Monday, April 27, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Figure 2: Here’s an artist’s sketch of Lucignano…both the map and the sketch below depict the town in its modern form, which as far as I could tell hadn’t changed much in several centuries.
Figure 3: A picture Lucignano that I took from the Fortezza Medicea (see map above) where I stayed for a week in May of 2002.
Figure 4: The above illustration is the theoretically optimal topology for a single rhizome node, representative here of a familial cluster. Close and strong connections exist within the node, representing the connectivity inside the extended familial group. Outside links are variously looser and weaker connections, the closer connections with the local hamlet, and the distant connections creating inter-hamlet ties, and creating the “small-worlds” situation where weak and distant connections greatly enhance the overall efficiency of connectivity. The green region denotes the geographic space required by the node to achieve minimal food self-sufficiency.
Figure 5: The above illustration shows a hamlet, or a cluster of familial nodes. The groupings in terms of 4:4:4 is not fixed, but merely a convenient way to convey a flexible structure. Close and strong connections exist within the hamlet, and variously looser and weaker connections reach outside, replicating in a fractal manner the same “small-worlds” theory as seen in individual nodes. The larger, lighter green region represents the geographic space required for “wildlife, hunting, and foraging,” or permaculture’s “Zone 5,” which is controlled “in trust” by the hamlet for their non-exclusive use, but available for their use as a reserve-bank should their horticultural scheme underperform.
Figure 6: The above illustration represents the broader landscape of a lattice-structure of clusters of rhizome nodes. It represents a theoretical distribution, and demonstrates that there are no “super-hamlets,” towns, or villages—the landscape is “flat” at the hamlet level, because any accretion to a higher order settlement would open the door to hierarchy. Instead, more complexly coordinated functions are facilitated by temporary groupings, as shown in the next illustration.
Figure 7: The above illustration denotes the ability of transient connection, fairs, festivals, etc. to affect longer-distance, weak connectivity that greatly enhances the overall efficiency of the lattice’s communication and information processing capability. Because more distant nodes are brought in contact with these occasional events (shown as dashed blue, red, or purple lines), the number of nodes that information or exchanges must transit to span large distances is greatly reduced (as illustrated by the black line transaction, where only two steps are necessary to bridge a distance that would otherwise require 8 steps in neighbor-to-neighbor transfer). These larger, weaker, and transient networks facilitate more complex activity and more specialized economic exchange without facilitating hierarchy. For example, even if only one node in 50 actually breeds goats or brews beer, all 50 nodes will have easy access to these products through seasonal fairs, transient markets, etc. In theory, there is no limit to the technological or industrial complexity that can be handled by such transient groupings of a still “flat” rhizome lattice. This format prevents more complex projects (defense, highly specialized goods like metal working or glass, social richness) from acting as a catalyst to the creation of hierarchy.
Figure 8: The orderly geometric lattice structure must, in reality, be draped over the natural geography, to include terrain, climate, resource distribution, etc.—as illustrated above with regards to a simple topographical map. While the theoretical and geometrically symmetrical lattice illustrated in Figure 6 provides easier initial conceptualization, the lattice illustrated in this figure is more realistic. In reality, several different “conceptual terrains” will each simultaneously impact the actual geospatial structure of the lattice. For example, physical terrain, difficulty of travel, resource concentrations, water availability, soil richness, etc. will all influence the layout.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Unlike last week, this post is not about developing a model for decision making (more on that later), but rather my thoughts on the future of this blog. No giant changes in store, I’ve just been thinking about what to write about next, and part way through my thinking I decided it would be best to make this process itself into a post.
In part, that’s because, at a meta-level, the purpose of this blog is as a tool for my own use. This blog serves as a development platform for my own thinking—it forces me to keep thinking in order to meet my self-imposed weekly publishing schedule; it forces me to put my thinking in at least semi-coherent form; it allows me to get feedback from a very interesting, diverse, and intelligent group of people all over the world; and it gives me a platform to engage in dialogue with these and other groups of people in many different contexts (through The Oil Drum, at conferences, by discussions in blogs that I find through links to this site, etc.). All the while, I get at least the occasional feeling that I’m reciprocating by helping others with the same process of intellectual development with which they help me. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it—this is a process that was historically available to only a very select and lucky few who lived in the right place, at the right time, with the right friends: a few elites among medieval religious orders (which reminds me of the prayer "God, give me chastity and give me constancy, but please Lord don't give it to me quite yet), the “moveable feast” of Fin-de-Ciecle Paris, the RAW/Timothy Leary/Hakim Bey network (beginning to show signs of a dispersed and mobile network, but certainly not “open”), Aldous Huxley’s Los Angeles circle, etc. Today it’s available to anyone with access to the internet.
