Monday, June 30, 2008

Hanging Gardens - 6/30/08

I haven't posted an update on the hanging planters in a here we go. Last time I mentioned the extreme heat was causing quite a bit of stress to the plants. Strangely, this was more prominent in one bag versus the other. With some closer inspection and expert consultation, I realized that water was not fully penetrating the entire root mass, leading to the stunted growth and wilted leaves. After soaking the entire soil/root mass with a sufficient amount of water, the plants began to almost immediately improve.

On the larger of the two plum trees I purchased this year, I was surprised to find three plums that had survived the trip from the nursery and were maturing into edible fruit. About a day before ripening, one fell causality to either a bird or squirrel. After securing the tree with proper netting, the remaining plums were allowed to fully ripen and promptly devoured by their proper owners. They were quite delicious. I look forward to next year's harvest.

I have also installed an irrigation system with accompanying timer to automate the watering process. This should alleviate future instances of unnecessary drought.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Salmonella Outbreak Continues?

It seems that the lowly tomato may not be to blame after all. Truth is, no one knows for sure, and the cases continue to climb. FDA officials are not sure if the record number of cases are due to tomatoes that are newly harvested, germ transfer in storage facilities, or perhaps a different culprit altogether. The tomato continues to remain the main suspect, however:

For now, the FDA continues to urge consumers nationwide to avoid raw red plum, red Roma or red round tomatoes unless they were grown in specific states or countries that FDA has cleared of suspicion. Check FDA's Web site — — for an updated list. Also safe are grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.
While falling victim to Salmonella would most likely only be extremely unpleasant, it can be deadly for children, the elderly and the immune-deficient. Luckily, the record outbreak is only 810 cases so far (although experts estimate there are many unreported cases for each reported one). In the grand scheme of things, there are probably a lot more things to genuinely be worried about. Just in case, you can always grow your own.

See previous tomato ban post.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Black Gold & Ice Road Truckers

I've been intrigued by these two reality shows; the second season of Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel and the inaugural season of Black Gold on truTV. They both have a lot in common: both are produced by the same guy who brought you The Deadliest Catch, both feature really dangerous jobs and both highlight the difficulty of retrieving the fossil fuels on which our everyday lives depend. Both do a good job of driving this home, as well as featuring enough characters and typical reality show drama to keep it interesting.

Ice Road Truckers

In Alaska and northern Canada, there are a number of mining, oil drilling, and natural gas extraction sites. These operations are only accessible by truck for a short windows during the winter months...on frozen ice roads constructed on rivers or the arctic ocean. Ice Road Truckers follows several of the brave drivers that haul many tons of equipment hundreds of miles over only several feet of ice. It is dangerous work, but there is big money to be made...the drilling and mining operations desperately require the equipment and supplies they haul. Without them, the operations quickly grind to a halt and they are unable to provide their products to the world.

Black Gold
Black Gold is a look at Texan 'wildcat' oil rig operations. It follows three competing derricks and the teams of 'drillers' and 'roughnecks' that operate them, providing insight into the dangerous and dirty job of recovering oil. This show demonstrates the numerous difficulties in these operations; the rigs are expensive to operate ($2000 per hour), the work is extremely dangerous and a seeming infinite number of problems can arise. There is also a cameo appearance by Matthew Mcconaughey's brother, Rooster. Rooster is an oil pipe supplier, and apparently a heavy drinker/skeet shooting enthusiast. See more here

Both of these programs highlight the increasing difficulties that we will continue to face as fossil fuels become more scarce. We will have to drill deeper and in more harsh climates than ever before. Men such as these will be the trailblazers that make it possible.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bio-fuels, Mandates and Energy Policy

Here is an article from the spring of 2007 that investigates bio-fuels and public policies that affect their development and production.

The fact that current policy increases energy security and reduces greenhouse gas emissions does not imply, however, that we cannot do better. History has demonstrated that policy objectives can be met most efficiently when private entrepreneurs are allowed to determine the means by which objectives are achieved. So, for example, if the United States has an objective of diversifying its energy sources at minimum cost, Congress should specify a numerical diversification target, the types of energy sources that count toward diversity (would increased coal and nuclear energy qualify?), and the penalties for non-achievement. Competition between alternative energy sources would reveal the most efficient set and allow the United States to meet its policy objectives at least cost. If Congress truly wants increased energy security, then Congress should be neutral to the means by which this is achieved.
The article highlights some possible changes in current policy, ultimately suggesting a BTU tax credit that would help any alternative energy source.

I tentatively agree with the main points of this article. However, I think there probably should be a inclination towards liquid fuels. Liquid fuels currently provide the necessary energy density for our transportation needs. Electric and hydrogen vehicles cannot yet fulfill the same requirements at a similar cost. Also, there will be much debate on whether "clean" coal and nuclear are considered alternative energy and/or suitable environmental substitutes.


