January 31, 2005

California Train Crash as Greek Tragedy

I heard the story of the train crash in California, and, as I read more, I discovered tragedy usually found only in art. This is how I imagine it would have felt to be Juan Alvarez in this tragedy.

Imagine you are very depressed and decide to commit suicide. You drive your car on the tracks between a couple of intersections. You sit there for a few seconds and are suddenly seized by the will to live.
You try to get off the tracks but discover you are stuck. In the pause between rocking your car back and forth, you hear the rumble of a coming train. After a few more attempts to get off the tracks, you jump out of your car and wave at the train to get it to stop. Nothing happens until it’s too late and you know the train is going to hit. You quickly get out of the way and the train hits your car.
Now we have all seen the movies and typical news stories and know what happens next. The train hits the car and crushes and pushes it off the tracks as it slides to a stop. Right? Wrong, it gets much worse. The train that is about to hit your car is arranged opposite to the typical train and has the passenger cars in front.
As the train hits, the front passenger car is damaged. This damage causes the train to derail and you see the people in the cars flying around inside. People are hurt. You watch helplessly one of the derailed cars slides over and catches a train traveling in the opposite direction. The car pinwheels through the air toward the other train and disintegrates. People are dead.
Words cannot describe how you feel as you realize that instead of just killing yourself you have killed many people.

My story is not a story about responsibility, just about tragedy. For surely, this is a tragedy for everyone involved. If it was a play, it would be a comedy of tragedy. But it’s not.

News on the train crash: Yahoo! News search for california train crash

Note: Details I found on the crash are conflicting so some of my details may turn out to be wrong.

January 30, 2005

Random Thoughts on Voting

A few random thoughts offered as tribute to the courage of Iraqis in voting on Sunday

To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.
-Abraham Lincoln

I hope that democracy will be successful enough that Iraqis will start making statements (see below) that show they are starting to take democracy for granted.

We’d all like t’vote fer th’best man but he’s never a candidate.
-Kin Hubbard
Closing thought when discouraged about the government.
Democracy is cumbersome, slow, and inefficient, but in due time, the voice of the people will be heard and their latent wisdom will prevail.
-Unknown but attributed to Thomas Jefferson

January 28, 2005

A Parable for the Peak of Oil

A case study for the end of cheap supplies of a once valuable historical resource (2 of 3)

Before I get into more details about the replacements for oil, I will consider the example of the whale oil crisis in the middle of the 19th century This example is not novel. Other cases of peaking resources are wood in 18th century England, ivory from elephants, and precious metals in a mining boom town. And then there’s that problem with case studies – You can usually find at least one case study to “prove” your point, whatever it is. That is what I’ve considered some of Freud’s stranger ideas about sexual repression. I.e. He found a couple case studies and extrapolated his own sexual dysfunction into a general theory. Of course, you could consider this digression on sexual repression a proof in point. But then again, perhaps I recalled that Freud used six case studies in one of his books. So, don’t take this case study as proof that the peak of oil will be easy. Instead view it as an simplified example of what I believe will happen when oil peaks. For over three centuries, whales had been killed for many products, including lighting oil, at a large profit. By the 19th century, demand was so large whales were harvested as a nonrenewable resource (harvest much larger than reproduction) and talk of crisis was strong. As the price rose and technology developed, the lighting service of whale oil was slowly replaced first by coal gas and later by oil. After some developments, these replacements became preferred and whale harvest became uneconomical. These technologies so completely replaced whale oil that I can’t imagine anyone harvesting whales for oil today. Although, supposedly spermaceti oil had some very good properties. I recall reading about resignation that such superb oil would no longer be available. Anyway, don't let that take away from my general point.

To paraphrase this story, an energy resource (whale oil) could no longer supply a demand (for lighting) cheaply. Other technologies (coal gas and oil) with larger reserves slowly replaced it. Eventually they made the original technology uneconomical and obsolete. Interestingly coal gas is an example of a technology that was replaced (by oil and electricity) before it became scarce.

