Heading Out

Seeking the winds that help to sail on Shakespeare's tide.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Christmas newsletters

Jimbo has mentioned sending out Christmas newsletters. It is a nice feature of computers that it allows us to do this relatively easily for a number of friends, who also reciprocate.

In this year's mailbag we have had a couple of folk that I was at school with (and of my age) retire; a girl that the Advocate took to a school dance back then, is now to star at Bayreuth in eighteen months (they apparently start rehearsals that far ahead)*; and there have been losses. As with us, friends have lost parents this year, and now today we had a call from the nursing home, and it would appear that the Actress's mother is very close to the end.

(* Another from that class is now working at Nobu while waiting for such a chance to come along).

Now we all write more about the success of our children than of ourselves, and so the sands in the hourglass would have it.

If I blog no more before then

May you all have a Merry, Prosperous and Productive New Year, with none but friends to guide your way.


It is not just tsunamis!

The terrible news from the countries affected by the tsunami, and the news reports coming from there are highlighting the problems of getting drinking water to many of the remote villages and the disease that will come when it does not arrive in time. One of the reporters held up a plastic bottle of water and commented that an adult needed 40 of those a day for all drinking, cooking and other personal needs. And the problems are that these locations have had water supply issues in the past. So where will it come from?

One of my colleagues (the one who described me as Santa's Younger brother without the beard) has worked to supply water to a small village in Guatemala and has, in the past, explained at length the problems of finding the water, and getting equipment in place that can drill down to get it. The price for a single well was amazingly high. And now looking at the vast numbers of people that must be given new sources of water, and for whom permanent facilities must be installed implies that we have not yet begun to grasp the magnitude of the problems that lie ahead.

Because potable water is becoming a global issue as the Christian Science Monitor points out in an article today, some creative ideas will be needed. The idea of dragging large bags of water around has more potential than an earlier idea in which folk tried to tow icebergs. An editorial point here - a colleague was involved in a project to look at this and most of the "facts" that came up as I looked for a good site to act as a reference have them wrong. Doing it the right way makes it possible - though likely not as good as the baggie idea.


An American tsunami?

There is a growing story that keeps reappearing out of the UK about the possibility of part of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, falling into the sea and causing a giant wave to form that will inundate the Eastern shoreline of the United States. While it has some basis in fact there are some valid reasons why it is unlikely to occur. While I don't know enough about it to make a valid judgement, having stood at the bottom of a landslide and watched it happen , I can only agree with the writer that the block won't hit the water as one bit lump (generating the tsunami) but is more likely to slide in in bits. It does however depend on what drives it - and what type of soil it is. The reports suggest however that neither the volcanic type nor the soil are of a nature that will cause the size of disaster that is now starting to be predicted.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Peak Oil and Iraq

With it being a lovely day outside, what am I doing inside - blogging of course. In a quick pass through the political blogs I came across a very thoughful discussion of the current situation in Iraq by Sterling Newberry. This, and other signs of problems bring more and more analogies to Vietnam,particularly in the comparison of Hue and Fallujah.

There is, however, a very significant difference that has not yet been fully understood. While, in time, the national interest in staying in Vietnam grew less, it is likely to be the other way around with Iraq.

The world surplus of oil production over demand is now apparently less than 2 million barrels of oil a day (mbd). Most oil-producing countries have passed peak production and are now in decline. Demand, however, is continuing to grow at about 2 mbd each year. In these conditions then the supply from Iraq is becoming increasingly critical. (The US is getting increasing quantities from there - when it can get out). Currently Iraqi production is less than half what it should be and with very little work being done on the infrastructure (other than repairing the blown up bits). But that missing 2 mbd will be the difference between balance and shortage by the end of 2005. And in 2006 will become an increasingly vital part of sustaining the US, and global economies.

Which would suggest that our involvement will have to become greater, rather than less.


On to better things

Well having got the gloom and doom out of my system, it is time (after Bruckner's 7th finishes) to go eat a bowl of the new soup (this may be the family staple for a couple of days - we had lots of left-overs that went into the pot). Then maybe try an exercise tape, and the project for today.

