose, right hand and both knees. The next day, a Secret Service agent riding behind him slammed onto the ground at high speed on a paved section, breaking his collarbone and three ribs.

Cut to present day; the trail chief has second thoughts.

Bush approaches steep downhills warily.

Fade in treacherous, shrieking music.

He hits the brakes and is steadily advancing downhill when his front tire loses its grip amid the loose rocks. His foot gets stuck in a strap that keeps it on the pedal.

In the blink of an eye, his rear wheel is in the air, and Bush is flying high over the handlebars, landing on his back with the bike on top of him.

He lies motionless for a few moments. The reporter hoists the bike off him just as his medics arrive to attend to him.

Wait a second ... a mouth-guard?

There are trees and a drop-off nearby, and the road is littered with rocks, but Bush, wearing a helmet and a mouth guard, is uninjured.

What next, talk of soft cushions and ointment?

But he is tentative descending the remainder of the downhill section, dabbing a foot on the ground as he goes.

Whooa .. this script badly needs a rewrite. Get me Milius.

In one meadow, cattle stare back at him as he rides a path littered with cow dung.

(c) BRT2K

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Gullibility and Zero Point Energy?

Readable post gg, but ...

That in turn inspired a fairly large number of engineers and inventors to try to find a way to, first of all determine whether the ZPF was real or not, and then if it was real, to tap it as an energy source.

These are wild goose chases. I noticed you mentioned Bell Labs. As an apocryphal tale look into the case of Henrik Schon of Bell Labs. The following is a news item presenting a "breakthrough" of his concerning organic semiconductors from late 2001:
news item

The sad part of this story is that 100's of scientists worldwide tried to duplicate his results. Sadder still, is that even though he is a complete fraud and data fabricator, no one really could figure out what his motivation was. Young guy, obviously smart, with the backing of Bertram Batlogg, a very well respected condensed matter physicist.

This specific case of fraud is being taught at universities, read more here: assignment

On the upside, the more far-out the idea is, the less the scientific community reacts with gullibility. It is these corner cases, with an air of respectability, that cause the most damage to research.

BTW: 2001 was a very good year for scientific fraud,
The case of Victor Ninov

Fractional Increases Factionate

Europeans on average pay more than twice as much for gasoline than Americans. As oil reached an all-time high of $43 per barrel today, this has significance on the psychology of purchasing.

Imagine if the price of some product were to increase by $2 per unit. Consumers will consciously (or subconsciously) treat this increase differently depending on whether the base price was initially $100 versus $2. The smaller fractional rate of increase for the $100 item proves much more palatable to the consumer than the doubling of the price for the $2 item. Psychologically, for the majority of people, this probably has more to do with not being able to differentiate value/price for higher cost items than any innate mathematical skills. This trend scales, or more precicely pro-rates, as the price drops down below $100 (apart from the peculiar psychological choicepoint at the $99-$100 range).

What does this mean for Americans versus Europeans? Well, the Europeans will be more immune to the price changes, with the gas taxes providing an (unintentional?) psychological buffering zone. Since Europeans will more likely continue to buy at the higher prices, oil companies may prefer the stable European customer base in the future. Could this cause changes in oil distribution patterrns in the future? Dunno.

Couple of interesting quotes from a Peak Oil message board thread:
-- "Besides, agriculture these days is essentially hydroponics that uses soil as a suspension medium." ... and petroleum as fertilizer
-- "Oil is not like Nortel stock. It's not even a normal commodity, like wheat or steel. It's energy, and in the end, energy is subject to the laws of physics, not the laws of economics."

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Bad Move

Howard Dean gave a speech this evening at the DNC, in which he referred to a young woman who raised $100 for the election campaign. He quoted her as saying, "I sold my bicycle for democracy"

I hope she has a spare.

Peak Oilists motivated to get on the bicycle and ride.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ram Pant Crony Ism

Mooney points to excerpts from Ross Gelbspan's new book on climate called Boiling Point. I like the following quote about Steve Martin's uncle:
I can't resist reminding everyone that James Schlesinger, who has been penning op-eds critical of climate change science, is on the board of directors of Peabody.

