Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance

Here is another interesting video documentary series from the University of California: A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance. Archaeologist look into the home of 32 families and ask the question "Why was this thing purchased?". Too much stuff in your home? Feel guilty of all the time spent looking, buying, maintaining and discarding stuff? The entire playlist is on YouTube. I heard a new term: hyper-consumerism. Possessions create stress and worries and these in turn elevate the cortisol levels in the blood stream, thereby lowering and impairing the immune system.  The US have 3% of the world's children, but consume 40% of the world's toys. (Episode 1, minute 4:17 to 6:17.) What are we showing and teaching our kids through our actions and interactions with stuff. Watch it and see how you compare to these 32 families. You'll also learn where most of the time is spend (the kitchen), the least time is spent (master-bedroom), what the most contended space is (bathroom), and what the most frequently remodeled space (master-bedroom) is.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

9 Billion Mouths to Feed: The Future of Farming

The University of California in Davis has created a series of 4 short video documentaries highlighting scientific, technical and health aspects of feeding our growing world population. The webpage of the series is here  at "The Future of Farming". The entire series is on YouTube as a playlist. It is quite basic, but for starters it is giving a reasonable overview of the issues. While watching keep in mind the influence of Monsanto on the research topics and results of UC Davis. Especially episode 4 seems skewed towards agrobusiness. The solutions proposed in these videos are too much dependent on gene-engineering. In summary, good for starters, but lacking depth and too optimistic about gene-manipulation. Watch and form your own opinion.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Oil company and Taxes

Exxon profited by $16 billion this last quarter, bringing its earnings for 2012 to $25 billion. Exxon and Shell made a combined $160,000 per minute last quarter, even though the top five oil companies benefit from $2.4 billion federal tax breaks every year. Exxon paid just 13 percent in federal taxes last year, lower than the average American family. Mitt Romney is the top recipient of Exxon federal contributions, he is also the one proposing a new tax plan that could lower the top five oil companies’ annual tax bill by another $2.3 billion, virtually doubling what they already receive in tax breaks. Moral of the story: If you earn $160,000 you pay around 30-40% tax. If you earn $160,000 per minute you pay 13%. The full details and the numbers are on this article: Top Two Oil Companies Earn $160,000 Per Minute, Paid Low Tax Rate.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Does gold set the price for oil?

The article "Does gold set the price for oil?" by Michael Jaeger in the Washington Times has compared the oil price and the gold price for the last 26 years, from January 2, 1986 to March 3, 2012 (6,457 matching intervals). Using basic statistics, a 2-sample t test was performed and the results are eye-opening. The comparison showed that .0602 ounces of gold times the price of gold produces the price of a barrel of oil, with an standard error of just .421%, between the calculated price and the actual price since 1986. For the last 26 years, the price of gold dictated the price of oil with 99.579 percent accuracy. That seems to be quite convincing. Read the full article for all the details. This TV news broadcast "Fiat Dollar Is The Real Reason For High Gas Prices" also talks about the same article by Michael Jaeger.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I don't know what exactly it is, but planting trees or just reading or thinking about reforestation makes me cheerful for a moment. Today I ran across a 1-hour documentary entitled "The man who stopped the desert". A trailer is available for free.

From this movie I followed two links to related material: "Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR): A good news story for a deforested and degraded" is a brief summary of permaculture ideas applied in Africa to help reforestation. The other reference is from China: "Lessons of the Loess Plateau" is a 52-min documentary highlighting the challenges and results from this regeneration project.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Finally the day has come. It was foreseeable for so long. It was negated for as long as it was foreseeable. Both Spanish government and banks repeated and repeated over and over again "we have the safest and healthiest banks in Europe", "there is no risk", "we will not need any bail-out money", ... Yesterday it was finally official: Spain took €100 billion in bailout money.

It is always the same pattern. We have seen it at least 3 times in the last 3 years: Iceland, Ireland, Greece, ... 1) denial and refusal, misinformation and lies by governments and banks, 2) accepting the bailout, 3) shifting the debts and risks from the private sector to the public sector, 4) as the rescue and bailout money runs out quickly soon we repeat with step (1).

What was slightly different in the bailout of Spain is the time the euphoria lasted. Usually once the rescue funds are injected there is a month or so of euphoria and (false) optimism. Not so with the Spanish bailout. Just 24 hours later there were mostly negative press. Mainstream media like the WSJ reported in its article "Bulls Retreat on Spain Bailout Plan": ..., bailout doesn't help Spain repair its tattered economy, ... Spain's capital injections entail a transfer of risk from the private to the public sector, ... Spain is likely to need more external help going forward. The Huffington Post put it even more bluntly: Spain Bank Bailout 'Not Going To Work'. Same at the Guardian "Hurried Spanish banking bailout fails to calm market nerves".

