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Friday, December 31, 2004

Follow the Energy

The old advice "follow the money" has given way to the new phrase "follow the energy".

At Bouphonia, Philalethes has some words of wisdom on the growth of wind farms. I suppose we should never take for granted that wind farm investments would be solely the result of capitalism and risk taking ventures.

The bottom line is that interested parties need to watch whether the wind industry achieves early monopoly status through power-broker government connections.

And because the harnessing of wind energy requires prime real estate we need to also "follow the land".

Watch your back (yard space)!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bossie the Cow

In comparison to the recently released oil shale report, the 2004 International Energy Outlook crafted by the DOE is, as the poster Smiley said to the Peak Oil board, wildly optimistic.

The roots of the optimism rest in Appendix D of the report. No signs of oil depletion on the horizon, according to the charts and tables. Somebody had to have tabulated the projection. How did this happen?

(fade to a D.C. back-room, preparing for next year's report)

Boss: I want these numbers to match needed production values of over 120 Million barrels of oil per day by the year 2025.

Analyst: But boss, I have no basis to make any trends. None of the numbers make sense, and all the countries on the list appear to make up stuff.

Boss: Don't worry about it. Just ramp up the numbers in the cases we have the most confidence in and have been historically big producers. All you have to do is make sure that the endpoints match and all the intermediate points sum correctly.

Analyst: Thanks for the advice. For a minute there, I thought I would have to do some real work.

Boss: By the way, when you are done with that, I have another job for you.

Analyst: What up?

Boss: Estimate the number of fatalities for the south Asia earthquake.

Analyst: Okie-Dokie! That one's easy. I'll just pull it out of my butt.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

More Variations

He's hiding something from
The rest of us... He's all
To himself... I think I know
-- Tom Waits

I understand more and more each day how double-speak within an echo chamber works. From World O'Crap, these vaguely familiar pontifications from Hewitt's new book, "Blog: Understanding the Information Transformation That's Changing Your World." 1
A sure sign of something to hide is the hiding of something. -- Hugh Hewitt (apparently)

Which is remarkably similar to what Bush pronounced at one point during his first term:
When you act like you're hiding something,
it means you've got something to hide.
-- G.W. Bush (paraphrased)

But with this headline: Castro Announces Crude Oil Discovery -- and the measly amount reported, 100 million barrels, it can get you thinking.

What is Fidel trying to hide? And when is the USA going to invade?

Q: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?
A: Tree? What tree? And why do you hate America?

1 The Onion has a long running similarly subtitled feature called "StatSHOT: A look at the numbers that shape your world". Ever wonder if Hewitt and even more likely, Lileks, are really performance artists that are acting like wingnuts; all the while, providing an obscure cookie crumb trail of clues to indicate their true mindset?
Nahh! -- Steve Martin

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Si Senor

From the previous post, a Deutsch Bank Research report referenced the potential of (apparently) using raw silicon as an energy storage mechanism. From the context, the authors clearly did not intend that the silicon be used in any conventional sense, ala photovoltaic energy production.

In fact after reading through the online report entitled "Silicon as an intermediary between renewable energy and hydrogen", by chemistry Prof. Dr. Norbert Auner Institute of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, you get the impression that the author has not proposed anything truly revolutionary. Essentially, his idea postulates the notion that pure silicon is highly reactive under certain conditions. We can meet these conditions if the silicon is amorphously particulated. This is a big duh to most semiconductor engineers. Pure crystalline silicon is covalently bonded and will form only an almost instantaneous surface oxide layer upon exposure to air. After that, much like aluminum, the tough oxide layer prevents any further reactivity.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe key is to keep the silicon amorphous with lots of surface area; this will break many of the covalent bonds and allow the dangling surface bonds to react with the outside world. Voila, you get reactivity as shown to the right. In principle, not much different than using magnesium in a flashbulb to generate an uncontrolled reaction with oxygen in the air.

So this is basically logical reasoning. The author figures that much of the earth is sand, and if we can use the vast solar energy in sandy, desert areas, we should be able to store much of the energy in silicon. The main thrust of future research would involve converting the silicon dioxide ("sand") into the raw elemental amorphous powdered form.

The energy content of the silicon is 9 kWh/kg. Gasoline is 12.7 kWh/kg. Not bad, but we still have to get there (industrialized process, what to do with waste SiO2, etc).

Sand, sand everywhere, but not a grain to energize. From Hollywood, we see that the remake of The Flight of the Phoenix desert saga is now in theaters; maybe in another 40 years, when the 2nd remake comes along, we'll get a new plot-line.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


Two PDF reports addressing oil depletion concerns have recently come out of hiding from under their bureaucratic sponsorship. One from the commercial Deutsche Bank Research in Germany (Energy prospects after the petroleum age) and the other from the US governmental DOE (Strategic Significance of America s Oil Shale Resource: Volume I - Assessment of Strategic Issues).

