Peak Everything

This is probably going to be a long and rambling post, but heck, I haven’t done one in a while (though I am sure some readers will object since I often run off at the keyboard). Over the last couple of days I have been reading a book that contains several sections regarding global warming, peak oil, etc. (I won’t name it, it is generally poorly written and is at least half the author making Tea Party rants against Obama). Then last night I watched part of a program about peak oil. I have also been a regular reader of the blog Do The Math where the author talks extensively (and with numbers, hence the title) about how alternatives have no prayer of replacing our dependence on crude oil. Anyway, I haven’t babble about the looming apocalypse for a while so felt now was a good time. With that as unnecessary introduction, let the rant begin…

While I have significant doubts about the concept of ‘global warming‘ being the result of human’s use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe (quite strongly!) that humans are destroying the value in our globe’s ecosystem at an accelerating, unsustainable rate. For the most part humans have almost completely decimated the land surface (where that surface has any value, of course; trackless deserts are pretty much left to themselves), though there has been a small trend in the opposite direction lately. We have been so steadily raping the ocean that we have almost removed all the apex predators completely and have been steadily working our way down the food chain (though we already harvest tons of krill, pretty close to the bottom of the food chain). We pump massive amounts of antibiotics and other assorted pharmaceuticals into our waterways on a daily basis that lead to dramatic impacts on sensitive life (some leading to ‘feminization‘ of fish and amphibians) not to mention flooding the oceans with nutrient runoff leading to algae blooms and thence to ‘dead zones‘. And, as is fairly well known already, our steady destruction of old growth forest (tropical and temperate) have been resulting in the lost of species at the rate that many ecologists are talking about a new extinction event (the time of the ‘Anthropocene‘). Here in the US we have created additional problems entirely fabricated by humans: the ability of nation/states or even random hackers to plunge our infrastructure into the stone age at the press of a button. We have put so much junk in Earth orbit that it is becoming problematic to launch new satellites, so we are even trashing parts of our solar system!

So, humans are having a huge impact on our planet even before we break out discussions of peak oil and the conflicts thereafter. We have already passed peaks in so many other places (fish harvest have been steadily declining for a century or longer, only by going to ‘lower quality’ fish have we been able to keep our faces stuffed) and are in the down slide that it is almost quaint to talk about something like oil. However, because humans have such a strong, wide aggressive streak, it is quite certain that these various peak-sliding-down-events will eventually (where that is likely measured in years, but could conceivably be decades if we are lucky) there will be even more massive impact on our environment as we start to wholesale slaughter one another in a desperate, but useless (actually counter productive), attempt to stave off the inevitable decline. When I have talked about the apocalypse I have generally focused on it being a US centric event, but over the last couple of days I am now thinking it will be a much more global event and there will be few places to hide. There is almost certainly going to be a sudden, sharp and seemingly instantaneous ‘flip’ from everything seeming to go well one day to the entire globe is in the shit the next day. While it is possible to predict with almost certainty that this event will happen, the timing is the result of countless actions feeding back towards one another in a non-linear fashion. Sort of like the events that unfolded in the Philippines when the typhoon struck a year or so ago, the aftermath is fairly easy to document and the resultant steps taken by various governments and groups easy to outline. Positioning yourself to be on the right side, though, may be very non-trivial. I saw the looming housing crash years in advanced and put together a very pretty plan to take advantage of it, but moved too slow and instead wound up even more screwed.

The ironic thing to me is that none of this needs to happen. Based on my research we can produce such a huge amount of food using a technique called aquaponics that we could easily manage a human population of more than a trillion without _any_ impact on the ecosystem (other than the 10% of land surface we would use)! We could continue our love of liquid fuels by utilizing duckweed and supply our electricity using nuclear energy. We could likely even harvest solar energy (thus doing away with the nuclear ‘bogyman’) using something called ‘osmotic energy‘ (see the lower half of the post) and skip the expense of solar panels (I have read several analyses that suggest the energy it takes to produce the panel is greater than the panel’s lifetime output). However, in order to prepare for the consequences of a major peak (such as oil, food, etc.) one must start long before the peak is realized as the consequences of the downside are abrupt and devastating. Since by many estimates we may have already reached peak oil and food (by conventional means, of course) we are teetering on the cusp of the slide into oblivion already giving us essentially negative time to react.

