how many barrels of oil does it take to fuel an american life?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

so this oil spill is fucked up, and there are really no two ways about that.

i have been waiting, i guess, to process the scale of the tragedy, not really sure how to wrap my mind around the quantities involved, or the implications that will surely continue to emerge as the food chain is disrupted, the currents disperse, and storm season begins.

i have also been waiting, i realize, because scandal and catastrophe are becoming so commonplace that my initial reaction when something terrible happens is to resist being sucked into the circus of mainstream media coverage and reactionary online commentary until after the opening parade has passed and i can begin to get a sense of what’s really going on.

now it has been two months, however, so i can’t justify a holding pattern any longer.

this tragedy is real, and it is difficult for the press to inflate it.
we could still happen upon a miraculous solution.
or, you know, aliens could show up and offer to help us in exchange for our loyalty to the alliance of gnib.

but in the meantime, oil continues to spill, no one can really say for certain how quickly it is flowing, and it is starting to feel like all we will ever be able to do is sit here and watch the numbers climb:

at some point, we are going to have to figure out how to move forward. we are going to have to accept that children born today may spend their entire lives in a world where the gulf of mexico is black and too toxic for swimming. that shrimpers and fishermen are going to have to find new sources of livelihood. that our insatiable thirst for oil and willingness to ignore safety violations until enforcement becomes a meaningless rubber stamp that corporations don’t really have to worry about actually earning, as long as they know how to make nice and hire the right middlemen, can lead to real devastation.

we need to admit that we are playing a high-stakes game here, and it is very possible to make mistakes that we can’t take back.

as we search for a silver lining, or at least for ways to alchemically convert our frustration into impact, it is very tempting to believe that this may be just the wake up call we need to curtail our oil use.

for starters, outrage against BP is rampant, and the creative catharsis is humorous and fun to look at. but while high-level investigations continue, and we wait for the scales of justice to weigh the arguments on all sides, most of us are left with a profound sense of powerlessness. a boycott of BP stations is tempting, at first, but it is important to remember that gas stations are locally owned and managed by people with nothing to do with corporate HQ, so please consider the big picture if you feel yourself drawn in this direction.

BP Logo Redesign

image via GreenpeaceUK

finding ways to cut back on gas use is more promising, and existing grassroots efforts to motivate a critical mass to change their habits are enjoying a surge in popularity, which is good, but only time will tell if the surge will lead to any long-term behavioral change.

i have been thinking a lot about gasoline consumption over the past few years because i have been on the road so much, and now that my transmission has kicked the bucket in an expensive way (yeah. hugh is dead. sucks.), leaving me carless, i am taking the opportunity to consider my next steps carefully.

while i’m here in watsonville, my mom’s car is available for basic transport and emergencies, which is very convenient. in other universes, where i am still commuting to work in san diego, or in the middle of driving cross-country, i imagine that i am much grumpier.

as it is, i am taking the opportunity to rest a bit, acquainting myself with public transport, and scouting for bikes. what i will do next is still uncertain, but since i have a bit of leeway in my decision period, i am tempted to do something dramatic, like pledge to not buy another vehicle unless it runs on biodiesel, or natural gas, or is a horse.

the dual punch of the oil spill and the loss of my car is perhaps a blessing, because these ideas that we hear all the time – we need to reduce our dependence on oil! find alternative fuel sources! promote public transportation! – are all so familiar that we almost risk tuning them out, or participating mechanically on bike to work day, which makes us feel good, like when we recycle.

but when it really comes down to it, i am realizing that even with the best of intentions, i was viewing the crisis point as sometime far in the future, and that is dangerous.

when will the turning point come, if not with a tragedy of this scale? do we really need to wait for all seven horsemen to show their heads? or are we already so jaded that we’re just digging out bomb shelters, stockpiling canned goods, and backing up our hard drives so that we have every episode of lost to keep us company?

i guess that’s a start.

meanwhile, i have decided to perform a playful thought experiment.

if we were previously going to run out of oil on day x, and i was therefore going to be forced to stop using oil at around that time, how much sooner will that day come because of the oil spill?

you know, like those statistics that tell you how each year of smoking takes so many years off your life?

what i want to know is: how many years of driving do we collectively lose for each day that the oil spill continues?

i crunched some numbers, and using the rather conservative estimate of 20,000 barrels of oil being spilled a day (this number keeps rocketing higher, and everyone disagrees about the flow rate, but no one seems able to dispute that the number is at Least this large, so i will start there), and the estimates that the department of energy gives for gallons of gas per barrel of oil, and the EPA’s assumptions that Americans drive an average of 12,000 miles/year at 20 miles/gallon, we get the rather amusing answer (for apocalyptic conspiracy theorists) that we are losing 666.66 years of oil per day.

taking an average human lifespan of 66.6 years (for the sake of round numbers and fun), this means that, for every day that the oil spill continues, we lose 10 driver-lifetimes of oil.

i like this statistic so much that i made a little chart:

Chart of Oil Spill in Lifetime Supplies of Gas

so, at the two month mark, we have spilled a quantity of oil which, under other conditions, could have been distributed across 600 lifetimes.

go us!

as i said, this is just a thought experiment, and a rather silly one, at that.

basically, my brain is attempting to put the oil spill into terms that make some kind of sense to me, numbers that i can relate to my own life, and use to try to motivate myself to truly grok the scale of this disaster.

in my quest for understanding, i hit upon this 10 lifetimes per day idea, and suddenly, i saw 10 future-people in some imaginary line in some big office building where they hand out ‘lifetime supply of gas’ ration cards. the future-people are standing there, waiting, reading old magazines with all the crossword-puzzles filled in, and they’re cranky, and hungry, and the air-conditioning is broken, and it’s almost their turn! but then… the window slams shut! they stand agape, not knowing what to do, and a pasty-faced bureaucrat in a suit that’s too small, with a tie that looks like a cheap piece of christmas ribbon, sneers at them and says: “oh ho! all gone! sorry, buddy! no gas for you! too bad about that oil spill back in 2010! that was YOURS!” and then he cackles maniacally and the vision fades away…

what can i say? my brain is a strange place.