Both articles acknowledge the dismal future of conventional oil reserves, with comprehensive summaries of the current state-of-the-art in both historical data and analytical predictions. However they lack in providing any good fundamental basis for the potential solutions they lay forth. Although they don't go anywhere near in offering up a silver bullet, the casual reader should know where they come up short. Both make the claim for oil shale and tar sands, with the DOE a bit more enthusiastic on this approach (interestingly supplying additional reviewer comments on positive aspects of shale). The bank study goes further and makes a concise claim that silicon (as in sand) has promise for collecting solar energy, although not via the conventional photovoltaic methods.

Unfortunately, the arguments they raise don't even consider the metric of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for oil shale. Currently hovering around 1.3 (with some estimates below 1), oil shale does not hold a candle to the value of 30 for conventional petroleum. Given the heavily reviewed nature of the DOE report, I can't find any reason for the omission of this particular metric, other than for political purposes.

For educational purposes alone, someone at leadership levels has to point out what EROEI means. Unless the powers that be start putting this in intuitive terms, we will continue to stare through rose-tinted glasses. In my opinion, all it really takes is for us to make an analogy with worker productivity.

Say that EROEI equates somewhat to worker productivity. Petroleum EROEI is like the businessman that can get the productivity of 30 workers out of a single individual investment. On the other hand, oil shale represents getting another half a head for each worker invested. Not quite the bang for the buck most business have become accustomed to.

On the bright side, the country of Estonia gets a mention as an oil share technology partner for the USA, based primarily on their experience in unconventional shale and tar processing techniques. ... wait a minute ... Estonia? Now, that bodes well for our current predicament.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

You Only Die Twice

Quick, get the toilet plunger, as A Midwinter Night's Mare demonstrates we're in some deep doo-doo.

Let's rewind; ~DS~ reminds us that oil in part derives from:
  • cyano-bacteria
  • putrefied bacterial mats
... once living things, then expired, compressed, only to be yanked out of the ground, and then, as a final solution, cremated by primates.

When all is said and done, modern society will, just like algae, leave artifacts, standing edifices, much like the behemoth abandoned Superconducting Super Collider, here.

Some day we will get dug up out of the ground, our rusted parts reused/recycled for a final time.

So what do we do when we go? maybe a message:
  1. A floater left with pleasure in the executive washroom
  2. Leave the plunger stuck in place (ow!ow!ow!ow!owee!)

Reversal of Fortune

An oil industry trade rag OilWorld.com has flipped from presenting editorials such as this in March:
There are many reasons why the world should begin the switch away from fossil fuels toward alternatives. The certainty of impending shortage is not one of them.

to this in December:
Market edges closer to breaking points
George S. Littell, Partner, Groppe, Long and Littell, Houston
When I went to work for Mobil Oil in 1966, M. King Hubbert's prediction that Lower 48 crude oil production would peak in 1970 was controversial. Debate over the timing of the peak in global oil production can be taken as an indicator that it is getting close. Two years ago, Iraq was the emerging oil power, and the timing of the peak appeared to be between 2007 and 2010. Now that Iraq is a war zone, 2005 is a better bet, and it may have been 2004.

Residential and commercial users of natural gas are dependent upon storage in the heating season. If there is a contest between filling storage in the summer and generating electricity, the gas will end up in storage. The problems in California are almost certain to be repeated on a national scale. The only question is timing.

Other peoples' misconceptions are the problem of the service industry. The longer it takes to change them, the more spectacular the reversal is likely to be. (emphasis mine)

Bets: hedged.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
1. Most of the new oil dipsticks on recently manufactured cars are electronic sensors only accessible to the vehicle's computer.

How do you know when you run out of oil if the computer malfunctions?

2. Many of the election results are tabulated nowadays by computerized voting machines.

How do you know if an election was stolen?

3. All estimates of the world's petroleum reserves are held in proprietary databases by powerful oil interests.

How do we know when we go empty?

"Pay no attention to Caeser. Caeser doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

Monday, December 20, 2004

High Anxiety

Orcinus starts the trail:
Lifton then goes on to examine these traits not only in the context of the public reaction but in that of American leadership, Bush particularly. He limns, quite correctly, the following in Bush:

-- Anxiety and belligerence, noting that "when leaders respond belligerently, they may tap the potential of their people for amorphous rage."

And so anxiety manifests itself:
Dear Chairman Tauzin:

We write to express our support for the provision in the House version of H. R. 4, the Energy Policy Act of 2002, to allow oil and gas exploration in 2000 acres of the coastal plain of the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We think that the possibility that oil supplies from the Persian Gulf states could be disrupted because of U.S. military intervention in Iraq makes the case for developing new domestic petroleum supplies urgent and compelling, although we recognize that it will take several years for production to begin in ANWR. The Congress should exercise more foresight in this regard than President Clinton did in 1995 when he vetoed similar legislation to open the coastal plain to exploration.



Myron Ebell
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Grover Norquist
Americans for Tax Reform


Alan Caruba
National Anxiety Center

It’s not that there aren’t huge amounts of natural gas. The problem is that access to it has been effectively blocked. "We’re not running out of natural gas, and we’re not running out of places to look for natural gas," says Keith Rattie, president of Questar, an energy developer. "However, we are running out of places we are allowed to look for gas."