As far as Schlesinger is concerned, I am not familiar with any peer-reviewed work that he has submitted to the scientific literature ... Dr. Michael Mann

Sunday, July 25, 2004

How bad can things get?

Not this bad.

Way funny, cutting way too close to home; i.e. doing somersaults off the roof into the snowbank (... and into the buried lawnchair).

Talking about hilarity ensuing, I can't wait to see the outcome of the Critical Mass bike rally at the DNC in Boston, planned for this Thursday.

About Skepticism and Reality

Conspiracists and the people that inhabit books such as Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things" make for interesting reads. As you digest the claims made, the temptation exists to stake the high ground and say "I would never believe in such things, how stupid can people be?". For me, the issue of Peak Oil puts me and other alternative energy advocates on the potential "stupid" side of the fence.

And when reasoned articles supporting Peak Oil start showing up on progressive/lefty sites like Znet (article by Marshall Auerback, an international portfolio strategist), the time is ripe to gather evidence to defend against not only the politically-neutral skeptical front but also against the right-wing attack dogs.

The sociological sanity check (note that I don't say scientific or technical here) is to search for the healthy skeptics out there. If for example, arguments against Peak Oil started to become common in The Skeptic magazine or the Skeptical Inquirer, I would start to second guess my commitment. I always thought that societies of skeptics are filled with Mensa members and academics, looking to pick intellectual fights and sharpen their rhetorical skills.

Being lazy, the typical way to do the sociological study on the Internet is to tabulate Google hits and calibrate against known quantities. I tried "skeptical inquirer" and "blah", where "blah" is some arguable skeptical controversy.
Crop Circles743
Global Warming855
Remote Viewing701
Extra Sensory Perception475
Area 51437
Alien Abductions1670
Inorganic Oil45
Peak Oil10

Although inorganic oil (or abiotic oil) is a very arcane topic, it registers many more search hits than the topic of peak oil. This makes me feel a bit better, in a very unscientific way of course.

Unfortunately, the counter-claims, by what I call the peak oil nay-sayers, continue to inhabit and perpetuate in the non-skeptical world. A somewhat popular how-to and practical advice website called About.com has an entry entitled "We Will Never Run Out Of Oil". It falls under the Macroeconomics advice section of the website, written by a budding economics PhD student named Mike Moffet.

Choice quote:
Predictions that we will run out of oil after a certain period of time are based on an ignorance of the economic way of thinking.

I find it will be interesting how this plays out. My healthy skeptical mind suggests that the theories of conventional economics will themselves come under attack by the skeptics of the world. Certain free-market economists will then join the ranks of the perpetual motion advocates and start to compare notes.

This post powered by Britain's Science Museum

Friday, July 23, 2004

Nader on the Koch

Ralph Nader has been taking a beating lately for ignorantly (or purposely) taking in Republican deep money. The lead group in this effort apparently is Citizens for a Sound Economy a group founded by the Koch brothers and funded heavily by their oil refinery and energy conglomerate namesake Koch Industries. Cursor has a link to the full story.

Prediction is Prologue

Why 2004 Will Be Remembered as the Year World Oil Production Peaked
By Keith Miller, Member of the Council of Energy Advisors.

A fairly thorough accounting of past predictions on peak oil and history here.

As usual, this kind of story has to be balanced against the screaming headline:

Theories of dwindling oil reserves unfounded
By H. Sterling Burnett
The usual framing trifecta:

1. They were wrong before
The history of the petroleum industry is one of predictions of near-term depletion, followed by the discovery of new oil fields and the development of technologies for recovering additional supplies.

2. Market forces to forestall future problems
Over the next several decades the world likely will continue to see short-term spikes in the price of oil, but these will be caused by political instability and market interference -- not an irreversible decline in supply.