Wii Fit Review

I received a new toy this weekend...Wii Fit. I have been quite amazed with the Wii in general, and the new balance board attachment is no exception. I've only had a few days to test it out, but I'll sum up some of the pros and cons that I've noticed so far.


  1. Several games are quite addicting right off the bat (ski jump)
  2. Fairly good accuracy and control
  3. More physically exerting than most video games
  4. A fun way to switch up your workout
  5. A wide range of exercise categories (yoga, strength, cardio, balance)
  6. Lots of unlockables
  7. Allows you to set goals for BMI improvement and/or weight loss
  8. Records and graphs your individual Mii data
  9. Excels in balance game category

  1. A bit pricey
  2. Lots of stopping in between individual games and workouts
  3. Cardio is rather limited (infinitely better to run outside)
  4. Cumbersome to switch between Miis (limited multi-player)
  5. Wii Fit Age is a bit random (much like on Wii Sports)

We have already gotten quite a bit of enjoyment from it (and like most Wii games, it will appeal to a wide range of demographics). Overall it is a fun diversion, but don't mistake it for a replacement for a serious workout routine. It certainly excels in the balance and plyometric strength categories, and may be that extra motivation you need to get off the couch on a rainy day. Also, I don't put much stock in BMI or 'Wii Fit Age' as a fitness measurement (and you shouldn't have too thin of skin when you step on it).

Hopefully there will be more balance board games available soon. A quick search reveals that several are in the works: another fitness title (with Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser fame), winter sports, boxing and a horse racing game.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Green Summer Vacation Ideas

With summer now officially here, this article has some great ideas for spending your vacation that are easy on your wallet and the earth.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Geopolitics of $130 Oil

Today I am featuring an article that examines the ramifications of recent increases in commodity prices. It argues that we are entering a new geopolitical era; following the previous eras of the Cold War, post-Cold war economic boom, and subsequent period of international Islamic fundamentalist terror from 9/11 to today.

This new era of increased commodity cost will present many challenges - with oil and food being the major players, owing to the fact that they are inextricably linked and our daily lives are dependent on both.

Oil and grains — where the shortages hit hardest — are not merely strategic commodities. They are geopolitical commodities. All nations require them, and a shift in the price or availability of either triggers shifts in relationships within and among nations.
The article highlights the potential winners and losers in this new paradigm. Their conclusions may surprise you a bit.

One thing to keep in mind...just because we have perhaps moved into a new era does not mean that the problems from previous areas are solved, only superseded. Just as 9/11 did not erase economic issues, high commodity prices have not destroyed Islamic extremism. Perhaps the fact that it has the potential to move the issue to the back burner is even more concerning. Considering the majority of known oil reserves are in areas that are highly accessible to terrorism, we should not neglect the risk posed by these entities. Even our old cold war adversary, flush with oil and natural gas (and willing to use it as a geopolitical tool), is gaining ground.


Scramble and Blueprints

Here is an interesting take on the future describing two divergent paths, Scramble and Blueprints. This 8 minute movie, produced by Shell, highlights the need for intelligent, quick, and decisive action from all of the world's inhabitants.

In the Scramble world, events out pace actions. Security of energy supply and fears of losing economic ground shape decision-making. For the next 10 years, people from all walks of life join in the debate about energy and climate change. But no one seems truly wedded to action on a large scale.
In the Scramble world, no one is prepared to change the status quo. Dealing with today’s problem takes priority. By the 2020s, life has become volatile and uncertain. Energy availability is often tight. Severe weather events are blamed on a lack of previous action on climate change. The public cries out. And governments in the different regions respond in different ways – but without consistency or cohesion.
The world of Blueprints shows what can happen when actions out pace events...This isn’t a sudden outbreak of altruism. It’s a recognition of shared interests, new opportunities for profitable business, and the benefits of taking action before it’s forced by circumstances.

In the world of Blueprints, local actions spread and join up –- like the C40 megacities pact of mayors and others, experimenting and sharing good practices around carbon emissions, transport and energy efficiency. During the next decade, the Blueprints world is diverse. Different parts use different approaches to promote energy efficiency, and technology development. Some choose taxes. Others use mandates. Some look for voluntary action by businesses and consumers. The most successful approaches spread. However, the diversity makes life difficult for investment. Pressure is created on local, national and international authorities to harmonize arrangements better.
I would like to highlight that bio-fuels are an important factor in both scenarios. All in all, the entire video is very optimistic...even the Scramble scenario has a happy ending...

Eventually a new, more positive phase emerges. Enforced steps to reduce energy demand gradually have an effect. …Individual, local efforts to promote renewable energy sources start to pay off. Renewables become well enough established, and on a large enough scale, to be competitive.

No doomer die-off in Shell's future. I guess that would not be a positive PR campaign.

As for how it is really going to play out, I know which scenario sounds more realistic. Surely, if we cannot get the American people to agree on anything, how can the entire world come together in a unified fashion. The scramble scenario certainly sounds like the path we are currently on. Perhaps it may end up being a combination of the two. Only time will tell.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rickets on the Rise?

