Wednesday's Open Thread

As you wish  . . . .
In 2004 the world produced about 30 bln litres of fuel-ready ethanol from fermenting and distilling mainly sugar or maize. In oil terms, that is over 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), representing 2% of global gasoline use.

OK, I'll repost here ...

NYTimes is dissing the Prius mileage:

Odograph discussed claims against hybrid mileage on his blog.  I asked a coworker, and she claims 55 mph in warm weather, but only 45 mph in the cold, which makes some sense.

Regarding the point about auto manufacturers using the non-guzzlers to balance guzzlers under CAFE, I'd rather have the choice to buy one or the other anyway.

Of course I'd also like to have a practical, affordable EV, but that seems to be too much to ask.  Which will be crushed first, the last EV-1 or GM itself?

still much better then a 20 to sub 20 mpg suv..
I replaced a Chevy Blazer with a 2005 Toyota Prius.  This change is typical of the many Prius owners here in Austin.  After the break-in period and with some driver training, 52 miles per gallon is what I get on a daily 23 mile round-trip commute on the highway.  But for fun I sometimes make the same commute on slower city streets and use the "Pulse and Glide" technique which is mostly coasting under 40 MPH with neither gasoline nor electric engine engaged - I get 65-70 MPG.

Most people don't know that the Prius is also a PZEV (Partially Zero Emissions Vehicle) in which the first few minutes of driving have quite low MPG in order to minimize polutants.  The on-board real-time MPG display usually shows less than 30 MPG average for the first five minutes.

I recommend the car for those who can afford one and in particular for those who do mostly stop and go driving.  

in which the first few minutes of driving have quite low MPG in order to minimize polutants.

How does getting worse MPG lead to less polution?  There must be something I'm missing here.

the car's warm-up cycle burns extra gas to get the catalytic converter hot as quickly as possible to reduce emissions

I recommend the car for those who can afford one and in particular for those who do mostly stop and go driving.
The entire New York City yellow taxi fleet should be converted to Priuses as the existing cars age out. That's 12,778 cars, each of which does nearly nothing but stop and go traffic for 24 hours a day (two shifts per car). It looks like the city's taxi regulatory agency has authorized the following models:
2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, 2006 Toyota Prius, 2006 Honda Civic hybrid, 2006 Honda Accord hybrid, and the 2006 Lexus RX 400H.
That's interesting: there's no GM product on your list.  I seem to recall that after the demise of the traiditonal NYC Checker cab in the 1970's, the fleet was largely Chrevrolet Caprices or Ford.Mecury Town Car of similar bulk.  Size is a definite factor for the taxi fleet,and it's hard to imagine the prius being large enough to pack people in.
Victoria, BC taxi company is into the Prius in a big way (relative to size of fleet):

<snip>...90 passenger vehicles in total, that include over 33 Toyota Prius (Hybrid) vehicles...</snip>

Two years ago I looked at the Prius & Insight and went anotehr direction, a low mileage (73,800) 1982 Mercedes Benz 240D (manual transmission).  My experience (synthetic lube everywhere) is 31 mpg city and 35 to 42 mpg highway (depending upon speed).

Not as good, but good enough for my low annual mileage.

Greater durability, higher quality construction, biofuel option (the older M-B diesel fuel pump is uniquely suited to a variety of fuels), probably greater safety and lower cost (I won eBay bid at $10,500) than anew car.  And I have confidence that, absent an accident, it will be my last car (I am 52 and this should last me into by 80s, if I live/drive that long).

I think the best part of that article was where they talk about the Hybrids offsetting gas guzzlers on the fleetwide MPG calculation. Talk about Jevon's Paradox codified into law!
I'm going to put bumper stickers on my Suburban and my wife's Tahoe that say "My other car is also an SUV".  Thanks, Prius drivers, for the "demand destruction."  Please keep it up!
Thanks Consume More for helping keep a spare room for demand destruction! (and raising price of oil in the meantime)

Keep up!

Too bad there are so many affluent asians coming "on-line" at the same times as those Prius, huh?
2005 Toyota Echo manual transmission gets 38 Mpg, which in not that far away from the Prius.

If both are driven for 200K miles in their lifetime gas should be $8/per gallon to compensate for the 10K difference in the price tag.

My diesel engined Smart car from Mercedes Benz, not available in the US I believe, gets 75 miles/US gallon. They have experimented with a hybrid version that does 15% better.
LevinK - You're right strictly with regard to $$$, but there are a lot of differences between Prius and Echo besides mpg. The Prius has much more cargo space, more passenger space, better performance, many more bells and whistles and is much, MUCH safer. (For instance, you can't get stability control on the Echo.) Those features account for most of the $10k. Tax breaks may account for most or even all of the rest. (In Colorado, for instance, you could conceivably get $7k back in state and federal credits.)

For those who want their hybrids cheap as well as fuel-efficient, the Kia Rio hybrid is scheduled to be released late this year. I wonder how it will be received. The economic challenge is that the cost of the hybrid drive is basically the same whether the car is an econobox or mid-priced sedan, so, from the consumer standpoint, the hybrid premium actually increases on cheaper cars: The difference between $11k and $14k (27% increase) is more likely to deter a potential buyer than the difference between $21k and $24k (14% increase).

Ok, I should have picked something closer to its class like the 2005 Corolla (35 mpg, real world).

Actually I think that hybrids are great. I am mostly frustrated that we do not move faster in the direction of plug-ins, which would already represent a qualitevely different step in the right direction.

I just last week bought a 2001 Kia Rio (4-banger and not hybrid) and after a week of use, I logged 185 miles before loading my second load of fuel onboard. When I bought it I topped off the tank. After the 185 miles, I needed only 6.9 gallons to top the tank again - 26 miles per gallon. Not bad for a 5 year old car. I drive a mix of city and freeway miles, so it's all-around mpg.

The easiest way to measure gas mileage is the way I describe above. At 7 gallons per week, that's one gallon a day. I wonder if it can burn E-85 right. It would be a lot better to feed alcohol distilleries than terrorists! If I used E-85 instead, the terrorists would get only one gallon/week's worth of my "donation".

I bought the car becuse a bus I would ride otherwise started carrying an idiot who hated me for no obvious reason and had no bones about letting me know. Since transit must cater to ANYONE, undesireables get to board buses and trains. Something missed by transit boosters. And in Israel, transit is known to pick up suicide bombers, meaning buses are targets. And trains are too tempting for any smallpoxer.

This is an interesting post. I'm not sure how to respond and probably shouldn't - but, will anyway.

If everybody thought the way do(and don't take this personally, because I've read some of your other stuff and am generally impressed) - and I don't know how else to say this - but, we would have hit peak oil 50 years ago.

People do, in fact, make decisions based on a broad variety of factors, some concious, some not. However buying a car to travel alone and burn even more gas because some guy looked at you the wrong way. Boy, that's the spirit. Did you consider shooting him?

No, but I figured that an altercation was high probability. The train station is not bristling with cameras to help catch idiots after the fact. The problem is that more people are riding that bus, making competition for what few seats there are - and I'm better at competing for the seats than the bully. Meanwhile the bus agency buys buses with fewer seats(!) making for increased chance of a "bus rage" altercation.

Worse, the bus agency buys buses of such poor quality that you'd think they bought them from Wal-Mart. The back door is so drafty that it can't hold HVAC, meaning it's A/C'd in winter and heated in summer. And the seats are like a La-Z-Boy chair with springs and cushions and a suspension comparable to the axles welded to the frame. It's like riding in a storm chasing plane unless the road is literally smooth as glass.

I was considering a motorcycle before the bully emerged to make the long unpleasant commute that much worse. The buses are found in Chicago's suburbs ( and that agency makes the CTA look good by comparison. Let the bully harass someone else. I don't need a "yellow school bus effect" along with bouncing like a lotto ball every time the bus hits a pebble. I couldn't wait before I took motorcycle lessons once the idiot emerged.

You ask a (very) good question, and that's my answer.

You are funny. But you raise another question. Which are worse - terrorists or idiots?
Worst of all are the bean-counting bureaucrats who don't provide enough buses with enough seats for the needs of the people.

The needs of the bureaucrats outweigh the needs of the many --Spock.

Good question, and I will answer. Terrorists are (fortunately) rare, but idiots are exceedingly common. That includes the bean-counters who ordered the buses to set the stage for the bully idiot and of course the bully idiot who drove me to drive. Idiots incluse rick idiots like Steve Fossett who with his money bought an "experimental" plane to joyride around the world AND purposely overshoot just to get in the world record book. I get one consolation: Steve Fossett while "driving" over India encountered heavy turbulence, so he had a chance to expierence what it's like to ride a PACE Bus. Just like me, as he shook in his "drivers seat" like I would in an ordinary seat.