3. Look at how big the numbers are
Oil production from tar sands in Canada and South America would add 600 billion barrels to the world's supply, and rocks found in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming alone contain 1,500 billion barrels of oil. Worldwide, the oil-shale reserves could be as large as 14,000 billion barrels -- more than 500 years of oil supply at year 2000 production rates.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Smalley Presentation on Energy

A tape of one of Richard Smalley's energy keynote speeches presented at Columbia University late last year.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

What Are They Building in There?

The parallels between Cheney's Secret Energy Task Force meetings and the Reagan-era Secret Government meetings are intriguing.
During the Reagan administration, then-Rep. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who was chief executive of the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co., were key players in a secret program to set aside the legal lines of succession and install a new president in a catastrophe, The Atlantic Monthly reported this month.

(March 2004)
Notice the same players, the same penchant for secrecy, etc. Now, if history has any bearing on this, it will be another 15 years before the public has any idea what actually went on inside Cheney's bunker.

I heard he was up on the
Roof last night
Signaling with a flashlight
And what's that tune he's
Always whistling...
What's he building in there?
What's he building in there?

We have a right to know...
Tom Waits (1999)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Object D'errick

From The End of Cheap Oil website:

This is so alien-looking that I was almost convinced that somebody Photoshopped it.

MP Complex

Remember the Military-Industrial Complex?

Well, now we have here the Military-Petroleum Complex.

In 1975, Henry Kissinger signed an agreement that requires the U.S. to guarantee the flow of oil to Israel during times of crisis.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Farad Day

The lowly capacitor has recently made some inroads as a potential replacement for rechargeable electrochemical batteries. What's the potential? Oh..about 5 Volts1. EE Times has the scoop on a new Japanese venture ostensibly trying to commercialize the scheme. And some fracture English here from the inventor of what he calls a capacitor system.

Two things make this intriguing as a technology. One, the huge reduction in size providing a much better energy density, apparently comparable to lithium-ion batteries. Secondly, the speedy recharging makes it a convenient solution (remember this is only an energy storage vehicle).

The cost-driving kicker in the system's ultimate potential may lie in the usual suspect. The U.S. military is actively pursuing the "ultracapacitors" as a discharge medium to achieve a pulsed electromagnetic gun to shoot things out of the sky. A lightning bolt in a can, so to speak.

As a youngster, I distinctly remember being taught that high voltage 1-Farad capacitors could take up the size of a room. As with many of these technologies, child-like optimism for peaceful uses goes hand-in-hand with the art of weaponizing.


Saturday, July 17, 2004


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 95: July 14, 2004
Department of Energy NanoSummit


"Nanoscience will make the physical sciences as sexy as the life sciences were in the last ten years," Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) predicted at a Department of Energy NanoSummit held on June 23-24. Wamp was one of the senior-level speakers at this two-day meeting in Washington, D.C. that included Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger.

There were 340 participants registered for this meeting that Secretary Abraham said he hoped would become an annual event. In his keynote address, Abraham explained the rationale for the meeting: "As policymakers look at the range of issues surrounding nanotechnology, we need the thoughtful contributions we can only get from brainstorming sessions like this one. Major questions such as the ethical and safety implications of advanced nanoscience research and the proper role of government in this research should beexamined by groups such as this on a regular basis if we are to see this technology flourish." Abraham discusssed nanotechnology's potential applications, stressing the importance of basic research and the future role that six DOE nanoscience centers will play in building "intellectual capital." These labs at Oak Ridge, Berkeley, Sandia, Los Alamos, Argonne and Brookhaven will open between September 2006 and early 2008. Abraham added, "Given the potential of nanotechnology, we must not settle for second best in the race to transform the vision of this science into a reality. So I hope that when young researchers here and around the world think about working in this field, they will say to themselves, 'The place to be is at one of America's nanoscience centers.'" He concluded, "I can't think of a challenge that is more important or more exciting than that of bringing the fruits of nanoscience to bear on the profound energy and security challenges that face this nation and the world."