Next up for bailout: Italy. Just watch and see steps 1 through 4 being executed there.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Club of Rome - 2052

The Club of Rome is an association of roughly 100 members that tries to identify the most crucial problems which will determine the future of humanity through integrated and forward-looking analysis. About once a year it releases a report. This years it has released a 400-page report (book) entitled "2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years". It was written by Jorgen Randers. It summarizes:
  • While the process of adapting humanity to the planet’s limitations has started, the human response could be too slow.
  • The current dominant global economies, particularly the United States, will stagnate. Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and ten leading emerging economies (referred to as ‘BRISE’ in the Report) will progress.
  • But there will still be 3 billion poor in 2052.
  • China will be a success story, because of its ability to act.
  • Global population will peak in 2042, because of falling fertility in urban areas
  • Global GDP will grow much slower than expected, because of slower productivity growth in mature economies.
  • CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to grow and cause +2°C in 2052; temperatures will reach +2.8°C in 2080, which may well trigger self-reinforcing climate change.
The Report says the main cause of future problems is the excessively short-term predominant political and economic model. You can see the presentation of the book in two videos here or here and here. You can read more about this report here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Greed Game

In 2008 the BBC has created a 58-min documentary summarizing the past sub-prime crisis from a European perspective. It is online now at "Super Rich - The Greed Game". While it doesn't add new insights, it is an easy to understand summary. It also explains and discusses some of the unfair one-way-bets implications (asymmetric risks) showing how the poor get tapped to make the super-rich even super-richer. It concludes with the comment "we haven't learned from our mistakes".

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Great Pacific Garbage

The Great Pacific Garbage is bigger than ever, and deeper than ever thought. It increased 100 fold since 1970 and is the size of Texas. The wind pushes the plastic deeper into the ocean and away from the surface. Hence previous might underestimate the count of the plastic particles by a factor of 27 (that's 2700%)! Where does it all end up? Since we are all connected and the humans sit on the top of the food chain, it eventually all ends up in our food and later in our blood stream and body cells.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Land of the Free

The NSA is building its biggest surveillance center ever ($2 billion to build, $40 million annually just for the electricity bill). Verizon is handing over customer data to the NSA and FBI without court orders. FBI wants an easier access via backdoors to everything from GMail, Hotmail, Facebook, G+ Chatrooms, Twitter, P2P sites, Skype, Messaging systems, Xbox Game servers, and so forth. Constant omnipresent video surveillance with face recognition. Drones following your every move. Is the US still the land of the free?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tech Bubble 2.0

Silicon Valley and the tech industry as a whole is going through another cycle of incredible hype. Valuations of companies are wilder than ever. The New York Times wrote an article about this new bubble. Apparently we haven't learned anything from the last tech sector bubble. The only difference to the new bubble, Bubble 2.0 seems to be an appropriate name, is that 2.0 is a bigger and bolder bubble. Read the article: Disruptions: With No Revenue, an Illusion of Value.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


A long time ago I watched the 40-min "Chocolate, Cheese, Meat, and Sugar -- Physically Addictive Foods" by Dr. Neal Barnard. Even though years have passed by since I watched it, I still remember the part of the documentary where he explains how recently born babies are made addicted to sugar. He even gives an example of hypnotizing a baby with sugar that you can try out yourself on your new-born baby.

Along the lines of sugar and its immediate impact on our health I received links to the following series that is currently in production with the first two episodes available and at least five more coming: "The Skinny on Obesity" by Dr. Robert Lustig. He explains the differences between glucose and fructose and how fructose gets converted into fat by our body. Anyone with an interest in a healthy life style should have a look at these documentaries to form his own opinion and adjust his eating habits if necessary. The videos can be found here: Sugar: The Bitter Truth (90-min, very technical), Suger: Bitter Truth Short Version (10min), and the UCTV site for Skinny on Obesity. There is also a YouTube channel for these videos.

PS: New episodes were released. Have a look at this one. It gives 4 steps to healthier living: For the context and a deeper explanation of these 4 rules you will have to watch the other episodes.
  • Remove all sugar drinks including fruit juices from your house.
  • Eat carbohydrates with fiber (look at the labeling and chose items with 3+g/100g).
  • Wait 20 minutes before giving a second serving.
  • Buy TV/laptop/console time with sport/activity, i.e. for each minutes spent sedentary in front of the TV/laptop spend one minute exercising (walking, biking, outdoor playing, ...).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day or Mother Earth Day. The official website is the Earth Day Network where ideas for personal action can be found and actions can be registered. I - in particular - favor and appreciate the Billion Trees Campaign. If you need more ideas of how to contribute and how to make each day Earth day, have a look at these action ideas.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spain the next country to collapse?

Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Greece all have gone through crash-and-rescue operation. The storm over Spain is brewing for a long time already. The PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland Greece and Spain) have been in the news for more than a year. Spain's job less rate is officially over 20% already, unofficially it is assumed to be even higher. Some cities, e.g. Cadiz, have an official jobless rate of 33%+. The biggest problem is the real-estate market, the past real-estate boom, the still inflated real-estate prices and the real-estate loans banks signed in the past 30 years. This is not something that can be corrected in a single year. The loans are bad and will eternally remain bad. The price adjustment of real-estate could be fast. The bubble could burst and instead of the 10% decline over the last 3 years, prices might go down 30% or more.