The next entry(s?) in this series will consider the technologies that will most likely replace oil and a best case, realistic outcome to the peak of oil and how I think we will get there.

January 27, 2005

Thoughts on End of Cheap Oil

Blog inspires thoughts on peak of oil production and end of cheap oil (1 of 3)

This evening I was reading a blog entry about the peak of oil production at Heavens Rim. It got me thinking...
The peak of oil has been widely predicted and I've seen estimates between 10 years and never. (If I had to guess, I'd say about 40-50 years and it will be a gradual process.) Assuming that oil production peaks, the decline in production will cause prices of oil to rise and society will be impacted. I see three primary impacts on society, just as happened to the US in the 1970's energy crisis: increased efficiency, replacement of oil with other energy products, and slower economic growth. The balance between these three responses decides whether the peak has a mild effect or a serious one.

I believe there will be no serious crisis. The effects on the economy will be moderate and most of the response will be replacement tempered with efficiency. The primary reason there will be no serious crisis (and the response of replacement will be large enough) is oil has many substitutes. Although oil is the primary energy source today, many other products like natural gas, coal, wind power, shale oil, etc. can provide the services that oil does today, when given time to respond.

What do you believe will be the effect of the peak of oil production (or the end of cheap oil)?

My next entry in this series will describe a case study that illustrates what I believe will happen. I also introduce a new element to my entries, the digression.

January 26, 2005

Why I blog?

The reasons I write a weblog can be split into two categories - personal and communal. I address my personal reasons with, “Why do I write?” and the communal ones with “Why do I choose to blog?”.

Why do I write?

I write to clarify my thoughts and beliefs.
Sometimes I write to remember. Other times I write because I must. Most times I write to clarify my thoughts and beliefs or to communicate.
When I am exploring complex areas like philosophy or technical areas like science and technology, writing helps improve my understanding and work more effectively. The process of writing helps me discover details I have missed and encourages me to better develop my ideas. Finally, writing, as a creative activity, help me practice and develop my creativity.

Why do I choose a blog?

I blog to communicate.
I believe that knowledge of others and their experiences helps us better understand ourselves and better interpret our experiences. I hope my blog can help do this for at least one individual. In this ongoing experience of blogging, I hope to discover individuals that can do the same for me. I also don’t get as many opportunities to share and have deep discussions on political, political, and scientific issues as I’d like. In time, I hope the public forum of blogging will provide me some of these opportunities.

In the end, everything above is primarily side benefits. I will blog and continue to blog if I enjoy it.

January 25, 2005


Etiology: Assignment of a cause, an origin, or a reason for something.

In case you’d like to know (and before I forget), this is the etiology of some of the items on this page.

Origin of webpage prefix and homepage thought

James Burke wrote a book called Connections. In his book, he talks about the origins and connections between some of our most important modern technologies. The technologies are connected in many and complex ways, a web of connections. As I was creating this blog, this book was in my mind.

As I was considering the ideas of a web of connections, I noticed that both the internet and life contain webs of connections. An so I had part of my opening thought:
The Internet Mirrors Life – They are webs of connections.
The rest of the though came together at the same time suggested by my strong curiosity for knowledge. And so it became (after a few tweaks):
The Internet Mirrors Life - I never know what I'll discover when I travel their webs of connections.

Origin of the name of the site

The original name for the site, RandomReflections, just came out of nowhere. As I was working to improve traffic to this site at BlogExplosion, I was trying to create a more interesting and descriptive title. I first had “Random Reflections in the Search of Knowledge”. I dropped the “the” so the title could mean my reflections are done in search of knowledge or my reflections need knowledge (read as random reflections searching for knowledge).


The following disclaimers henceforth apply to this blog.

The author of this blog takes himself too seriously and may not know what he is taking about.
The author makes every effort to reflect the views of the individual who created this blog accurately and takes full responsibility for any inaccuracy.
This site makes no warranties, expressed or implied, and any injuries incurred while thinking about the information in this site are the responsibility of the reader.
Your agreement and consent to this document is given when reading the first half of this sentence.
Your mileage may vary.

Food for Thought

A useless fact in words per minute:

Average speaking is about 150 words per minute (wpm).
Adults read at an average of 250-300 wpm.

With a typical paperback,
An hour of speaking represents 25 pages.
An average adult reads 40-50 pages per hour.

An odd quote:
If someone says you can have your cake and eat it too, they probably want to eat your cake.

Idea to ponder - Self-deception

My Conjecture -
The Myth of Missing Information: Individual tend to expect that information they don’t know will confirm their hopes even after information appears to the contrary.
If it’s true, than this advice ought to follow. Be careful. The more you believe something the more unprepared you’ll tend to be if it fails. (and that age old bit of advice - Ignore contrary information at your peril.)
Interestingly, Bayesian logic uses logic similar to the myth of missing information. To paraphrase Bayesian logic, you start with your expectation and modify that by new information, both supporting and otherwise, to determine a new expectation. The extent that new information modifies your expectations is influence by how reliable you view that information. This process (old expectation -> new information -> new expectation) is repeated as each new piece of information comes in. (Clear as mud?)
As a final digression, I wonder if anyone has studied how well people follow Bayesian logic?

A bit more pessimist view:
Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.

January 24, 2005

A Rather Small Grassroots Party

Occasionally I have a problem that I think through by writing it down. My problem? Well, I can't decide whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat.

First, I find it difficult to determine what the two parties stand for since their traditional platforms don't seem to match their record in power. Neither party is as fiscally responsible as I'd like... This exercise soon turned into what I didn't like about the traditional political parties. Instead I was inspired by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson considered himself a member of a religion of one. He even created his own version of the bible. Similarly I decided to create my own party. (Previous problem solved. :) Now if it only had a name.) The first step was to define its statement of principles.

Statement of Principles for the Political Parties (First Draft)

Core Principles

Justice, Liberty, and Family
Justice: We believe the two primary responsibilities of government are security and justice (including the rule of law). Security defends democracy and justice maintains it. Furthermore, improvements in justice strengthen democracy.

Liberty: We firmly believe government must have limits and we have the right to certain freedoms beginning with those given in the bill of rights. One the most important and fragile of those freedoms is liberty.

Family: Before government, cities, and all the items around us was family. As adults members of this ancient institution, we have a responsibly to our children, the next generation, to leave them a world better than we found it.

Other Essential Principles

Morality, Integrity, Diversity, Security, and Vision
Morality: As citizens, we deserve leaders who firmly held principles we share and who decide and act based on them. We embrace individuals who express their beliefs honestly in the way they believe whether religious or secular. We believe the separation of church and state is at the foundation of our country and must be preserved. We believe leaders respectfully expressing their religious beliefs do not threaten this foundation.

Integrity: Government must remember that its only employer is the American people and it loses integrity whenever is works for someone else. These losses in integrity decrease our trust in the government and make it more difficult and expensive to do its vital tasks. Although we believe that some distrust of government is healthy, this does not excuse behavior that reduces that trust such as conflicts of interest, unnecessary secrecy, and tax policy favoring wealthy corporations over individuals and small business.

Diversity: We believe a unique strength of America is its diversity among individuals, states, and regions within the unity of America. This is primarily not a diversity of skin color, language, or place of birth; it is a diversity of ideas, points of view, abilities, and experiences.

Security: One of our most basic expectations of government is security. Well-trained and equipped military and police are essential for our security. However, we believe the most effective strategies for long term security will also require humanitarian aid, international institutions, multilateral diplomacy, and peacekeeping.

Vision: We believe every candidate should have a vision to make our country better not just ideas of what is wrong about the other candidates. Although programs and policies are important, the many issues candidates face will be unexpected. We want a framework for how the candidates will face the unexpected, a framework of principles and vision.