I caught a snippet of this Osgood File while commuting the other day and found it quite disturbing. He claims there is an increasing number of cases of rickets in U.S. children. At first I was not 100% sure what rickets was (unsure of the difference between rickets, scurvy and scabies), but I was pretty sure that it was one of those maladies that you were only supposed to read about. As he explained further, my memory was is a bone condition that is exacerbated by Vitamin D and calcium deficiency as well as a lack of sunlight and exercise. It is quite unsettling to think that children's legs are actually bending under their own wight.

It seems soda is supplanting milk more often in today's diets, undermining our health in many ways. Sunlight stimulates Vitamin D production in the body and exercise has been shown to increase bone density. Sitting inside playing video games does not help in either regard.

According to this article, rickets is still a rather rare disease...but being so easily preventable it seems very sad for it to still afflict anyone.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Evaporated Cane Juice

If you ever happen to look at food labels, you may have run across this: "Evaporated Cane Juice"(ECJ). It seems to be commonly found in organic products and other 'health' foods. I noticed it one day, and it got me is that different than plain old sugar? Is it really more healthy or are they just trying to pull a fast one on me? So, being the curious fellow I am...I googled it.

Here's what I found:

Basically, Evaporated Cane Juice is sugar that is a little less processed. Wikipedia has a good section on sugar cane processing. There are two schools of thought about ECJ...

1) Any carbohydrates that are less refined are better, and the less refined product has more nutrients
2) The two products are nearly identical in chemical composition, yet not in save your cash

Here are two sources that claim health benefits:

Evaporated cane juice is a healthy alternative to refined sugar. While both sweetners are made from sugar cane, evaporated cane juice does not undergo the same degree of processing that refined sugar does. Therefore, unlike refined sugar, it retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane.

This site compares many different types of sugar products:

Here is a blog that does not believe the benefits out weigh the increased cost:

Evaporated cane juice and plain old sugar are unequivocally the same, α-D-fructofuranosyl β-D-glucopyranoside (aka, sucrose, table sugar).

It seems to me that it is very similar to regular sugar. All things being equal, it does have higher amounts of certain nutrients, so it probably is a bit better. The B vitamins that it provides are readily found in many other common foods, however. Organic ECJ seems to be a popular way to sweeten organic products, so environmentally and ecologically it may come out ahead.

I rarely do much baking and do not use very much granulated sugar at all. Since the price is much higher, I probably would not buy ECJ over regular white sugar. However, when checking labels, now I know what the term means and can purchase accordingly.

Other sugar posts:
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part II
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Caramel Apples
Sugar and the Environment
Alternative Sugar Names
A Look at Agave
Where to Buy


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hypermiling Update: 6/13/08

Surprisingly to me, the few days that I had to run the A/C did not affect my results too much. Luckily, the weather has mellowed a bit. Another above average tank puts my overall FE at 26.3mpg.

Updated overall stats for hypermiling (since 2/4/08):

Fuel price chart:


Sunday, June 15, 2008

More Peak Oil - Hirsch Report

Here is another report on peak oil by Dr. Robert Hirsch (2005). The link below is actually a brief summary of a larger Department of Energy report which I have not yet finished. The summary covers all the basic peak oil points, but has as interesting passage regarding mitigation that I would like to highlight here.

A scenario analysis was performed, based on crash program implementation worldwide – the fastest humanly possible. Three starting dates were considered:

1. When peaking occurs;
2. Ten years before peaking occurs; and
3. Twenty years before peaking.

The timing of oil peaking was left open because of the considerable differences of opinion among experts. Consideration of a number of implementation scenarios provided some fundamental insights, as follows:

• Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program
action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more
than two decades.
• Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil
peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall
roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.
• Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking offers
the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the
forecast period.

The reason why such long lead times are required is that the worldwide
scale of oil consumption is enormous – a fact often lost in a world where
oil abundance has been taken for granted for so long. If mitigation is too
little, too late, world supply/demand balance will have to be achieved
through massive demand destruction (shortages), which would translate to
extreme economic hardship. On the other hand, with timely mitigation,
economic damage can be minimized.
As I highlighted in this post, most expert studies have predicted peak oil dates ranging from now until 2030. In all but the most optimistic studies, we are within the 20 year time frame. Many factors will come into play...conventional vs. unconventional oil sources, other alternatives as well as conservation efforts reducing demand and consumption. Hirsch then makes an astute point concerning the risk vs. reward for (in)action:
It is possible that peaking may not occur for a decade or more, but it is also possible that peaking may be occurring right now. We will not know for certain until after the fact. The world is thus faced with a daunting risk management problem. On the one hand, if peaking is decades away, massive mitigation initiated soon would be premature. On the other hand, if peaking is imminent, failure to quickly initiate mitigation will impose large near term economic and social costs on the world.

The two risks are asymmetric:
• Mitigation initiated prematurely would result in a relatively modest
misallocation of resources.
• Failure to initiate timely mitigation with an appropriate lead-time is
certain to result in very severe economic consequences.