Todays project, for those interested in obscure hobbies, is to remove some branches from the photo of a tree taken from the British lines to see if then, by reversing it, it will match a photo taken from the German lines. The photos are from around Mouse Trap Farm in Belgium during WW1, and the reason for doing this is so that I can better model the ground and trees during April of 1915. Which was when my Grandad marched past. The possible match has been suggested by a friend in the UK who is building a composite picture of the same area, but by a different method.

And also today I have to check the rolls of the battalion, since there may be information about a relative for someone who sent an e-mail.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Present for China?

Trying to catch up on not much happening in the balance of the oil trade at the end of the year I happened upon via Energy Bulletin. It would appear that the Chinese are seeking to nibble away at one of the US suppliers, although most of the current need (about 8% of the US supply, but about half of Venezuela's exports) is tied up with long term contracts. The apparent thought, covered at some length at Vcrisis is that Venezuela is trying to get Russia and China to help with new sources of production. A quick glance at the back of Campbell's book indicates that he believes that Venezuela is actually in production decline about now - and certainly it has been producing flat out recently to try and recover from the strike.

There has been some publicity about the Saudi's just opening some new facilities, but a more realistic review seems to suggest that Saudi promises are a little ambitious, and count reserves that are of very thick oil that do not get folk excited, while perhaps beginning to recognize that the time is rapidly approaching when production will have to be switched, as it now is being, from the three largest fields in Saudi - Ghawar, Abqaiq and Safaniya to other smaller fields, such as Abu Sa'fah and Qatif which will combine according to reports to give a total of 800,000 barrels a day, 500k from the onshore Qatif and the rest from the offshore Abu Sa'fah. It was not made clear in these announcements as to how much of this is to replace declining production elsewhere.


Industry re Academia

Back at home with the Barenboim Bruckner's 4th playing away (a Christmas present) while I boil up the remnants of everything for the traditional bean soup that will feed us for the next two days.

I have gone back to Colin Campbell's book "The Coming Oil Crisis" since it is a bit disappointing to find that most of the recent texts gloss over much of the technical detail that will help pinpoint when Peak Oil actually arrives. I was struck by the passage

"Objectivity is however now the difficulty. In corporate bureaucracies they no longer consult specialists, but hold committees, often of people having no particlular insight on the subject. The quest is for consensus, the hallmark of a committee, giving a politically acceptable answer."
This seems to describe a very common academic practice, where quite often it is considered better that an opinion or a choice be made by creating a broad-based committee, rather than, even where the campus has recognized experts in the area in question, bothering to go and ask their opinion. This has been, from my experience, most true with engineering and building decisions, but I suspect is very general.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Snippet the last

The Advocate moved about six months ago from one part of town to another, and from one sort of celebrity in the neighborhood to another. But alas we saw not a one - but instead spent the afternoon at the new Rubin Museum on Nepal and Tibet - totally unconnected with our hosts from the day before. One of the attendants felt impelled to get me a larger magnifying glass - not quite sure what that signified. Got a couple of bars of Yak soap as souvenirs. Yak tastes very much like beef, I really couldn't tell much difference except that it was a bit leaner, with little fat. Did you know that you can get lion steaks through Amazon now ? - we were a bit surprised. I wished I had been to the museum before going to Nepal, but it didn't open until last year, so how could I?

And so, after a couple of drinks and some initial hints about the Wedding (which is beginning to get organized so one gathers), and more visitors we meandered out for dinner and back to the hotel for one last night.

This morning we were up at a moderate hour, meandered down to a Starbucks for coffee - the breakfast buffet no longer exerting its siren song, and off back to La Guardia and thence in time back here.

Our gifts to the offspring this year included some wine, so it was good that on coming home I was able to present (inspired by profgrrrl) the Actress, who doesn't drink much wine, with her equivalent - a set of different Earl Grey's. I had no idea that there were that many and the box had arrived while we were away, so all turned out for the best.


A Different Christmas

Christmas Day we gave ourselves the excuse that it had been a really late night, so did not go over to the Advocate's until nearly noon. And got into a debate about the making of trifles. (The Engineer was also there). And they showed me that you can find a recipe for many things on the webs these days - though some are not as nice as others. (The pie not the hedgehog - though I have to say I have this Northumbrian song about eating hedgehog pie and where the proggles come out - but never mind).