Which leads me to my thoughts on where this blog is going. This starts with what I want from this blog: discussion and exposition of ideas on topics that interest me 1) where I have something original to add and 2) that is important to many individuals if not humanity in general. I don’t want to be a news aggregator—many others are already doing that, and probably much better than I would. Commentary on news items, something I do engage in on occasion, is something I hope to do less of, though there’s a fine line between the analysis of a phenomenon as reflected in several news stories and simple news commentary. What I want to do is write stand-alone essays providing critical analysis from a systems-thinking perspective and provide novel system-oriented proposals for the future. This, of course, can be a bit difficult on a weekly basis, so I will probably increase the practice I’ve used frequently in the past of publishing a series over several weeks to cover a given idea. In the next post is a brief recap of some of the core analyses and proposals I’ve made so far, my thoughts on where these previous ideas need to go next, and in an interim conclusion, a post with a list of ideas I hope to explore in the future. I’m not writing this just to see my thoughts turned into words—there are two goals here: 1) in keeping with the intent of this blog to be a meta-tool for my own thinking, these post force me to compose my thoughts on this topic in a more coherent manner; and 2) to solicit feedback (either via email or in the comments, as usual) on these ideas.
However, before I delve into the details, there’s one more purpose of compiling these lists: to evaluate whether they have done anything, either for my self or for a broader community. I’ll comment more on this later, but have the ideas I’ve previously written about gained any traction? Have they moved me or others to take action that would not have been taken without these posts? Have they spurred anyone else to thoughts that have had an impact? And, of course, my future writing plans must be influenced by these answers. My goal, to the extent that this blog is a tool for my own thinking, is to impact my own life. I’m increasingly of the opinion that “we” as a society will not take the steps necessary to “solve” our problems, so is there any broader value to my writing, or am I just entertaining myself while shaping my own plans? Is there value in shaping the plans of others even though they will never constitute the mainstream or the power elite? Should I, in fact, with it no other way (as I tend to think)? What, specifically, is the broader value of this blog (which, it seems, must be one of my future topics…)?
Your thoughts are not just permitted (the comments are always open), but encouraged. If you have read this blog for one day or for years, I'd love to hear what you think of it, if it has been of value, if I'm drifting off course, and what that course should be. Or even if you just have topic suggestions. As always, I take comments and emails at email@example.com and do my best to respond directly to all (though last week's 34 was a bit overwhelming, especially since I'm preparing for trial this week)...
Monday, April 06, 2009
There's an interesting new website up, Wrong Tomorrow, that strives to track and report on the predictions of various pundits and prognosticators. Turn out that my prediction that the Mexican state won't see 2012 is up for testing--though, highlighting one weakness of the site, it takes my prediction out of context, dropping the first half of my prediction that some form of state-shell may exist in Mexico for decades. I didn't intend my prediction to be inherently testable or not testable--perhaps in the future I will be more careful to conclude with an empirically testable prediction...
While predictions and record-keeping can be interesting, and can even serve an important purpose by highlighting the past inaccuracies of someone offering a new prediction, I'm more interested in the methodology of prediction. After all, each of us, every day, stakes our lives and our family's lives on our ability to predict the future. I talked briefly about my theory of prediction in my essay Hedging the Future Solution Space, which highlights that, while predictions may be fun, the more utilitarian approach (until I can figure out how to be 100% correct in predicting everything) is to outline the possibilities and then see how we can make choices today that will fare best regardless of the outcome. If you check the investment theory outlined in that article, it would have worked out quite well over the past 18 months. I only wish I had followed it more closely myself (I was leveraged long oil and short the S&P500, but excessively weighted in the former so that my gains in my S&P super-bear fund didn't cover my recent losses in oil--though I'm holding my 2011 crude oil calls because I still think there's a good chance of the price shooting up again).
So, over the next few weeks, this will be the focus of my posts: the development of a future modeling and decision-making methodology that will maximize outcomes in a very uncertain future. I'll be focusing on a decision-making system for the individual, but many of the principles will work equally well for Nation-States and Corporations. In my mind, the key difference between these actors is that it is always the individual (as opposed to the currently reigning politician or CEO who can just walk away) that ultimately must carry the bag for failure to integrate the need for resiliency into our decision making. Therefore a goal of my methodology will be to optimize future resiliency in the absence of perfect knowledge of the future outcome.
