The Fugue of Techno-Narcissism

I recently saw a story hit the newswires, claiming that U.S. oil production (from Bakken shale) could surpass Saudi Arabia by 2017

Years ago, I looked into shale and found that the amount of “net energy” input to extract and convert shale deposits into oil was very high. The mantra for years has been that, as the price of oil/energy gets high enough, it will become economically feasible to make oil from U.S. (Bakken) shale. But the problem is EROEI – energy return on energy invested. Last I checked, it takes about 1 bbl of oil energy to extract 8 bbls of U.S. crude oil. It takes roughly 1 bbl to produce 4 bbls of Canadian tar sand oil. Shale is a far less efficient process than sand – perhaps approaching 1:3 EROEI. And this, in short, is the theory of peak oil. We’re getting desperate for cost-effective energy.

There will always be billions of bbls of oil out there, but the cost to extract it (relative to supply-demand) will continue to rise, until EROEI approaches 1:1, at which point there will be little use for oil. The “low hanging fruit” (relative to demand) we’ve enjoyed for 100 years is now gone. If regenerative / sustainable energy alternatives are not in place as we approach smaller EROEI fossil ratios, economics and commerce will slow considerably (and perhaps has already). The global economy as we know it relies on cheap energy, yet the cost of that energy is increasing far faster than average inflation (which is troubling since energy is a core % of many inflation indicators). This was / is a central peak oil theory prediction and it seems to be holding true.

There’s an equal if not greater problem – the environmental damage of shale extraction. Canadian tar sand extraction is a terribly dirty process. I’m told that shale extraction is worse.  When we combine the cost of extraction with the environmental damages, I don’t see where Yergin and Goldman Sachs get their rosy predictions. In the WSJ article, I find at least two glaring misstatements by Yergin. Not surprising, given that he’s one of the oil industry’s highest paid PR gurus.

Anyway, the ever colorful James Kunstler penned a reply to Yergin and Goldman which I want to pass along. Enjoy.

This much can be stated categorically about the USA these days: the more distressed our economy gets, the more delusional thinking you will encounter. People want to assign the cause of their misery to this or that (socialism, abortion, Jews, the New World Order). People want to believe that their world is a safe place with bright prospects (climate change is a myth, we have a hundred years of shale oil). The realm of oil is especially ripe for misunderstanding, since we depend on the stuff so desperately, and the world’s geology is complex indeed, and then you have to bring math and money into the picture. But it’s another thing when professional propagandists take the stage and attempt to systematically mislead the public.


The Very Idea of Humanity

Gus Mantel

As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures…The very idea of humanity, as far as I could observe, was new to most of the Gauchos of the Pampas. This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually becomes incorporated in public opinion.  – Charles Darwin


I go by a field where once
I cultivated a few poor crops.
It is now covered with young trees,
for the forest that belongs here
has come back and reclaimed its own.
And I think of all the effort
I have wasted and all the time,
and of how much joy I took
in that failed work and how much
it taught me. For in so failing
I learned something of my place,
something of myself, and now
I welcome back the trees.

IX by Wendell Berry (from Leavings)

This Present Future

My friend Richard Thieme gives the closing keynote address at the 2011 ECOMM conference in San Francisco. In this talk, he artfully summarizes and integrates the “meta-themes” presented during the prior three days of the show.

ECOMM, a 400-person invite-only conference, explores the dissolving boundaries of Telecom, IT and media industries. The balance of power between producers and consumers is shifting and the economics of “value creation” is being transformed. These shifts are being enabled by the “communications industry” itself, accelerating myriad new forms of dynamic interaction and defining a new epoch.

The result is that new uncontested spaces for innovation are emerging. How we relate to the world around us, and the connectedness of humanity are all at stake. Richard, a former Episcopal priest, global security authority, and one of the deepest multi-disciplinary thinkers I know, masterfully summarizes a larger picture of emerging interactivity, modularity, and fluidity. His juxtaposition of techno-fascism vs. human empathy is stunning (29:15 – 33:00).

“People often describe me as a futurist. But I’m not a futurist. The future is an artificial construct local to individual cultures. What I try to do is describe the present. But so many people live in the past that, to them, I sound like a futurist.” – Richard Thieme

Walking While Working: Build a Treadmill Desk

It’s a fact. Sitting at a desk shortens your life span.

For decades, I’ve heard of people using standing desks. More recently, I discovered “walking desks” — a marriage of treadmill and workstation.

I love to walk, and I also love to work (when work = passion). But no way going to spend $5,000 on a Steelcase Walkstation Desk. So I decided to build my own. I’ve been using my new walking workstation for about three weeks and couldn’t be happier. My goal is to walk at least 20 miles each week, so that in roughly 4 years (I’m often out of the office) I will have walked 3072 miles to my virtual destination at the Cape Cod seashore.  I’m keeping a log (scroll down), and will try to update this blog post with significant milestones.

