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31 October 2015

Press review 31-10-2015 - Uncertainty

Petroleum prices remain in the flat line around 50 $/b shaped since mid August. Pundits issue forecasts to all tastes, some say the price has to drop further, others that it will have to rise, otherwise even core exporters like Saudi Arabia or Russia will go under. The market reflects this uncertainty, with a good degree of indirectioned volatility. Meanwhile, the Euro sank again below 1.1 against the US dollar this week, meaning an effective rising trend in end products cost.

It is in this environment that comes another blow to heavy petroleum resources, with Shell cancelling an important project in Canada's tar sands. The media keeps touting the mantras regarding Canada: "more oil than Saudi", "enough carbon to cook the planet", but reality is somewhat different. The amount of petroleum extracted from the planet's crust is not only a function of demand, supply also counts. It so happens that these resources are at the moment the most expensive to obtain, therefore the most vulnerable in contraction periods.

29 October 2015

Convergence Preview - 02 - Frustration

I will start this note with a worn cliché. I was not expecting it to be easy, but I was certainly not expecting it to be this hard. Almost one month later and dozens of hours spent, I still do not have a fully functional Linux desktop operating system running on my Chromebook.

I now feel I have reached a turning point and must try a different approach to this project. Here I report the various methods I tried to get Ubuntu (my desktop system of choice) running on the Acer CB5-311 Chromebook 13, and how they all failed.

24 October 2015

Press review 24-10-2015 - Redesigning the Middle East

Russia slowly settles in as the new sheriff in the Middle East. It is not entirely conclusive what the Russian air-force has achieved, by the Shiite military seem to have found a breeder, with the systematic bombing of high technology arsenals furnished by the US to the Sunni. In the meantime, Iraq is too approaching itself to Russia, seeking a deeper involvement in its war against Daesh.

Ironically, while Russia seeks to tame the threat it sees in the deepening ties between Daesh and the Chechen rebbels, Europe might end up benefiting with a return of some sort of normality to the region, bringing its petroleum assets again on the regular market. But for the moment Europe harvests the seeds of chaos in another neighbouring country with an uncontrollable refugee flow.

18 October 2015

Portugal: left front government prospect rocks the establishment

"As if we were overthrowing the remainder of the Berlin wall." That is how António Costa, the leader of PS, described the events of the past two weeks in Portugal. Beyond all the metaphors this sentence may carry, it properly conveys the sense of fundamental shift in the country's politics. From the very election night, events took an unusual course, departing from the traditions instituted since the 1974 revolution.

This note digests the events of these past two weeks and the political choices the country faces. It then reflects on the particularly delicate situation in which the social-democrats now find themselves, to which there are many parallels at the European scale. I then try to anticipate forthcoming developments.

Update 23-10-2015: President Cavaco Silva addressed the country yesterday evening to communicate his decision to appoint Pedro Passos Coelho as prime minister, leaving the right in power. With an uncharacteristic surly tone, the president made clear he will not accept a left front government, calling such solution "inconsistent". The president now hopes for a rebellion within PS to support his government. If that does not happen, Portugal will remain effectively without a government until next March, when Cavaco Silva leaves office.

17 October 2015

Press review 17-10-2015 - 50 dollars

As I write these lines, the Brent petroleum benchmark graph reads exactly 50 $/b. Prices have been hoovering around this round figure for two weeks, lacking major impacting news. This price was crossed sustainably for the first time a decade ago; back then it looked like petroleum was becoming very expensive.

Today, at this same price, it seems the petroleum industry as a whole is about to fall apart. Even if the media remains busier with other matters, the negative news on the industry succeed, from small to large companies, from private to state owned enterprises, no one is left to spare in this market. Much has changed supply side in the petroleum market, the curve is now steeper, and the "easy oil" tail has shrunk considerably. Smoke and mirrors are set up left and right to hide this reality; abnormities such as "peak demand" are employed to fool the fools.

There is no mystery to unravel, no complication to solve, reality is simple and in plain light for everyone to see.

16 October 2015

Convergence Preview - 01 - Unpacking

I was one of the subscribers to the Ubuntu Edge crowd-funding campaign and advertised it here in this space. I believe Convergence is the future of personal computing, the secular electronic miniaturization trend will eventually lead to a single personal computer unit, instead of the myriad devices that litter our workspaces and pockets today. Convergence entails an unprecedented reduction in resources and energy required to manufacture and use a personal computer.

But that was all a long while ago, two years on and the hardware landscape remains pretty much the same. Both Canonical and Microsoft are public in their efforts towards Convergence, but it is yet to materialise.

A couple of months ago Guido Stepken posted the specifications of a laptop computer powered by an ARM mobile processor, the Nvidia Tegra K1. On a first look, the Acer Chromebook 13 provides the same or better than my much battered x86 laptop: a four cores processor, 4 Gb of RAM, a 1080p resolution screen, USB 3.0 ports. Only the 32 Gb of SDD storage leave something to be desired for.

But the most impressive of all is the price: 285 € (VAT included). After some more reading I decided to acquire the damn thing. The goal is to understand how far such architecture can reach in replacing my current laptop.

10 October 2015

Press review 09-10-2015 - Peak Gold

One of the advantages of working for TheOilDrum was the possibility to edit Jean Laherrère's posts. I had a privileged insight into his work and his thinking on the many matters related to resource scarcity he studies. Professional duties made this editing work increasingly difficult and at some point I stopped keeping up with Jean's profuse writing and graphing. Now that TheOilDrum is frozen, Jean Laherrère's graphs are published by Ron Patterson over at PeakOilBarrel.

Back in 2009 I edited a long post by Jean on Gold extraction, that even had to be divided in two parts. Observing secular declining trends on ore grades and extraction volumes in the countries with the largest known reserves, Jean concluded a peak in world extraction was at hand. Yearly volumes kept creeping up a while longer, but the market became increasingly volatile.

In 2013 gold prices divided well below average extraction costs, as private funds in Europe flooded the market with their stocks. The mining industry endured a while longer, but the expected dive in extraction can no longer be adjourned. A return to the record volumes over two thousand tones in 2013 and 2014 seems increasingly unlikely.

03 October 2015

Press review 03-10-2015 - Life on Mars

Last Monday the media burst in excitement with the discovery of salty liquid water on Mars. From there to "life on Mars" was a baby step and an proper information evening was lost. Mars lacks a far more important essential element to life as we know it: a magnetosphere. The red planet is a dead place, with a cold core and no geological activity. Later in the week came the muffled retractions: it was not really water, just traces of minerals.

It is hard not to compare the life on Mars meme with the "shale oil" revolution. The media behaves just like a herd of sheep, without any sense of direction or critical appraisal; gullibility is their way of being. But soon enough, "shale oil" will acquire a whole new meaning. In Europe the "fracking" speak went totally mute, while in the US the dampened act of contritions emerge, in the wake of a serious financial disaster.