The world has never confronted a problem like this. Risk minimization requires the implementation of mitigation measures well prior to peaking. Since it is uncertain when peaking will occur, the challenge for decisionmakers is indeed vexing. Mustering support for an invisible disaster is much more difficult than for one that is obvious to all.
Interesting times ahead...


Happy Father's Day!

A message for all the Dads out there...the hard-working, selfless providers...please take a day of rest, enjoy a beer and a steak...and take solace in the fact that your children are better people because of you.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Former World's Heaviest Man Has New Life Mission

Manuel Uribe, who once weighed a half ton but has slimmed down to about 700 pounds, celebrates his 43rd birthday on Wednesday with a simple wish for the coming year: to be able to stand on his own two feet to get married.
I'm not sure which is more shocking, the fact that he weighs around 700lbs, or the fact that he has already lost over 500.

Uribe said his weight problem spiraled out of control after he moved to the United States for a few years in 1988 and indulged in a nonstop diet of junk food and soft drinks.
I doubt that diet alone could have these results. The article alludes to a botched surgery, and I would have to think other health problems may have contributed to his state. Also, at some point, his family and/or caregivers must bear some responsibility for continuing to enable such massive weight gain.

I cannot imagine the extreme difficulty and isolation that an existence such as this would bring. Fortunately, it seems like he is turning it around. Hopefully he can return to a normal life very soon.


Hanging Gardens - 6/14/08

A gardening update...the heat has been hard on the plants in the hanging bags. It has been difficult to keep them sufficiently watered. I have a feeling the plants may be getting too much sun at their present location, as well. Nevertheless, there are several small fruits appearing; tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers. The strawberries are winding down for the season. It is quite amazing how much fruit can come from a 3' diameter patch.


Ethanol is an "Ugly Baby"

Ethanol is “an ugly baby but it’s ours and it will move cars,” according to billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens.

Even some oilmen are on board...Mr. Pickens has diversified his portfolio quite a bit.


Friday, June 13, 2008

They're GRRRRReatt!!

Here's an article from some treehuggers in Canada that breaks down the actual costs involved in producing a box of cereal. As you can see, it has little to do with grain prices... Unfortunately for Americans, we are affected by a declining dollar, so our inflation is a bit higher than the Canucks.

More Processing of Food Means Less Inflation



Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Highly recommended.

The Pulitzer prize winning author Jared Diamond of Guns, Germs and Steel is back with an examination of societies of the past and today, and how they deal with challenges that can lead to their collapse. While there are 5 main reasons that he examines, the book looks heavily into environmental degradation as a leading cause for many civilizations' demises.

Diamond is well versed in many subjects and this book showcases his knowledge. One of the remarkable qualities of the book is the ability of the author to see the many sides of problems and not become entrenched on any one side of the issue. While he certainly takes the large mining and oil companies to task for certain inexcusable environmental disasters, he is very fair and balanced. While many environmentalists are fundamentally opposed to such business ventures, Diamond not only acknowledges their necessary contributions to society, but also their fundamental right to exist as a profit making enterprise. He even mentions his surprise at the strict environmental standards that Chevron had implemented at one of their sites:

For months I was greatly puzzled by these conditions in the Kuntubu oil field.
After all, Chevron is neither a non-profit environmental organization, nor a
National Park Service. Instead it is a for-profit oil company, owned by its shareholders. If Chevron were to spend money on environmental policies that ultimately decreased its profits from oil operations, its shareholders would and should sue it. The company evidently decided that those policies would ultimately help it make more money from its oil operations.
So Diamond is neither in the pocket of the oil companies nor a raving green hippie. He delivers a clear and concise message, however. Ignore the environment at our peril.

Here are the five reasons for past collapses:
1. Environment Degradation
2. Climate Change (man-made and natural)
3. Hostile Neighbors
4. Decreased Support from Friendly Neighbors
5. Society's Responses to Environmental Problems

All of history's collapses may not have had all of these factors, but all of the societies the author examines were affected by at least several of them.

Here is the list of societies investigated, with a few comments on some of my favorites:

Modern Montana

Easter Island-
Without written history, we have limited knowledge of this mysterious society. Over several hundred years, they seemingly deforested their remote island to provide food for a growing population and to erect larger and larger monuments in a evident inter-tribal competition. Too far from other islands, they had nearly died off by the time Europeans arrived, who quickly eliminated even more of them with disease.

Other pacific islands: Pitcairn and Henderson
Native Americans: Anasazi and neighbors

Norse Greenlanders-
A hardscrabble group of exiled Norsemen lived for hundreds of years on the forbidding landscape of Greenland (as well as being the first to reach North America). Their stubbornness to cling to European ideals and inability to adopt Inuit technologies eventually led to their downfall as the climate grew colder over several decades.

New Guinea

Japanese shoguns realized the implications of deforestation and enacted laws to reverse its course.

A horrible, horrible story.