So we opened gifts and chatted and suddenly we had to make the custard really quickly because two cars were coming to carry two lady ministers, the Bishop, and us off to the house of a couple of friends who were married by a Buddhist monk there to cook and eat a Christmas dinner. Which was goose and made more fun since again for the first time in some 30-odd years I was not cooking, but rather the aged P in the background. Much fun was had by all.

Twas here we also learned what the good sermonist did wrong the previous night - since the place was totally packed- with what are likely to be a fair number of folk who do not come regularly (the two next to us were Jewish we found out) this is where there is supposed to be the sort of sermon that will bring folks back and the general consensus was that that didn't happen. We ended the evening singing songs from the Sixties and merrily made our way back to the hotel in the wee hours.


Snippets of visits

Snippet the first - Christmas Eve we just wandered around the shops - had to do the windows at Saks, and picked up the odd book and CD for the stockings (which I had forgotten and so we used gift bags). Dragged a suitcase with the gifts over to the Advocate's and had dinner that they had cooked - only when we had vanquished everything in sight was it remembered that there was a special sauce - the kid takes too much after the parent.

So then the three religious and us all pile in cabs and off to St John the Divine for the late night Mass. Now you must excuse the proud parent bit - but if you were there and heard the call for a doctor - the younger one in the blue shirt who came down from near the front was the Advocate ( it turned out not to be very serious). Nice service we thought, but chatting about it the following day we heard three fairly expert opinions as to why the Bishop of New York (the real one) did not give a good sermon. So a good first day.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas Season to all

Well here we are in the Big Apple, it having taken only an hour to get to our hotel from La Guardia, and that through Central Park - traffic is a mess. While the Actress is away exercising, the Engineer, who is over at the Advocate's apartment (he being still at work for another hour) has been setting up his iMac account so that when Apple finally gets this fixed some time this coming year I should hopefully be able to go over to the UK and sign in so that my Mum can see the kids at the same time that she chats to them, and all at once. Cool !

In regard to the Merry Christmas comments that seem to be everywhere I think that some of us don't actually say that to someone until it is the last time we are likely to see them before the 25th. In the same way with New Years. But, since I, as do many of us at universities, work with people of a very broad range of faiths, it seems only proper that when they are not Christian that I wish them Happy Holidays - or Happy Channukah or whatever. For the record I wish Indians a Happy Dewali and Chinese a Happy Chinese New year on those occasions, or is this now also going to be considered improper.

That all aside, gentle readers, I cannot be sure that I will be blogging much over the next two days - NYC having much to tempt our appetites, and kindred also - so if I don't have the opportunity before, and for those who consider it relevant - may I wish you both a Merry Christmas Season and a Happy and Prosperous New Year (whenever it may start).


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Almost there

Well if I haven't bought a Christmas present then it ain't gonna get bought. Cuz I are done!

We threw away the old address book last year after carefully transferring almost all the addresses - missed a couple and now, of course, we need them but they are gone. Since we fly out on Thursday we haven't really decorated this year, and perhaps that is why we are having a hard time getting excited. Plus this is the first "we go there" instead of "they come here" Christmas and so the guard has changed. I have a feeling that we will likely change into this mode from now on. (It has a little to do with who can afford to travel, plus job related issues).

I was just thinking the other day, apropos the post on Alzheimers patients losing their sense of smell, that I can remember when my Dad did, and how irritated he was - not knowing what it fordained. Learned last night that our friend from Australia that visited earlier in the semester was separated from his wife since last January. It gives you a secondary guilt that we were with him for over a day and never asked about her. And somehow it never came up so the card yesterday was a shock (we had already sent off the card to the pair of them, plus kids). She had left him the week that her youngest child went off to college.

And so that makes you think. And so we wondered and couldn't get over it for a long time. Told the Administrator today and she was shocked too. They were married about 24 years. There was another couple just recently that split after 34 years, and a third just up the road that divided after about four. Makes you a little uncomfortable . . .


Is Russian Oil Peaking?