Wamp's remarks centered on funding. He praised Rep. David Hobson (R-OH), chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, for resisting budgetary pressures from the Yucca Mountain and water development projects, funding DOE science accounts in the FY 2005 bill over the administration's request (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/080.html.) Wamp was bullish on the impact that nanotechnology spending would have on physical science funding, saying that it "will come right back up to where it needs to be." He called it "penny-wise and pound-foolish" not to invest the comparative "nickels and dimes" that S&T funding requires. Wamp said that he was "very frustrated" that Congress was not doing very much because of this fall's election. He criticized the Office of Management and Budget, telling meeting participants that "we've got to fight hard for these critical investments." Wamp urged that researchers push Congress to make these investments.

Technology's role in international competitiveness was the central focus of Marburger's speech. He noted that more nations can compete with the United States in science and technology endeavors since less capital is required. It is "easier to get in," he said, citing China and Indiana. The federal government necessarily must fund long term, high risk research he said, since industry is focused on short term results. The national labs can do the research that private laboratories, such as Bell Labs, once did, he added. Marburger urged that credit be given to the massive investment in the federal government makes in research, while acknowledging that a large proportion of this research is for defense.

A large part of the June 23 meeting was devoted to specific applications of nanoscience to problems such as the hydrogen economy, national security, solid state lighting, and global energy needs, as well as the ethical, social, and environmental considerations of nanoscience. Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT (and chair of AIP's Governing Board) and Scott Jorgensen of General Motors discussed the range of technological challenges reviewed in a 175-page hydrogen energy report issued last year (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2003/109.html.) One of the major points in their presentations was the importance of basic research to achieve technological breakthroughs. Small, incremental developments will not suffice, they warned. Dresselhaus said she was "feeling rather positive" about what DOE was doing.

Patricia Dehmer, who is Associate Director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences at DOE, and Clayton Teague, Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (http://www.nano.gov/html/about/nnco.html), described some of the provocative societal issues associated with nanotechnology. Hoping to reduce the kind of public anxiety that has arisen over genetically modified organisms and nuclear energy, they discussed the work that is being funded to deal with potential concerns about nanotechnology.

Two sessions discussed future global energy needs, or what Rick Smalley of Rice University called "The Terawatt Challenge." Smalley urged that energy be made the focus of the five nanoscience centers, with an annual $200 million program in energy research to attract the best scientists in DOE and universities.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org http://www.aip.org/gov
(301) 209-3094

Friday, July 16, 2004

Bunking Jack Flash

The following chart purported to show that Bush's popularity inversely tracks gas prices.

Never mind that the tracking of the 2 sets of data is a bit chaotic, the idea of plotting a percentage (i.e. popularity) which is restricted to a number between 0 and 100 against a free-ranging price just doesn't cut it. Not being tied to a sensible normalization and calibration also means that the "statistician" can get creative.

Nevertheless, some truth lies within the basic assertion. For example, no one doubts that the historical unpopularity of presidents can also be tied to recessions that happen to occur during their term in office. Then, you look at this bit of reportage from CNN/Money:
In the past 30 years there has never been a significant move higher in energy prices that has not been followed by recession.

More on the "proof of correlation" here: It's the gas price stupid!

Hey, for all I know this might actually be a real correlation, but don't be disrespecting the data.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Oil Canvas

Courtesy of cursor:

It appears to be a chalk drawing on closer inspection.

Oil Man

UPDATE: From the artist himself,
Thanks for displaying and linking to the Oil Man painting. FYI, it is a large oil painting, not a chalk drawing.

Gene Gould

Chewing up the Greenery

Well written post by Pollard, but don't read this unless you aren't concerned about getting depressed.


UPDATE: Off by one day on the link.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Run For Your Lives

I haven't heard a reference to the California Giant Kelp for ages, probably since I was in grade school. Back then, the Ripley's Believe It or Not incredibility behind The Kelp had to with its rapid growth. Up to TWO FEET per day. Believe it. Or not. I don't know what I thought back then, but I can see how it can occur. The misguided limitless energy enthusiasts in the referenced link, however, think that fast growth will lead to the possibility of synthetic gas energy cultivated from the monstrous stalks.