Dominican Republic/Haiti

Recent food crises are partially due to decreased wheat exports from Australia. According to Diamond, we should not expect much change in the future. Australia has such little economical farm land that it could go from a net exporter of food to net importer in the near future. Poor soil, mismanagement and introduced pests have wreaked havoc on Australia. Not an uplifting chapter.

Diamond then ties his thoughts together in the final chapters with practical lessons and the following subjects:

Why some societies make good and bad decisions.
Different business and how they interface with the public and environment (Oil, mining, logging, and seafood industries)
Ultimately, he draws up 12 vital areas that we must be vigilant against today:

1. Preserving Natural Habitats
2. Sustainable maintenance of wild food sources (mainly seafood)
3. Maintain biodiversity
4. Protect farmland from degradation (erosion, salination, etc)
5. Reliance/dependence on finite fossil fuels
6. Water issues
7. Earth's photosynthetic capability
8. Toxic Chemicals
9. Harmful alien species (introduced non-native plants and animals, not ET)
10. Atmospheric gas releases
11. Population Issues
12. Per capita environmental impact

He makes the point that since they are all very interconnected, we must treat each with care. Any failure in any one of these areas could spell major trouble to our civilization. And unlike the ancient Easter Islanders, we are now a global community. We are all on a remote island...the Earth. Will we obliviously continue to build larger and larger statues until we no longer can support ourselves? Or will we take the lessons from those that have come before us, both those that have failed and succeeded, and triumph over the coming obstacles? Time will tell.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

End of earmarking?

Probably not, but at least somebody is suggesting it.

This article addresses the massive construction/rehabilitation that our infrastructure, specifically the highway interstate system, needs nationwide. Leveraging tax credit bonds (which I assume could be bought and sold between private parties) seems like a good idea. Time will tell if anything actually happens and effectively works.

One thing that bothers me about this article is the lack of serious consideration (and just a general ignorance) of the effectiveness and convenience of mass transit rail systems. Europe and Asia use such systems almost exclusively for long-distance travel, the U.S. needs to catch that same fever. Amtrak is slow, inconvenient and still, as baffling as this may seem, nearly cost prohibitive when compared to road travel.


Algenol - Third Generation Ethanol

More exciting news about bio-fuels. A US company plans to create millions of gallons of ethanol by 2009 out in the Mexican desert. One benefit of this technology...

Woods said Algenol will use a process he invented in the 1980s to coax
individual algal cells to secrete ethanol. That way, the fuel can be taken
directly from the vats where the algae is grown
while the organism lives on, using far less energy than drying and pressing the organisms for their oil.

Official site that highlights the many other benefits of this technology:


S.3044 - Big Oil "Windfall Profit" Prevention

Here is the latest 'windfall profits' tax bill that the Senate tried to pass this Tuesday:

Not really suprisingly, neither Presidental candidate voted.

I shared my thoughts on this subject earlier this year on a similar House bill:

I am not necessarily against higher fuel taxes. I think that they could help continue to lower demand, especially if fuel prices begin to go down again. I would be all for it, if the added revenue was used to fund alternative energy projects and there were ways for small businesses/truckers/farmers to write off the added expense. That's a big if.

And in my opinion, anyone supporting these 'windfall' taxes are either severely misinformed or blatantly dishonest. It takes a suicidal political will to suggest adding to the Federal gasoline tax, but you can get any Joe-six-pack on board with 'sticking-it-to-the-evil-oil-companies'.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Home Biogas

An India company has developed a family-sized biogas generator that can run on kitchen waste and excrement. It will provide fuel for both heating and cooking. 'mmmmmmm'

By the way I stumbled across this on another interesting blog, which I have included on my new 'Blog Roll'.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hypermiling Update: 06/08/08

Another above average tank, but not by much... With the heat index eclipsing 100, I am caving to the comfort of A/C. This will most likely heavily affect the next tank. It is quite amazing how much air conditioning hampers fuel efficiency. I prefer to not sit in a pool of sweat, however, so I'll pay the extra few bucks.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

You are either on my steamroller or under it.



This is big news in Wisconsin today and just further proof to me that living on (or around) any large man-made structure that dramatically alters the landscape is a bad idea. FEMA is camping out in Milwaukee because they cannot figure out where the Dells are located. :-D All jokes aside, the video is pretty powerful stuff.


Solar "Tractor" and Other Vehicles

Here are some videos of a retired engineer who has built his own solar vehicles. The current technology can't compete with fossil fuels, but little carts such as these would beat doing the work totally by hand. I would hope he designed them to be plugged-in as well, for cloudy days.

This electric tractor seems like it might be able to do more work:


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Peak Oil Analysis - A Hubbert Model Rebuttal

Here is an article shedding doubt on several recent peak oil projections. The author, Michael C. Lynch, goes about debunking several of the more doomsdayish projections currently cited in peak oil discussions. Primarily, these are based upon M. King Hubbert's work, who very accurately predicted the peak of U.S. oil reserves. The one issue I have with this article is that while it does a good job of casting doubt on several studies, it makes no predictions of its own.