Fun note. I occasionally do Flight Simulator and always had some interest in aviation, though for non-noble reasons. Due to this interest, I often mix aviation and automotive stuff together. (like a "load of fuel" and "tank of gas") I do see a terror danger in DISGRUNTLED PILOTS becuse they are well-trained (and expierenced) who could, in theory, pop a copilot then put the flaps back up as the plane rolls to barely take off to hit the airline headquarters building a la 9/11. This would take only seconds and be unstoppable and only take a patient pilot to fly out of the wrong airport on the wrong runway. (only obvious to a flight sim player)

Since idiots are way more common than terrorists, this is a bigger hazard all around. We can see idiots as we drive. The "disgruntled pilot" hazard has precedent with an EgyptAir pilot and of course the disgruntled postal workers, and suicide gunmen unconnected with any terrorist group. Idiots become "independant operatives".

I apologize. I underestimated you. What I thought was funny is actually a certain profound realism. BTW, I don't know where you came up with your name, but the first 10 minutes of (the original)Mad Max is some of the best film-making (and driving)ever.
Two points
I bought a Kia Sephia in '99 and get similar mpg.
Did you complain to the transit systems management about the problem passenger?  The system I worked for could ban passengers who were repeatedly causing trouble. ADA does not protect trouble makers.
Good question with answer. I was not patient to deal with idiots in management when I decided to buy and use a car. Why? Becuse my entire expierence with authorities and bullies dictates that they will ignore me. The ONLY effective strategy I ever found was to avoid a bully, seemingly by any means necessary short of violence. (violence is counter-productive as it exposes you to worse bullies!)

The alternative to the bully was to wait for the next bus which would be the EXACT same vehicle, but with worse crowding. I have gone to a PACE public hearing before this problem, knowing that things wouldn't change. I spoke up about the other problems (not bully-related) and noted I only had a chance to perform as a comedian. Not good. The 3 execs/stooges are nearly unreachable - certainly without a car. (ironic, eh?)

The problem with the suburban bus system is that the management knows that the ONLY alternative is to do what I did, drive. The bully merely was that tipping point that got me to say "F%&k it" and proceed to drive. My conclusion is that mass transit and our suburbs are a very poor match, on a par with drinking and driving. :(

here's a story about crazy people on buses.

i was visiting L.A. a few years ago for a conference. i had taken super shuttle from the airport on arriving, but during my stay i figured out that for the return trip i could take a bus from near my hotel to the airport for real cheap. i didn't really need to save the money (was getting reimbursed anyway) but felt inclined to take the bus anyway. (i was poor years ago and certain habits linger.)

but at dinner w/ a bunch of folks somehow this came up and a guy there urged me not to do it. he said he'd lived in L.A. for like twenty years and could tell me with authority that the buses were a bad situation. crazy people, dirty, smelly, scarey people. he said, it's not like in the movie "speed" where the bus driver knows people by name and everyone is nice and clean cut and normal. he was quite clear about the risks of taking the bus and seemed to know what he was talking about.

okay so i figured i'd do it anyway. smelly people, big deal, right? so i took the bus to the airport on the morning of my return.

guess what? everyone on there was well dressed, freshly shampooed, normal, and not crazy. the bus driver knew people by name, and even had a discussion with one regular passenger about another who hadn't been seen lately. i mean, i figured the guy who warned me might have been exaggerating a little, but to find out that he was just totally, utterly wrong in every detail -- that was surprise!

the funny thing was, he didn't actually take the bus (he told me). he just "knew" these things from living in L.A.

(not casting doubt on your particular bully story.)

Ironically, it was the very familiarity of the same people on the Pace bus each day, and all low-income enough to be deterred from driving. While high-income yuppie crowds can harbour bullies (they become managers), lower income groups have their share. One just started using the bus and after a month of the stupidity, I had to act.

Bullies aside, the suburban bus system by Chicago could use a lot of improvement. But with the economics being like a monopoly with a greatly costlier alternative, it is shoddy at best - and non-existent as the norm.

My 1985 model Suzuki SA-310 (sold as Chevrolet Sprint and Pontiac Firefly in the US) gets 5 litres per 100 km in the summertime on longer road trips at less than highway speed (that's about 47 mpg). If i push the pedal to the metal on highways the consumption rises to 7 litres per 100 km (33 mpg). The average consumption in my use (mostly long trips at sub-highway speed and shorter distance driving within the city I live in) is less than 6 litres per 100 km (more than 39 miles per gallon).

I've grown fond of this little car, although it's already started to fall apart so badly that I'm going to have to get rid of it before the next autumn. It irritates me a lot when I have to fix it (I have the repair manual for it and some skills, but the spare parts cost quite a lot money), but every time I fill the tank I remember why I love that car.

My 2003 echo with automatic transmission gets up to 40 mpg (long trips at moderate - less than highway - speeds).  Worst I ever got (short trips in winter) is about 32.  I got an automatic because a long search for a manual specimen on the used market in the NE USA came up empty.  They don't sell new ones (2004+) here any more.  Why?  Perhaps not enough of a profit?  The Echo is/was Toyota's best-kept secret.

If both (Echo and Prius) are driven for 200K miles in their lifetime gas should be $8/per gallon to compensate for the 10K difference in the price tag.

- not even then?  If I compute that using 38 mpg vs 45 mpg I get about $12.  Also, if oil got more expensive, the purchase-price difference would get bigger, since it costs energy to make the stuff.  The real question is: does the hybrid pay for its energy of manufacturing, relative to the best we can do with non-hybrid technology.  Just the battery in the Prius is about $4000, and I wonder how long it'll last - if you need to replace it before those 200,000 miles are done, add that to the cost difference...  And that's the relatively small battery that has not much plug-in utility.

If we want to save fuel, we need to accept the concept of driving (or riding) smaller, lighter vehicles.  Yes if you get hit by a large truck you're in trouble.  That's true in an SUV too.  So should we all drive Sherman tanks?  Alternatives include: lower speed limits, and less driving to reduce risk.  Even with large vehicles, 100 people die on an average day in accidents in the US, and many many more are injured.  If that many died in some other activity we'd regulate it down to nothing, but car-driving is the national addiction and we repress the risk in our minds.  The same over-protective parents that won't leave a 15-year-old home alone for an hour, or let him/her walk half a mile, will give him/her the keys to the car at 16.  This while the stats show that car accidents are the biggest risk to teens, by far.

Question to hybrid owners: how well does the real-time MPG display match the gold standard: the comutation based on the odometer and the gallons bought at the pump?

I used 50 mpg for Prius hence the difference (the average between 45 in winter and 55 in summer).

I don't fully agree with you about hybrids vs small cars. First I don't see why don't we go in both directions in the same time (plus mass transit as a third direction).

Second and more important, hybrids are the first step to electric transportation. IMO, if there is a solution to our oil problem, it will go through scrapping those 15% efficient ICEs in the next several decades.

On my Prius commute, I reset the real-time MPG so as to have a new goal each day, and have calculated the MPG per tank only a few times.  However on the prius-chat fuel economy forum, the question has arisen.  Here is a sample:

I compare lifetime mileage (miles driven divided by total fuel pumped into the tank) and also guage mileage on the MFD. For the last 4,500 miles the calculated mpg is 1.2 mpg better than the average of the guage mpg.

I work at Toyota and we hear things like this all the time from customers. Unfortunately, the fuel tank in the prius isn't a rigid tank like most vehicles. Instead, it's a flexible bladder inside a protective shell. The size of the bladder (and therefore it's capacity) is variable, so you can't calculate mpg by miles driven divided by how much fuel you put in the car. I'd think that using "lifetime mpg" would eliminate most errors, but maybe he lives in a cold climate or something.

A short suggestion: Don't run your prius out of fuel. The computer freaks out and needs to be recalibrated at a dealer, and it isn't covered under warranty.

One last thing: The terrain you drive in has a very large effect on a prius' mpg. Here in Southern California we have a lot of mountains. People here typically get 10-20 percent less mpg than customers on the East coast.

If we wanted to improve mileage of our fleet, have NHTSA require an average MPG display in all cars.  No one can resist trying for high score.  What else is there to do on the 2000th time you've driven to work?
Bingo.  I've heard this comment from several people in various places, and I'm convinced it's right on the money.

I had this kind of real-time MPG thingie on a 1987(!) BMW 325is, and it definitely improved my driving habits.