Basically, seaweed contains mostly water and the salt water growth medium by itself can support huge structures which have nearly the same density. Otherwise known as the neutral buoyancy effect from Physics 101. We can all think of lots of first hand evidence to support the low organic mass of seaweed. On hot summer days, huge mossy algae blooms of several feet in diameter can seemingly spontaneously appear. Lakeshore lot owners who dredge their shorelines for coontail into huge piles, will see that pile shrink to a fraction of its original size after drying in the sun for a few days. Bottomline, anything that grows that rapidly can't have a lot of meat to it, so to speak.

It would be great if kelp could provide a renewable energy source, but like the personal jet-packs, giant giberrellin pumpkins, and other Popular Science ideas of our youth, innovative ideas are often tantalizingly close but ultimately out of reach of practicality.

UPDATE: Historical account of experimental kelp farming. Apparently, just scratching the surface and you run into problems with the concept.

Monday, July 12, 2004


Mark your calendars for Tuesday, July 13 on PBS, a POV documentary called Thirst on the struggle for privatization of water. The filmmakers showcase some very crazy schemes to supply water to arid regions. Although water is a renewable resource, privatization of water is dangerous in that monopolistic practices have severe repercussions, primarily due to the real-estate and right-of-way control of water pipelines.

Anybody remember Chinatown?


My Wish for an October Surprise

Seeing the Forest provides some possibilities on a Republican October surprise prior to the election. I added the following to the STF comments section.

My take:
I think the Democrats should plan an analogous October surprise, but along the lines of something REALLY positive. For whatever temporary good it will do, finding a terrorist or thwarting a terrorist attack won't solve long-term problems.

I know that depending on ideas and technology is not a sure-shot strategy, but if we could have Democratic support for one breakthrough to make the U.S. less energy dependent, that would clearly set Kerry apart. In my mind, nothing less than an energy-independence strategy will have the necessary long-term positive effects to quell terrorism. It basically removes the support legs that oil-supported terrorists depend on. They become the equivalent of the toothless bully.

By the way, the Bush administration has been very inept at creating interest in positive ideas. The "best" that they have come up with for equivalent moon-landing-inspired goals have been (1) manned exploration of Mars and (2) hydrogen research. The first is laughable and the second a little misguided; and both play into the pockets of the oil industry and the hands of the terrorists.

Saturday, July 10, 2004


How can you get good information on where the next best energy source will come from? Perhaps from the high-tech and conglomerate energy companies themselves? But these companies are a bit tight-lipped, and quite understandably so. Fortunately, companies need specialized scientists and engineers once they come up with any innovation or expected breakthrough.

So I thought to look at Monster.com to find current job prospects.

Here are the results:
JobNumber of Job Postings
"Exploration Geologist"1
"Petroleum Engineer"8
"Environmental Engineer"162

Things look pretty bleak for new blood in the oil industry. The one geologist opening is from a company called Piper-Morgan Associates, looking for people to work the Gulf offshore.

I write this as Art Bell is interviewing self-proclaimed prophet and Nostradamus expert John Hogue. Hogue believes the war is about oil and predicts Bush will be reelected. A caller challenges that the war is not about oil, since our prices at the pump haven't changed. Art says, to the caller, aren't you taking a short term outlook. Caller argues that Hogue's prophecy is bunk (I couldn't hear too well as they were yelling over each other).
Well, what does the Monster say?
JobNumber of Job Postings

Now here's the strange part. All but two of these 23 "prophet" postings were for applicants with experience with a certain brand of enterprise database software. Another one was for a brand of audio recording system. The last one was from Piper-Morgan Associates with the following qualifications:
  Familiarity with economics modeling tools 

(e.g. TERAS, Prophet, Excel)

As Carson would say, I kid you not.

