August 31, 2006

Corner's Been Turned

Posted by TMLutas

UAV fuel cells are starting to get deployed. It's one more sign that the fuel cell revolution is not just hype.

Now back to my hiatus (riiiight....)

August 24, 2006

The ragged edge

Posted by TMLutas

Sometimes there's more important stuff than blogging, more important than being right, winning attention, even maintaining correspondence. I've been trying to do too many things at the same time and something's got to go.

This is it.

I'll probably return to writing, hopefully soon as it gives me a vent for certain forms of stress in life and helps me keep sane but for right now, I've got to triage.

I've been getting sloppy in a few ways and it's showing. I'm not happy about it though I've been in something of denial. A good friend called me on it yesterday and today I read the note. Enough.

And for all my friends out there, thanks.

August 22, 2006

Why So Little Fischer Tropsch So Far?

Posted by TMLutas

One of the great mysteries of energy, for me, has been why on earth have we had $70+ oil when we can make $32 diesel from coal. Sure, the investment is stiff but with that much profit on tap going forward, this is a no brainer. Today, the clues came together

First here:

I absolutely get the idea that actual costs matter, but you know, maybe I can explain what I mean by "population response" by looking back at Toyota and GM. The future we got (Ford and GM in various states of trouble) came not from actual prices, but from those players inability to predict (or accept) them.

I saved a link from back in July '05 when a GM spokeswoman said something astonishing:

"Our indicators show that oil will go down, not up," she said, pointing to information she gets from the federal Energy Information Agency, which is part of the Department of Energy.

By 2010, the agency expects a barrel of oil to fall to $26, she said.

Now, I get that CTL and GTL will be driven by actual prices ... but will also be driven by who's believing the EIA's $26 estimates, yes?

So off to the EIA which publishes yearly estimates of energy prices. Their current 2010 estimate for crude oil prices is $47.50 (averaging their high and low estimates). That's a huge difference, the difference between very good profitability and going bust on an enormous capital investment. Looking back at the previous year's estimates, I couldn't find high and low numbers and the estimate wasn't actually $26. It was $25.

But even today, the EIA's low price estimate drops down below $32/bbl in 2013 and stays there through 2030. That means that there's significant risk that a plant built today might turn unprofitable prior to making a decent return on the investment. For that risk to go away with today's numbers, FT synthesis cost would need to drop below $28/bbl to shake loose the most conservative of investors.

Then again, EIA issues numbers every year. Next year's low price projections might be beyond $32.

August 17, 2006

New Light

Posted by TMLutas

I'm fascinated by future technology switchovers. Roaming around the net you can see the future coming and calculate when it's going to arrive. Here's something from the DOE lead me to a bit of calculation on when we're going to start switching our lighting fixtures.

How long will it take before we see energy-efficient, cost-competitive, white-light products on the market? DOE's SSL R&D plan spans 20 years (2000-2020), and includes three components: Core Technology Research, Product Development, and Commercialization Support activities. The good news is that tremendous progress is being made, faster than originally anticipated. Researchers have already improved the efficacy of white LEDs to approximately 50 lumens per watt, almost four times more efficient than incandescent sources. Costs are still high, but continue to drop significantly, from approximately $250/kilo-lumen in 2004 to around $50/kilo-lumen in 2006 (based on manufacturer estimates for volume purchase). For comparison, conventional light sources (incandescent, fluorescent) cost around $1/kilo-lumen.

So we've got a huge drop in costs, 80% in the past two years so light bulbs with LEDs are only 50x more expensive than conventional light sources. That's neat stuff but it seems like we're still a very long way away from LED lights. But there's more:

[A] 75-watt incandescent light bulb typically produces about 1,000 lumens and costs less than $1. The problem is, it only lasts about 1,000 hours and only converts about 5% of the electricity it consumes into light (the rest is wasted as heat). A comparable CFL is 5 times more efficient, lasts 10,000 hours, and costs less than $5. ... Unlike other light sources, LEDs don't typically “burn out;” they simply get dimmer over time. Although there is not yet an official industry standard defining “life” of an LED, the leading manufacturers report it as the point at which light output has reached 70% of initial light output. Using that definition, the best white LEDs have been found to have a useful life of around 35,000 hours (that's four years of continuous operation).
So that LED lightbulb lasts 35x a conventional incandescent and 3.5x a fluorescent bulb. All of a sudden we're looking at needing to drop LED prices by 30% from current, not 98% in order to start seeing a significant market shift. That looks like a reasonable near future event and something to keep an eye on. With lumen per what ratings double what can be produced by incandescent lighbulbs and none of the flicker or color problems of fluorescent bulbs, LED lighting will likely be welcomed by the public and lead to less energy use.

