Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Links

  • The above graphic of recent former Soviet Union oil production comes from an excellent post at TOD by Rembrandt Koppelaar.
  • Another triumph for the Onion (and I claim this is on-topic for the blog as Kim Jong-Un is at least a minor threat to civilization - that's my story and I'm sticking to it).
  • Flood insurance premium increases will make it harder to live near the coast following Hurricane Sandy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • Trends in western wildfires: they've gotten much worse and will get worse yet.  The above is Fig. 11 from the report.  Anticipation of the long-term unpleasantness of this trend was a secondary factor in my decision to move east a couple of years back (the primary one being house prices). Of course nowhere will be immune from climate change - here in the east we are going to have to deal with more and worse storms, at an absolute minimum.
  • Greece: another kludge has been found in time.
  • Will Japan inflate away their debt?  Tim Duy thinks so.
  • New net-zero homes needn't cost more than a lot of conventional construction.
  • Some interesting speculations about why civilization didn't start earlier.  I find this a fascinating question that doesn't seem satisfactorily answered.  In particular, what were the key genetic differences that prevented Neanderthals evolving to civilized status during the Eemian? And why couldn't Homo Sapiens civilizations develop in tropical regions during the last ice age?  (Given that civilizations have tended to sprout like weeds all over the planet during the Holocene).
  • This is off-topic but I'm fascinated by the whole HP-Autonomy scandal.  HP's story hasn't made any sense to me from the start - they paid $10b for this thing but couldn't do enough due diligence to detect $5-$6b worth of accounting problems?  Doesn't that make them colossal screw-ups even in their own telling of the story?  Some shareholders apparently think so.
  • Heat-pump clothes-dryers on the way in the US?
  • New Cambridge University center on civilizational risk.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Weekend Links

  • 16% of the US soybean crop is going for biodiesel.
  • AI continues to make discomforting progress.  I am somewhat reassured by the fact that Siri on my iPhone continues to suck.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Links

  • The above shows the history of wind tax credits in the US.  The current credit is due to expire at the end of this year, which will eviscerate wind power deployment again.  This is a crazy way to nurture an industry that is strategically important but needs some subsidy to compete against fossil fuel power that doesn't have to pay for its externality of destroying the holocene climate.
  • Is the US using malware to spy on the French?
  • I don't know if the ceasefire will hold, but this collaboration between Egypt and the US to mediate as the seconds in the duel between Israel and Hamas seems quite promising.
  • Construction in Europe sags further.
Blogging will probably be light for the next few days...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Links

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Links

  • The above shows the relative trends in the different parts of the US by climate zone - amount of winter heating required.  As you might expect, the US population has been gradually shifting to the sunbelt over the second half of the twentieth century.  My guess is that climate change will gradually reverse this trend over the twenty-first century - events like the drought last year in Texas will affect the south and west more and more and the longer-settled colder parts of the country will start to look better by comparison (not to suggest that they won't be affected too).
  • Climate change: drought is a greater threat than storms.  I'm in agreement.
  • Should we retreat from the beach?
  • High IPO valuations appear to be driven by institutional demand.  This makes sense to me - when yields on almost everything are tiny, the valuation of new companies with growth prospects should rise so that their yields are less out of line with other assets.
  • Percentage of mortgages delinquent by state over time.  This data is quite illuminating and caused a significant update in my views of where the residual housing pain is concentrated.
  • The current European recession is now officially recognized.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Links

  • The above shows US coal exports by type, destination, and port.  Surprisingly little coal leaves via the west coast.
  • Southern Europe in co-ordinated industrial action.  It seems likely to me that this prolonged period of austerity and depression in these countries will have radicalizing effects that will last decades.
  • Israel bombing Gaza and causing an uptick in oil prices.  The tail risk of generalized chaos in the Middle East seems to have ticked up too.
  • Hmmm.  I just noticed that US initial unemployment claims seem to have stopped making progress in recent months, and at levels considerably above a normal recovery.  That's not such great news.
  • October was a lousy month for European industrial production:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • The IEA is expecting substantial production increases in Iraq (and here, I agree, at least in outline terms).
  • Are China's loans getting too dodgy?
  • Making it on the fringes in Spain.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Links

  • 90% of the hurricane Sandy power outages have now been fixed, but the last 10% are likely to be stubborn.  The tick up on 11/8 in the graph above will be due to winter storm Athena.  Bad news when the winter storms start beating you up before you've finished fixing the outages from the last of the summer storms.
  • The disaster preparedness economy.
  • Kevin Kelly asks how many people can a rogue genius kill?  Has the number increased over time?   His answers are "a few hundred" and "no".  What fun!  (Yes, I'm a ghoulish security guy, so I think this kind of thing is interesting to think about).  My instincts have been that it is getting easier for a single individual to make a bigger impact, but I have to confess that I can't think of a clear demonstration of the possibility being real yet.  Certainly if we think in terms of monetary costs instead of deaths - single author computer worms have been estimated to do damage in the billions or even tens of billions (12).  Most of those were amateurish - if someone really good ever goes rogue, it could be a lot worse.  This compares, for example, with Timothy McVeigh's old school fertilizer bomb, an attack that could have been perfectly well carried out in 1925, and which caused something shy of $1b.  I should think in terms of deaths, the real possibilities are going to be down to what a lone bioterrorist could do, which I'm not well informed about.
  • Bonus question: is there any conceivable scenario in which a lone rogue genius could single-handedly trigger a civilizational collapse?
  • Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday Links