So, what else can we do but alert psychologists that anxiety as a diagnosis needs some rethinking. Stupidity, naivete, and kool-aid addiction may fit the bill better. As an untapped resource, the supply looks endless.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Uber spiral

Michael Ruppert brings up an interesting path that civilization might take:
But all things are not equal. Warfare, whether economic or military, destroys production capacity. It either blows up infrastructure, keeps fields from being developed, or robs nations and economies with capital and expertise of the ability to go out and even develop the few small fields remaining to be found.

Once major blackouts start hitting; once the US economy tanks and millions become unemployed; once banks and pension funds fail and the housing market collapses, a cycle will have begun which can only compound itself - thus preventing what would be the "ordinary" development of remaining fields. Human civilization may self-destruct before declining oil would have made it necessary.
Which brings up an interesting corollary. What happens to energy research when energy itself gets harder to obtain? If you think that the average citizen gets used to all the conveniences of cheap energy, many engineers and scientists depend on it in spades for doing their job. The issue that future administrations will have to consider, no matter how unpleasant, relates to how best to ration energy expenditures amongst users. It can be summed up rather simply as "To find energy, you have to use energy".

If the energy depletion remains a gradual process, we have a chance. Not everything is quick. I ran across an essayist who compared the US's economic policy to history's slowest unraveling Ponzi scheme. Above all, we don't want our energy predicament to go the way of a game of 3 card Monte.

Give Me Turkee

When this country has to start scraping from the bottom of the barrel to provide energy, it will start to look like this. I suppose once you get over the novelty of burning turkey droppings to generate electricity, the banality of the numbers sets in. The investors give this data out:
  1. 700,000 tons of dung per year
  2. 55 megawatts power generated
  3. 55,000 homes powered
  4. $202 million financing

Placing the data into more human terms, each household would end up burning 70 pounds of dung per day. The energy content of the stuff ends up less than 300 food calories per pound. This sounds really low, but when you consider that the turkey metabolizes much of its feed energy in the first place, its lucky we get anything out of the deal.

The unlucky amongst us get to live downwind from or travel past a turkey processing farm.

Friday, December 17, 2004


A schleptic is a skeptic that gets it totally, completely wrong. However, in the time since Thomas Gold exited the scene, the oil depletion debate has lacked the occasional bone-headed analysis that can keep one's sarcastic edge sharp. Fortunately, we can routinely find the schleptics in global warming circles. Tim Lambert at Deltoid recently picked up on an amusing "theory" volunteered by Louis Hissink of the Australian-based Lavoisier Society.

The scientific ineptitude that Hissink displays leads to a one of the great all-time rejoinders:
Louis ... I'm glad you admit that it gets colder at night. Do you think that is because less heat comes out of the earth at night, or something else?

Put on your Carnac hat, and you can almost guess what Louis' theory entails.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Smokin Mirrors

Eric Alterman explains how smoke-screens work:
The genius of this administration (and its allies), I keep saying over and over, is to launch so many wars on so many fronts that no one -not a newspaper and certainly not one little Weblog- can hope to keep track. Journalists committed to an “objective” rendering of events are loathe to paint too accurate a portrait of what’s actually happening lest too much reality provide evidence of dreaded “liberal bias” merely through the act of attempting to cut through the BS and tell a little bit of the truth.

And there is another way that you can appear to be objective, but if any framing doctrine leaks out, you're cooked:
How propaganda works: The Bush administration's effort to build a system Image Hosted by ImageShack.usfor defending the country against ballistic missile attackImage Hosted by ImageShack.us suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday when an interceptor missile failed to launch during the first flight test of the system in two years.

Ayoob from the Peak Oil message board shares a correspondence he/she had with Noam Chomsky.
Read your letter with interest, and glad to hear that you've found my work useful. I've been following the "peak oil" debate. That such a time will come is not in doubt. But the timing I think is very much in doubt, and also depends on the feasibility of technologies that are just under development, e.g., to extract oil from tar sands. It is also quite likely that if the peak is soon it may turn out to be a blessing, because alternatives to hydrocarbons will have to be found, which might deflect the threat of environmental catastrophe.

There are all sorts of possibilities that are very grim. Nuclear war, for example. There isn't a lot of point speculating about them, in my opinion. Rather, doing something about them -- not to save ourselves, because that won't work.

Noam Chomsky

At 05:23 PM 8/20/2004 -0700, you wrote:

Dr. Chomsky,

Thank you for your enlightening speeches and articles. I've been reading your work for about a year and a half, and agree with much of what you have to say. On your suggestion in a previous email, I picked up Hegemony and Survival and recently read it.

On the subject of peak oil, it has recently come to my attention that Ghawar may be in decline as of this month. Saudi Arabia's actual production of oil is down by 400K barrels/day from June to July of this year. I'm sure you're aware that Ghawar pumps 2 million barrels a day of Light Sweet Crude, which is crucial to the market for gasoline in the US. Ghawar may have as much as a 55% water cut right now, which means that for every barrel of liquid pumped up from Ghawar, 55% of that liquid is water which must be separated from the oil by means of a large globe. Pemex, the giant oil field that produces about a million barrels a day in Mexico, may also be in decline right now. Those are the two largest oil fields on the planet. Their decline is the decline of the earth's oil supply.

