The Peak of Oil

A few weeks ago, I read about the idea that we are nearing the peak of world wide oil production in this Rolling Stone article. Now I’m all of a sudden seeing the idea pop up in several places. They were talking about it last night on NPR, the Guardian had this story, Boing Boing mentioned it. The theory is that sometime in the next 5-10 years we will reach the peak of world wide oil production (just like US production peaked in 1970 and has been steadily declining since). After that, production will start to decrease a few percent per year which will have an immediate effect on our lifestyles, energy consumption patterns and the geopolitical competition for oil. Apparently, this theory goes back to the 50s when a geophysicist named Hubbert predicted that the exploitation of any oilfield follows a predictable “bell curve” trend (Wikipedia entry). I find this fascinating because rather than talk about how we have decades left before we run out of oil, we are forced to face the possibility that within a few short years we will have to start making changes to our energy consumption patterns (i.e. reversing them from growing to shrinking). This seems like a plausible outcome. What I don’t agree with in these articles is the alarmist predictions of the world wide chaos that will follow the peak of oil. It seems to me that once we put our minds to it, we will be able to solve this problem and change our patterns more rapidly than people think (a possible analogy is the surprising speed with which people reacted to the world population growth problem in the 70s after there was critical awareness of it).

There is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World


Chris Cobb and 16 helpers took all the books at the Adobe Bookshop in the Mission and arranged them by color (instead of category). The result is a fantastic, temporary art installation called “There is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World”. It took them 10 hours. Go check it out. You can read more about it here.

IRS

I met some people from the Swiss IRS tonight. They are on an IT fact finding mission in Silicon Valley and wanted to know how we built a complete email system for tens of thousands of people on a shoestring at Oddpost. Here’s what’s cool:

– The IRS in Zurich still does everything on paper. There’s no IT to speak of. I have no idea how they got to 2004 like this, but they say that it would take a 15 mile long shelf to hold all their file folders.

– I now know the head of the IRS in Zurich. And he gave me a really cool Swiss army knife set.

Malcolm Gladwell

I went to an event featuring Malcolm Gladwell last night. He is the author of The Tipping Point and he has a new book coming out next year called Blink. It’s about the rapid decisions we make in the first couple of seconds after we first meet someone or walk into a new situation. He gave a fascinating example about hiring for classical orchestras. Apparently, orchestras used to be 90+% male. The maestros responsible for hiring new musicians used to give reasons like men have bigger lungs or bigger hands and are therefore better at playing certain instruments. Then a change started happening in their hiring practices. During auditions for new spots, they started using large screens to separate the job applicants from the listeners (in order to be able to better focus on the music). The result of these screens going up was that the percentage of women getting hired into orchestras skyrocketed (the ratio is about 50/50 today). Turns out the screens had the great side effect of filtering out hiring biases the maestros claimed they didn’t have. Instead of seeing a woman walk on stage and making a snap judgement about her abilities, they used only their ears and picked the best musicians. Gladwell had some great and amusing examples of how taken aback the maestros were when this first started happening.

I think this will be a great book.

Gladwell then talked about how we should work on removing biases from hiring processes. This made me think that blogging is a good example of this. A blog reveals a lot about a person, but it also errects a screen between the blogger and the audience that does not exist in a job interview. I can read a blog and learn a ton about the author while there’s a screen preventing me from making biased snap judgements based on what the author looks like, how tall they are, how they might fit in, etc.