Here is an article that argues that the Spanish collapse is imminent. All other collapses (from Iceland to Greece) have been controlled collapses through IMF and ECB injections of freshly printed paper money. Will Spain also be a controlled collapse and will it be a rougher ride this time around? And how far will the rumbling be felt? Read this "Spain is About to Enter a Full-Scale Collapse".

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Understanding the New Price of Oil

Gregor Macdonald has written an interesting article entitled "Understanding the New Price of Oil" that explains how over time the factors determining the oil price have changed. Besides that the article has a lot of small tidbits of highly relevant information regarding the future of oil. Worth reeading.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Motion Sensors and Lights

Now that we know that we should always turn the lights off, the next questions is: Is it worth while to put motion or light sensors into the home to turn the light on automatically? Here is an excellent article, entitled "Does a Motion-Activated Light Switch Save Money?". The average consumption of the sensor is around 1W. So, for 24 hours a day, the sensor is consuming 1W. Government guidelines from Australia try push this "phantom" stand-by consumption down to 0.25W. Just this week I bought a lamp with 6 LEDs of which each LED consumes 0.06W, a total of 0.36W for all 6 LEDs combined. Instead of operating a sensor and a light one could just leave a dim LED light on all the time and in comparison to the sensor save energy and money. In conclusion, unless you are forgetful to turn the light off manually or for security concerns, a light or motion sensor for turning the light on at home makes little energy sense.

Turn the Light Off

Once someone told me that he leaves the fluorescent kitchen light on all night even when not in the kitchen because it saves energy and money. According to him the startup of the fluorescent bulb is so high that it compensates for hours of being turned on. I was always curious about this but never found a good answer, until today: According to the article it is always better to turn the fluorescent light off, even if only leaving the room for 5 minutes. The startup peak energy consumption is so short that it does not compensate for leaving the light on. Here is the full article entitled "Does Turning Fluorescent Lights Off Use More Energy Than Leaving Them On?". In short always turn all lights off. This holds true for incandescents, flourescents and LEDs.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Illegal Everything

How about our civil rights? Our freedoms? Every year we have more laws, more regulations and less liberties. Have a look at this 40-min documentary "Illegal Everything".

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shale Oil

Chris Martenson wrote an excellent article entitled "Dangerous Ideas" that deals a lot with shale oil and how media uses it to downplay peak oil and play a rosy future full of unlimited energy. The US has the biggest reserves today but only a small production. Lately there are a lot of news articles published that report of new evidence showing that fracking (needed for converting oil shale into usable oil and gasoline) is safe. Example articles here and here. With both in place, a mega deposit of oil shale in North Dakota and safe extraction processes through fracturing, all is well now according to the media.

The reality is different. The world's leading shale oil producer is Estonia. The problems seem to become clear when one considers that in 2002, about 97% of air pollution, 86% of total waste and 23% of water pollution in Estonia came from the power industry, which uses oil shale as the main resource for its power production (source). This is quite a contrast to media reports in the US. Efficiency is another factor. More recent studies estimates the EROEI of oil shales to be 1–2:1 or 2–16:1 – depending when self-energy is counted as a cost or internal energy is exclude and only purchased energy is counted as input (source). That means in the very best case, with 1 gallon of external oil as input one can generate 16 gallons of oil from shale. Worst case, for 1 gallon of external oil as input one can generate 2 gallons of shale oil. If we add in all the energy from the oil shale that is also used up in the shale-to-oil conversion then the energy calculation is as follows: In the worst case, for using up 1 calorie of input we extract 1 calorie in form of oil as output. In the best case, for using up 1 calorie of input we extract 2 calorie in form of oil as output. In other words the extraction process consumes 0.5 to 1 calorie to extract 1 calorie of oil. As far as I know this calculation only covers the conversion process, it does not cover the energetic cost to produce all the equipment necessary, the energetic cost to transport the equipment to the exploration site, the energetic cost to clean up and "heal" the site after exploration is being abandoned, etc. Furthermore, extracted shale oil is not liquid at environmental temperatures. In order to pump it through pipes the pipes would have to be heated, making transport even more energy consuming. If we add all this into the equation, it is a clear loss. No doubt we can technically extract energy, but it can only be done with massive energetic input, massive current resource use and leaving the cleanup to future generations.

Pay attention to the next shale oil stories you hear in the media.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Gold Rush is On

Disaster for some (the less privileged) always turns into a gold mine for others (a few privileged or connected). No matter what the disaster is, natural, economic or ecologic, there are always vulture companies turning it into a giant profit at the cost of the just affected. In many cases it is big governments that take advantage of the disaster to funnel public money to private corporations. Here is a good example from recent history. Less than a month after the quake in Haiti US Ambassador Kenneth Merten sent a cable to the his corporate and NGO contacts with the message "The gold rush is on". Two years later Haiti looks like the earth quake has been merely 2 months ago. Where did all the relief fund money go? Where did it not go? Find out here in this 10-min video report entitled "The Haitian Earthquake Gold Rush".