Thing to do- put a big DayGlo sticker on your rear window giving the biggest lie about gas mileage your conscience can take.  Example, my teutonic wife keeps records of everything, so I know her Matrix actually gets 34.67mpg averaged over a year.  I can stand a 20 percent lie so I put a sticker on the back saying Ya-Ya, this car gets 42 mpg.  Everybody sees this and starts secretly computing their own mileage.  Makes them feel guilty and generates an unconscious desire to buy next car with bigger number.   The world is saved, at low cost to investor.

Me, I am striving to create a little commuter that will say on the back, This thing might smell a little funny, but it goes 20 miles on a double handfull of wood pellets.

I thought of that sticker idea last year, when considering a motorcycle. I would have put on the back of the leather jacket or riding suit the mpg as calculated to get SUV drivers to think about their mpg (or gpm with Hummers). I would have bought a smaller bike, not the biggest Harley.
My gut feeling is that while some people will try to beat their record, others will be trying to beat their anti-record. Especially at this (still ridiculous IMO) gas prices.

In this line of thought, anybody know how I can reduce gas consumption for the first couple of miles? I don't have a mileage meter, but my short commute to the train staion is probably in the single digits.
(and no, biking is not an option)
(aham a Prius is not either, I'm waiting for the plug-ins to appear before I buy)

Get a mechanic to tell you exactly how to drive your particular car. Mechanics know more about cars than most of us. I always buy used cars from auto mechanics, usually the car his wife owned and that he maintained, and I always ask questions about how to drive in cold weather, are there any tricks, etc.

It turns out there are a whole bunch of tricks, some obvious, others less so:

  1. Be a fanatic on correct tire inflation.
  2. Never let your car idle to warm up, instead just be very very gentle with the accelerator during the first sixty to ninety seconds.
  3. Follow the owner's manual. (Well, duh.) But how many of us change spark plugs at recommended intervals?
  4. Drive as if you are a cautious little old lady--gentle, gentle, gentle on the acceleratior; look two blocks ahead to figure out when you will have to slow down, and use the brake as little as you can. It is amazing what a huge difference this last piece of advice makes.
  5. When the engine is hot and you are accelerating on a highway, do not hestitate to use three seconds of acceleration (smoothly, gently) to kick the car into its highest gear and get the very best efficiency from low rpms.
  6. Learn to watch the tachometer. What? You don't have a tach? tsk, tsk.
  7. Develop a good long-term relationship with your vehicle. You love your car, she will treat you right. You hate and abuse your car or van or SUV or truck? Well, how do you think she feels?
Actually, gentle on the accelerator is not always the best method.  A gasoline engine has high pumping losses when the throttle plates are not open.  So for maximum efficiency, it's best to use 75-80% throttle to get to the point where you can pull the next gear without bogging, then shift and do it again.  Naturally, once you get to top gear, you can't keep the throttle open like that, so it only helps during acceleration.  

You wnat to make sure you don't open the throttle too far, or the engine control will switch to open loop mode for max power.

Put in a block heater.
That is a very good idea. In the olden days, when cars had carbs instead of fuel injection, everybody in Minnesota had block heaters and plugged in their cars, because otherwise they would not start at 40 degrees below zero, or whatever. But now, with fuel injection and those lovely black boxes, you can start your car easily even in very cold weather, and what most people (not me of course; I am a paragon of virtue;-) do is to let the car idle with the heater on until it is warm and toasty inside. Also, in Minnesota most people are nice, so in the winter people let their engines run even with the doors unlocked while they dash into the convenience stores or bank or whatever. Then they are surprised when some immigrant to Minnesota from a not so nice state steals their car.

Block heaters have almost gone the way of the dodo bird, and perhaps global warming has a little bit to do with that.

Two more things could improve net MPG by increasing efficiency:
  1. Cruise control, standard on all vehicles.
  2. Even better, adaptive cruise control.  (Better still if cars can signal speed changes and evasions back to following vehicles, so they could run tightly-packed as "trains" to further reduce air drag and slash congestion.)

A lot of today's fuel use is due to cars idling in stalled traffic.  If we could pack lots of vehicles together in trains and have them cruise even 45 MPH in the HOV lanes, average speed would go up, idling losses down, congestion down.

And keep slow-accelerating heavy trucks out of the car lanes.  Those two things should not mix.

I've been driving a Honda Civic hybrid for the past three years or so, and average about 52 mpg in all but very cold weather, and more like 40-45 mpg in the dead of winter.  My driving is mixed highway and city streets, mostly highway.  It is annoying to read constant reports that hybrids do not get nearly the mileage advertised; everyone I ask who has a Prius gets pretty much the EPA rating.  With the Honda, it is unfortunate that the California version is the only one with truly low emissions.
Hey!  I missed this thread because I was off on a little overnight bicycle trip (with my volpe and panniers).  I had fun and only suffered a sore achilles tendon.

The comments seem to cover it.  I do like the Echo and it was my other choice.  FWIW, I did take a snap of my mountain bike in my Prius.  It has a fair amount of cargo space with the seat folded down:

All in all, there are a number of choice out there these days with 30+ real world mpg.  The main thing IMO is to climb up from the typical 15-25.

Ethanol: first attempt at an ethanol/land usage calculator for Dave :)

Click here

Note: it uses Javascript but it isn't clever enough to tell you if it's switched off in your browser.

The Globalist source you use for the calculator claims that these are the highes yields of ethanol per acre. IMO the mean yields should be used (if available).
Interesting, but could sugarcane/beet be grown over more than a small fraction of the agricultural land of the US?
I used to work for a seed company and helped breed beets once upon a time in the past.  Here is what I remember off the top of my head.

Sugar beets are the primary source of sugar in temperate climates.  They grow well wherever conventional beets and root crops like potatoes, carrots, etc. can grow.  They have the same or higher yield of sugar per ton of biomass than sugar cane.  Cold climate is better than warm for sugar production.  Sugar beets are an anual crop and are huge, 5-10 pounds each.  They grow very well in northern Europe and North Dakota.  North Dakota primarily because of the processors there and the very flat, silty land in the old red river lake bed west of Fargo.  Easy to dig beets in that environment.  They are grown all over France, Belgium, Holland, etc. because the E.U. wants European farmers and they subsize beet farmers.

Like all other crops more acres of sugar beets are not grown because of the world wide supply of sugar from cane grown in the tropics.  Farmers and processors of beet sugar have to compete with cane sugar in the global market.  As long as cheap labor and subsidies exist for cane (and also for beets)it is hard to switch over to beets.  Currently there is capacity or surplus of sugar on the market depressing prices.  This is great, and desired by countries so that their citizens have cheap food.  But it tends to drive farmers out of business.

Cheap labor also helps for beet production in North Dakota and western Minnesoata on the east side of the Red River. Mostly the fields are worked by Mexicans, and with the obscenely huge subsidies and outrageous protectionist quotas against imports for U.S. sugar farmers it is hugely profitable for a few big agribusiness enterprises. BTW, there is a lot of cheap labor in the Midwest, e.g. the Mexicans who work in the Iowa slaughter houses and meat processing factories. As usual, the big and rich farmers get bigger and richer due to political favors, the laborer gets below legal wages in some cases, and the consumer is screwed.

It is all about politics.

Sugar in Canada costs about half what it does in Minnesota, and so we import a lot of Canadian candy, because they can make it much cheaper up there. The way the law works, there are barriers against Canadian sugar (and Canadian lumber and Canadian pork and a whole bunch of other things, and this annoys the Canadians no end) being imported, but because candy manufacturers have fewer and less powerful lobbyists on their payroll, the sugar barons rule through their hired Senators and Members of Congress.

During the final days of the Roman Republic, Senators openly sold their votes to the highest bidder. How do you say in French, the more things change, the more they stay the same?

How do you say in French, the more things change, the more they stay the same?

le affaires is le affaires
(business is business)

Sorry, I don't speak French. Just faking it here.

I think it's "Royale with cheese"
IIRC, "plus ça changé, plus c'est la meme chose."

I probably misplaced an accent mark somewhere.

Does anyone here know about the relative advantages of ethanol from corn vs. from sugar beets?  Sugar beets would not have to be refined into pure sugar to be used.  Speaking as a home winemaker and home beer brewer, I am sure that sugar beets could be simply crushed, then maybe pressed or washed to extract a sugar solution and finally fermented.  I'd like to think that this would be a better way to make alcohol because IMO there are much better uses for corn.
Here is something from the UK Southwest Regional Authority

"  Wave energy companies selected for Wave Hub
   02 February 2006
  The South West of England Regional Development Agency (RDA) has today named three companies it has chosen as development partners for the proposed £15 million Wave Hub project from 2007. 
   The Wave Hub aims to create the world's first wave energy farm off the coast of Cornwall by building an electrical 'socket' on   the seabed around 10 miles out to sea and connected to the National Grid via an underwater cable....."

if anyone has a link that breaks down all the alternative energy sources with the following information.

energy returned on energy invested.

scale(basically how big it needs to be to replace x amount of oil and natural gas usage).

how much oil goes into these technology's


can these technology's be made and maintained without input from the current oil economy, or at the very least the absolute minimum amount of oil and or natural gas needed for them to be made and maintained.