According to Matthew Simmons of Simmons & Co, and Colin Powell of ASPO, as well as the many news articles posted at www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/breakingnews, say that peak oil is imminent.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Monkeygrinding: A sustainable source of energy?

Monkeygrinder at the new Peak Energy blog got off the ground with some choice zingers:
...caramelized pools of ancient slime...

Humanity as a whole has all the brains of an algae bloom.

Taken without context of course. I'm a firm believer that one-liners will enable use to turn the corner on our energy crisis. Somewhere out there, the right quip will come along, cause the populace to turn their heads in unison and BINGO, the entire culture will get on the right track.

Like clowns from a clown car

Tis the season of meme-tide joy. On the occasion of another Kyoto summit, wingnut pundits have recently joined the climate change criticism chorus like clowns coming out of a clown car. The hackish writer Mark Steyn takes his usual smarmy view by casting global warming concerns as a Chewbacca defense:
  1. I have long underwear should it get cold.
  2. Who but a few penguins care about the abundance of krill should it get warm.
  3. Entire nationalities may eventually go extinct, why doesn't anyone care about that?

What a worthless pile of DNA. We know that Steyn does not really care about slowly growing societies in Japan and Italy, but he still tosses out the canard of greens being more concerned over the fate of the animal kingdom than any human population. It's really racism and ethnic purity concerns that irk him, last time I looked, (Ein)Steyn, you still belong to the same animal species as a Japanese sumo wrestler and Roberto Begnini. And as far as I know, the human species isn't going extinct anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Wanker 36,000

The business opportunist James Glassman who wrote the absurd Dow 36,000 tome a few years ago, and now runs the puerile Tek Centraal Stazione, thinks he understands global geological and atmospheric physics. The following has to rate as the most aggravating statement I have seen in the last year (commenting on Kyoto):
True. But don't wait for the Greens to lead. Instead, responsible advocates are building a consensus around the right approach, which concentrates not on destroying the economies of developing countries through limits to growth, but on improving those economies through the use of more energy -- the best leverage for boosting living standards. Wealth, after all, makes health. As a nation gets richer, it gets cleaner.

Is there a way to make money by "selling short" clearly untenable ideas?

Validation of Models

A TangoMan commented at RealClimate that "a model that is unvalidated doesnt deserve journal recognition". A worthwhile goal for sure, but scientists can't always validate every model they dream up. The nature of the validation process requires an experiment to prove or calibrate the model predictive power. Unfortunately, climate change requires a laboratory as big as the earth and a slippery slope called the future as the experimental timetable. If we do have to wait for the perfect situation to validate a model, and thus pronounce our models perfectly able to predict global warming, its basically too late. A classic catch-20 situation.

On the other hand, oil depletion models have interesting characteristics that make them more amenable to validation. The fact that they show inflection points (the "peak" in peak oil) and that local predictions have meaning (i.e. USA oil depletion) provide test points to oil depletion modelers that climatologists don't have. In essence, whenever a new global temperature data point arrives that does not match some observed trend, the climatologists end up having to spend all their energy defending their models. Something to be said for finite resource modeling, economists excepted.

Michael Crichton apparently abhors models, from a NY Time review:
He was particularly dismissive of the various computer models for climate change, saying, "You have to remember, I come from an experience where you can use a computer to make a photo-realistic dinosaur, and I know that isn't real."
That is a strangely incongruous statement. Granted that designing dinosaurs has no real benefit other than as entertainment, but ray tracing, fractals, diffraction, and refraction count as "real" things to me. And what finally occurred to me as a plot-hole that you could drive a car through in Crichton's book "State of Fear" was the premise that his evil eco-terrorist was able to control the climate ... yet he can't admit that industrial pollution occurring over the course of many years can have any deleterious effect.

How's this for being cursed with an unfortunate last name: One Peter Stott is a climatologist working out of England who collaborated in a Nature journal article titled “Humans May Double the Risk of Heat Waves”. The bad Stott is Professor Emeritus Philip Stott of England who works as a professional anti-environmentalist and climate change opponent in his EnviroSpin blog.

What's up with that? Curiosity got the best of me, and I tried tracking down if there was some relationship between the two Stott's but I could not find anything. If in fact some sort of adversarial kinship existed between the two, it would make for a great documentary. I would title it "Stott Affair", an investigation into the mental battles waged between scientists good and bad.

Monday, December 13, 2004

More on Crichton

Digby sez:

Lobotomized Castrati
This really is reaching crisis proportions. In order to appease the mouthbreathing neanderthals who insist that science is just another "opinion", the L.C. are actually disseminating total bullshit to the public and calling it fact.

This is a problem. The people who believe Republican science are the ones driving big cars and handling your food. It's dangerous.

and from the comment section:
Michael Crichton's book is a foretaste of one of next year's major media themes. They seem to have been given the assignment to destroy the enviornmental movement by the corporate oligarchy. You can almost always tell if something like this is the case if it appears in venues like Parade Magazine, which this did last week.

The Wall Street Journal too, peddles this fiction as fact.

It's entirely possible that Crichton only acts like a wingnut to gain media attention and readership. Gavin Schmidt from RealClimate.org reports that Crichton visited his lab to do the background research before he started writing. And get this one: The novel's "unhinged" antagonist goes by the name of Nick Drake. The Nick Drake?
I saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all
It's a pink moon
It's a pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon.