One of the things that is starting to bother me in reading the various books that are now out on the Peak Oil situation is the number of errors that are in them. I was just looking at a report from Ireland that comments that Saudi production may have peaked, but neglects input that the Saudi's are just bringing on stream from one of the major Southern oilfields there. There was another report that the US production will peak in 2009, when in fact it peaked back in 1970. Thus I become more doubtful about some of the predictions that lie out there, from both sides of the argument.

However there are some sources that are generally more credible than others. One is the Oil and Gas Journal which has just suggested that Russian production may have peaked. If this is so it is of concern since, in June for example, the United States was importing 321,000 barrels a day of oil from over there.

If that is now threatened, and the UK production is threatened, and the Norwegian supply is a concern, and the Columbian production is going down - and China is after some of the oil we get from Veneuela - well life could start to get a little interesting.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Faint Hope

Well here we are with three days left to go before the break and how much work on the white papers did we get done today? Grrr! Meeting after meeting, with Administration folk who seem to imagine that since teaching is over we have all the time in the world to sit and chat. Similar thought from alumni who drop by and must be chatted to.

Taken with the fact that the car had become incontinent over the last week (it pees on the ground every time it stops) this was not a productive day. A new water pump, etc etc and at least the mechanic should have a happy holiday. (Daren't we say Christmas any longer ?)

Humph, well there is a hint that the Duchess has kept her job. Not really sure that this is in our best interests, but that is the way the steam rollers. Further the suspicion is that a lot of the opposition was stirred up by the Dauphin. Which is interesting given that he is currently the internal candidate with the best chance - again so rumor would have it - of becoming the next Tsar (you think I picked some of these nicknames by chance?). But could this be a fiendish plot by the Prince Regent, who is also an internal candidate, to weaken the Dauphin in their mutual race ? The plot thickens . . . .

(And the White Papers wait, this was a nice break).


Saturday, December 18, 2004

Growing cynicism

As I continue to read Robert's book I next come to a bit that says

"passengers routinely urinated on the seats (of the trains) . . . and still do."
Having been there both in 1987 and again a couple of years ago I have to say that this is also more than a little over the top. I rode trains on both occasions (on the first with the Actress, a 12-year old Advocate and a 9-year old Engineer) and never saw anything of that sort.

I am, however, reminded of the last visit when, on the train ride west out of Changsha, I looked down on one of those idyllic tourist-type scenes of a sampan ferrying across a small river, with a farm on the other side. Reaching to grab my camera it was then amusing to note the rather large TV dish in the farmyard, behind the farmhouse.


A small confession

I am reading Paul Roberts book "The End of Oil" and have reached Chapter 6 where he is talking about the growth in energy demand in China. He writes:

"In my village,"recalled one peasant, "when a girl was preparing to marry, the first thing the parents checked was, will the back wall of the would-be son-in-law be white or not? If not white, they approved the marriage, because this meant his family was wealthy enough to keep the house warm."
The implication being that the house got so cold that ice formed on the walls. I am not sure that I totally believe this, based on some personal experience. My mother comes from a small village in Scotland where her family were the village blacksmiths. Both her father and only brother died in the Second World War leaving the two girls and my grandmother to fend for themselves. They kept the house, but I can remember being driven up in the summer to go out into a peat bog and dig peat(illegally I am sure) and take it back to stack in the outdoor privy so that they could burn it in the one fireplace they had in the living room, and so that they would have heat in the winter. You had to stack it then so that it would dry out by winter, and it gave a wonderful steady glow that I still remember. The house was not centrally heated and still only has baseboard heat. We kept warm at night with lots of blankets which caused two nights of great distress when we took an 18-month old Advocate there and he had never slept save under the lightest of covers. Generally ice would form on the inside of windows etc., but unless they were using ice as a final seal to stop air leaks into the house, it sounds more like a story for a tourist.



There is no fun like coming into an empty building to write an abstract and a White Paper and sneaking into the fridge to lunch on leftover party food. Bring on the cold fruit cake, add an assortment of cookies, vote no on the doughnuts and there we go. Not really a good idea but the abstract went out and all that is left are a couple of 3-D figures that I think I will go home to do for a couple of the White papers. Two white Papers done and about out, and chatted with the Canadian and I have until Wednesday to get that one up there.

The Engineer frantically e-mailed this morning seeking to find out how to make a trifle for a party at a faculty members house tonight. Hmm, I can't remember how to make custard - drat! Must find out how he succeeded.