Wind turbine EROEI (source):
A modern Danish 600 kW windturbine will recover all the energy spent in its manufacture, maintenance, and scrapping within some three months of its commissioning.

Within its 20-year design lifetime a wind turbine will supply at least 80 times the energy spent in its manufacture, installation, operation, maintenance and scrapping.

Modern wind turbines today are much bigger. Standard today is around 1.5 MW, there are already turbines in the 5 or even 6 MW category. Especially for the offshore wind ventures, being planned now. Your link shows data from 1997. matthias, berlin
That is correct but the technology is the same. I do not expect any significant change in energy payback time for the larger turbines. Do you? If so, why?
No, I do not. My intention was just to show, that there has been some progress in this technology. matthias, berlin
I do.  Larger turbines stick up higher, into stronger winds.  The same hardware in stronger wind pays off quicker.
The amount of energy captured by a turbine is proportional to the square of its diameter. Increasing a blades length ( and its cost) by 25% doubles its power. Therefore power increases 4 times faster than cost increases which shrinks the payback time.
Wow, talk about economies of scale for renewables.  Your statement shows that if we get serious about large structures for renewables we should get much much better EROEI than calculated now on prototypes and initial start ups.

Imagine if all petroleum refineries were extremely small and crude.  How would their EROEI compare to current refineries?  I am always puzzled by why cost of goods are compared between industries with established technology and huge economies of scale to new startups.  It took years to get those economies of scale worked out.  Why would we think the current iteration of new technology is optimally efficient?

This doesn't mean I think renewables can replace oil.  Only that the energy comparisons are not as unfavorable for renewables as usually displayed.

Tom was a little optimistic, a 25% longer blade also will have to be thicker, the bearings stronger the tower wider and so on. But it is still a win so his argument is basically ok.

But there are three strong reasons both for giant wind turbines and giant nuclear powerplants.

Some functions are easier to run at a high efficiency in larger sizes, turbines and generators are good examples.

Some functions are needed regardless of size. The same sensors can control both a small and a large wind turbine but they cost less per kWh for a large one. Both a small and a large nuclear powerplant needs the same control room staff.

Manny components production cost are more depending on engineering hours and certification work then physical size. Material costs start to dominate when you mass produce.

This result is that nuclear powerplants, wind turbines, refineries and manny other machineries are built as large as they can be built. At some size you hit a limit when the parts are too big for the production machines, or too cumbersome to transport or require a bigger crane then you can find. Subdividing them adds complexity and sometimes it can not be done.

My point here is that all the argument is about start up costs.  I think there is good agreement that after all your initial costs are paid that wind is a pretty good deal.  The argument is that it always takes years to pay for them and then you only get a trickle of electricity.  Economics says it is better to just spend the money on NG, or coal to make electricity. Better return on investment.

Maybe the assumptions on recovering start up costs are way conservative. With out the huge start up cost hurdle (because it is a wrong premise) maybe wind is a much better deal.  Both energy wise and return on investment.

It will not be "the same hardware" if it sticks up higher. If you increase the size by a factor of X (linear, height, diameter) you will increase the power output by X squared for the same wind. At the same time you get up into higher winds so that the average energy output will increase by a power larger than 2, maybe 2.4-2.5. However, the weight of nearly all the components will increase by a factor of X^3 (cubed), so the energy going into the materials during fabrication will increase faster than the energy produced thereby reducing the EROEI. The big challenge for the engineers is to 'beat' the power of 3 for the weight to something lower by refining the design. So far it has been possible but don't expect it continue forever.
A wind measured at ground level, is considered to increase  with height to the 1/7 power.
Exactly. Combined with the fact that the power (Watts pr unit area) of the wind increases with the 3rd power of the wind speed you get the total effect of upscaling as the power of 2 (from rotor area) + 3*1/7 (from mean wind) = 2.43.
If it wasn't more cost efficient to make larger turbines then they wouldn't be built. Can you back up your claim that tower cost is the cube of its height.  Since these towers are mostly hollow then cost may be proportional to only the square of height. The new 5MW turbines probably use carbon fibre which weighs only 1/3 the weight of aluminum of similar strength.
I was talking about the energy used in the turbine construction which I take as proportional to the weight. The financial cost is something different and many components will scale differently: for example the control system cost will be independent of turbine size and the electric power components will probably scale slightly less than the power (i.e. less than the power of 2 of the diameter).

The bending moment in the tower will increase with the rotor thrust (proportional to the rotor area) times the tower height giving a total power of 3 of the linear scale factor. This reguires both tower diameter and wall thickness to be increased proportionally to maintain constant stress.

Aluminium is not used in wind turbine blades. The fatique strength is too low. The only aluminium used will probably be in the power cables going down the tower. You are corrrect about the carbon fibres used in large blades but it is replacing glass fibres. That's one of the tricks to "beat the 3rd power" of the weight (but at a price, financially).

Wind towers must be designed for bending moment from both a wind load from rotors housing at the top of the tower, and the wind load on the column itself.  The bending load from the rotors acting at the top of the tower is directly proportional to the height; the wind bending load on the column itself is proportional to the square of the height of the column.  Bending Moment at the Tower Base = P x H + 1/2 x W x H^2
Bending Moment at any cross-section = P x h + 1/2 x W x h^2
Bending Moment  is in units of Ft x Lbs
P = wind drag force from rotors and housing (lbs)
W = wind drag force on the column per unit height (ft)

H = height of the tower above base plate (ft), and
Hs = height of a particular cross-section above base plate (ft)
h = H - Hs  

As total bending moment decreases with height, the tower cross-section can usually be reduced proportionally as height increases.

It cannot be reduced so the cross-section is insufficient to carry the shear loads (sum of all loads above the cross-section)

The horizontal movement of the tower at the rotor housing is proportional to the cube of the length.  If it is necessary to limit that movement within a certain value, the tower's height cubed might become the critical factor.

Fiberglass blades may have close to the same wind drag as the aluminum blades.  That drag is transmitted to the top of the tower as a horizontal load, which tends to bend the tower.    Prop, drive and generator weights can contribute to bending load on the tower if the horizontal deflection up there becomes significant and will thereby increase the bending load  by their weight x horiz deflection.    For a tall tower, the tower's weight itself may be 90% of the total weight.
for what its worth amongst the "bird flu"/resource war conspiracy bods.

NIGERIA: First confirmed cases of killer bird flu in Africa

ABUJA, 8 February (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of chickens have died of the killer bird flu virus in northern Nigeria, the first confirmed cases of H5N1 in Africa, the International Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Wednesday.

Tests revealed that 40,000 birds had died of the H5N1 virus at a poultry farm in a village in the northern state of Kaduna, Maria Zampaglione of the Paris-based OIE told IRIN by telephone.

"An outbreak has been detected," Zampaglione said. "A local poultry farm keeping 46,000 birds was affected, of which 42,000 were infected and 40,000 of those, died."

Though Nigerian authorities have only confirmed bird flu in Kaduna State, neighbouring Kano State has also reported high numbers of poultry deaths.

I am worried that so-called long-term transportation plans still involve large amounts of plastic.  Where do these planners expect the oil for this to come from?  If we are still producing enough oil to make plastics, don't you think someone's going to take it away to use in their vehicles?  How do we know that transportation fuel is not going to become the greatest priority use for the current OIP, trumping all other uses?  We've already seen the plastics industry starting to have difficulties finding raw material.

Does anyone know the answer to this?  Will plastics for renewable energy solutions get their fair share of the remaining oil?

We once had an entire transportation infrastructure that did not use one bit of plastic - and oil only for lubricants.  We built cars that way too, but they were pretty crude then.  Even so, in the fifties there was not so much plastic in a car, and they were fairly sophisticated then.

However, electronics will require plastics, maybe not as much as is used in electronic devices now - there are other materials for housings, etc.

The free market is quite good at this kind of allocations.

Rich people joy riding while diesel is expensive for the fire brigade or oil expensive for the plastics manufacturer making esssential stuff is more or less a rounding error. Its best to handle it with some social preassure.

And I would enjoy veteran car day when hundreds of old gas gusslers are taken out for a ride. It will be as harmless as old steam locomotives burning coal in the most unefficient and polluting way.

If I understand correctly, plastic monomers can be made from many things, including syngas (mixtures of CO and H2).  Syngas can in turn be made from petroleum, petroleum coke, coal, or biomass.