It's gotta be just too darn much fun to write best-sellers for a living.

Suburban Check Point

"Anybody who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." -- Kenneth Boulding

December 6, 2004:
"So here's how I call it. Interest rates shoot way up in the first half of 2005. A lot of people sitting on multiple thousands in credit card debt go bust. A lot of mortgage holders find themselves living in McHouses they can't keep paying for. End of housing bubble. Beginning of fire sale of US residential real estate (and other assets, including stock, SUVs, and signed limited edition Thomas Kinkade prints). Cratering of "consumer" demand. Impressive job loss. Ultimately, deflationary depression.
Everybody will blame George W.
All this and Peak Oil, too. " -- Jim Kunstler

We'll see.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Global Warming: the Numbers...

...apparently mean something to the EconoPundit. What they mean to me, I haven't a clue.

Clearly triggered by uncontained enthusiasm for the recent Michael Crichton novel State of Fear, the EconoPundit tries his hand at analyzing something outside his area of expertise (shades of Ross McKitrick). Inspired by the novel's pulp fictionality and moved to action by a seemingly authentic supplementary material "appendix", the E.P. wades through the Crichton bulletin board and finds a link to a global warming "database" site. Very pleased with himself on his ability to crack the password-protection of the evil climatology cabal's firewall, he proceeds to engage in expert number crunching. He starts by firing up the professional's choice, Microsoft Excel. The E.P. then proceeds to analyze with the insight gained through years of econometrics practice along with green-eyeshade determination.

After a brief flirtation with a scatter plot, the E.P. gets down to business and performs a time-series analysis on an arbitrary set of metrics.

Hmmm. Interesting that he chose a plot of "number of record high-temperature days per year". Questionable that he considered only data from the USA (what is the story about the drunk, missing car keys, and a lamp post?). Damning that he decides to use the sparser outlier data, max temperatures, of which only one occurs per year at each recording station.

In conclusion, the E.P. sez:
"So you tell me. Is this evidence of global warming? Proof fossil fuels are (via the greenhouse effect) changing the weather? What does this show? Anything?

UPDATE: And by the way: going to a database from link on a strange bulletin board, being surprised the huge database has loaded because you've (inadvertently) nullified the password screen by pressing "CANCEL," idly processing some of the data and being surprised at the resulting graph (which shows little sign of global warming) -- this is all just like stuff that happens in Crichton's novel!!!!!"

I would say this has all the earmarks of fine detective fiction styling, very capably emulating the simplistic plotlines of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and (my favorite) Encyclopedia Brown. Recommended for Ages 6 and Up.

I discovered EconoPundit's analysis via an InstaPundit link. My own conspiracy theory: Why else would this weak an analysis get linked other than due to nepotism amongst the Pundit clan?

Parasitic Symbiosis

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usEven though it took a while for the name of this thing to register in my mind, the main idea behind paraSITE shelters is pretty easy to grasp -- recycling waste heat through exterior ducts on buildings. I really don't know if it go anywhere, but in concept it is no different than biodiesel scavengers rummaging through restaurant alleys looking for discarded vegetable oil.

Friday, December 10, 2004


A new group blog featuring climate experts has debuted recently. Like monitoring average global temperature over the coming years, having a daily record of climate issues should help interested parties discern policy trends. I hope that RealClimate heats up in a good way.

Old codger Professor Emeritus Phillip Stott apparently hasn't vented his spleen yet on this turn of events. Busying himself devouring Michael Crichton's fictional screed against global warming, State of Fear, it will take some time for him to come down off his cloud. My curiosity piqued, this, from an Amazon.com review: "Basically, it's about a young lawyer working for an environmental philantropist. Things get rough when the lawyer discovers that his client had discovered some unscrupulous things about the nature of one of his beloved environment charities. Once our hero discovers that the charity is a front for the eco-terrorism group ELF, his life is in jeopardy."
This book is pure fiction, PERIOD. But it is good for Crichton to reveal his John Stosselesque, pro-business agenda and biases to his reading public. Those who grew up on the fantasy-based, hi tech Crichton of old will not likely have positive feedback on this book if they can even get through it. He has clearly taken the mantel of being the new prophet of neocon doom and hate mongering. And it isn't that I don't think he doesn't believe his right-wing contrarian posing. The problem is that he very much so does believe it, and thus this piece of political fantasy is a hectoring diatribe akin to a graduate seminar that lasts 30 minutes passed the scheduled end of the class period. His 25 point "message" about climate change, or global warming, as he misnames the phenomenon, at the end of the book is something that could have easily come from the corporate-funded Cato Institute, Frank Luntz or from the PR experts at Exxon Mobil. Of course, to get to his "message", one might actually have to slog through the 600 page tirade that gives junk science like "the greenhouse effect will actual benefit humanity" a bad name. A quick programming note, tonight's meeting of the greening earth society will be preempted by the newly reformed flat earth society.

