Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thursday Links

  • The US lost farmland in 2012, mostly due to loss of ranchland in Texas and Montana because of drought.  Kay McDonald has the details (as well as some interesting graphs of the distribution of farmland between farm income categories).
  • Here's some color on how the Texas drought is affecting the economy in one town.
  • I stumbled across this really interesting climate paper when looking for something else.  Essentially it argues that when the climate goes through a major non-linear flip into a different state, that is preceded by a period in which the normal fluctuations in climate get less pronounced To give a loose idea for non-technical folks, it's as though, as the system is being squeezed towards the narrow bottleneck between the old state and the new state, it has less scope to rattle around.  They show this happening to greater or lesser degrees for eight past climate tipping points of very different character.  I was fairly convinced by the paper (but I'm not an expert).  It's less clear what this means for our ability to predict climate tipping points under anthropological global warming, since our carbon emissions signal is basically a step function on geological timeframes, not a gradual change in forcing like all the past ones under study in this paper.  
  • Japan may restart some nuclear plants later this year.
  • US oil production tops 7mbd.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday Links

  • Interesting Ross Douthat perspective on the post-employment trend.
  • How to diplomatically confront China over the state sponsored hacking. 
  • Turns out that killing people is stressful, even when they are on the other side of the world.
  • The risk of an unstable government in Italy.  Paul Krugman's perspective is also worth reading.
  • Well-written discussion of the limitations of tight oil and gas by Randy Udall.
  • Iran using old tankers to evade sanctions on oil exports?
  • EIA says the US produced 20,000 gallons of cellulosic biofuel in 2012, and might produce 5 million gallons in 2013.  I have no idea if the latter estimate is realistic, but it would correspond to  an average rate of 326 barrels/day (vs US oil consumption of around 18-19 million barrels/day).  Ways to go, at best.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekend Links


  • The above is European retail trade, through December 2012.  No sign whatsoever of stabilization there.
  • Low snowpack in much of the western US is leading to fears of another summer of drought and wildfires.
  • UK stripped of AAA rating.  Guess the Cameron government's austerity program hasn't quite worked out as planned.
  • A disturbing story (slightly off-topic).
  • If you have an interest in climate and have some mathematical training, this Tamino post is an absolute joy.  Basically he shows that if you take a simple two box model of the earth's climate, and then factor out the El-Nino/La Nina oscillation as noise, you can come incredibly close to the observed history of global temperature (given the known forcing data from greenhouse gases, aerosols, solar fluctuations, etc).
  • Daddy bloggers objecting to how Dads are portrayed as incompetent in consumer advertising (interesting in light of the dropping male employment/population ratio suggesting more men are staying home, which might be expected to lead to cultural shifts of the kind discussed at the link).
  • Below is European industrial production through Dec 2012.  Stabilizing?  Evidence of that is not very convincing at this point.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday Links

  • The above is EU-wide and Eurozone unemployment.  There is a little hint of stabilization at the overall level, but it is much too soon to tell for sure.
  • US household formation, which had been rebounding after the great recession, is now stabilizing.  Sober Look argues this means that house price appreciation will slow going forward.
  • The Chinese have drones too.
  • Here is the full Mandiant report on the Chinese PLA unit 61398 that they say is responsible for a large fraction of Chinese cyberattacks on the US.  They make a plausible case, and the report is a lot of work and well worth reading for IT folks (non-specialists might just skim the beginning and conclusions).  One caution: I don't think all that much of the statistical analyses in the report.   Mandiant is a rapidly growing US company founded in 2004, and so anything measured from inside Mandiant is going to be based on a sample that started with a few US customers and grew to many more US customers and started to incorporate international ones as well.  There are ways to account for that, but the statistics here are just absolute numbers and so will be heavily contaminated by Mandiant's growth.  That said, there's essentially no doubt of the main point here - China is engaged in massive-scale state-sponsored cyber-espionage against the west.
  • Which is the perfect segue to this Michael Pettis essay arguing, amongst other things, that almost all countries that successfully transitioned from undeveloped to developed state did so via protecting their infant industries with tarriffs and generally with large amounts of intellectual property theft from the dominant country of the day.  So Chinese intellectual property theft is following a long tradition - just with modern electronic efficiency.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Links

Only two links today: couldn't find anything else of interest.
  • Electric car company Tesla in massive public pissing match with New York Times.  Sounds like some fault on both sides to me.  Fascinating how much data the Tesla is logging.  I wonder how much is getting uploaded from the car remotely?
  • NYT article on one of the main Chinese espionage operations stealing data from US companies.  China is doing this on an absolutely massive scale.  Computer security companies see it every single day.  It's really quite outrageous and this article is a good primer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Obama to Accelerate Towards Singularity

NYT sez:
The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.

George M. Church, a molecular biologist at Harvard, said he was helping to plan the project, the Brain Activity Map. The project, which the administration has been looking to unveil as early as March, will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.

Scientists with the highest hopes for the project also see it as a way to develop the technology essential to understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as to find new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.

Moreover, the project holds the potential of paving the way for advances in artificial intelligence.
Indeed it does.

This illustrates exactly why I claimed that the approach to the singularity is ultimately the greatest threat to us; we are completely culturally blind to the idea that innovation could be bad for us, across the political spectrum.

Oil Supply Flatness Continues

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Links (and Apology)

Obviously, blogging has not gone so well this week - indeed, has not gone at all - and I apologize for that.  Sometimes life intervenes.

Here are a few links to be going on with.  Hopefully, things will return to normal this coming week.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thursday Links

  • The above shows recent and projected costs per watt for Chinese solar panels.  The recent price reductions have been incredible.  This is the primary reason why Solera went out of business and this is capitalism doing what it does best: brutal competition to get more and more efficient, the weakest going to the wall, and a critically important technology becoming cheaper and cheaper for global civilization to use.  (Source: Greentech Media).
  • Some of the US Great Lakes are at all-time record low levels.
  • Catherine Rampell is sceptical about the ability of robots/algorithms to displace people long-term.  However, I didn't think the piece was very insightful and in particular doesn't take on the strongest arguments for why this time is different. 
  • A bold choice for interior secretary.
  • Useful explanation from Heading Out of why recovery rates from fraccing tight oil rocks will necessarily be very low.
  • Places that wind power does not make sense.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday Links

  • NY State governor Cuomo proposes that we should buy up coastal property damaged by Hurricane Sandy and return it to a natural state.  This is an interesting proposal.  On the one hand, I can see that this is a better idea than people rebuilding on land that will surely get riskier and riskier as the oceans rise.  On the other hand, it sets an interesting precedent: do we want to socialize all the losses of property owners who elect to live next to the ocean in an era when we pretty much know that the sea-level is going to rise and wipe out a lot of coastal property?
  • Things still not going well in Egypt.
  • Gregor McDonald starts to look at the whole robot/machine intelligence question and seems to be drawing similar conclusions to me.  The piece has some interesting color.
  • Ethanol production down in 2012.
  • Artificial islands for storing renewable energy?  The idea is to have a hollow center to the island and pump water out when there's excessive wind power, and then have it flow back in (powering turbines on the way) when the energy is needed later.  The basic idea of pumping water uphill as a storage mechanism is an old one - the Dinorwig power station in Wales was built in 1974 for example - but the island twist is new to me.  I haven't really thought about how far this idea scales - but that seems like a good future post.  How big a lake would we need to get a fully renewable US through the winter if we didn't trade renewable energy globally?

Friday, February 1, 2013