Per-capita consumption of plastic is not all that great (tens of pounds/person/year), and we could easily recycle waste plastic through syngas processing to make more plastic monomers.  It would be more expensive, but it would be something we could easily afford.

Engineer Poet said:

"we could easily recycle waste plastic through syngas processing to make more plastic monomers.  It would be more expensive, but it would be something we could easily afford"

But would it be more energy expensive? One of the things that I struggle to get my head around is (the meaning/implication of) the difference between monetary cost and energy cost. Money is a proxy for "value". If you're a peak oiler, then one of the implications is that the current monetary cost of oil is a very poor proxy for its energy cost.

So does plastic-through-syngas actually come at an affordable energy cost?

What would really assist in understanding the depth of the problem that we face is a workable framework for translation between energy and monetary costs. Howard Odum's "emergy" ( does something like this but it's a bit too abstract. John Norris's "ethanol calculator" ( also addresses the problem space. Matt Simmons said that oil should be $182 per barrel.

What (I think) we need is something that estimates the error in (proxy) monetary costs versus (actual total) energy costs. In other words, for example, what should a Toyota Land Cruiser cost if monetary cost was equal to energy cost?

Has anyone seen anything that's on the path to answering that sort of question?

We can't just talk about valuations of energy; we have to distinguish between a non-renewable energy source, like oil or natural gas, and renewable energy like a flow of electrons from solar panels or a wind turbine.

You're right to talk about the inherent notion of how we assign monetary values to such things, and I agree completely that fossil fuels are underpriced, simply because they're non-renewable and being dependent on them once they peak is a Very Bad Thing.

For electricity from a turbine, I think the market value of the power it generates can be fairly approximated by the most obvious means: Take the total cost to build, maintain, and decommission the turbine, divide by the number of KW hours it produces while in service, and add a rate of return high enough to encourage the continued building of turbines.  (Using averages for prices and wind constancy at the site, plus accounting for inflation, obviously.)

As for the Land Crusher question, I think that's bordering on the economic equivalent of counting angels on the head of a pin.  For example, do you think the LC should be priced much higher because it uses non-renewable gasoline inefficiently, or should it be priced lower to yield the same total cost of ownership per mile over the vehicle's lifetime as other, more efficient models?  (I'm not being sarcastic--I know people who would come down on either side of that question.)

It's actually a LandBruiser.
I think that the cost of all fuels should be measured in terms of their opportunity cost measured by reference to the renewable energy equivalent.

In other words, I think that if the energy equivalent of a barrel of oil can be generated renewably for $182 (Simmons estimate of the "should be" cost of a barrel of oil), then we could estimate (within some degree of accuracy/acceptability) how much we should be paying for anything and everything.

This would then give us a framework to begin educating politicians to get serious.

Even if there is no ready agreement about the calculation (and there wouldn't be) the mere fact that people began to argue about it would be a big step in the right direction.

With this sort of framework, we could estimate a convergence path toward the maximal renewable energy level that could be reached by the time we actually run out of fossil fuels.

This might move us from having fearful discussions on peak oil toward hopeful discussions on peak renewable.

What if the entire Pentagon budget was payed for through a tarriff on oil imports. $85-90 a bbl might be enough but I'm not sure what the Pentagon spends each year. Then we add a tax on pollution from fossil fuels to provide the total cost of treating asthma and other air pollution related diseases.
So does plastic-through-syngas actually come at an affordable energy cost?
If it's cost-effective to make ethanol from gasified biomass, plastic probably wouldn't be much worse.  You might even be able to gene-tailor a bug to do the work for you.
Now that we are finished lambasting John Tierney (New York Times), it is time to take on Geo-Green Friedman (yet another NYT editor emeritus).

In today's editorial, Friedman says he wants America to become "energy independent".

I don't want America to be "energy independent".
Only the dead are "energy independent".
Personally, I depend on energy for breathing, keeping the blood pumping through my concrete encased brain, and so forth.

As a country, America depends on energy for keeping the streams of commerce flowing --the life blood of our non-negotiable way of life. The last thing we need is "energy independence". Sounds cool --but that phraseology is totally ignorant of the laws of physics. What's next? A Declaration of "Independence" from the Laws of Nature? "Freedom" (Freidman-dumb?) is on the march yet again.

I think he wants to the United States to use energy sources that are derived domestically.
I think what Friedman actually wants is for US dollars to not flow to ME countries and he really does not give a hoot about how Americans are going to obtain energy so that they can continue to live an above 3rd World life style.

The problem with Friedman's solution though, is what do you think the ME countries are going to do? Do you think they are going to sit there and wait to die? Do you think "they" are stupid? Maybe it's the "us" who are stupid because we come up with all these win-lose solutions to the world's problems.

That's a great point.
"They" are not stupid, and they are not going to wait to die.  They are going to do whatever it takes to get their hands on they cheapest energy they can get in order to advance.  See, that's why Cheney is doing what he's doing.  And why it pains Bush to have to give lip service to this "addicted to oil" crap.  The US has waited too long, and there's no choice, is there?  Do you really think, at this late date, some "Manhattan Project" (as people like Roscoe Bartlett like to put it) at this stage can get us out of our hole?

The US has started down the road.  There is no return.  The line has been crossed, and all the hydrogen/wind/solar/tide theories in the world can't take us back.

To conserve is to demonstrate, as Cheney puts it, "personal virtue," but beyond that it doesn't do much.  See your therapist, move to Sweden, buy a Prius if you must.  Or face the reality that is facing you.  If you don't use it, somebody else will.

To conserve is to demonstrate, as Cheney puts it, "personal virtue," but beyond that it doesn't do much.  See your therapist

Nothing personal, but have you been smoking those "Freedom Fries" again?

Leacherous Lip Cheney has proven time and again that he is bad for America and good only for his beloved Halliburton. There are millions of us. If each of us conserves just a little, it will have huge impact.

Let me tell you a personal story --a true one.

I own a dog. The dog needs to be walked. Nature is Nature. I sometimes walk the dog through a local park.

When I first started, the park was filthy. Litter everywhere. Soda cans, candy wrappers, you name it. And of course, dog poop.

One day as I walked my dog (and I always scoop), I saw far away, an elderly couple picking up soda cans and bagging them. What are they doing? I asked myself. Maybe they are poor and need the aluminum refund money? As I got closer, I saw they were well dressed. They were not doing it for the "money".

We never spoke. But it bothered me. Later, it dawned on me: If you use the park, you should give back to the park. Each day leave it a little better than you found it.

So from then forward, I made it habit, that when I scooped my doggie's poop, I would also pick up a few pieces of trash. Heck, I was going to garbage pail anyway to dump the bagged poop. And besides, picking up garbage is excercise, so it's good for me.

Months passed and then another dog owner stopped me. What the heck are you doing? she asked. I repeated the story. Oh, she said, and walked away. In the distance, I could see her suddenly starting to pick up some trash. She had seen me do it. The example bothered her.

A few weeks later, I came back to the park. I could barely find any trash to pick up. It used to be filthy. And now it was slim pickings. Even the poop is not all over the place. One guilt trip leads to another. Some days I feel guilty that I can't find any trash to pick up at the park. How sad.

Acting individually, our actions are not going to make much difference.  Acting as a nation, there are still many things that could be done to mitigate the problems we will face - but each day we delay makes that more difficult.  I don't think it pains Bush to give lip service to anything - "lip service" is just another way to say lying, which is what happens when his lips move.  If you imagine what could have been done with the money and effort put into the Iraq war for oil, it boggles the mind.  What if it went to rebuild our rail systems?  OK, it didn't, but we are not done spending - how about if we put the next $70B towards something useful, or the one after that?  I do not believe that there is "nothing we can do" to prepare for a future with less and less oil available.  But I do believe that we will not actually do much of it.  
How about the $1500 each and every man woman child in the USA is shelling out for the "defense" budget?  We gonna get Osama with an attack sub?  How about an F-22 air superiority weaving around over that donkey carrying the guy with the IED?

The opportunity cost is astronomical.  I see it daily. Good people working on real tough military stuff who could be making things that we all know are possible, and even easy-and worth doing.

Yep, I know it's fun, used to do it myself, but I was young and simple and hadn't thought much about anything.  But when are we going to grow up?  Well---- on second thought, maybe never. Dead instead.

Naw- I don't believe it.  SURELY  we are smarter than that---aren't we???

Me too.
I was young, simple minded, and in the defense industry many moons ago. The waste was waist deep, if not higher.
After a while, it got so deep I could bootstrap on it, climb over the top of my cubicle wall and finally see that I was just one of hundreds of cows in a giant corral. A warehouse of engineers bent over their design boards. Mooh. Mooh. I couldn't stand it any more. Had to leave.

