Sunday, March 30, 2003

Pedantry has a couple posts about how differently two media sources will spin the same war information. That's definitely true. What's sad in addition is that each part of the population only registers those articles that confim its biases.
Natasha has advice on passing as a Canadian overseas.
I watched Shaolin Drunken Monk with Ekr last night. He applies "a ridiculous amount of math" to gauge the plausibility of the plot.
Last weekend I read "Hubbert's Peak" by Deffeyes when I was in Canada. This book explains the prediction by King Hubbert that world oil production would peak around 2003 because oil discovery and oil production can be fitted to a logistic bell curve. I don't have the book with me any more but a fair amount of the material from the book is also available online through the previous link. I also discussed it with my Dad who is also a petroleum engineer but who isn't afraid of economics.

Deffeyes is a fine petroleum geologist and an entertaining writer, too. He does a great job of explaining how oil discovery has matured in the last century, and why previous predictions of oil production peaks were wrong -- a natural history of oil, as David Isenberg puts it in his review. For example, around 1910 people were predicting the US would run out of oil in 5-10 years. However, petroleum geologists found new ways to identify where oil could be found, drilling technology was improved, and US production made it through that "crisis" and several more. Deffeyes explanations of oil discovery and drilling technology are quite interesting.

In the late 50s, King Hubbert noticed that conventional oil discoveries in continental US had peaked, and he calculated that since oil production followed oil discoveries by about 11 years, that conventional oil production would peak in 1970 or shortly thereafter. He was right, and conventional US oil production does follow a logistic bell curve. Then Hubbert applied this analysis to world oil production and predicted a peak of I think 1999. Deffeyes uses Hubbert's analysis with additional information on offshore reserves (which Hubbert could not have predicted since offshore drilling wasn't technically feasible then) and predicts that world oil production peaks around 2003.

Hubbert's peak analysis seems basically to be sound, but a naive understanding of the analysis leads to very poor forecasts and planning.

  1. The justification for choosing a logistic curve is still a little weak. Ideally, to justify this model you'd like to have a number of natural resources for which production peaked and descended back toward zero while demand still existed. That's very hard to find, because most resources (gold, silver, copper) have not peaked in production. Other resources have peaked in production (coal in some areas) but only because the resource was replaced by more effective resources and demand massively declined.
  2. One of the earliest and best examples is Pennsylvania coal production. This peaked and declined far enough in the past that we can see the roughly symmetrical bell-shaped production curve quite easily. This is shown in Deffeyes' book with numbers, but I sketched a rough example.

    Some other historical peaks:

    • US continental conventional oil production
    • Canadian continental (Alberta) conventional oil production
    • UK sector North Sea oil production
    However, note that we don't yet have the full tails for most of these curves and we can't yet say they're symmetrical. Possibly the Pennsylvania coal production curve was so nicely symmetrical by accident - other coal reserves were found in other areas, transportation became cheaper, and/or demand was reduced in such a way to make the tail neatly symmetrical.
  3. The symmetrical tail seems to show most clearly only when the geographical production region and the type of oil are closely defined. When one kind of oil and one location is cheaper than other kinds of oil from other locations, clearly we pump that oil until we run out and need to move to other types and other regions.
  4. Even if we agree that an unfettered locally-limited carefully-defined oil production curve would be a normal distribution, oil production isn't unfettered -- it's currently limited by cartel quotas and regional unrest. That would imply a flattened peak, which doesn't tell you where the mid-point of the peak is unless you know how much it has flattened.
  5. Technological advances can only have one effect - to slow the decline if not reverse it. Improvements in extracting oil from reserves that had previously been considered tapped (which Deffeyes explains has happened several times) may make the curve look more like this.

    This slow decline being borne out by data as we get more examples of peaking production.
So although it's tempting to make plans based on a 2003 world oil production peak, don't do anything drastic. Canada/Alberta offers an example why. Conventional oil production from Alberta peaked in a classic Hubbert curve in about 1976. Heavy oil production took over, however, and that kind of oil peaked in 1984. National oil production dropped 5 to 6% from its peak in 1984 but since then has gone up again because tar sands oil extraction is now economically feasible. So Canada experienced a drastic and sudden increase in economical oil reserves when tar sands entered the picture: an increase of 315 billion barrels, or roughly one sixth of total world conventional oil reserves. If you add these curves together they look more like this.

Deffeyes puts some of this into perspective in Hubbert's Peak. He does acknowledge the future of natural gas and does a good job of comparing that energy source to oil given today's technology. However, he doesn't look at the big picture the way Julian Simon did and Bjorn Lomborg does now. Even if you disagree with Simon and Lomborg, we should at least agree that what's important is the service provided by energy, more so than an individual energy source. I say "service" because I mean that if we want our homes heated, it doesn't matter what energy source provides that heat or how efficient it is as long as we can afford it (including externalities). So, will world energy services peak when oil production peaks? That's extremely doubtful, given that we have many other energy sources and are getting increasingly efficient at using them.

The next part of the bigger picture, again discussed by Simon and Lomborg, is technological improvements. You can't predict where or how the real technological improvements will change the situation. Deffeyes believes that tar sands and oil shales don't count as oil reserves because it's too costly to extract the useful oil from them. Yet the kind of technology my father works on is bringing tar sands extraction costs to a level that is nearly competitive at today's oil prices. Twenty years ago we suddenly had a lot more oil in existing "reserves" because we discovered that we could shoot steam into existing unproductive wells to force more oil up the well. I don't know what's next, and neither does Deffeyes.