August 16, 2006

Letter to the Paper LIII

Posted by TMLutas

Just added this to the "purge the pro-war libertarians" thread over at qando. Libertarianism is a small enough tent already that it certainly shouldn't schism over war policy.

The fundamental problem of libertarian foreign policy is that there is anti-libertarian repression inherent in the current international system (westphalianism). Westphalian sovereignty means, among many good things, that one guarantees to repress your own population that wants to cross borders and deal with a foreign tyrant who has personally wronged them or at least wronged their sense of justice. This is why we regularly patrol our cuban-americans to make sure they're not going to assassinate Castro or invade Cuba and why we had persistent problems with the UK over US support for the IRA. There is no nice, neat solution for this from a libertarian perspective.

If you let the private groups go redress their wrongs, you end up with foreign squads over here making war in the US on behalf of dictators who are scared spitless of free men who have the resources to overthrow them. If you repress the private domestic groups, you're giving vital support to profoundly anti-libertarian evil regimes. So how do you square the circle?

For the Iraq invasion supporting segment of libertarianism, you support the invasion and try to end the problem's recurrence by pitching in on nation building, advocating as much private involvement as possible. If you're against the invasion you... what? Do you just whistle past the graveyard and try and pretend that this sort of repression isn't a major contributor to the persistence of dictatorships these days?

As a condition for avoiding perpetual war, we engage in some serious repression of liberty minded people. It's a pretty stable tradeoff and we're *very* socialized to accept it but the consensus is breaking down, not least because Al Queda and co is making a frontal assault on that westphalianism.

Westphalianism is obviously not going to last. It's doomed by technology that provides sub-national groups and even individuals with power levels that used to require at least a small state. At most, a holding action is necessary until we come up with something better. So the choices are to either allow Al Queda to win and push us back to a pre-westphalian state (a state where the islamic caliphate had distinct advantages) or we need to create a post-westphalian consensus that takes into account the new technological reality but uses that as a springboard to improve the old order. The neo-libertarians have an answer. I'm trying, but not seeing any serious alternative to that answer coming from other strands of libertarianism.

That doesn't make other strands of libertarianism verboten or purge worthy. It just means that they haven't gotten around to dealing with this question. But it certainly means that those other strands have no cause for purging the one strand that does have an honorable libertarian solution for one of the crucial policy questions of our time.

August 14, 2006

Chilling Free Speech

Posted by TMLutas

Via Instapundit I find The Brussels Journal, a blog that I find the usual mix of sense and stupidity on the immigration restrictionist right. I gear up to register and comment, critically, on a particular article that I think is a bit too friendly to the UK's BNP but I stop. The form never gets submitted, my commentary will never be written, because of articles like this which pretty much makes it clear that there's going to be a messy prosecution in these guys future. Furthermore, it's pretty unclear to me whether IPs are going to be (or perhaps already are) tracked which means that they'd very likely be able to trace me even if I put in a fake registration.

I'm uninterested in getting my name dragged through the mud and being called to testify in a spurious political prosecution in the EU. My life is complicated enough. The probability of my coming to actual harm is low but so is the benefit of signing up and entering my comment.

No doubt that this is going to come up time and again as the eurocrats bury european freedom.

August 12, 2006

The Case for 10,000 American Dead in Iraq

Posted by TMLutas

Imagine for a moment, that you heard a military man, a former general on CNN argue that with chemical weapons attacks, the upcoming invasion of Iraq could see 3,000 americans die in the invasion. It's 2003, you have no idea what's going to face america when it invades. You do know a bit of history and that even the direst predictions tend to be light on the carnage that will accompany any decently sized war. So you up the ante and ask, will this war be worth 10,000 american dead? The answer from your conscience comes back yes. Breaking a downward civilizational cycle for over a billion muslims that's lasted centuries, getting them off the table as far as radical terrorism and other toxic movements is concerned is worth 10,000 dead. So you say it and shock your friends.