When you're doing MIL-SPEC stuff that's 10 year old technology it quickly gets boring. But the defense industry explains why so many engineers are Republican-leaning. They believe that's where the butter on their bread comes from. As long as you got a hawkish administration, there are always new smart pebbles to throw money away at, the shining castle on the hill as Reagan used to call it. He probably always believed that Star Wars would work. It's kind of like the anti-Nancy-on-drugs answer to technology problems, just say "yes". The nerds will make it so.

It's only when you get much older that you start thinking about stuff. When you're young, the world is your oyster and everything is possible. To infinity and beyond. Age makes you realize the world is bounded. (Well, it works for some people that way. I don't think Reagan ever saw the edge of the fog creeping in on his way of thinking. Ah, that shiny castle on the hill.)

Yes, the real cost of the war is much higher, just as the true cost of obtaining oil is far higher once the cost of maintaining the military is factored in.

But soon military hardware will be most all we design in the US.  Increasingly not just manufacturing, but also product design is being outsourced to "low cost countries".  It used to be that "adding value" to basic materials was considered worthwhile, but the latest management fad is that these activities are just grunt work that anyone can do.  Now companies just want to have big ideas and get paid for them - and most of these big ideas are really in sales and marketing.  

Guess who's making a lot of the US military's speciality electronics.
Can't you give us a list to choose from? I'm a lousy guesser.
Raytheon, GE, Hughes, Boeing, Microsoft, Intel, GTE, Lockheed, General Dynamics. Was I right?

Pretty sure it isn't Walmart.

I'm assuming you mean China, which is a perception that I'm not so sure is accurate.  When it comes to electronics, the US still can manufacture circuit boards, and the higer quality ones are often made here.  Many semiconductors are fabed here, but the packaging is often done overseas - I assume China does some of it, but not all by any means.  Other components - resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, etc. are made in China, but those are still the low cost parts, and they are made elsewhere as well.  I don't know if too many of the commodity parts are made in the US, as the margin is too low.  But high end parts are still made here.  

So the question remains - can you build a complex weapon system without parts from China?  I suspect you can, but making one with only parts made in the US would be tough.

Taiwan. There was a book a few years ago explaining why the US would always defend Taiwan from China, which was the Taiwan was such an important source of parts for America that we literally could not fight a war without them. Was it "Silicon Island"?
Well said! This entire thread has been very interesting, but your point so far has perhaps been my favorite. Imagine if the hundreds of billions spent on the war had been spent instead on expansion and electrification of the rail system? We may well have saved more oil in the long run than we gained by capturing Iraq's reserves (though I don't think the neocons invaded Iraq to make a profit per se, I think they just didn't say any alternative with the peak looming).
False dichotomy.  The choice isn't between unobtainable perfect solutions and the destruction of world civilization.  There are many possible outcomes and I think most of us would like to try to influence events toward the better ones.  To do otherwise is not only selfish, it is foolish, as you and your descendants will have to live with the consequences.

Also, a selfish argument - I use a lot of oil too, but I submit if I use my share more efficiently I will have more resources to spend on other things.  Eventually, I will be wealthy and you will be poor (all things being equal) because you what you wasted is gone forever.

As far as the entertainment you get out of the SUV versus the Prius: what's so fun about an SUV anyway?  At least if you had a 4WD with huge tires you could go play out in the mud with it :-)

In short - get a grip, dude!  

If the world is flat, can I drive my Lexus Hybrid SUV over the edge?

If the USA tries to use only home-grown energy, will we all be able to drive Lexus Hybrid SUVs?  Will we all live lives of energy-intensive luxury?

Sometimes I want to like Friedman, but he is too much about writing stories so that the target demographic will rush right out and consume.

The NYT and its assorted pundits bring to mind this old saying:  "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?"

When one is wealthy and addicted to the luxuries wealth brings, can one only imagine possibilities that extend or increase the luxury one enjoys?  This seems to me to be the problem of the NYT.  Desperate to engage reality but only on terms which will ensure that wealth, status, and luxury will be preserved or elevated to new heights.

Yearning to learn, grasping for truth, and yet never able to understand or grow wise.  That seems to sum up the MSM.

What could make a difference to such calcified institutions as the NYT and so many of the structures that should provide ways for us to see in new ways and address problems meaningfully?  I'm not sure.

There was a good counter article in Money/Fortune today:  "The hard truth about oil:  No matter what the president says, conservation is America's only route to energy independence."

Individually conservation prepares you for the inevitable future of scarcity and saves you some money along the way.  Collectively it can buy us critical time.  But individuals are often too short sighted and greedy to look out for the common good; we could really use some sensible leadership on this issue.  It's such a shame to have a pres and vp living in the short sighted / greed-is-good camp, especially now.

An interesting article on The Daily Reckoning: Scroll about halfway down the page for the PO article.

Its not that it says anything much that anyone on TOD would disagree with but this is a financial site not an oil site. Having said that they are not MSM being severely critical of the policies of Alan Greenspan, Reagan, Bush, Gordon Brown et al. In fact if they are right and TOD is right the "Perfect Storm" looks all too imminent :(

Ah, yes...TDR.  I get this emailed daily, along with their affiliated sites, "The Rude Awakening" and "Whiskey & Gunpowder".  (Bill Bonner is one of my heroes.)  They are VERY PO aware, but reserve the main part of their vituperation for Greenspan's policies and Friedman--  Thomas, that is.  Some of the most (to me) hilarious columns are about how fatuously T.F. thinks and writes.  
Some disconnect with the fact that they preach TANSTAAFL, but their ads pretty much guarantee something for (at least) not much.  I just ignore the ads and enjoy the posts.
What on earth is TANSTAAFL?
TANSTAAFL tan'stah-fl [acronym, from Robert Heinlein's classic "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".] "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch", often invoked when someone is balking at the prospect of using an unpleasantly heavyweight  technique, or at the poor quality of some piece of free software, or at the signal-to-noise ratio of unmoderated Usenet newsgroups. "What? Don't tell me I have to implement a database back end to get my address book program to work!" "Well, TANSTAAFL you know." This phrase owes some of its popularity to the high concentration of science-fiction fans and political libertarians in hackerdom (see A Portrait of J. Random Hacker in Appendix B).
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!
sums up all of economics
is an acronym popularized by Robert Heinlein in his excellent science fiction novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"

Now you could have Googled that . . . .

If I had Googled it, then just the four of us would know what it means. Now I'm sure at least ten of us do. I'm also making a bit of a point that obscure Robert Heinlein references are not a great way to make a point outside of sci fi conferences.

I think "popularized by..." is a bit of a stretch. I would settle for "made slightly less remote by..."

Actually someone used to post here as Eroei van Tanstaafl.
And I never got it until now. Thanks.
This is all falafel to me
Sorry Jack, you are correct. I was trying to be funny but left out the smiley, which is a bad habit of mine.

However, having said that, I've spotted at least half a dozen references to Heinlein during the last week's postings. Now why is that? It is because Heinlein was not only a science-fiction writer, he was an engineer. Not only was he a science-fiction writer, he was the best-known (and, arguably, the best) science-fiction writer in history. Engineers have been reading and writing "hard" (i.e. where engineers are heros and laws of physics, etc. are not violeted without good explanation). There are a lot of engineers on TOD, and they are pretty easy to identify by their postings, because they all think like engineers.

Heinlein did not just popularize TANSTAAFL! he also created other words that have come into the language, such as "waldo" (From a famous novella of the early 1940s) to "grok" from "Stranger in a Strange Land," his most famous novel that sold many millions of copies and was for a while almost a handbook to the 1960s for its radically liberal approach to sex and scathing social criticism. Heinlein has gone to happier hunting grounds, but his books still read well.

Do you want to be afraid? Read Heinlein's "Revolt in 2100" where he describes how the religious right takes over the U.S.A. and turns it into a totalitarian society. I mean, think: Was this guy ahead of his time?

Heinlein's greatness was that he had the testicles to examine every sacred cow, and he used brilliant satire, clean prose, and an engineer's demand for justification based on solid science. It has been said that he wrote about Boy Scouts and for grown up Boy Scouts (as a criticism), but the irony is that he actually did write explicitly for boy scouts and explicitly made them heros of one of his novels. He was politically conservative, pro-military and loved guns, especially the .45 automatic, as you'll see if you read his fascinating "Beyond this Horizon" in which he takes on the issue of genetic modification of humans and its ethical implications. (Oh, BTW, he wrote that one in 1942, if memory serves.)

Many liberals hate Heinlein and consider books such as his "Starship Troopers" to be obscene glorifications of war. Now, here is a question for you: How many liberal or left-wing engineers do you know?