Electricity Equivalence

This quote "Producing the hydrogen equivalent in energy to the oil now used in U.S. transport would require 10 trillion kilowatt hours of electric energy; we would have to triple our electric generation capacity." is interesting. Note that they specifically say it pertains directly to transport.

I have to assume that the number quoted is per year:
10 trillion kw-hours/year = 10x1012 kw-hours/year

Then if we do the sanity check against U.S. oil consumption:
20 million barrels/day * 162 liters/barrel * 33 million joules/liter * (kw-hour / 3.6 million joules) * 365 days/year = 11x1012 kw-hours/year

Based on the near equivalence of the two numbers, I think they assume that all the oil imported is used for transportation purposes. Bottom line, the number is exaggerated a bit, but the subtext is that converting to a different source of energy will take some doing.

From the same site this quote:
The automakers (I work for one) spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing electric vehicles. We did not succeed. The basic problem is this: They cost too much, they take too long to charge, and they don't go far enough on a charge. I can solve any one of the three problems, but not all three ...

Very similar to the engineering saying "We can make the product (1) faster, (2) cheaper, (3) better .. pick any 2". Unfortunately, oil is the one product that (used to) meet all three criteria.
  1. Oil is fast to market
  2. Oil is cheap
  3. Oil is better than any alternative in energy density and convenience

Thursday, July 08, 2004


From a table of oil reserves by country, the following is a poor-man's histogram of the number of countries which hit Peak Oil production in any given year (the circles indicate predicted dates). What is most evident to the layman from this data is how we are running out of countries with plentiful reserve. Also interesting was the spike around 1970 (including USA and foreshadowing the oil scare of the 70's) and the quickening pace in the last few years.

2009 o
2008 oo
2006 o
2005 oo
2004 #
2003 ####
2002 #
2001 ###
2000 ##
1999 ###
1998 ####
1997 ##
1996 #
1995 ##
1993 #
1992 #
1991 ##
1989 ##
1988 ##
1987 #
1986 ##
1983 ##
1982 #
1981 #
1978 ###
1977 #
1976 #
1974 #
1973 ##
1971 #
1970 ####

Only 2 countries reached Peak Oil production prior to 1970, and barring any new countries being added to the list, only 5 countries have Peak Oil production extending beyond 2010.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


The reason to switch from paper (stocks, bonds, etc) to physical commodities, according to investor Jim Rogers:
His central argument is that a new bull market has started that will match the fireworks seen in the dotcom-fuelled stock markets of the late 90s. This time, though, the bull market will be in commodities not shares. Rogers' reasoning is straightforward: raw materials are running out.

"There has been no great oil discovery in the past 35 years," he argues. "The North Sea has peaked. Alaska is in decline. Mexico is in decline. All these great oilfields are in decline. To anybody who thinks I am lying about this, I would ask: where is the oil going to come from?

Article here

His basic premise is that why should we be surprised by huge fluctuations in the price of oil given the order of magnitude changes in price we have seen in other products. For example, products as varied as tech stocks and sugar have gone though severe adjustments in the past (sugar went from $0.014/lb to $0.66/lb in the span of six years starting in the late 1960's). What makes oil any different than the typical commodity product? And given the amount of speculation involved, what makes it any different than a tech stock?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


A couple of movies with prescient quotes. I just can't recall seeing Three Days of the Condor (1975), with Redford playing Joe Turner, an administrative spook, but these bits sound intriguing:
Turner: What does Operations care about a bunch of damn books? A book in Dutch. A book out of Venezuela. Mystery stories in Arabic.
Atwood: Wait!
Turner: What the hell is so important about...
He stops as he sees the connection
Turner: Oil fields. Oil. That's it, isn't it? This whole damn thing was about oil! Wasn't it? Wasn't it?
Atwood: Yes, it was.


Higgins: It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Turner: Ask them?
Higgins: Not now - then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!