So is there any way to prepare for such an event (besides keeping cyanide capsules with you at all time so you can simply skip to the end)? The so-called ‘preppers‘ are already attempting to lay the ground work, but I consider most of those efforts doomed (e.g.). It is fairly easy to estimate what the world will look like after (with about one tenth of its population in 3-5 years and a steadily declining population for decades to come, for instance), but the actual crumbling will be much like the events inside a hurricane or tornado. Inches will matter and luck will have a disproportionate impact on who survives what. Disease will become rampant and the inner cores of cities will become wastelands where only a few hardy (or foolhardy) groups will eek out a living on the scraps left over by the riots. The countryside will be dotted with Amish inspired communities where the inhabitants will aggressively defend their territory and way of life and skeletons will litter the highways and byways.

Of course I might be full of crap, it isn’t like anything like this has ever happened before, right? Oh yea, there are a couple of examples in human history, such as the fall of Rome, several revolutions in China, you know, stuff like that. We won’t be like that, you say, things are different now. Well, the long sustained upward trajectory we have been enjoying for well over a century (really going back to the industrial revolution) has pretty much robbed us of the collective knowledge to anticipate such an event, so when the tornado strikes we will be collectively shocked that it could ever happen.

Ok, I believe I got this out of my system, thanks for reading…

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I am not sure about this: we must end the tyranny of Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota

Break up the states! The case for the United Statelets of America
Here’s how Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota are exercising tyranny over the rest of us — and how to stop them

On the one hand this idea sounds quite interesting, but on the other hand I see it as a slippery slope. Once you start breaking up states where does it stop? Smaller states have just as many demographic differences as larger states, so do we wind up with Gerrymandered states? A rural state that completely surrounds a city state? Would you combine regions like the DC Metro that consists of parts of Maryland, Virginia and of course DC? Would the state boundaries shift over time like city boundaries? Where would it all end?

In any case, I doubt it would have any appreciable impact on our current political system, it is already beholden to the rich elite and the sheeple have no impact, I don’t see that changing with an extra 50 stars on our flag.

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Just get out there…

Even a 5-minute run can help prevent heart disease

In my continued effort to motivate any potential readers, the above article talks about some research that says even a tiny amount of jogging can have dramatic effects on your overall health. It takes an amazingly small amount of effort to get a very significant payback, there is increasingly little excuse for avoiding the effort. Even people who are obese, smoking and/or have diabetes saw the same sort of benefit (compared to their peers; this study has 55,000 people in it). They also caveat ‘run’ by saying it can be less than 6 MPH (which is a pretty slow jog already; when I was in boot camp I was ‘slow’ at 10 MPH), in general my reading has lead me to believe if you are moving at a rate that precludes any sort of conversation beyond a few words a minute you are operating at the ideal minimum effort (which naturally will change as you get into shape). A few beads of sweat on your brow and an increase in your heart rate and respiration are the goal, not any particular speed.

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A third of Americans in debt collection!

1 in 3 U.S. adults have ‘debt in collections’

Pretty scary stat, but that is what happens when our Great Government socializes risk while privatizing reward. The rich keep getting richer and the rest just take it in the ass, ain’t America Great?

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Post-constitutional America

How to survive in post-constitutional America
What happens when the executive branch can play judge, jury and executioner in the war on terror?

An interesting, if totally depressing read. It is about the ‘justification’ that our Great President used to kill a US citizen (Anwar al-Awlaki) without charges or trial. Since it is written so broad (though 1/3 evidently was so embarrassing that they redacted it) there is no way it _can’t_ be used against anyone the government chooses to use it against.

The Most Transparent Administration Ever!

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Fist bump keeps you healthier!

Fist bumping ‘may help reduce flu’

Not terribly surprising to me, but it is nice to see it documented. At the bottom here I talk about the ‘dramatic’ benefit of simple hygiene to combat the spread of disease, this is just another log on the fire towards doing away with useless and expensive treatments (though the US being the US, that isn’t likely to ever happen, at least until another patented treatment comes along).