Enough! I said I wasn't going to do this any longer at the beginning of the semester and here we are at the end, just as bad as usual. Put away the last oatmeal cranberry cookie, fold the laptop and off to a night out, in less formal gear than I had to wear today.


Friday, December 17, 2004

Of parties and partings

Don't Trip
You will be smothered under a rug. You're a little
anti-social, and may want to start gaining new
social skills by making prank phone calls.

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
brought to you by Quizilla

For which I blame New Kid.

It was our turn to have a party this afternoon, and in retrospect we did not invite enough people that matter, but on the other hand we made sure that all who came left with at least one gift - some of which were made in house. Waited a little late (due to other party conflicts) and so did not get a lot of students - which was a pity from two counts, the lesser being that we had a fair amount of food left over. Now we can relax, get those six proposals out, three reviews and a paper, and we'll have plenty of time to shop for Christmas.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas Presents

For the first time faculty in my home Department are giving gifts to one another (and surprisingly me). I am not quite sure why or how to respond after some 3x years of not having to consider this intriguing question. Generally I give gifts to my staff but had not gone beyond this. Wonder if I should ?


Palace Intrique

Well that was the first time we have seen wine served to a faculty function in the Duchy during the day within the reign of the Duchess. One wonders a little as to why, given that there was a more logical event earlier in the semester - but then given that tomorrow is the last day, perhaps there are other reasons. One should not be cynical - it was a free glass of wine (actually I fled since there was at the start more wine than folk and I had things to do). The recommendations of the Committee on her position have been delivered to the Prince Regent. Since I stopped by to do the necessary, she and I had a little chat and she was a bit friendlier - as she was at an Admin meeting earlier.

I don't think that it is totally coincidental that Hatless is talking more frequently about hanging it up at the end of next semester. On the other hand he may be taking it a bit hard that the election turned out the way it did and that he does not get to go back to Washington. (After this term he will likely be too old). What to do? Now is when, in fairness, I should step down if I am going this year, and it is tempting to return to "my first love of teaching and research" as we so often put it. Is voluntarily giving up power in academia that uncommon these days that this phrase has such a bad reputation?

On the other hand with a new Tsar, possibly a new Duke/Duchess and the feverish fighting going on over the non-existant funding we don't have to create new positions, the question is as to whether I stay another year to keep some stability for our faculty and staff, as well as fighting (in vain likely) for funds weighs in the balance. Yet if I do go why am I still working like a loon to get these WP's out except that if others are PI's then I am leaving a legacy.

And if I am to believe the underlying message of the books and my own research about Peak Oil then we are heading into an era where inflation can be dramatic. I used to have stamps worth millions of German marks from before WW2. Peoples savings were wiped out almost overnight, and so one also has concerns. But maybe it's just that we are all a bit depressed with the end of the semester and the drop in adrenaline.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Peak Oil Illustration

To illustrate how rapidly Peak Oil is approaching consider the imports of crude oil ffrom the UK to the US. The UK oil production has peaked and is in decline. Last year they averaged shipping around 392,000 barrels of crude oil delivery a day to the US, this October it was down to 94,000 barrels a day. The UK is currently anticipated to become a net importer of oil in 2007. At which time it competes with us (and the Chinese etc) for the supplies out there.


Not all engineers are smart

I think our campus is rapidly being convulsed by an Irish morning.

This actually occurred in a harbor in Connemarra, as shown, though there is a version out now from Maryland which shows a bit of wishful thinking in place of the last photo.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Gentle Suggestion for a CV

ZZZ! Full court press presentations take it out of me a lot more than they used too. But our friend from Michigan (who turned out to be from somewhere else) has just left after suggesting we write a draft for a Phase 2 - which is encouraging. When he arrived he suggested we try a test to see whether we were doing any good. He also invited the Administrator to watch and we had never done this test. But we followed his advice and added a drop of water (from a straw not a syringe) and . . . . . I wished I had thought of that four months ago. It was a dramatic marker of success or failure. And yes we had both, now we have to explain why.