But it's true. The muslim world will inevitably cause a lot more than that in civilian casualties unless its present trajectory is altered. Something has to change and it's a huge task. Creating a free Iraq will change that trajectory. If Iraq can remain unitary and free without violence, its positive influence throughout the whole muslim world will be huge and influence many other governments to ditch their autocratic policies for a sustainable freedom strategy.

But fast forward to 2006. We haven't hit 40% of your initial casualty estimate and for you, the war, though not nearly as front-loaded on the carnage as you thought it would be, is going pretty well on the casualty front. For those who were estimating a thousand dead though, we're well over triple their initial estimates and so many have either jumped ship or are wavering in support of the war, willing to take a loss on the war and make meaningless all those deaths rather than add more lives to the tally.

We're paying a large price for not estimating the casualties heavy early on. Our enemies see our wavering and are encouraged to keep fighting, dreaming of another political victory by disheartening the american people. The big question in the minds of all our allies is whether the US public has the stomach to adjust its tolerance for casualty figures upwards. All that could have been avoided by setting them high in the first place.

Welcome to my world.

August 08, 2006

Basic Principles Note

Posted by TMLutas

In an authoritarian or totalitarian society an act of an independent citizen creating order outside the official authority of the state is a dangerous rebel, threatening the unitary authority of the State. The state must be Goliath and there must be no Davids. Spontaneous rulemaking is a dangerous act and all citizens are conditioned against it.

In a free society, spontaneous rulemaking is the lifeblood of the burkean little platoons. People gathering together and solving problems so that the state does not have to are the everyday guarantors of freedom and hold high respect and esteem in society. The state may act but only where the little platoons are failing.

The difference between the two is an important basic differentiator between the Gap and the Core.

August 04, 2006

Logistics Rules

Posted by TMLutas

Reading this story on returning Israeli soldiers coming back from Lebanon, I picked up one fact that seems crucial.

Another soldier said that serving in the Palestinian militant stronghold of Jenin in the West Bank, as he had, was nothing compared with fighting Hezbollah’s guerrillas. “It was horrible,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like, with every second a rocket- propelled grenade shooting over your head.”
A third soldier said: “All the time, they fired missiles at us. They never come face to face, just missiles. When we find them we kill them. It’s just not right, the way we are doing it. Our air force can just bomb villages and not risk our lives fighting over there.”

Missiles are an awfully inefficient and unsustainable way to conduct an infantry battle. We don't do it in the US for exactly that reason, that we can't afford to be that wasteful and our war machine is infinitely better financed and supplied than Hezbollah's. It's also why it's so valuable to put infantry on the ground in Lebanon. It makes Hezbollah use up its stocks of munitions. If the IAF can interdict enough of that supply, those fighters that survive the fighting to that point end up with nothing left to shoot, at which point, they're done for.

Fire discipline and logistics are tough lessons to learn, the sort of discipline that is also very difficult to maintain in combat. Hezbollah has stocks accumulated for years. Israel is depleting those stocks by bombing the arsenals it can find and by prompting Hezbollah to use them on it instead of on the Lebanese Army when it comes down to take control of its territory. And that's the heart of why Israel isn't going to cease-fire short of its own stocks of weapons being drawn down to nothing due to an arms cutoff from the US. Israel's expense of soldiers to draw down those Hezbollah stocks is only moral if it's carried through to the end. A cease-fire that allows Hezbollah to restock means that those soldiers truly died for nothing.

Iran is bleeding cash for those weapons and they're likely losing a large chunk of them to IAF interdiction strikes before they even arrive. Iran is in such dire financial straights that it can't even maintain its regime of bread and circuses in the form of plentiful, subsidized gasoline. Fall will see Iranians forced into using rationing coupons while Iranian cash goes to purchase weapons and munitions (likely from Russia) to resupply Hezbollah. That's quite dangerous for regime stability. It brings into question what else is Iran going to run short of if it continues to pour money into its Lebanon front and Hezbollah.

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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