And this stream-of-consciousness quote from Good Will Hunting (1997), with Damon as the budding genius Will Hunting:
Will: Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll give it a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never had a problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', Send in the marines to secure the area 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number was called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some guy from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile my buddy from Southie realizes the only reason he was over there was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the skirmish to scare up oil prices so they could turn a quick buck. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And naturally they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorroids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they'r servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. Why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Not taken by storm

Quite painfully, I finished reading the book Taken by Storm: The Trouble Science , Policy and Politics of Global Warming by Dr.Christopher Essex (professor of applied mathematics) and Dr.Ross McKitrick (professor of economics). I wish I could debate the theory advanced by the book in terms of its cogent, self-contained hypotheses. However, the tome contains so many comical passages, non-sequitors, and random blubbering explanations it basically collapses into a junk science parody. The reason I started to read this, as a matter of fact, was that I wanted to see how a couple of supposed credentialled researchers would lay out a counter-theory to prevailing wisdom. I really do understand how global warming can get complicated as a theory and in practice (I am currently working on an unrelated computational fluid dynamics visualization at work), so I thought having two (2) professors fact-checking each other could provide a reasoned premise and follow-up discussion.

In other words, I wanted to see how the smartest people from the other (i.e. non-consensus) side think. Unfortunately, no dice; I will have to keep searching for serious refutations.

The preface starts out badly:
We have no idea when Earth Day is, nor do we care, as long as the malls stay open.

I can only balance this with a current favorite quote:
G.Montbiot: Given a choice between a new set of matching tableware and the survival of humanity, I suspect that most people would choose the tableware.

Technically, the duo's arguments arise out of their potentially healthy skepticism in computational methods applied to complex problems. A quote that lays out their initial premise:
In a normal computer calculation in other fields, one aspires to make the computational grid smaller than all important structures and process -- that is essential to doing a numerical computer calculation from a theory.

They also criticize the idea of parameterization in global warming models, as if it were not allowed in some grand idealized theory:

There is no precise physical theory behind these emperical (sic) rules, just some meteorological wisdom and observation.

At this point, a good physicist trying to debunk such shortcomings would lay out thermodynamics or statistical mechanical arguments to solving problems. And perhaps use observations and trends to find support. Instead, they follow a pattern of pompous pronouncements with Initial Caps references, whereby as Roy Edroso explains, "the concept is so scientific it rates Initial Caps". Framing also plays a big role; they repeatedly use Disney references in condescending terms:
The thunderstorm outside is a bit like one of Mickey's missing fingers.

But all their subliminal rhetorical devices do not work when faced with such howlers as this:
Whether looking at air or water quality, most things were in better shape in 1990 than in 1970 in an absolute sense. There was no crisis, according to real, directly measured environmental quality numbers.
What was a world leader to do, faced with a public looking for bold leadership to fix an environmental "crisis", just when the environment appeared to be getting better on its own? Only in politics can this be a dilemma.

As if they did not recall that Earth Day was in 1970, in the decade that the EPA started enforcing quality regulations. Oh, I forgot, they cared more about the malls staying open.

The following is a categorized sampling of quotes from the book:

When was the last time you saw a thermometer, other than a medical one, that could measure more closely than 1oC?.

Fahrenheit, anyone?

Tin-hat territory:
Some, however, cannot avoid being drawn into the debate. Most interest has been focused on the big oil and gas firms like Shell, Suncor and British Petroleum.
One firm that has conspicuously decided to not pay protection money is Exxon.

Not to mention that those other companies have a more European sensibility, in tune to their citizens concerns.

For some of these, we can show that there is a rule, even though we cannot figure out how to get one to write down.

Everyone agrees that some kind of averaging may help, but this idea is in itself not very helpful, even though unchaperoned averaging has been going on in the back allies (sic) for decades.

A Matlab reference:
We have filled the table in using an important mathematics program called Matlab to help the flow of discussion, but we recommend that you actually try it yourself.

I love how the word "important" is inserted in the strategic Matlab-marketing location (which is howlingly familiar to those doing software and computational engineering research).

