No more cheap oil

There’s an article in Rolling Stone magazine about the end of cheap oil:The Long Emergency. It explains why the world will soon reach its peak production of oil. After that point, oil prices can only increase, since remaining supplies will be harder and harder to reach.

The United States passed its own oil peak — about 11 million barrels a day — in 1970, and since then production has dropped steadily. In 2004 it ran just above 5 million barrels a day (we get a tad more from natural-gas condensates). Yet we consume roughly 20 million barrels a day now. That means we have to import about two-thirds of our oil, and the ratio will continue to worsen.

On the web, nobody can know you’re a dog

A new study from the University of Chicago analyzes online dating: What Makes You Click?(pdf). They found that even online, you can never be too thin or too rich.

There was a strong Lake Wobegon effect in the data, with only 1% […] admitting to having “less than average” looks. […] The reported weights of the women were substantially less than national averages and about 30 percent were blonde.

What are people looking for? The most important variable, for both men and women, is looks. Furthermore, posting a photo is a big help: women who post photos receive about twice as many e-mail messages as those who do not, even when they report that they have “average looks.”

Having a lot of money is good for attracting e-mail messages, at least for men. Those men reporting incomes in excess of $250,000 received 156 percent more e-mail messages than those with incomes below $50,000.

IBM licences the Cell chip

IBM has licenced their Cell processor to Mercury Computer Systems for use outside of gaming consoles. IBM Makes Progress On Cell Chip Strategy: “Mercury Computer Systems will use the Cell chips in computers that it makes for the medical imaging, defense, and seismic processing markets.”

A Giant Step for IBM’s New Chip: “Analyst Rick Doherty of tech market researcher Envisioneering Group believes IBM has a chance to address at least one-third of the $3 billion market for embedded chips over time.”

How I learned to stop worrying and love the bubble

In Bubble Over Troubled Waters Daniel Gross attributes much of the recovery in the U.S. economy to a real estate bubble.

Employment in housing and related industries […] accounted for about 43% of the increase in private sector payrolls since the economic recovery began in November 2001.

But the Gross concludes that on the whole, stimulating the housing market (even to the point of creating a bubble) is not a bad way of sustaining the economy.

Almost by definition, spending on housing and housing-related goods tends to stay in-country. Even better, housing-related spending spreads riches more evenly throughout the economy than, say, investment in stocks.

Push a button, write a paper

Three graduate student at MIT’s AI Lab wrote a clever program to submit a paper to a bogus conference. The program is called: SCIgen – An Automatic CS Paper Generator. SCIgen automatically writes computer science papers, complete with graphs, charts, and cliche phrases. They even automatically generate a fake list of references!

But although the papers seem real at first glance, you quickly realize that they’re complete gibberish. For instance, here’s the opening paragraph of Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy (PDF)

Many scholars would agree that, had it not been for active networks, the simulation of Lamport clocks might never have occurred. The notion that end-users synchronize with the investigation of Markov models is rarely out-dated. A theoretical grand challenge in theory is the important unification of virtual machines and real-time theory.

The students submitted two papers to the “World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics” (WMSCI). This is a conference that seems to only exist to pad writer’s resumes and the organizer’s wallet. It has an interesting business model, in which writers pay a conference fee for each of paper accepted, whether or not they actually attend the conference.

Amazingly, “Rooter” was accepted for WMSCI. Now I know that sometimes papers are not properly peer-reviewed for conferences. But clearly, nobody even read this paper. Unfortunately, after the authors bragged about their hack on the web, the conference organizer rejected the submission, and refunded their conference fee.

See also:
Two Very Funny Fake Papers and Nerdy Mad Libs Fool the Experts

Faith and loss in America

The debate about separation of church and state has been in the news a lot lately. This year, Kansas school boards have tried to promote “Intelligent Design” and discredit evolution in their schools. Judges insisted on displaying the Ten Commandments in their court-rooms. George W. Bush, whose supporters in the religious right expect action in return for their votes in the last election, has increased funding for “faith-based initiatives”. Fundamentalist Christian politicians like Bill Frist have been trying to break down traditional barriers between the government and pulpit. And a hard-line religious conservative has just been elected in a landslide. (Sorry. Don’t know how that one slipped in there.)