A rather quick read, but heavy on statistics. I admit I have not extensively read the studies that this paper 'debunks'. So little time...


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Roma Tomato Ban

It seems there has been a roma tomato salmonella outbreak in the Southwest. I was severely angered when Brother, Scotch Tape, Jessums, and I were unable to slather our Chipotle burrito bowls with their mild salsa. Besides, we're not even in the southwest....we're not eating Mexican tomatoes :),2933,362544,00.html

It seems that a hundred or so Salmonella outbreaks in some small children ruins the Chipotle experience nationwide.


New Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Opens

A small step in the right direction...cellulosic ethanol is on its way!

A biorefinery built to produce 1.4 million gallons of ethanol a year from cellulosic biomass will open tomorrow in Jennings, LA. The plant will make ethanol from agricultural waste left over from processing sugarcane.

Unfortunately this part makes me pause a bit:

The five-carbon sugars in hemicellulose are then fermented using
genetically modified E. coli. The cellulose is broken down with enzymes and
fermented with another type of bacteria called Klebsiella oxytoca.
Let's hope that stuff doesn't get loose. I realize there will need to be breakthroughs in enzyme technology, but I can't help but have visions of Outbreak, 28 Days Later or I Am Legend. Yikes.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Diesel Thievery

Another hardship for the agricultural community.

"I have enough to worry about. 'Is it going to be hot [or] cold? Is the wind going to blow?' " Belluomini said. "Now you have to start worrying about, 'Is everything locked, bottled up and capped off?'
"All we're trying to do is provide a good product to the consumer and make a living."


Build Your Own Electric Vehicle

A coworker of mine has recently done quite a bit of research into converting a stock automobile into an electric vehicle. There are many commercial kits that take a lot of the initial engineering work out of the equation. From our conversations, it seems to be very feasible...with certain caveats.

  1. A certain amount of technical and mechanical skill is required.

  2. As with any project such as this, a workspace with proper tools and equipment is necessary.

  3. As of now, the battery technology is rather limited.

  4. The final product will depend on the amount of money you are willing to spend.

  5. Commercial products are most likely more suited for the average consumer.

I will continue to amend this post with more information as it becomes available and open the floor to anyone who has done research in this area...or actually completed a project.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Government Accountability Office - Peak Oil Report Feb '07

As I have stated in previous posts, I am certain oil is a finite resource and will run out. Also, our current civilization is heavily dependent on oil for even our most basic necessities. The severity of the effects of the depletion of the world's oil will depend on several factors:

1. When it occurs
2. How quickly it occurs
3. How demand and consumption respond to it occurring
4. The availability, supply and price of alternatives

These are the factors that I am not certain.

Many people are very certain of these factors, unfortunately few of them agree. They all cannot be correct. Hence, one of the reasons I began my amateur research and ultimately this very blog. So, I continue my search for reliable data to make my predictions and share them here.

I found a report by the GAO (a hopefully unbiased and balanced source) from early last year that:
(1) examined when oil production could peak,
(2) assessed the potential for transportation technologies to mitigate the consequences of a peak in oil production, and
(3) examined federal agency efforts that could reduce
uncertainty about the timing of a peak or mitigate the consequences. To address
these objectives, GAO reviewed studies, convened an expert panel, and consulted
agency officials.

It can be found here:

It is a rather comprehensive report that examines many of the issues I am currently interested in. It covers the following main topics: key peak oil studies, the difficulty in determining peak oil, and key technologies to enhance oil supply and displace oil consumption in the transportation sector.

Key Peak Oil Studies:
This is the main reason I am highlighting this study. I, like many others, would really like to know when we are going to begin to run out of oil (my 'nocs would be in focus at that point). Over 20 separate independent peak oil studies were examined. The entire list can be found in the appendix. This graph shows the disparity in consensus:

As one can see, the studies predictions ranged from peaking right now to some time in the next century. My rough estimate (hardly a rigorous statistical method) would be to take the mean or median of these wide range of experts. That would put us in the early 2020 time frame for a 'peak' of oil production. One might wonder about the reasons for such a wide range of results. The study examined that as well.

Difficulty in Determining Peak Oil:

The difficulties in determining peak oil can be broken down into several main reasons.