This is called truncation, and it produces truncation errors. In many cases, if you know what you're doing, it doesn't present great difficulties. But it can be a problem when small things can have big effects.

Straw-man argument:
You can't calculate turbulent fluid motions in a 1-D model. The fluid would go up, but it could not go down again without passing through itself.

After all, straw-men are one-dimensional people.

A statistic is lower on the pecking order than a physical variable because it doesn't fit into any physical theories or necessarily have any significance at all. When a statistic is formalized, it is elevated to the status of an "index".

Data quality rules say T-Rex must be terminated!

T-Rex is the Duo's pet name for average global temperature. They clearly show a deep misunderstanding of what temperature really means.

Embarrassment part 2:
A laser pointer is a good example. Its temperature is in the tens of millions of degrees.
No. Temperature is not energy.

see Tim Lambert's Deltoid blog for more discussion on the incomprehensibility of the duo's misunderstanding of the nature of temperature.

The very fact that Figure 4.1 reports a result per unit time (months in this case) rules out the possibility that it measures anything in equilibrium, and hence that it is a graph of something that has a single temperature.

Scientists, please stop work immediately! It is pointless to proceed, as we are not in equilibrium. All of our theories are doomed ... doomed, I say.
We are not making any judgement (sic) about whether the line or the hockey stick is a more reliable picture of the history of T-Rex. Let specialists in the field debate that if they like.

Good plan, hint, hint. They also resurrect the straw-man by using as an overlay, Figure 5.7, of, get this, real domestic product on top of inferred global temperature (the hockey stick graph). Any idiot will see that this of course does not prove anything.

But you can see why non-experts get the wrong ideas by using the wrong words and metaphors.

After a while, I started to purely lose interest due to the incompetence of it all. Witness:
How could that be? Easy. We can have the local weather move toward different temperatures with changes that cancel each other out in the sum of the temperatures that people make before they divide by the number of temperatures measured.
... Huh?

Apparently a 200 page book is not enough to get all their thoughts out:
As a simple example, we can revisit the question of whether carbon dioxide must actually cause warming at the surface, the way the ambient heat prejudice demands. (You can find more about it in a paper by Chris.6)

Dr. Chris's paper must reveal the arguments that they cannot articulate in pages and pages of prose.

In conclusion, they write:
In every other area of society, when a task requires adjudication -- that is, a judgement (sic) as to the meaning of the available data by someone in a position of authority -- no one would think of using a fact-finding model. Instead we turn to one in which contrasting opinions are deliberately sought out and given a full and fair hearing.

So, there we have it layed out -- their actual agenda. In essence, they do not believe that science should be based on the best theory that matches actual observations. Instead they want the other side to be heard, no matter what the quality of exposition. Based on their own arguments, they probably want astrophysics as a field of research to be eliminated:
Climate observations are not controlled experiments -- and treating them as if they are has caused plenty of confusion.

My conclusion: If this were a PhD thesis (and not a lark as it appears to be written), the book would get rejected outright; if for nothing else than that no graph shown has any units described on the vertical axis. After all, those are the arcane rules of academia.

Saturday, July 03, 2004


More circumstantial evidence on the the ulterior motivation:
Netanyahu says Iraq-Israel oil line will open in near future

Some discussion of the motivational factors online here. Apparently, several pipelines may be reopened or created; for example, through Turkey, which had its flow turned back on.

And the economic roller coaster ride continues:
Oil prices surge on output fears

As someone who was commenting on supply/demand for silver said, as real supply limitations starts bumping into demand, significant price fluctuations will appear spontaneously. At least that's what has been happening to the price of silver recently (see prior post).

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Sliver of Silver

Add silver (Ag) to the list of our dwindling resources. Instructive economic forecasts from PeakOil.com:

Comparing the silver outlook to peak oil or peak helium (He), indicates probably similar price fluctuations due to supply/demand; yet silver does have the significant property that it can be recycled. The other two float away into the ozone, never to be heard from again.