Fact vs. Fiction. It's a matter of physics.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Mob Rule

From Velorution:
On a regular basis a disorganised mob hold our major cities to ransom. They appear in large numbers, completely choking the road to the point that it makes life difficult for even pedestrians, let alone public transport and emergency services vehicles. They apparently have no leader, no organisation and no motive, other than to make life miserable for other commuters. Rather than being punished for their selfishness, they get away with it time after time. Indeed the police spend considerable resources aiding this anarchic display of idiocy. Despite this, these dangerous fools are responsible for hundreds of deaths and untold numbers of injuries every year.

The name of this frightening phenomenon? Well, it’s called peak-hour traffic, and it takes over vast tracts of urban land every day. Except, of course, for a brief space in time and place on the last Friday of the month when Critical Mass opens a small window to sanity on the roads. Happy ninth birthday, Critical Mass.
Stephen Dixon, Coburg

Gasoline Boycott Day is January 20.
By asking everyone across America to boycott gasoline on Inauguration Day, we WILL deliver a very clear statement to all of our Representatives, Senators and officials in the White House... The message: We the people are in charge of this country and exercise control over its direction, not the greedy and powerful elite.

And May 18 is "Ride Your Bike To Work" Day.

Actually, if all these groups would deign to collude with one another, and choose the same day to hold their protest/boycott/celebration, it might raise more of a ripple. By doing these activities in unison, the day would attract higher participation by sampling different segments of the culture. The broader base of participants would include in-your-face protesters, silent protesters, and those in between. Throw in National Pie (In- The-Face) Day, which happens to be on January 23, and we could really achieve a spectacle.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Karl Rove running our energy policy?

Karl Rove, showing and reveling in his ignorance, produced a stupendous malapropism while being interviewed on the Barbara Walters show. He talked about his nerdiness as a kid, referring to his studies of dielectric materialism.

NASA Glenn Research Center provides the background
Do you remember Archie Bunker of All In the Family fame? One of Archie's many foibles was his frequent use of the wrong word--one that sounded similar to the word he should have chosen--something like "equal excess
legislation," "dielectric materialism," or "vagrant disregard for the law."

Perhaps Rove wants to show his folksiness by reading from the Norm Crosby handbook of regular guy humor. However, if in fact Rove had a hobby in electronics when he was younger, he could certainly have run into dielectric materials, which provide the salient property behind capacitors and which could potentially provide an alternate short term storage mechanism for energy to transport vehicles.

But then again the chump dropped out of college, and is probably just trying to reach the level of ignorance of his master/slave chimp, Bush.

Walters went on to say that Rove was the second most important man in the country. Yeah, second behind Cheney.

Update: From Atrios commenter Tom, Rove may have tripped over the actual line "Dialectical Materialism", a philosophical concept known in Marxist circles (I am out of my element here). Curiously, Rove claims to have written a school report on this subject in elemetary school! according to a vintage New Yorker profile by Nicholas Lemann.
According to Edgeworth, he once told Rove about the dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), and Rove called him a few days later and said -- this was memorable because Rove does not readily admit that somebody else knows something important that he didn't know already -- "You know that tripartite deal? Where'd you find that?" (Rove disputes this account, saying that he wrote an elementary school paper on dialectical materialism and so did not have to be enlightened by Edgeworth.)
Wow, The Boy Genius to the Power of 2.

I do not know what to make of this. To quote Rumsfeld, "it's the physics".

Biking Canadian Style

Click on the image below for the rest of the story:
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The State of Coal

Coal occupies a precarious place in the energy landscape, forever inviting criticism from every interested party. Environmental advocates point to pollution, natural devastation, and global warming. Businesses point to relatively poor return on investment and energy efficiency compared to oil and natural gas.
"Given that coal accounts for a whopping 50 percent of U.S. electricity production, it can't realistically be phased out overnight -- or even in the next half-century -- which means that transition technologies are critical."

And with the burning coal emitting "more than a third of U.S. CO2 emissions and nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions", one can see a decisive fork in the road looming ahead. The Grist article discusses IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle) coal power generating units as a potential, though not perfect, path forward. Compared to the FutureGen program touted by the Bush administration, which advocates a search for a ZERO emission coal burning solution, the IGCC seems much more pragmatic.

The old codger Senator Robert Byrd may have once again planted himself on the correct side of the fence on this issue. Like on the Iraq conflict, where Byrd planted himself with the anti-war faction, his support for IGCC will provide visibility to the issue. And independent on whether Byrd's state of West Virginia serves to gain pork-barrel coal projects through his support, this is one issue that we have little choice but to join in.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Sanctimonious, smug, vain, pretentious radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt provides voiceovers for his advertising sponsors. For a very, very long time Hewitt has hustled investments in Iraq dinars. Can you believe it, dinars.
... At one time selling three dollars per dinar, the price has fallen to less than a cent per dinar.
Actually, it doesn't really matter what the price falls to and what it rises to: it's like investing in sand. From the Peak Oil message board somebody succinctly put it: currency works on the "greater fool" theory... meaning that you will always be able to find someone ELSE to take your paper (or electrons) in place of a good or service.

In this case, the buyers who pony up the money for the dinars are not getting a good or service. And only in a blue moon will they ever be able to find a "greater fool" to unload their "investment" when the time comes. As far as fools are concerned, Hewitt's investors are at the bottom of the Totem pole; I can't imagine anyone getting suckered any worse than this.