Apropos the title, and understanding that this may be difficult in some disciplines, though maybe not. The occasion that caused the Tsar to invite me to lunch recently dealt with the visit of some Venture Capital folks. To follow up I sent a CD to them including pictures from many of our projects over the past 35 years. ( there were about 120 of them in a Powerpoint file). There has been a very favorable reception to this, but there was also the comment that they had never seen "a lifetime of ideas" presented in that way before. And so I pass it on. It's a lot easier to do at the time rather than later - even if it is no more (as it was in several cases) than the illustration used when first going to sell an idea to a possible granting agency. And making a copy from the file (which we now update about every 3 or 4 months) is just a matter of burning one. It sort of helps an application stand out a little bit from the average, perhaps ? (Or is this the old ferret trying to teach someone to suck eggs ?)


Monday, December 13, 2004

Living in interesting times

Criminey! It is definitely getting worse - the infighting that is. Hatless sent me a copy of a memo he sent to the Prince today virtually declaring war on another Department in the battle of succession. What I fear he does not understand is that this is not going to reflect well on the Duchess reign, since it implies that she has not been able to build any harmony during her appointment. Plus being as blunt and descriptive about the habits of a co-chair and faculty in that department definitely does not go down well. It is quite hard to see how one can find a good solution to any of this. Maybe I should go find some rose bushes ?

Other than that today was relatively quiet, just meetings upon meetings to try and hammer out the white papers. Then tonight another night out- this was much better, and there was a Nigerian song that was particularly new and different that went down well with the audience. This is now where I start to panic about Christmas gifts and finding time to get them, and mailing off the ones to the UK that should have gone last week. But then came home and wrote a presentation for our visitors from Michigan who arrive tomorrow after the Admin meeting. Wonder how long they will stay ?


A sniff in time ?

There's an interesting article in today's Daily Telegraph that indicates that losing the sense of smell may be an early indicator of Alzheimer's. The best predictors are:

natural gas
. In which regard, so far so good . . .


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Guilt by blogging

After writing the last blog, and as I bussed tables this afternoon for our function it gradually dawned on me that perhaps I should not have asked our Polish knight to write one of the White Papers, given his other tasks next week. So I finished my first draft and will chat with him tomorrow. You lot are giving me a guilty conscience.

Mum was sleepy again today, this is the second week she has mentioned having dizzy spells - its also something she passed on.


Fall weather

The raw days of late fall used to mean that we would have been burning wood for a month, but with the kids gone and evening activities it hardly seems worth lighting a fire for the few hours we are home. (But since it is Sunday I should probably get one started). The end of semester and Holiday parties are going full swing, though I missed the one the Duchess gave by misreading my calendar and being tied up in too many meetings.

At this stage in the career I have taken the five white papers that once I would have written and have given four of them to junior faculty - not only for drafts but so that they can be the PI's. The only one I kept is one that is going to be somewhat hard for anyone else to write since what we are proposing is counter intuitive. (And I have one page of the five done). Thus lots of meetings to draft ideas, estimate budgets and assign tasks. But it filled the end of a week, that still also had some class elements and work on the current programs. (And the interminable administrivia).

Friday night was the theater, to a sadly amateurish performance that even the Actress was not happy with. So last night, after going out for dinner, came back and relaxed with Haitink and Bruckner's 8th, and Path of Fate by Diana Pharaoh Francis. (I had to re-read it since I just got the sequel).

Today after exercise i must serve in a social function that takes the afternoon and early evening - but then must finish the white paper I have left, as well as doing the Christmas cards (the office ones were done the afternoon I had a quasi-liquid lunch - the Administrator made sure I was doing nothing dangerous).

At one time I had thought that even though a lot of the industrial base was transferring overseas that the basic agricultural underpinning to the American economy would continue to ameliorate the foreign exchange problem. It is worrying to note the New York TImes story on the growth of farming in South America. It implies that our foreign markets will soon disappear. Just one more worry . . . . . .


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hello Houston

(Yes I did go out for lunch)
This is just a brief observation. Before we went into Iraq it was producing over 2.5 mbd of oil for the world market. It is now producing about 1 mbd less than this, but unfortunately, as the LA Times notes, the terrorists over there are starting to learn about economic control, and are taking out the oil supply to Baghdad. Traffic lines are already running over 2.5 miles long and it is getting worse. Once they start to fully understand how to do this they may well go into places such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and those queue lengths would become short for what happens over here.