  • The above is from a Merrill Lynch survey of global fund managers as to which tail risks worry them most.
  • Automation is the reason why the last few US recoveries have been jobless.
  • UK slowing down on offshore wind power.
  • Some suggestions on household resilience to simultaneous gasoline and power outages.  I've been doing a lot of thinking on related lines following hurricane Sandy, as well as a scary brush with Irene and Lee last year, and in expectation of more frequent extreme weather events in future.  I was already planning to buy a diesel tractor next spring to help manage my family's rural property with the view to running it on waste oil biodiesel during the growing season and regular diesel out of season (when biodiesel gels).  You can buy generators that run off a tractor PTO and I'm thinking that's the way to go.  Diesel stores much better than gasoline, and that way I don't have to buy an extra diesel engine (which will be expensive and inevitably be indifferently maintained during long periods of disuse).
  • Nate Silver's data-centric election analysis triumphs.
  • I very often disagree with the Archdruid since he frequently gets quantitative issues wrong and doesn't seem to revise his views much based on incoming data.  Nonetheless, I'm still reading him seven years after I first came across his writings, because he's an unusual and creative thinker  who makes intellectually stimulating forays into history that I don't know about.  In particular, his last six posts are a fictional account of one possible way the US global empire-lite might end in the 2030s, and a discussion of the historical analogies he used in constructing the scenario.  It's worth a read if you have the time.
  • Level of unplanned outages amongst non-OPEC oil producers: 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday Links

  • Above is the latest data on gasoline availability in the NYC metro area.
  • Merkel says Eurozone crisis will last at least another five years.  Incroyable.
  • Every time there's a massive disaster it always seems to be that there was a group of scientists and engineers who for years had been trying to get people to pay attention to the probability of that very thing.  But people only actually pay attention to them after the disaster has finally occurred.
  • EIA data on total US grid-connected solar.  Currently they estimate 3.5 GW of capacity.  This is split roughly three ways between utility, commercially sited (on office buildings etc), and residential.  Commercial is a little ahead of the other categories.
  • Krugman on FEMA under Democratic vs Republican administrations.  I do agree that there's an empirical regularity here, and it's plausible that it might be explained by Republicans not being motivated to make the federal government appear competent.
  • Mostly, though, I'm with Tom Friedman.
  • Good post on effects of biofuels on food prices.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oil Prices

Gasoline availability in Hurricane Areas

The EIA has stood up a daily emergency survey of gas stations in the storm-hit areas:
Based on today's emergency survey of gasoline availability, EIA estimates that 27% of gas stations in the New York metropolitan area do not have gasoline available for sale. This is a decrease from 38% yesterday. This number includes stations that reported no gasoline available and those we could not reach after numerous attempts, and consequently assume that the station was closed. Of the stations sampled, about 73% (up from 62% yesterday) had gasoline available for sale, none reported they were not selling gasoline because they had no power (compared to 3% yesterday), 10% had power but no gasoline supplies, and 17% (down from 24% yesterday) did not respond to attempts to contact them.
This issue of gas shortages first really came to light on Thursday, and by Saturday the EIA had this survey going and was collecting tremendously useful data.  Impressive.  The federal government, normally extremely slow and bureaucratic, can move with incredible speed and agility when there's a major natural disaster a week before national elections.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend Links

  • Excellent Lane Kenworthy post summarizing the causes of unequal opportunity in the US.
  • Some university campuses are moving to ground source heat pumps.  Here in Ithaca, Cornell has been using heat pumps to air condition buildings since 2000 with Cayuga Lake as the heat sink.
  • Aggressive federal response to the fuel shortages in New York and New Jersey.  Hard not to be impressed.  In general, the contrast to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina couldn't be greater.
  • In light of climate change, should the Jersey shore be rebuilt?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Hits Just-In-Time Economy

I've been wondering for a long time whether the just-in-time nature of modern economies created large-scale rapid failure modes in which a shock that pushed the system sufficiently far out of its envelope of resilience would trigger a catastrophic breakdown.  I've called this kind of thing a "death-star vulnerability" in which if something hit civilization in just the right way in the most vulnerable place, the whole thing might blow.  I first became interested in this in the context of cyber-attacks,  but I've never seen any way to get any kind of intellectually defensible handle on the problem of understanding the existence, nature, and tractability of that kind of vulnerability.

At any rate, and at some risk of sounding ghoulishly detached, Hurricane Sandy is creating a pretty interesting natural experiment that is illuminating some of the issues.  The hurricane hit land on Monday evening, and by Thursday the entire region is close to out of gas:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Can Hurricane Sandy's unusual track be blamed on lost Arctic sea ice?  Maybe - too soon to be sure.
  • Economic effects of hurricane Sandy.
  • Michael Levi: Can we do anything about climate change in the near term?
  • Hybrids and electric vehicles do well in reliability survey.
  • Physicists are a bunch of whiny pessimists about the so-bright-we-need-shades future of technology. #wheresmyjetpack.
  • Cyber-attack on Saudi Aramco may not have been Iranians after all.
  • Vacuum-insulated panels have five times the R-value per inch of conventional insulation, but are currently too expensive and hard-to-apply to see widespread use.  Inventors and entrepreneurs needed over there please!
  • A nuclear equipment vendor is threatening suit to stifle discussion of cyber-vulnerability information about its equipment.  Always a classy move.
  • DSIRE: Database of state-by-state incentives for renewables and energy efficiency measures  Check your state today.
  • European unemployment misery continues: