2014 February 27 Thursday
Peak International Oil Company CapEx Spending

Gail Tverberg has excerpts from a Steve Kopits presentation on how big oil companies are cutting their capital expenditures budgets on exploration and drilling (Upstream) spending. The price of oil isn't high enough to justify enough drilling to maintain and increase oil production rates. Kopits argues that exploration and production costs are rising much faster than prices and have been for years. Those costs have now gotten high enough that oil companies can not economically justify spending enough to maintain production.

This is how Peak Oil happens. When costs go even higher than the price a monopolist could charge production is going to drop. Says Kopits:

Not in a Supply constrained model! In a Supply constrained model, the price goes up to a price that is very similar to the monopoly price, after which you really can’t raise it, because that marginal consumer would rather do with less than pay more. They will not recognize [pay] your marginal cost. In that model, you get to a price, and after that price, there is significant resistance from the consumer to moving up off of that price. That is the “Supply Constrained Price.” If your costs continue to come up underneath you, the consumer won’t recognize it.

Steve Kopits also shows up a lot in the comments of blog posts by UCSD energy economics specialist James Hamilton. For example, see the comments of Hamilton's post on US tight oil production. Did you know that without increased US tight oil production and Canadian oil sands production that global oil production would have dropped since 2009?

In a few graphs: Big oil publicly traded oil companies are spending more and producing less.

I believe we do not yet have the technologies needed to painlessly handle declining world oil production without going thru a deep global economic depression. If we are lucky oil global oil production will remain flat until we have such technologies. But I do not believe we are going to be lucky on this.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 27 07:17 PM 
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2014 February 26 Wednesday
A Better Fetal Genetic Test

In an article about a hugely improved genetic test for fetal DNA an interesting fact gets revealed: Lots of free-floating DNA in a pregnant woman's blood comes from the placenta around the fetus.

The screen analyzes blood from women who are at least 10 weeks pregnant. At that point, about 10 percent of DNA in the blood will be fetal DNA from the placenta, Dr. Bianchi said.

One consequence of very accurate fetal DNA testing: more abortions due to genetic defects. In any society with legal and easily available abortion services the amount of genetically defective babies will go down. I'll leave it to you all to form your own moral judgments about this.

Genetic selection by abortion is very inefficient and I expect a big shift to in vitro fertilization (IVF) combined with extensive pre-implantation genetic testing. This shift will start within 5 years whether or not the medical regulatory system supports it. People will travel abroad if they need to because the benefits will be so large. By selecting between several fertilized eggs prospective parents will be able to get more of their preferred chromosomes passed along. The result: smarter, better looking, healthier kids with personalities more tuned to success.

The upper classes especially will prefer to start pregnancies via IVF. Look at how much they spend on private schools and supplementary private lessons and learning experiences for their kids.

Genetic markers associated with about half of intelligence differences have already been found. An offshore clinic could start offering embryo genetic screening today if they could find a company willing to build them the gene chips they need to do the testing.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 26 09:46 PM 
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2014 February 24 Monday
Cell Therapy Causes Complete Remissions Of Leukemia

Is Leukemia going to be the next cancer to become very curable? Gene therapy to modify immune cells makes them attack leukemia very effectively. 88% success rate against leukemia.

NEW YORK, February 19, 2014 — Investigators from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have reported more encouraging news about one of the most exciting methods of cancer treatment today. The largest clinical study ever conducted to date of patients with advanced leukemia found that 88 percent achieved complete remissions after being treated with genetically modified versions of their own immune cells. The results were published today in Science Translational Medicine.

"These extraordinary results demonstrate that cell therapy is a powerful treatment for patients who have exhausted all conventional therapies," said Michel Sadelain, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering and one of the study's senior authors. "Our initial findings have held up in a larger cohort of patients, and we are already looking at new clinical studies to advance this novel therapeutic approach in fighting cancer."

Can we have this story repeated for about a couple dozen other cancers?

By Randall Parker 2014 February 24 10:08 PM 
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What About Phone Use Is Dangerous While Driving?

Reaching for a phone, texting, and dialing are dangerous while driving but talking on the phone isn't.

However, the researchers found that distracted driving substantially increased the risks for new drivers. Compared to when they were not involved in secondary tasks, novice teen drivers were:

  • eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing
  • seven to eight times more likely when reaching for a phone or other object,
  • almost four times more likely when texting, and
  • three times more likely when eating.

Talking on a cell phone did not increase risk among the adult or teenage drivers. However, because talking on a cell phone is preceded by reaching for the phone and answering or dialing--which increase risk greatly-- the study authors concluded that their results provide support for licensing programs that restrict electronic device use, particularly among novice drivers. They also stressed the need for education about the danger of distracted driving.

Imagine phones integrated into the car electronics with a microphone in the steering wheel to hear your voice. If the phone could recognize your voice telling it which number to dial you would never have to reach for it. Then you could use the phone while driving with little impact on safety.

What would work even better: a self-driving car that could take over when you go reach for the phone or that would just always be in control. We will get there. Might take another 10 years though before it is affordable.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 24 09:50 PM 
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2014 February 21 Friday
Stephan Guyenet: Why Do We Overeat? A Neurobiological Perspective

Obesity researcher and neurobiologist Stephan Guyenet, author of the Whole Health Source blog, has an excellent video Why Do We Overeat? A Neurobiological Perspective which surveys some research on appetite and obesity.

We are not adapted to our current environment. We evolved in environments where calorie malnutrition was the biggest cause of death. So cheap, highly palatable, nutrient-dense food with wide variety and heavy marketing to trigger food circuits in our brains is causing us to chronically eat too much.

One way to adapt: keep food totally out of sight.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 21 10:04 PM 
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2014 February 19 Wednesday
23andme Offers Full Exome Sequencing For $999

The Exome is that portion of your genome that gets translated into proteins. 23andme is going to start sequencing those 50 million letters of the genome for $999.

To put that in perspective, the entire genome is about 2.9 billion bases. But lots of that does nothing. The part that gets transcribed and translated into peptides to form enzymes and other functional pieces is a lot more important.

This is a pilot project and they've already closed it.

In light of the US Food and Drug Administration's blocking of 23andme's service to interpret DNA variations we face a real problem with getting our DNA interpreted. We need a start-up outside of the United States to sell interpretation services.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 19 09:41 PM 
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2014 February 17 Monday
2014 February 16 Sunday
A Goldilocks Planet Just a Dozen Light Years Away?

Lee Billings says we should build a space telescope capable of finding habitable worlds. Hear him, hear him!

A Goldilocks world is not too big, causing it to be smothered beneath thick layers of gas. It is not too small, so that its atmosphere drifts away. It is neither scorchingly close nor frigidly far from its star, which, like our Sun, is sedately middle-aged and midsized. Instead, a Goldilocks world resides where temperatures could be just right for liquid water, the cornerstone of life. Statistics suggest that such a planet exists within a dozen light-years of us.

Let us find these planets and then aim radio telescopes at them.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 16 09:16 PM 
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Genetic Editing Tech To Make Gene Therapies Workable

Check out this Technology Review piece on recent advances that have made it possible to make small changes in genetic sequences in cells. CRISPR, TALENs and other genetic editing technologies are making precise genetic editing possible.

Two decades ago gene therapy was supposed to be the next big thing. Didn't happen. Turned out to be much harder and more dangerous than was hoped. The technologies to do genetic editing are finally getting developed. I expect a big acceleration in the rate of progress in both gene therapy and cell therapy as a result.

Really cheap genetic sequencing is a complementary technology because it will allow us to identify all the harmful mutations (genetic load). We all have hundreds or thousands of slightly harmful mutations and some of us have very harmful mutations. Imagine some cells taken from your body, extensively edited to remove all the harmful mutations (including mutations that accumulate with age). Then the improved and rejuvenated cells could be injected at various places in the body to start doing repairs. I am looking forward to the day when that becomes possible.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 16 09:15 PM 
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2014 February 08 Saturday
Automation And Home Repair

In the past I've opined that home repair people have jobs that are less susceptible to automation. But a recent episode in my life is causing me to rethink that assessment.

When my heater stopped heating I had to arrange for someone to come over to fix it. It was inconvenient because I had a few hour period during which I had to wait for the guy and I had other things to do somewhere else. So my reaction was basically, hey this is inconvenient, how can future tech make home repair more convenient?