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Where there is money, a will and a way will follow

I found this on Bruce Schneier’s blog:

Fingerprinting Computers By Making Them Draw Images

Here’s a new way to identify individual computers over the Internet. The page instructs the browser to draw an image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, this can be used to uniquely identify each computer. This is a big deal, because there’s no way to block this right now.

I glanced at the paper and it is a bit interesting. By getting your computer’s hardware to produce an image they can identify the machine with a high degree of accuracy. Of course, one would presume that that level of hardware access would be blocked by the browser sandbox, but they found a clever way to step around that limitation. This approach will, of course, be quickly blocked by many of the browser writers (I am sure that the Firefox developers are almost done with a patch), but there is a HUGE amount of money out there for products such as these and I have no doubt that variations on a theme will be blasting out soon. It is interesting to me, though, that the very success with tools such as these puts a hard lifetime on their success. There are quite a few groups out there that are ultra paranoid about every byte that traverses their networks and they work to identify the source for each and every one, so something that becomes successful will rapidly rise into the targeting aperture of these organizations and be stomped on. It is interesting to observe the cat and mouse game (where ‘cat’ and ‘mouse’ switch roles from time to time) from the sidelines, I am quite happy to not put in 36 hour days figuring out some of these things.

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Take out the messenger

FedEx indicted for shipping drugs sold online

Since the government can’t do its job properly it decides to go after someone it can reach in its laziness. I like this quote from FedEx:

“We continue to stand ready and willing to support and assist law enforcement,” said spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald. “We cannot, however, do the job of law enforcement ourselves.”

Last Sunday I managed to cut off the very tip (about a millimeter) of my pinky finger doing something stupid (does anyone injure themselves doing something smart?). I was cutting part of a stud to make room for a medicine cabinet and I guess because I was worried about the plumbing pipes I wasn’t focused on where all my fingers were and that damn lazy good-for-nothing pinky wandered into the danger zone (stupid pinky, doesn’t it know about these things?). It bled remarkably little, but sure does hurt. It is remarkable how much I use that pinky when typing, I have slowed down quite a bit. I didn’t post a couple of times earlier in the week because I couldn’t bear the thought of all the typing.

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“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

Why the GOP really wants to defund IRS
Hint: It’s not about punishing administrative incompetence.

Back from my week long ‘vacation’ (the bulk of which was 10-12 hours a day of back breaking work (in sauna-like temps) to get ready for the July 4th party) and catching up on the news. The above article is quite interesting to me (really! it is worth a read!) and apropos given that I got this from a good friend yesterday:

Education Profiteering; Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?

Which reminded me of a few past posts that are all related to the steady and largely successful efforts by the elite to extract tax dollars from the middle class while simultaneously maximizing polarization in our country:

Also prison privatization is ‘great’ for profit as well:

There is also good reason to think the shenanigans with the post office are all about union busting:

After that bit of shameless plugging of my own posts I will say that the party was pretty much an unqualified success. My primary goal of getting the cooks out of the house was a roaring success and all greeted the pavilion with excitement and approval. I was able to relax from the 4th on (we also took off yesterday (Monday) as well) and sit around, eat and smoke cigars (and watch the Tour de France live). The weather also moderated nicely for the weekend as well. I will try to get updated pictures on my web site soon and post back here…

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Sorry for the quiet

I have been readjusting to being a working stiff again (though that doesn’t explain why I was so quiet when I was on the dole) and haven’t been keeping up with news very much. I read an interesting (older) article at Salon (I don’t visit there as much now that Greenwald has left; they seem to be largely the opposite of Fox: many articles (at least their titles) read like hysterical left-wing versions of the hysterical right-wing nonsense at Fox) that thoughtfully discusses several aspects of Snowden’s leaks and interestingly weaves in McVeigh and his bombing:

The empire strikes back: How Brandeis foreshadowed Snowden and Greenwald
So-called liberals attack the whistle-blower duo — and a brilliant Supreme Court justice saw it all coming

I figured I would use this as an excuse to write an update, though I encourage my reader(s) to check the article out.

The job is pretty much a bait-and-switch, I am to program in Ruby and use something called RSpec for testing instead of the C++ we talked almost exclusively about during the interview. I am not in a very good position to be upset about this, so am working through the learning curve now. Supposedly there exists the chance for me to switch to the development team where the work is done in either C or C++ (I am fine with either) in 6-ish months when the testing framework has been completed, we will see what happens. Naturally I can’t talk much about what I do, though it is nice sometimes to be able to talk freely inside the scif with my co-workers about things, though with some stuff being ECI (Exceptionally Controlled Information) even some of our inside conversations get neutered. The wonderful world of working in the IC.

All next week will be devoted to preping for our big party on July 4th. Lots of landscaping I need to get caught up on, and of course work on the greenhouse/pool (or rather the pavilion of said project). We almost completed the half bath last weekend, but when I went to turn the water on it turns out that I didn’t completely insulate the pipes as I had thought and there is a 3/4 inch gash in the side of a 1 inch pipe that spewed lots of water until I turned it off. I will fix that this weekend. I feel pretty confident that everything in the pavilion will be functional (but not to my wife’s desired state, meaning lacking trim, etc. in places) for the party, though there are at least a couple of day’s worth of work to do.

We got the carpenters (Danny and Danny) back on the job, they are working on the siding now so hopefully it will look finished when people drive up. Still many months of work to go before it is complete, but I think having it ready for aquaponics early this Fall is very feasible. We still have the insulation inspection for the greenhouse/pool area, then the final inspection, so we are still looking at a whole lot of work yet to be officially done.

A few days ago I learned about Nickel-Iron batteries (NiFe). Also called ‘Edison batteries’ they were very profitable for the Edison company, but that division was bought by a lead-acid battery company and discontinued. The main problem with them? Believe it or not, the main problem is that the damn things seem to last forever (some are still going after 80+ years!). They are very tolerant of abuse (over charging, complete discharging), though have some technical aspects that put them at a slight disadvantage to lead-acid. The big problem today: they are several times more expensive than lead-acid and are only made in China and India. What interests me so much is that it seems entirely feasible to fabricate them DIY, so I am thinking about doing some research into fabricating them. If I can make them cheap enough myself (and thus, can maintain/repair them if needed) then I believe they might become a viable way to go off-grid. Lead-acid batteries, at least as built today, can’t be fabricated (or repaired) by a regular DIY-er, not to mention they are quite toxic. I am not too excited about the sodium-sulfur batteries because they have to operate so hot, the elements (sodium) can catch fire when exposed to air and, oh yes, I recently learned that sometimes they explode! Super capacitors are still not ready for prime time. I haven’t done any work on my osmotic energy because I have been too damn tired after all the construction (sometimes it takes me until Wednesday to recover from the weekend’s efforts). Hopefully this winter.

I am suddenly quite interested in growing hickory trees. Of course it takes so very long for them to produce (from seedlings it is not out of the question to take 40 years to start producing), but I think I can get grafted versions that might bear in ‘only’ 5-7 years. I sort of accidentally learned that my chestnuts might be growing so damn slow because they like acid soil and since we are in an area of plenty of limestone, they might not be happy. I use sulfur to acidify the soil for my blueberries (and azaleas and rhododendrons), it is simple to sprinkle some around the chestnuts to see if that will get them on the ball. Though I have been having problems getting my bare-root fruit trees to bear fruit (no pun intended), they have grown _very_ nicely and in many cases are 12+ feet tall and several inches in diameter in the trunk, yet the chestnuts are basically the exact same size as when I planted the damn things.

I have pretty much recovered from my sprained ankle now, but haven’t been able to keep jogging for longer than about 2.5 miles for some reason. Besides, of course, being fat and out of shape. I had reason to actually _look_ at myself in the mirror the other day, man am I a fat blob. Stuff hanging out all over the place! Pretty embarrassing, good thing stuff like that doesn’t mortify me or I might never get out of the house.

Yall have a most excellent day now, yahea?

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