Readers may also find my litigation checklist of interest.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
I won't wade into the discussion of whether this is a good idea or not, except to say that I think it's generally a good idea to permit seismic exploration, and I doubt the environmental impact of the decision will be significant for the simple reason that I doubt much, if any production will actually take place.
How much oil actually gets produced off the eastern seaboard is a function of two things (once it's made legal): how much is there, and the net energy of producing it. We don't have a good answer to the first question--undoubtedly there is some oil off the eastern seaboard, and very likely not hugely significant amounts. I've heard the figure 3.4 billion barrels floated around, which is significant but not forecast changing. Of course, that's just a guess.
However, even if there's 30 billion barrels there, the question is how much can be economically produced. If it costs $200/barrel for everything beyond the easiest 2 billion barrels, none of that will be produced (except, perhaps, as the accidental byproduct of a failed exploratory well).
It seems to be common practice to estimate the cost of production per barrel for reserves--these are figures that are critically important for understanding whether or not a new "discovery" or newly opened production territory will actually result in any significant increase in oil production. It doesn't matter if there's 200 billion barrels of oil, or if there's oil that can be produced at $2 a barrel--what matters is the combination, e.g. there's "1 billion barrels of oil that can be produced for $40/barrel." We simply don't have this information for the US eastern seaboard, and until we do the discussion of the impact of that region is purely posturing.
None of the above is really interesting (at least not to me), but what I do find interesting is what it sets up:
The other complication for US eastern seaboard oil production is that it will take many years to complete seismic studies, drill test wells to confirm reservoir quality/size/location/etc. Optimists think that we'll have oil flowing out of this region in 7 years, whereas pessimists (realists?) argue that there will be no significant production for well more than 10 years. Right now, "economically recoverable reserves" tend to be those reserves that can be produced for less than the current price of oil. More conservative E&P companies won't start a project unless they think they can produce for significantly less than the current price of oil (they don't want to bear the risk that prices go down), while others say that, because the price of oil will go up over the long term, even oil that can be produced at "current price +$10" or so is economically recoverable. All of this misses some important considerations.
First, to rephrase the assumption a bit, I agree that the scarcity of energy globally will continue to increase over the long term (that's not the same as saying that the *price* of *oil* will mirror that trend). This is significant because the cost of producing oil is, when it is reduced to its core components, nothing but energy--the energy needed to provision/train/pay the workforce, the energy needed to construct the production platforms/tenders, the energy to perform survey work, even the energy representing the inevitable management/legal/political/regulatory/etc. overhead associated with any project of this kind of scale and complexity. For that reason, and especially, as here, when it will take so long to even get to the production phase, we need to keep in mind the backdrop of continually increasing energy scarcity. That energy scarcity will, ultimately, make the cost of producing oil increase (if not in absolute terms, then at least relative to the value of the energy produced). How much will it increase over the next 7-10+ years that it will take to begin to produce oil from the eastern seaboard? I don't know the answer to that, either, but it certainly seems reasonable to suggest that it is likely to double.
So what? Well, if oil is roughly $80/barrel today, conventional wisdom is that oil producible at $60-70 a barrel is the threshold of what is economically recoverable. However, if the cost of producing oil doubles, then 7-10+ years from now oil will only be economically recoverable if it could be produced today at $30-35 a barrel. That's a long winded way of saying that, when we finally get preliminary numbers on whether oil off the eastern seaboard is "economically recoverable," I would be very skeptical. If there are 3.4 billion barrels of theoretically recoverable reserves, of which 2 billion barrels are deemed (by interested parties) to be "economically recoverable," the reality is that in 7-10+ years the amount of oil actually economically recoverable may be much, much less than 2 billion barrels. It could be 0 barrels. If an impartial source says that a billion barrels are recoverable at $20/barrel (very, very unlikely), then I'd say that oil is likely to actually get produced. Beyond that I wouldn't count on it...
Of course, this notion of "economically recoverable" is really just a different way of discussing net energy. However, the net energy analysis I've seen so far has offered little insight in to future projections for the net energy of newly opened/explored reservoirs--it tends to focus on existing producing reservoirs where actual energy input/output data is available. With newly opened territory like the eastern seaboard, it's more clear than ever that we'll need to take financial forecasts of input costs and then convert them (imperfect process, to say the least) by comparing to the price of the energy produced to reach any kind of prospective net energy calculation. If any EROI experts have thoughts on prospective net energy analysis, I'd certainly be interested to hear it...