When the Middle-east starts to peg oil against the Euro, I can imagine this commercial still running. "But wait, don't miss your chance on the dinar, now worth a femtoCent, but sure to go up when Old Europe starts crumbling".

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Cold Fusion Report

From the Office of Science at the DOE, a critically reviewed report of progress in the last 10 years of "Low Energy Nuclear Reactions" presents unsurprisingly ambivalent advice. The telling advice near the end:
While significant progress has been made in the sophistication of calorimeters since the review of this subject in 1989, the conclusions reached by the reviewers today are similar to those found in the 1989 review.

The key conundrum reviewers keep on harping on involves the energy formed as heat in the reaction. The expected nuclear reactions involving the basic particles produces gamma rays. No one sees the rays or they occur near the noise background level.
According to the review document, no high energy gamma rays appear to accompany the 4 He, as is observed in D-D fusion reactions. Instead, the approximately 24 MeV in energy resulting from D-D fusion was purported to appear as heat in the material lattice. To explain these unusual characteristics, the reviewers were presented with a theoretical framework that purported to describe how collective energy from the material lattice couples to a deuteron pair to induce fusion, how the only fusion reaction channel that occurs would be the production of 4 He, and how all the energy is coupled back into the material in the form of heat instead of high energy gamma-rays. The reviewers raised serious concerns regarding the assumptions postulated in the proposed theoretical model for the explanation for 4 He production.

Interesting that the theory ascribes stored energy from the lattice induces the fusion and then the generated energy transfers right back into the lattice in the form of phonons. In this explanation, I see dimly-lit card tricks played out to rubes1. At the very least, this violates an Occam's razor principle of never trying to ascribe a complicated explanation to something that can be explained by something more fundamental. Like maybe an anomalous chemical reaction?

1See the Intelligent Design Creationist Late-Night sweepstakes for more exposes of Rube Goldberg-ian elaborations.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Pair a Bowl, eh?

Solar collectors measuring 35 feet in diameter generate a sustained 25 KW of power according to EE Times. The coompany that builds the stirling engine-driven (not solar cell!) claim each collector can supply electricity to over 6 homes. A stirling engine basically operates on the principle of heated gases expanding, which then drives a generator motor through a piston motion. Really not much different than a steam engine. The radiation is concentrated through the conventional parabolic shaped dish familiar to anyone that owns a satellite dish or spies on their neighbors with a snooper microphone.

For some reason, I like to use the sanity check of "How many hair dryers will this power generation gizmo support?" To take a typical example, a Vidal Sassoon hair dryer can use 1875 watts. So, a single Stirling collector can operate 13 hair dryers at peak. It makes absurd sense, because the area of collected solar radiation is the footprint of a small house, and I can imagine heating a small house pretty well with 13 hair dryers running continuously.

I call this holding pattern technology.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

High Marks

From Clinton's speech at the opening of the new presidential library in Little Rock:
Mr. Clinton talked about the divisions that have split America into what are now popularly called red states (Republican) and blue states Democratic), but that he referred to as conservative and progressive.

"America has two great dominant strands of political thought," he said. "We're represented up here on this stage: conservatism, which at its very best draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which at its very best breaks down barriers that are no longer needed or should never have been erected in the first place."

Interview with John Bellamy Foster:
Aurora: Even amidst all of the political setbacks of recent years, large segments of the general population continue to express a relatively high level of concern for environmental issues. Unfortunately, most people increasingly can find few ways of enacting this concern beyond making environmentally-conscious personal lifestyle choices - to bike to work, take shorter showers, use energy-efficient light bulbs, recycle, compost, and so on. How can the environmental movement today begin to start channeling such popular expressions of ecological awareness and responsibility in a more transformative direction?

John Bellamy Foster: This will require a greater level of political organization, and a greater willingness to take the bull by the horns. The environmental movement needs to face up to the fact that its goals run directly up against a highly intransigent opposition that is rooted in the power structures of capitalist society. Ultimately, achieving environmental sustainability will require us to transform those structures of power and not simply alter their minor manifestations.

Let me give you a concrete example. People are often told that, to be environmentally responsible, they should make the personal choice not to drive cars, and should instead make the effort to walk, ride a bicycle, or use public transport. Practically speaking, however, this is not a viable option for most people. Our roads, our jobs, and our whole urban infrastructure are set up in ways that render it virtually impossible for people to get along in their daily activities by walking or cycling, and public transport is inadequate or non-existent in most places. Under these circumstances, it is not enough for us to say that people should make personal choices that are compatible with the environment. We need to organize politically to create the social structures - public transport, inter-city train systems, flexible work routines, new forms of urban planning and land development, and so on - which will enable a greater number of people to actually make those choices.

Today, advocates of privatization are extremely prejudiced against the state, tending to equate any mention of 'socialization' with Soviet-style statism and so on. They tend to overlook the fact that the state can take many different forms - indeed, that democracy itself cannot exist without a state. If everything is turned over to private interests, then the democratic public sphere disappears, and all that you're left with is a number of private actors, each selfishly pursuing their own private ends. In this celebrated era of deregulation and privatization, we sometimes tend to forget that many of the most basic goods that we all enjoy today - from tap water, to electricity, sanitation, parks, and so on - were not initially provided by business, but by public agencies responding to democratic demands. Similarly, the basic environmental protections that we have today were initiated and implemented by democratic public bodies, and only reluctantly acceded to by the capitalist class.

A professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, Foster previously penned the interestingly titled Marx's Ecology. Reading the rest of the interview, and specifically where they discuss the environmental principles described by Marx, anyone can see how easily the greens can get lumped in with extreme left-leaning circles. Whether this is happenstance or not, we may have no choice but to try out new directions that happen to wear old clothing and may appear to cross tabboo barriers.

Air America's Mike Malloy suggested in response to a listener that conservative principles dictate that any call to saving the environment would be immediately declared as not moral. The listener then relayed that the 30,000 gallon Delaware River oil spill is now up to 473,500 gallons. Strangely, this is only getting limited news coverage, mostly in local New Jersey papers. The upward revision came about apparently because they could not account for missing oil on board the tanker. Voila, with another order-of-magnitude bookkeeping error, this would be equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster in scale, with nary a peep from the media.

Earlier in the program, Malloy had exclaimed "It's the hypocrisy".

Actually, given Clinton's codeworded speech, a new motto for anyone trying to make sense of our current political predicament:
It's the hypocrisy, Stupid!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Who would have thunk it?

Former Chrysler CEO, Lee Iococca is going gaga over electrical bicycles.
"...The E Bike isn't just a vehicle, it's a movement, a new way of thinking and a new found freedom.I'm asking you to join me on this magnificent new journey from the past and into the future. I can promise you the ride will be exciting, inventive, revolutionary and a lot of fun."
Chairman & Founder Lee Iococca

Michelle "The Face" Pfeiffer provides some moments of zen:
"I relax by taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together again."

"... I used to tell people that the reason my lips were so big is that I fell off my bicycle facefirst, and they swole up and they never went down. And I so convinced myself that this was true that when I was about twelve my mother had to say, 'No, Michelle. That's not what happened.'"

Update: Zen, because I discovered upon leaving work tonight one bicycle tire flat. Momentary thought of walking 3 miles in sub-freezing cold. Recollection of attached pump in strategic location on frame. Pump. Tried riding away. Other tire flat. Evidently both tires intentionally deflated by a criminal mastermind. Bastards..., but then again, all one has to do is ride. it. off.


From Tiny Revolution, I have come to understand the art of the fallback position.
1. Iraq has terrifying WMD.
2. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD because they were moved to Syria.
3. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD and they weren't moved to Syria, but it's not our fault because everyone thought they had WMD.
4. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD and they weren't moved to Syria and not everyone thought they had WMD, but we were fooled because even Saddam thought they had WMD.
5. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD and they weren't moved to Syria and not everyone thought they had WMD and Saddam didn't think they had WMD, but Iraq would have had them after two seconds if we'd turned our backs.
6. Michael Moore ate the WMD.

Let me try my hand in explaining the fallback position with respect to oil policies. Since discussions on oil have carried on for a longer time, I will add a rough chronology.

  1. 1950: USA will never run out of oil.

  2. 1960: USA will never run out of oil, and don't trust the occasional wacky geologist.

  3. 1970: The USA may run out of oil, but we can always rely on the middle-east for oil.

  4. 1975: Even though the USA may run out of oil and although we can't always rely on the middle-east, market considerations can throttle our consumption.

  5. 1980: Even though the USA may run out of oil and although we can't always rely on the middle-east nor the market, we can always look for energy efficiency.

  6. 1985: Even though the USA may run out of oil and although we can't always rely on the middle-east nor the market nor efficiency, we can always look for oil in new unconventional places like the ocean.

  7. 1990: Even though the USA may run out of oil and although we can't always rely on the middle-east nor the market nor efficiency nor new sources, we can always try to get better access to the middle-east by providing them military defense.

  8. 2003: Even though the USA may run out of oil and although we can't always rely on our middle-east allies nor the market nor efficiency nor new sources, we can always try to get better control to an endless supply of oil by invading other countries.

  9. 2004: Maybe, just maybe the world will run out of oil, but we can always look to unconventional sources like tar sands and oil shale.

  10. 2004 May 14, 8:00 AM: Even though the world looks like it may run out of oil and unconventional sources like tar sands and oil shale won't cut it, maybe there is a possibility that oil is always being replenished deep within the earth.

  11. 2004 May 14, 8:05 AM: Nah. Strike that last one, maybe a mission to Mars would sell better?

  12. Present: Even though the world looks like it may run out of oil and unconventional sources like tar sands and oil shale won't cut it, Bush with his oil industry experience, and Cheney with his energy plan and overall smarts will figure out how to use technology to get out of this predicament. Four more years!

  13. Future: Even though the world looks like it may run out of oil and unconventional sources like tar sands and oil shale won't cut it, and there aren't any new energy ideas or trips to Mars on the horizon, let us embrace the religious fundamentalists in our ranks, so that we can dumb down the intellectual discourse and then our citizenry will act like nothing is wrong.