( And actually we discussed University politics over lunch but the international oil situation won out as a topic - here we find that the level of red on my shoes has just passed the lace holes and is still rising - not helped by a national review that we just received).


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Pleasantly Busy

Hmm, after the last class a PhD student comes up and asks if he can shift into my discipline. Quite a pleasant message to take to the Department's Christmas lunch and made Hatless quite pleased. For some reason there is a chill developing between his staff and mine. Later today I also hear a comment that there may have been what used to be known as a little hanky panky between some of the individuals in my domain. Am I supposed to do something about this? Does one call in individual A and say, "rumor would have it that . . . .!" Somehow I don't think so. My Admin responsibilities do not involve playing the hall monitor. (One of the individuals is about 50). And actually I hadn't noticed and there may be nothing going on. On the other hand maybe I will wander the corridors a little more frequently, though not sure to what end.

The tours did not show today and so I was able to start work on one of the five White Papers that must be done before we leave. We had a very productive meeting with a colleague who has worked in government on these issues and who in essence said if you want to play in this you need to contact a very big player, and then agreed to do so. Nice to be able to hand that off, but it left me promising to have this first draft out this week. And then there was the abstract that had been promised, and so I can't see the pace slowing down any until we leave.

But a long time ago a colleague and I used to get together and get rather plowed at lunch discussing the world in general. He is now long retired, but I suggested that he come by for lunch tomorrow and maybe we might just see how far two old ferrets can recreate a moment or two of a younger past.


In mischief

I see that Kevin Drum is wondering about the need to privatize Social Security. A little mischief popped into my head.
If the dollar weakens as a result of the growing oil supply problem then the foreign folks investing in the US economy may well pull out to invest elsewhere. In that case stock prices will fall, hurting severely those who support "You-Know-Who." However if the great American public could be pursuaded to purchase those same stocks as part of a retirement plan then stock prices would stay up (plus there would be all those luverly commissions) and so the friends would stay wealthy. Nah! Surely Not!


Monday, December 06, 2004

Misty England

It was really a bit foggy this morning and thin enough to be pleasant to drive through for a short way. There is a lot of pressure and stress around at this time, so the staff were going to a Stress handling class today. But the Administrator's spouse got stranded in Miami and so had to be picked up today instead of yesterday, and the Bookie (our accountant sort of) had a domestic problem - ah, well, with their problems I think it would have helped, but then that could be the old benevolent dictator thinking.

Mum was tired when I called yesterday, The Nurse and the Rigger had been by and were then off to visit other relatives for a couple of days. They will be back to see her on Tuesday before the Nurse flies off. Mum will have her Christmas show on Thursday and mentioned it some three times, so she was a little confused, but I think this is becoming true whenever she gets tired now. An active day gets her out for lunch, a drive in the country, and by 5 pm she likes to be back. And a couple of days of that and she has a problem keeping up. Better we have learned to do a couple of days, go visit others and then drop by for a day or two to say goodbye again.

Our Oklahoma friends now want to come and visit, at the same time as the Michigan group so we need to get the schedule set up for next week, (and make sure the demo's work - unfortunately a lot of the time they don't when they need to).

Skimming the talk about students and employment I wish I had time to participate, but don't, but as a comment for those of us who work in the more obscure branches (in terms of numbers) it has always been very hard to recruit grad students and is likely to get considerably worse in the next few years - although I have had a fair bit of success in bringing students in from other branches to work in our little pocket of mischief.


Peak Oil - A Dickensian view

Thanks to Instapundit I came across a question on Powerline as to whether the rise in oil prices over the election was due to some conspiracy. The probable answer is that, unless the conspirators can control the weather, it’s unlikely.

To explain it is probably easiest if I cite Mr Micawber, from David Copperfield

'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and - and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'
In this case consider that our expenses – i.e. global oil consumption, went up this year to around 83 million barrels a day (mbd). (A barrel is 42 gallons). It is rising at about 2 mbd each year. Now as long as our supplies (income) can match this outlay then we are in happiness.