One of the problems was a thermostat in the heater. Curiously, the heater had a light that blinks out a diagnostic trouble code when it is not working. The front panel showed a legend of about 6 different blinking light patterns. I looked in and saw and reported the light pattern before the repair guy arrived. What struck me about it: replacing the thermostat is not hard. I did not need the repair guy so much as instructions and a thermostat (which could be delivered by any of a variety of same day shopping delivery services that are popping up).

What I expect will happen in the future: Heater manufacturers will install WiFi or Bluetooth (or other cheap local wireless) in the heater (and why not the refrigerator, freezer, etc). They will find out the failure even before you do (say it fails when you are asleep or not home). When they think they know the needed part they'll offer the part with express delivery for a price. You will be able to put a camera on your head, look at the refrigerator, and have some remote helper repair tech (who could be servicing a few people at once) guide you thru part replacement.

You will also be able to watch a video of someone replacing a part and do the replacement without ever speaking to a human.

Granted, some types of repairs are too difficult for this approach. But the development of appliance designs (and even plumbing pipe designs) aimed at easy parts replacement could expand the range of defective parts a home owner could replace on their own.

I see a future where we are going to have fewer repair technicians selling repair services to us. What do you see?

By Randall Parker 2014 February 08 10:25 AM 
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2014 February 05 Wednesday
Chemo Plus IV Vitamin C Against Cancer

IV vitamin C seems to boost the efficacy of chemotherapy in advanced stage ovarian cancer and increased time to relapse by almost 9 months.

My reaction: Does it work on dogs? I would like to see more experiments against cancer done on dogs. This would be very cheap to try.

My second reaction: someone with a fatal disease with not long to live ought to be free to try any experimental therapy.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 05 08:13 PM 
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2014 February 03 Monday
California Water Drought Getting Severe

California setting a new record once again. The winter is the rainy season. So there's no chance of relief from drought until next winter if no rain comes in the next couple of months.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

The drought stretches over several western states into some plains states.

California snowpack is 12% of a normal year. No water coming to reservoirs when the weather warms. Check out these satellite photos of snow cover in California and Nevada in 2013 and 2014.

The State Water Project has halted deliveries.

Time to state something that ought to be obvious: Permanent water conservation measures (e.g. requirements for low flow toilets and landscapes that don't need watering) make droughts much harder to handle. Why? Because emergency measures can not be enacted to raise water usage efficiency if the unnecessary water usage has already been eliminated years ago.

Water conservation practices just allow populations in the drought-prone Western United States to grow too much. The droughts are inevitable. Therefore we should use more water per person in wet years in order to prevent population growth in drought-prone regions.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 03 09:23 PM 
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2014 February 01 Saturday
Driverless Trucks Against IEDs

An article in Wired: Driverless Trucks Will Keep Army Safe From IEDs.

This is an important example of the upper hand that capital is gaining over labor as a result of Moore's Law doublings of computer power and great improvements in algorithms. The most important upper hand in this case isn't the ability of automation to replace soldiers. Rather, it is the gradual undermining of the advantages of poor but highly motivated insurgencies. Low tech and low income insurgents are going to have a much harder time because the equipment deployed by a wealthier and more technologically adfvanced competitor will out fight them. Plus, the hegemon they will fight against won't have to worry about high casualty rates turning public opinion back home against a war.

The US Army thinks it can cut human staffing of a brigade by a quarter with robots and other forms of automation. If you want a career in the US Army then learn robot repair.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 01 10:47 PM 
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Violent Babies Born That Way

You can't reason with aggressive babies because they were born that way.

MONTREAL, January 21, 2014 - The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital. Lacourse's worked with the parents of identical and non-identical twins to evaluate and compare their behaviour, environment and genetics.

"The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression, " Lacourse said. "However, it should be emphasized that these genetic associations do not imply that the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable. Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behaviour."

George Thorogood figured this out years ago: "Bad To The Bone".

This also reminds me of criminology researcher Adrian Raine's excellent book: The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime.

By Randall Parker 2014 February 01 09:41 PM 
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