These stories reflect a greater conflict within American society. A new poll by the AP finds that “40 percent of Americans think religious leaders should influence public policy”. It seems that some groups want the United States government to promote one official religion, and not tolerate alternative religious beliefs. That’s a theocracy.

So I was especially pleased to see that This American Life had produced the show Godless America about the separation of church and state. It’s a terrific show. And not only because it helps validate my world view. It offers a warning against religious dogmatism, but does so with grace and humor.

The first segment exposes the mine-field that is today’s religious and political landscape. The second is an interview with Cornell government professor Isaac Kramnick, co-author of The Godless Constitution. He talks about just how radical it was for the framers of the constitution to found a secular state, and how the effort just barely passed. He counters claims by the religious right that the U.S. is really a “Christian nation”, and talks about how they were motivated by the writings of John Locke, and the religious intolerance in the early colonies. (Did you know that they hung Quakers in Boston Common in the Massachusetts colony? Just for being, well, Quakers.)

But the final segment, “God said Huh?”, is just incredible. In it, Julia Sweeney talks about how she recently embarked on a course of religious study. And how as a result she lost the faith she had held since childhood.

Sweeney is a former Saturday Night Live comic, had previously produced a one-woman show “God said Hah!”, about her brother’s battle with lymphoma, and her own diagnosis of cervical cancer. That show combined humor and pathos in an ultimately uplifing story. Her latest one-woman show, which she performed a few months ago in L.A. to rave reviews, is called “Letting Go of God”.

Now, I’ve lived in California for 11 years, and I have never visited L.A. But if Sweeney’s show was still being performed there, I would drive through the night to see it. It’s that good.

They played an excerpt on TLA. She begins by telling how two earnest young Mormon missionaries came to her door to explain their beliefs to her. The whole story about the lost tribes of Israel and the golden tablets in New York state sounds unbelievable. But then, on reflection, not much more unbelievable than the Catholic faith in which she was raised.

She resolves to study the bible, to learn more about her church. And what she reads horrifies her. The more she reads, the more she finds her faith called into question. By the end, when she sees a beautiful family walking to church in their Sunday best, with bibles tucked under their arms, she wants to yell at them: “Have you even read what’s in that book?”

But as always, her story is told with humor and poignancy. It will make you laugh, and make you think. So listen to the broadcast. And keep thinking for yourself.

Carved in Celluloid

Amid the controversy about displays of Ten Commandments monuments in state houses and court rooms, the original intent of those monuments is often forgotten. That intent, of course, being promoting a movie.

You may have noticed a striking similarity among the granite monuments representing the tablets that Moses supposedly carried down from Mount Sinai. That’s because, in the mid-1950s, amid the fears in the U.S. of “godless communism”, and rampant anti-Semitism, Hollywood tried to redeem itself by producing religious epics like “The Ten Commandments”. And what better way to promote the movie than to build hundreds of monuments to the tablets across the country?

When Hollywood producer Cecil B. DeMille launched the epic film “The Ten Commandments” in 1956, he agreed to engage in a unique educational and promotional campaign. DeMille cleared the way for the display of hundreds of granite monuments of the Ten Commandments in communities across the country – a project financed by the service organization, the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
E.J. Ruegemer, a retired judge who assisted DeMille, told The Wall Street Journal, “The Commandments are not just a religious rule, but a good code of conduct which can be followed by everyone, regardless of creed.”

Right. At least, according to Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News, the two men were able to find “Catholic, Jewish and Protestant scholars willing to come up with a version of the Commandments that incorporated all three traditions.(In different texts, the Commandments have different wordings, even different numberings.)”

About 4,000 granite slabs were eventually placed by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. They include the one in Austin that the Supreme Court is considering – and one in Fair Park in Dallas.

Zombie PC Nation

Some interesting numbers from CipherTrust in a NYT article about zombie computers: An Army of Soulless 1’s and 0’s .

More than 170,000 computers every day are being added to the ranks of zombies, according to Dmitri Alperovitch, a research engineer at CipherTrust

Now given that some computers are cured of their infections, I’d like to know the net daily increase in zombie computers. If those numbers are to be believed, it seems that within a couple of months, the internet would be completely overwhelmed with zombies. The few remaining “free” machines would have to barricade themselves against the massed hordes, like in the most recent George Romero movie.