(1) The amount of oil in the ground is uncertain. The entire earth has not been surveyed. Even results from areas that have been surveyed are not always public knowledge. Many OPEC producers keep reserve data secret. So, we have to guess if they are declining production to moderate the price or because there is actually declining reserves. The report suggests that we fund more studies to better determine reserves.
(2) The definition of 'oil'. There are many definitions for 'oil', which are encompassed by light, heavy, conventional, non-conventional and others. These definitions are not universal and many of the studies use different definitions. The GAO study touches on this disparity (some heavy oil is considered to be conventional, while others consider it non-conventional). It also notes that this nomenclature changes over time. I do not attempt to claim I fully understand the differences.
(3) Political and investment risk factors also could affect future oil exploration and production and, ultimately, the timing of peak oil production. A large percentage of the world's remaining oil is in unstable political areas. This in and of itself is a reason to begin to believe peak oil is coming sooner rather than later. Oil may not have actually 'peaked', but it may 'virtually' peak if the Saudi monarchy is overrun by Al Qaeda. If the oil costs more energy to extract than it contains, it is effectively not there.
(4)Future world demand is uncertain. Will demand continue to increase, even when the price increases? Oil demand seems to be inelastic in the short run, but rather elastic in the long run. Americans are already consuming less gasoline in response to increased prices. Will the world follow suit?
(5) Technological, cost, and environmental challenges make it unclear how much oil can ultimately be recovered from (1) proven reserves, (2) hard-to-reach locations, and (3) nonconventional sources (normally defined as shale oil, tar sands, heavy and extra-heavy oil).


There are two areas of technology that this study examines: Increasing production and decreasing consumption (only in the sector with the largest demand - transportation)

The technologies for increasing oil production were new to me, as I have little background in the oil industry. I found it very interesting. They include things such as deep water and ultra deep water wells/platforms and injection technologies (steam, water, CO2). One disturbing point was raised - certain fields that are not expolotied using advanced techniques are forever limited in the amount of oil that is recoverable. Many foreign state-run oil companies do not use the latest advanced techniques, thus lowering the amount of oil ultimately available for recovery.

As for key technologies that may help us in curbing consumption, it does not break much new ground, but gives various figures and reasons on costs, benefits and challenges of many technologies I have already talked about in previous posts (bio fuels, hydrogen, coal Gas-To-Liquid, hybrids, PHEVs, EVs, etc). One caveat: the price of oil was under $70/barrel in February 2007, which clouds any economic viability discussions.

All in all, I found this to be a great primer for peak oil. It is not overly 'doomsdayish', provides a lists of challenges as well as suggestions for government to begin to look for solutions. For some it may be too little, but I think it is a good start. A must read for budding 'peak oilers'.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

American Obesity Epidemic?

My coworkers and I had a conversation yesterday about the increasing problem of obesity in America. I realize that this can be an uncomfortable subject, but here are some sobering statistics:

During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States.

Currently, more than 64% of US adults are either overweight
or obese, according to results from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey (NHANES). This figure represents a 14% increase in the
prevalence rate from NHANES III (1988-94) and a 36% increase from NHANES II
(1976 -80). (Prevalence is the percentage of the population that falls into the
designated category.)

The greatest increase took place in the obese group (Body Mass Index > 30), where the prevalence doubled from NHANES II (1976-80). Roughly 59 million American adults are in this group, which is at the greatest health risk. (Please note that NHANES data are based on weights and heights as actually measured by trained health professionals using standardized measuring equipment.) (source)

Obesity has been linked to increases in diabetes and cancer as well as negative stigma and bias in employment, education and society in general (source).

We debated the sources and solutions of this growing problem. Increased health problems tax our already overburdened health care system. Our automobiles have grown to accommodate the 'average' American. According to a recent University of Illinois study, Americans waste an extra $Billion in fuel costs due to being overweight(source). Airlines are already charging x-large passengers for two seats. They also have begun to charge for our first bag. Could the future bring us to a point where everyone is weighed in and charged by the pound?

As for solutions, we could not arrive at any that would either be feasible and/or acceptable to the general public. We mostly fixated on our diets...the large amounts of fast food, the over sized portions that we have come to expect. We did not heavily discuss the relative lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle many have settled in to, but I hold that as one key to the puzzle. Several ideas that were floated were: mandatory portion control in restaurants, special taxes for 'junk food' (how that is defined opens cans of worms), luxury taxes on any restaurant, and increased nutritional information in restaurants. None of these seemed to really be a feasible solution and the conversation drifted to another topic...but I thought it might be good to continue the discussion here.

My opinion is that the obesity problem can be directly traced to our affluence. It is one of the drawbacks to having it all. Our lives are extremely busy and stressful, which leaves little time for meal planning and physical activity. This is a recipe for disaster, of course. I think one good source of diet info and advice might be In Defense of Food, but I hesitate to endorse any one diet or solution. Many of the ideas in that book could help many people, but it may not be a fit for everyone.

Bottom line, a healthy diet and regular exercise will prevent many ill affects, but finding the motivation is extremely difficult. Providing the motivation to those that do not want it is nearly impossible.

Any ideas?

More on American Obesity...


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What in the World is Going On?