UPDATE NOV 2015: I completed my goal! A bit more than 3,000 walking miles. Have now started a new goal: walking from the northern top of Alaska to the bottom tip of South America, around 10,000 miles. At my average pace, it would take more than 10 years, so I’ll need to up my weekly goal to at least 25 miles. 

Total cost of my walking desk is $500. I’ve included some photos below. Here’s a list of materials:

Treadmill: Merit 725T Plus ($430, delivered). ADDED 15 DEC 2014: The Merit has pretty much worn itself out. It starts to smell really bad after about 2 miles. I’ve replaced the motor, the control board, and the tread, but it’s pooped out. End-of-life. For the price, it’s brought good service for about $10/mo. That’s respectable. I’ve just ordered a Weslo R5.2 from Amazon.

Desktop: 48″ x 18″ Smooth Laminate Countertop ($35)

Desktop Mounts: Two ea Home Depot Shelf Supports & Brackets ($25)

C-Clamps: Four Home Depot U-Bolts ($10)

The desktop is easily adjustable up or down in 1 inch increments via the shelf support system. I wall-mounted a video display at eye-level in front of the walking desk. Keyboard and mouse (trackball) are wireless Logitech K350 & M570.

My sitting desk is immediately behind the walking desk, behind the R/D lab wall. Logitech’s Unifying Receiver allows me to run duplicate trackballs and keyboards on a single PC, and a passive splitter-combiner lets me to run two monitors from the same video card. So now I have a walking desk and a sitting desk sharing the same PC. Nice.

How does it perform? The desktop is very stable and allows me to walk at a reasonable pace while typing on the keyboard, writing, talking on phone, or viewing the video monitor. In fact, I’m writing this blog post from my walking desk at 3.0 MPH. If I need to do critical trackball work (e/m design, schematic entry, etc.) I sometimes need to reduce my speed to something around 2.0 MPH. If walking speeds exceed 3.5MPH, the desktop starts to pick up sympathetic vibrations from the treadmill.



JOURNEY START: July 18, 2011: Placerville, California

Aug 13: Fernley, Nevada

Aug 26: Taking a side trip to Burning Man!

Sep 16: Fernley, Nevada Back from virtual Burning Man.

Nov 16 Elko, Nevada (530 miles to date)

Dec 27 Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah


Mar 26, 2012 Salt Lake City, Utah

Jul 26 Green River, Wyoming

Dec 30 Sidney, Nebraska (1183 miles to date)


April 9 Lexington, Nebraska (1360 miles to date)

July 15 Omaha, Nebraska (1570 miles to date — about half-way to my goal!!)

Dec 27 Iowa City, Iowa (1820 miles to date)


June 4 South Bend, IN (2130 miles to date)

Dec 15 Erie, PA (2490 miles to date)


May 29 Schenectady, NY (2850 miles to date)

Nov 13 Cape Cod, MA !!!! I MADE IT !!!! (3072 miles to date)

Treadmill Map 13 Nov 2015


Walking Desk Related:,9171,1862448-1,00.html

Visit Office Walkers


Consent of the Networked

Excellent TEDTalk by Rebecca MacKinnon on keeping the Internet free from corporate and political sub-interests. MacKinnon argues that the Magna Carta was a breakthrough in limiting the power of kings, followed by a radical experiment called “consent of the governed” in America’s founding. She argues convincingly that it’s time for a third paradigm shift she calls Consent of the Networked.

She shows how no country is immune from using its policing powers to stifle speech it considers inappropriate to its “national interests.” She extends her arguments to U.S. corporations which effectively gate-keep today’s Internet (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.).

Without certain essential unalienable virtual freedoms, the Internet becomes a tool of control rather than a tool of liberation from control. MacKinnon has given a powerful, prophetic TEDTalk. Humanity moving forward will be shaped largely by our degree of freedom in virtuality.

Living History

Just back from a month long “living Western history” trip. Dan finished a year of AP World History, so good timing. We started with the birth of democracy (ancient Greece circa 500BC) and explored forward 2000 years to the Renaissance (Florence circa 1500AD). We also included Minoan and Mycenaean history (Crete, etc.).

Our connection gave us a day in London with a stop at Abbey Road studios:

The Smile

There is a smile of love,
And there is a smile of deceit;
And there is a smile of smiles,
In which these two smiles meet.

(And there is a frown of hate,
And there is a frown of disdain;
And there is a frown of frowns
Which you strive to forget in vain,

For it sticks in the heart’s deep core,
And it sticks in the deep backbone.)
And no smile that ever was smiled,
But only one smile alone.

That betwixt the cradle and grave
It only once smiled can be.
But when it once is smiled
There’s an end to all misery.

– William Blake


From Wikipedia:

Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of both the Romantic movement and “Pre-Romantic”,[6] for its large appearance in the 18th century. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England – indeed, to all forms of organised religion – Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions,[7] as well as by such thinkers as Jakob Böhme and Emanuel Swedenborg.[8]

Despite these known influences, the singularity of Blake’s work makes him difficult to classify. The 19th century scholar William Rossetti characterised Blake as a “glorious luminary,”[9] and as “a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors.”[10]