Sorry about the long post, but if you want to learn to think like an engineer (which is a pretty solid way of thinking), a good way to do so is to read all of Heinlein. Most of his books are still in print. Also, Heinlein raised all the important questions--yes, all of them--and he came up with some interesting answers. As a social critic of the twentieth century (politics, fatuous academics, phony religious leaders, etc., etc.) he was unsurpassed.  

I'm not sure how to choose the best between Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov ... and Verne.  IIRC, Asimov once agreed to be introduced as the best science writer, while Clarke was the best science fiction writer.

Beyond This Horizon really touched on population problems, didn't it?  I'd also recommend Farnham's Freehold.  I think of the posted sign (at the very end of the book), when I read survivalist stuff.  And Glory Road, of course.

Read all of Heinlein, also all of the other great ones you mentioned.
BTW, Heinlein, "Blowups Happen" story deals with the problem of accidents in nuclear power plants. And when did he write it? 1939 if memory serves.
"The Roads Must Roll," deals with social issues of what to do if you have a strike against essential public transportation, in this case "rolling roads" that actually might work. I've never seen an engineer who claimed rolling roads were not feasible as a form of mass transportation.

What about issues of extreme longevity? Is it morally all right to marry your great great great granddaughter?

What about slavery? What about sustainable societies on space ships that take hundreds of years to reach their destination? How do you make a nuclear reactor to power a rocket to the moon? (answer, read "Rocket Ship Galileo" 1947, the basis for the later film, "Destination Moon"

Can you make space travel pay? Read "The Rolling Stones."

What do we do now that we have wrecked earth? Read "Farmer in the Sky"

Now I do not mean to denigrate Isaac Asimov, who wrote science fiction as good as ever has been written and who published about 500 books in his too-short lifetime, but for Grand Master awards, I think the title of Dean of Science Fiction goes to R.A.H.

I recall reading that Heinlein considered FF to be his worst published work.  I would not recommend it.
Please could you cite the exact reference where you recall Heinlein said that he thought FF was his worst novel? I've read just about everything he wrote, including various interviews, and I do not recall that statement.

Indeed, to the best of my recollection, it was one of his personal favorites--in large part because it seriously annoyed so many people he did not have high regard for.

I know several liberal engineers, and one looks at me from the mirror in the morning.  
I am happy to meet another liberal engineer. Of (say) 100 engineers I know, 92 vote Republican, 2 vote Libertarian, and there are four Democrats. And you make five, assuming you are liberal and U.S. citizen and vote (which I realize is a lot of assumptions).

BTW Physicists I know are mostly democrats--much more idealistic than engineers, work from different premises.

Of the petroleum geologists I know, most of them refuse to discuss politics--sometimes on the grounds that it is bad for their blood pressure.

Economists seem to be about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, which on the face of it is rather surprising because so many of them serve the establishment power structure as loyal apologists. I think it is an academic department thing, with some universities being overwhelmingly liberal, while others (e.g. U. of Chicago) overwhelmingly conservative.

I would be interested to see from the person who posted the comment where Heinlein stated that he considered "Farnham's Freehold" to be his worst work. Why? Because after massive brain damage late in life he wrote much worse novels . . . and then--amazingly--healed up and wrote a few good ones at the very end. He was severely ill most of his life and had to drop out of Annapolis due to, I think it was, TB.

He had a bypass and got a second wind. Oh, I live in the Bay area and it's different here.
Speaking of Heinlein, engineers and geologists.  I am a libertarian leaning geologist who just gave his senior engineering student son in-law four books to read (at some point):   "The moon is a harsh mistress," "Stranger in a strange land," "Time enough for love," and "Atlas Shrugged."  
One of the interesting things about what is happening to unions and engineers is the emerging govermentalisation of both. As government grows and large companies shrink as a proportion of the job market, unions are increasingly becoming govermental in employment. IE, as the union jobs disappear from the economy, the union jobs left are more and more working for the government. Goverments are noncompetitive and so large for the area economy that it is difficult to replace all the workers at once and break the strike. The forces that are breaking unions in most industries are less important in government and so governments are still susceptible to union pressure.
The same thing is true of engineers. As we outsource manufacturing jobs we are outsourcing engineering jobs, especially for citizens. As a result, of the citizen engineers, more and more of them work for the government defence contractors. These contractors depend on the government for jobs. So citizen engineers become more and more Republican in voting outlook just as union members are becoming more Democratic.
It's civil service jobs vs contractor jobs.
I hang out with science fiction fans and they are mostly tech types. Not all, of course. The level of respect given to the present administration is low.
Of course, you could argue (and many do) that the present administration is not "really" Republican...
Now, here is a question for you: How many liberal or left-wing engineers do you know?

In Europe, most of them, myself included.

Are you using the same scale?
I am definately right wing in Sweden.
It would not surprie me to be left wing in USA.
Not even being liberal means the same thing.

We should probably discuss practical political actions like taxation of fossil fuels, civil defence planning and so on. Deciding what political colour those actions have is not realy intresting.

On the other hand I am rambling alot about the local politics in my home country. I hope it adds some kind of usefull perspective since a purely political discussion easily can turn avry and disturb other discussions.

Though there is always a danger of over-generalizing, I will go out on a limb and make a blanket statement:  the vast majority of engineers in the US are politically highly conservative and have great deference and subservience to authority, whatever that might be at any given time. Right now, they tend to be Bush supporters. I am sure that most of them would have no problem whatsoever in designing  a gas chamber or concentration camp if that's what their boss told them to do. They tend to be value-neutral.

While engineers excell at critical analtyical thinking, practical design, and cost-benefit analysis, they tend to get lost when there isn't a clearly defined set of tasks being specified. They hate and can't handle ambiguity very well. They tend to have poor-to-mediocre verbal skills; and the ones that do have such skills usually go into 'management' and thus cease being real engineers.

Engineers will never save us because most of them just don't have the guts. And besides, most of them are wage slaves to large corporations and are scared shitless of loosing their jobs. Sadly, while engineers have the technical ability to make our energy situation much better, they are totally at the mercy of those (and usually far less intelligent) people who control resourses and call the shots.

No, engineers are just functionaries in the power struggles that most of them aren't even aware is going on around them.

I feel perfectly comfortable in severely criticizing engineers in this way, simply because I have been one, but no longer consider myself to be such.

Engineers have far more power than they think, but by their very nature they will never exercise it.  

I rather like and respect most (not all) of the dozens of engineers that I know, even though I am not one and have difficulty solving even simple engineering problems.

One thing I have noticed, and it is sad and I do not understand why it is so: Most male engineers seem to be very shy and lacking in confidence around women. What is worse, from the wives of engineers I know, most of them are happily married (which in today's society is somewhat surprising) but the great majority of the women (laughingly) made it clear that if they had waited for the guy to make the first move they never would have dated the guy.

I know more than one case of a 25 or 26 year old engineer who is a very fine man, handsome, no vices to speak of, good sense of humor, etc. and who has never been on a date. Speaking as a sociologist, it seems likely to me that there is a reason for some truth to the nerd stereotype, but it is not clear at all to me what the causal links are.

BTW, one reason engineers so enjoy reading Heinlein is that that the engineer-type hero always gets the (highly desirable) girl. Thus despite all kinds of obstacles, the hero is triumphant. Unless memory fails, he never wrote a downer of a novel or a story, though of course sometimes a hero dies heroically making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the many.

Sailorman, you are right on there, from my experience and that of my engineer sons.  Why?  Maybe because we engineers make the simple mistake of assuming people, like airfoils, respond to rational moves, and can't figure out what to do when they don't.  I started off trying to impress girls with things like diving helmets made out of old gasoline cans and tire pumps.  They went for the football heroes, natch.  Big surprise!  Anybody remember Y. A Tittle? He sat on one side of the prettiest girl in LSU, and I sat on the other side. Who won?
I'm gonna ask my wife to go check out Heinlein's books again.  I myself am too shy to go the library.--- (She made the first move; "Can you fix bicycles?" )
One thing jumped out from your post and hit me in the face: Engineers hate ambiguity and can't handle it well . . . . hmm. Engineers like to see the world as engineering problems with optimum solutions. From personal history, let me tell you a story that goes back to the summer of 1964, when I was Vice Commodore (in charge of instruction) of the Cal Sailing Club at Berkeley. We sailed small boats, modified Lido 14s, in strong winds and had a heckuva expensive problem in that masts kept breaking, or the aluminum extrusions would bend so far the mast could not be straightened, or the stays holding up the mast would break away from the fittings that held them to the boat. Lidos were designed to sail in the gentle breezes of southern Calif., but we reefed at twenty knots and supposedly quit sailing when the wind hit thirty knots, and the boats kept breaking, especially the expensive masts.