Here's an article examining some of the major causes of change in our world. The author points to these four items as driving the majority of political, economic and current world events:

1. The War in Iraq
2. The Emergence of China
3. Shifting Demographics of Western Civilization
4. Restructuring of American Business

On the one hand, this makes the U.S. a magnet for bright and ambitious people.
It also makes us a target. We are becoming one of the last holdouts of the
traditional Judeo-Christian culture. There is no better place in the world to be
in business and raise children. The U.S. is by far the best place to have an
idea, form a business and put it into the marketplace. We take it for granted,
but it isn’t as available in other countries of the world. Ultimately, it’s an
issue of culture. The only people who can hurt us are ourselves, by losing our
culture. If we give up our Judeo-Christian culture, we become just like the
Europeans. The culture war is the whole ballgame. If we lose it, there isn’t
another America to pull us out.

I found the article to be thought provoking. I might have renamed the 'War in Iraq' portion to 'War Against Fundamental Islamic Extremists', since that seems to be what the author was referring. This has fallen from the forefront of most Americans minds, but it can be argued we are in the center of a clash of cultures whether we want to admit it or not.

The emergence of China is definitely a big driver of change...I assume it was only for simplicity and brevity that he did not include many of the other emerging economies (India for example). China is perhaps the most symbiotically linked economy to ours (especially among those we do not necessarily consider 'friends').

A large portion of many current 'first-world' countries are currently killing themselves not procreating. The U.S. is only maintaining its replacement rate by large influxes of mostly Hispanic immigrants. Japan is a common example of the extreme nature of this phenomenon. Their extremely low birth rates, coupled with cultural reluctance to allow immigrants is quickly eradicating their population. Many followers of Malthus will welcome decline in populations, but if it is your culture disappearing... It brings up many existential questions...if you and your kin do not propagate forward, what exactly is the meaning of life? Not to mention the real life problems of large populations of aging citizens with smaller and smaller workforces to support them and their entitlements.

The changing landscape of American business may provide the flexibility to create solutions to many of these problems. The fluid nature of today's businesses may allow us to quickly switch to more localized manufacturing as transportation costs increase. It may bring up its own set of new problems, however. The traditional company had a stronger bond with its employee, providing guaranteed insurance and retirement benefits. As we transition to a more consultant based system, the employee will be more on his own. This has already begun, and I do not necessarily think it will be a negative.

Link to article:

About the Author:
Herbert Meyer served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. In these positions, he managed production of the U.S. National Intelligence
Estimates and other top-secret projections for the President and his national security advisers. Meyer is widely credited with being the first senior U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Unions collapse, for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the intelligence community's highest honor. Formerly an associate editor of FORTUNE, he is also the author of several books.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Family food expenditures around the world

I found a little photo show of some 'representative' family food expenditures for one week from several selected countries around the globe. I'm not sure how average these depictions are, but they are certainly eye opening. As stark as they are, ultimately I find a bit of hope. If people can live on less than 2 bucks a week, we've got a long way to go before we are 'starving'. It may seem like the end of the world, but I think we can live without pizza and soda.,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html


Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Office

Steve Carrell and Ricky Gervais breathe some life into SNL on this Digital Short...


Peak Oil Debunked

I just stumbled upon another blog that has been examining similar issues for quite a long time and has quite a readership. He, a self-proclaimed realist, has gone through the wide range of emotions and thought processes that I am currently attempting to sort out for myself. I highly recommend reading this for a rebuttal for the Kunstler/doomsday crowd. It is a 'realists' perspective: everything may not turn out to be moonbeams and rainbows, but it will not be the end of modern civilization, either. I have been trying to sort out exactly what is going to happen, and how bad it is going to be. It is important to consider a wide range of sources, opinions and viewpoints while maintaining a level head.

'Peak Oil Debunked' is a bit of a misnomer, he is not arguing oil is a infinite resource that will never be depleted. From my initial readings, he is merely providing another point of view that sometimes clashes with the current 'doomsday' crowd. I, too, am attempting to find that balance.

An excerpt:

The doomers may or may not be correct about our inability to switch the
energy basis of our civilization, but their case is far from proven. The mere
fact that people are debating what to do shows that a lot of people (even the
doomers) don't believe the future is totally out of our hands. The track record
of doomsday forecasts is poor - no one can really know the future. The smug
certaintly of the doomers that they've got all the answers is what finally shook
me out from their midst. The doomers are right about one thing - fossil energy
sources aren't going to see us through the 21rst century. But if we don't change
course soon, the way forward isn't going to be an agrarian utopia. It will be
powered, at least in the US and for the remainder of my life, by coal. The
environmental effects of that (primarily sea level rise from global warming)
aren't the legacy I want to leave to future generations.

If going back to the land is appealing to you, that's terrific! No one's
stopping you, or any of the doomers either. In fact, it's a good thing to have
people make some worst-case preperations, just in case the doomers are right.
But if, like me, you think technological and industrial civilization is
something worth preserving, then let's get to work. Don't be fooled by doomer
technobabble. This stuff isn't really too hard for the average person to
understand. Look for yourself. And not just at the self-serving prophets of
doom, many of whom simply cite each other in a kind of circular support system.
Check your prejudices at the door and actually look at sites from the nuclear
power industry, renewable power advocates, and environmentalists. Sift them for
biases to get to the facts. And keep thinking for yourself.