A final note on Deffeyes is his typical disregard for economists. He pooh-poohs the idea that oil discovery responds to economical incentives (higher oil prices), arguing that you can't wring oil from a stone no matter how incentivized you are. However, that's taking too limited a view. Development responds to incentives in one way or another, sometimes in unexpected ways. While you can't always predict quite how people follow incentives you have a pretty good idea what the result will be. Who knows -- maybe someday we will be able to wring oil from stones.

Update: I had to rewrite this today after talking to my Dad and getting a more nuanced view. If you saw this earlier Sunday a.m, it's a fair bit different now.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

It always amazes me that charity in the Bay Area is so focused on the Bay Area. Today I have a concrete example. San Jose magazine (a very glossy high-ad-content free magazine) frequently publishes articles on charity and in the April issue (not shown on their site yet) they ask four women what their favourite charities are. Their combined list is:
  • Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara
  • Santa Clara City Library Foundation
  • "arts organizations" such as San Jose Rep
  • "women's issues" such as Planned Parenthood Mar Monte
  • Santa Clara Medical Alliance
  • Los Gatos Rowing Club
  • Commonwealth Club
  • Emergency Housing Consortium
  • Land Trust of Santa Clara County
  • Hakone Gardens
All of these are local; only the Commonwealth Club (of California) has some ability to reach residents of other states.

So where's African AIDS issues? Middle East womens' rights? Education in Africa or India? Third-world food aid or clean water programs? Why don't any of these issues even make their collective radar, while gardens and museums and rowing clubs in one of the richest metropolitan areas of the world are? I suppose I'm reasonably pleased that Santa Clara is opening a 80,000-square-foot Central Park library in 2004, but I know the kind of people who will benefit from it -- people like me. I don't need the help. Others do.

Friday, March 28, 2003

This is hilarious -- how to be outright subversive within the massive protest marches.
''Protect Islamic Property Rights Against Western Imperialism! SAY NO TO WAR.''
I no longer live in Seattle, but I still read The Stranger from time to time, it's better than SF's alternatives. This article on being a supporter of the war in the overwhelmingly pro-peace Capitol Hill area is a nice example of how broad The Stranger can be. It also makes a case for supporting a quick victory even if one was originally anti-war:
Understand that the invasion of Iraq has become an ineluctable situation. It would be senseless to extricate ourselves now even if we could. Until things get better, they are going to get worse--there will be more American prisoners of war and more executions; we will lose more helicopters in sandstorms; chemical warfare seems almost a foregone conclusion--and increasingly we are in a race against time: The military will have to accomplish its objectives before the peace movement (which will gain momentum as casualties pile up) accomplishes its objective of obscuring them.
A Capitol-Hill resident, ex drama student, Stranger-article-writing guy under the age of 23 is hardly the stereotypical warmongerer, now is he?
Nicholas Kristof's NYTimes editorial today addresses the same issue as in my next-to-last posting.
We doves simply have to let go of the dispute about getting into this war. It's now a historical question, and the relevant issue, for hawks and doves alike, is how we get out of this war... Creating a postwar Iraq that is free and flourishing is also the one way to recoup the damage this war has already done to America's image and interests.
Ekr now has his own blog. This is Ekr.

From SkyNews, via Command-Post:
During a question and answer session at the end of his speech [French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin] refused to answer the question: "Who do you want to win the war?"
Hoping the US will lose is a stupid position for Westerners, even if you always opposed the war and always will. A loss for the US will first involve the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, both armed forces and civilians. On the other hand, a quick victory for the US has the least loss of lives overall of any reasonable scenario, and any humanitarian should now hope for that outcome. Is it worth it, even to the French, to see so many Arabs die just so that the US superpower gets a bloody nose?

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Last week I was at the IETF meeting in San Francisco (making my way through protesters in between meetings). This week I'm at the Information Highways conference. For two Internet-related conferences, the two are as different as night and day, where the night is overcast and the day is rather summery.

IETF had a couple thousand 100% authentic geeks, whereas Information Highways seems to have a few hundred marketing and public relations and purchasing agents. IETF had working groups, emphasis on working, while this conference has "by invitation" breakfast presentations. My presentation later today will include dessert, presumably so people will listen to me.

I'm not entirely knocking this IH conference, you understand -- I'm all in favour of my company being able to market its products in a comfortable environment in which experienced IT people are disposed to hear how useful our stuff could be. It's just not quite my natural milieu!

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Security exploit found in IIS 5.0 WebDAV-related code. Of course it has nothing to do with WebDAV as a protocol, it's a typical buffer overflow error.
.NET saves boy down a well. The graphic says it all.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Did you know that the iCal online calendar functionality in Mac OS X can store your calendar on a WebDAV server? Not just Apple's server (which you have to pay to use now I think) but any WebDAV server.

Sadly, it's not compatible with the way Microsoft Exchange does calendaring over WebDAV. The calendaring working group at the IETF long ago rejected the idea of using WebDAV to do any calendar access interoperability despite obvious implementor support.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

It's really hard to tell from this if Microsoft is embracing XML or choking it.
I talked to a CIO Magazine editor a couple weeks ago, and here's the outcome of that chat, a short editorial. I guess I come across as pretty serious. It's a little unfortunate that I also come across as not believing in Xythos WFS: "[Lisa] still tells people about free and more feature-rich alternatives to her own employer's products." The truth, as always, is more nuanced. There are free alternatives to WFS and there are alternatives with different feature sets.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

I finally ordered the camera I've been thinking about for 8 months last month, and it finally arrived Thursday night. I've hardly had time to play with it, as I hardly have time to do anything this spring other than work and book. But I did manage to take this lovely tea rose image while I was testing out the camera's close-up ability. Click here for full picture.

The camera itself is a Minolta DImage Xi 3.2 megapixel.

Blog Archive

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.