However when we do not – such as:
when the hurricanes closed down about 0.5 mbd of production in the Gulf,
when oil production in Iraq dropped below 2 mbd because of pipeline bombings,
when there was a threatened strike in Nigeria,
and when there was a fear that Ukos (which produces around 1.6 mbd) might stop production in Russia – then we have a problem.

At present those issues have all been resolved and thus there is once again more oil being produced (income) than being consumed (expenditures). However there are some small points at issue for the future.

World demand is still rising at 2 mbd. (You might call this the sixpence in Mr Micawber’s advice). So that this time next year expenses will have gone from a pound to a pound and sixpence – and if we can continue or increase production then happiness continues. A number of economists are forecasting a reduction in the rise in demand, but perhaps they do not see the considerable needs in China and India that drive this increase (and they only have to read the papers to see it).

The question then becomes can we meet the demand, and here is the problem. There are only 11 countries that are increasing production and most of those have production levels so small as to be inconsequential. Of the rest while it is possible that they might make the 2 mbd increase next year it is unlikely (for reasons I have and will post on again). They almost certainly will not the year after next.

Bear in mind that as production in other countries (such as the UK) falls, that countries that used that supply must find another source. And if we are now at the peak of production, then our income no longer rises above a pound and sixpence and may indeed fall back below a pound, while our expenses will continue to increase. The result – misery, and we are floored.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Red footprints across the floor.

Well the controversy about the nominee for the Duchy continues to intensify. I got a look at individual comments today, and found that Hatless in usual style had managed to include a quote from me that both clearly identified that it was me making the comment and that it was very negative to one of the candidates. It is, for those who do not understand how to play this game, how you undercut an individual. Every chance you set them into a slightly bad light in such a way that it cannot reflect on you, and then ensure that it is widely distributed. I have played this game against better masters than this (though he did get a lot of training in Washington) and long ago discovered that persistent performance is about the only real defense against these back alley attacks that are almost impossible to defend against otherwise. Still this was a relatively unexpected attack save only that the comment was against his favored candidate (the Duchess). It is illustrative in that the comment was an aside and related to a comment made at another meeting in which I quoted a couple of rather damning statistics, which were missing from the citation, and which made it look as though I was making a more vindictive and childish attack - good job that my annual letter came from the Social Services telling me what my income from them would be if I retire.

Otherwise the whole day was spent with the visitor from Utah, and the discussion of what we might do to help in a new project. The problems are that this has to be done in the near future, and we are fully occupied in that time frame. I had to bluntly tell that sad reality since there was a request that we get this work done by March. We are 3 weeks from break and January will be spent installing the new toy and learning to play with it - sorry, Charlie.

I watched the discussion video from the SPE conference debate on Peak Oil last night and having read Deffeyes book and Simmons speeches I was less than impressed by the comments of the opposition - which were largely along the lines of "we aren't dead yet." Then to go on and read some of the comments on Saudi real production and the problems that a) world tanker fleets are now fully employed and b) that the existing reserve is in high sulphur and higher density crudes for which there are not enough refineries that can process the stuff became very depressing.

So also is the realization, after dropping in on profgrrrl that I really need to get back to restoring family photos and all those other fun things I was doing before this semester got in the way. I really like the first photo in her set if you want an editorial comment.

Well I have blethered on, and now must work, for dream as we may, work we must until this semester is done.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

December already!

It struck me today, as the class went just that little bit better than expected with more interaction and discussion than usual, that there are not that many classes left. One of the students turned in his class project, which for your amusement I should tell you (as I told the class) is being graded based on artistic merit rather than technical difficulty. I must confess to being impressed. Probably the most original yet, and tempts me to try something similar, ah, so much to do, so little time.

Then meetings and meetings, and since one related to the heir to the Duchy a little fluid might have been spilt on the floor covering from the instruments being wielded to shape the opinions on opposing candidates. Yes there are very strong and opposing camps and there was a fair number of attempts to influence my vote and comments (from Hatless on to others). At this stage it is not possible to say who of the final three candidates will be appointed, though - depending on negotiations, we might know by early next year.

Tonight was the boiling of the carcase to be followed in due course by the making of the soup. (Children flee to the ends of the land to get away from this). It should now be totally dead and so it is time to go and strain it, before I forget.

Night, all.

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