So Arnie the brilliant engineer and fleet captain (in charge of maintenance) comes up with truly ingenious ways to strengthen everything: Something breaks, then find the weak point and strengthen it--straight-forward engineering. Commodore Dick is a Ph.D. metallurgist, and what he does not know about strength of materials you may as not bother with. Day Leader Neil has to rescue boats in trouble, another engineer, and I think former Commodore Gunter (post-doc engineer) was hanging around the dock the day when we tested the latest hyper-ultra-super strengthened Lido, which by then we sometimes called the Berserkely 14 to distinguish it from the kind the manufacturer shipped. Now these guys average I.Q. is maybe 180, I mean they are the cream of the cream.

I am nowhere near as smart as they are, nor can I sail a boat as well as any of them; my background is in sociology and finance, and the only thing I excell at is teaching coeds to sail. So the wind is gusting over 25 knots and the boat is zipping back and forth with, I think it was three guys and two girls in it, and all the others are nodding in satisfaction in the firm expectation that the mast-breaking problem has been solved. But I notice something and say:

"The mast is going to break. Soon."

And all the engineers look at me the way the Trojans looked at Kassandra, shook their heads in wonder at such a nutty negativistic statement, and Arnie tightened his lips and stroked his beard.

A few minutes later the mast broke. Neil went to do the rescue and tow the swamped boat back to the dock, and finally, I think it was Dick, our big Dutch Commodore who said: "All right, Don, how did you know the mast was going to break?"

"Because all five people were sitting on the weather rail, and when a gust hit they would all hike out to keep the boat from heeling over. That's when the big strain comes, and that is what is breaking the masts."

The engineers pondered my diagnosis, mumbled and grumbled, and one of them said: "But it is obvious that they have too much weight on the weather rail. Obviously they should have no more than a net five hundred pounds on the weather rail, so that the boat can heel over and spill the wind out of the sail. That is obvious." (or words to that effect)

Inwardly I groaned and then explained to the guys that some people did not understand this fundamental of sailing, some were afraid of capsizing, and furthermore it is a conditioned reflex to hike out when a gust hits. To which Arnie's response was:

"We can make the rigging stronger."

But as a sociologist, I had another idea:
"No, let's just change the maximum number of people allowed in the boat from six to four. Then, unless you've got real heavyweights on board you'll never have more than six or seven hundred pounds on the weather rail."

Engineers grumbled that there was plenty of room in the boat for six people, that reducing the number allowed in a boat was not an optimal use of resources, that jumper stays could be added, etc., etc., and I could see I was losing out to invincible engineering logic, when I appealed to the Commodore and begged,
"Let's just try it and see what happens."

And so we did. And the masts stopped breaking. In 2006 Cal Sailing Club is still sailing modified Lidos, the number allowed in a boat is four.

The point is that engineers see problems as engineering problems. Doctors see things as medical problems. Psychologists see things as personality problems, and the list goes on. I've said it before and I'll say it again: We are limited by our educations as to how we see the world. I'm a sociologist (and a philosopher and I've got way more graduate credits in Econ than do most Ph.D.s in that discipline, and a big-time science-fiction fan), and so maybe I can sometimes see things engineers cannot. Again, I want to emphasize, I was the least smart person in the bunch, but my perception of what the problem did not automatically assume that what appears to be an engineering problem requires an engineering solution.  

Wonderfull example but in my book limiting the load to what the structure can handle is engineering. As is understanding what is causing the load. But you must indeed step back and see a larger picture and here it realy helps to be able to step back in different directions.
It interesting to see what a raw nerve this topic hit (Why are engineers engineers? And why are liberal arts majors "superior" to engineers?) Hmmm. Sooner or later, everything is going to break --Murphy's law.

I didn't learn about Murphy's Law in school. I learned about it on the job, from other engineers; older wiser engineers. They taught me not to be smug about anything. We humans are barely capable of doing anything right.

Engineers are unsurpassed at simplifying that which is very complicated.

Unfortunately, they are also unsurpassed at complicating that which is very simple.

Never give a simple routine task to a group of engineers .... you will be sorry!

Think of deficient education as a base for these problems whether lawyer or liberal arts.

Lawyer education compounded on top of a BS liberal arts education.

It interesting to see what a raw nerve this topic hit (Why are engineers engineers? And why are liberal arts majors "superior" to engineers?) Hmmm. Sooner or later, everything is going to break --Murphy's law.

I didn't learn about Murphy's Law in school. I learned about it on the job, from other engineers; older wiser engineers. They taught me not to be smug about anything. We humans are barely capable of doing anything right.

The media generally is as poorly educated as most lawyers.

Both avoided substantive college courses.

Now, here is a question for you: How many liberal or left-wing engineers do you know?

I'm an engineering student, and I consider myself liberal WRT the 'center' position in USA politics.

Many liberals hate Heinlein and consider books such as his "Starship Troopers" to be obscene glorifications of war.

I've encountered that reaction, but I wonder how many of those objecting have actually read the book?  I read it for the first time a little over a year ago, and most of it seemed rather dated.

Example: the 'Mobile Infantry' are a power projection force; in the war shown, they only fight against other entire species - no difficulty telling friend from foe.  Several wars since 1959 have demonstrated the relevance of that problem to modern warfare.

However, I do remember one thing that was very relevant to the present state of the world.  Defense is not possible.  The MI easily penetrate defenses by cleverly-planned, quick strikes, avoiding recognizable patterns.  Sound like anybody we know?

I don't think Heinlein anticipated that attack would also be infeasable.  Avoidance of collateral damage makes it very hard to hurt (let alone kill) an enemy dispersed among civilians.  Deterrence (based on the credible threat of attack) is thus also invalidated, and the world's most powerful military is pretty much useless against a known threat.

The long awaited update to the Olduvai Theory has been published in the Social Contract:

I'm sorry, but the Olduvai Theory really is a bunch of horsecrap.  They postulate this large exponential decrease in energy production capacity leading to the collapse of civilization.  However, they provide no basis for how they determined the decrease function, other then the apparent belief that industrial civilization must last one century.  They basically ignore alternate sources of energy such as wind, hydro and biofuels.  They really downplay the ability of coal and (especially) nuclear power to substitute for declines in oil and gas.  

While I do expect that per capita energy usage to decrease, I expect that total energy production will continue to increase for quite a few years.

Perhaps the whole point of the Olduvai Theory is to be a self-defeating prophecy. That was certainly George Orwell's motivation for writing "1984."
I first found that like 10 years ago. It's fascinating stuff. The danger is that it'll work out for sure IF WE ALL DO NOTHING. We may or may not pull out after all, but we'll sure find out one way or the other. If the Olduvai Theory holds up, I added to it with my own extension, which I call the "automotive ape theory". This is cynical humour. Enjoy.

5 million years ago, two groups of chimp look-alikes split up, one remaining in the trees to evolve into chimps, and the other, as if in a defiant quest to drive the automobile. It's like we got voted out of the trees a la Survivor and said "We'll show ya!".

And we sure showed that other group, which is almost extinct. In the mean time, we invented Fire, which is when we became the "automotive ape". We figured out how to use energy outside our bodies to process stuff, like cooking and heating. Innovation ensued slowly at first, until recently. Now, we are in the grips of an energy frenzy, and when it's over, two things happen. !: We revert to a more primitive lifestyle, having nothing to exploit. 2: global warming makes Earth revert to a jungle planet. 5 million years from now, two talking apes climb down from a tree to see a derelect automobile and a skeleton in the trunk, after a lakebed erodes to reveal the fossil. With the skeleton is the non-biodegradeable drivers license with the name "Jimmy Hoffa".

Once clothing becomes impossible, we will have to re-evolve fur, making an evolutionary round-trip. And having to climb trees means long arms and shorter legs. We will look like apes. With DNA between us and chimps being a near-match this scenario is fully possible. IF we fail at saving civilisation.

Ray Bradbury proposes monorail system
for Los Angeles.  Very interesting.

Reasons to be cheerful - or too little too late?

Now CERA say we should use SPE reserve numbers instead of SEC guidelines.  Sounds a little fishy to me, it will just inflate the suspect reserve numbers even more. amp;p=7

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan."
--Eleanor Roosevelt

Horsepuckie.  It would take a democrat to talk like that.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

More like it.

CERAweek 2006 is a 3 day conference in Houston that I posted on a few days ago. I think it has been going on since 2003. It combines politics and energy, obviously. The output of this conference is likely become the MSM line on Peak Oil. Step back was helpful with his Secret Decoder Ring Book in the Acronym Thread, but I feel we should be dissecting the output of this conference closley and extensively. Get with it!