but future-people aside, i think that measuring the oil spill in lifetime-sized chunks is useful. if instead we were to look at it alongside the ridiculous amount of oil we use each day, or share it equally among all licensed American drivers, our personal share of the problem starts to look very small (~ 0.002 gallons/day), which is a tempting consolation.

continuing this line of reasoning, we could theoretically tell ourselves that it will be possible to recoup our loss from the oil spill if we each agree to reduce our gas use by some fractional amount each year, which would be a lot easier than figuring out how to go without gas entirely.

we can remain calm, and keep fighting obesity with reduced-fat potato chips.

the problem with this is that, years down the road, when we have made up for the lost oil and learned to live comfortably with this fractional reduction, we will all still be demanding more oil, whereas, if we begin to take more drastic steps today, some number of us will instead be free.

[cue inspiring video clip of birds in flight with soothing vocals in an melodic, yet unfamiliar language]

the goal, as i see it, is to do whatever it takes to change our destructive habits so that the future will be different, not to simply make the tiniest concessions possible in order to continue our bad habits forever in a watered-down form.

i mean, we’re running out of water, too, you know…

so take my chart or leave it, as you see fit.

i will continue to seek ways to reduce my oil use, and i will tell you what i decide to do re: my next vehicle.

suggestions are encouraged.

and yes, i understand that, when it comes to making sense of the oil spill, the quantity of oil involved is only just the beginning.

next, i’m going to have to deal with the trickle-through effect on wildlife habitats, including our own.

but that still makes my head hurt, so first, i will watch a couple episodes of fringe (moving on with jj abrams, now that lost is done!), and work on my bomb shelter schematics.

do you think there will be enough battery power to bring my wii?

metaposts, an introduction

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

the best writing teacher i ever had was a man named andrew hess.
andrew was the grad student who taught my section of the expository writing class that all freshmen at NYU were required to take as a part of the general education sequence. most people hated this class, and, as with many classes that are taught by an assortment of grad students, a lot of them probably had pretty good reason. the odds of me ending up with andrew as an instructor were slim, and even slimmer because his section of the class met at 8:30 in the morning, which would never have been my first choice, but it so happened that it was the only section that fit into my schedule that was also a ‘computer section.’

the whole idea of this is actually kind of baffling now, but this was 1997, and most people didn’t have laptops, and some people didn’t even have a computer at all, so you didn’t always get to turn your papers in digitally. you actually had to, like, print things out, and find a stapler. but my freshman year at NYU they were trying out this new thing by having ‘computer sections’ of writing workshop. we met in a computer lab, and turned in our papers via email. we also did things like chat together in class about something we read.

it was all meant to be very cutting edge, and, in what i suppose was a foreshadowing of my future interest in hci, i thought it was exciting enough that i wanted to sign up for it, even though it meant going to class at 8:30 in the morning. i had just finished going to highschool for four years, after all, and i had to get there at 7:15, so 8:30 sounded quite reasonable. after a full year of staying up until 3 in the morning on a regular basis, and almost never getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night, i changed my tune, but in the narrow window between eras, i signed up for andrew hess’s section of writing workshop, and it changed me. for the first time in my life, i had a teacher who saw right through my bullshit, and tore my writing apart, and challenged me to really think about what i was saying instead of just babbling because it was easy for me to babble, like i’m doing in this blog post.

la la la la.

it was hard, and it scared me a little, and if i ever get my act together and actually write something that makes me proud, it will be partly because of andrew hess, and i will say so in the acknowledgements.

anyway, one of the things that andrew did was ask us to write something that he called a ‘metatext’ after each of our papers. the idea was to give us a place where we could express our thoughts on how the paper went – did we like it? did we leave something out? what hung us up? what did we know was confusing?

this practice raised the caliber of andrew’s editorial comments to a whole new level, because he knew what we already knew, and this experience felt to me like fresh air was finally being let into a room that had grown very stale and stifling, and it made me rather giddy.

one of the things that the metatext helped me with was being comfortable leaving things alone even when i didn’t feel like they were finished yet. i have a very hard time with drafts. i try to make things fit together from the beginning. and i fail. because that’s not how writing works, really. you need to test things. see how they feel. rework them and move them around. i resist this, because my thoughts? they are messy. and it’s hard for me to explain them. and no matter how many times i learn the lesson that it’s faster and more rewarding to just let myself say them a hundred different ways and then pick the ones that work best, i still feel bad about asking other people to sort through my muck, and nervous about going on the record with things that i don’t really mean.

i’m saying all this not because i’m feeling particularly narcissistic this evening, but because it’s a pretty good description of the core of my dilemma with blogging. i was thinking about it as i was writing the last post about kwerk because i kept getting stuck, and it made me nervous, and i remembered andrew hess, and writing workshop, and metatexts, and i thought: maybe i should start writing metaposts? separate places where i let myself ramble about what i think the post did pretty well, and how it compares to the form of the idea that i’m trying to find a way to express, and what i think i might do to make it better.

it seems worth a try, a least.

i can hide the metaposts after the jump, or something. maybe find a plugin that lets me attach notes. then people with interest in such things can read them, and the main posts might get leaner, as a result.

i’ll go write a metapost for the kwerk post now, and try it out.

i thought that this was going to be the metapost, but then i decided to tell stories instead. :)

so andrew, if you ever read this – thank you. i will have you know that you also made me very sensitive to the fact that czechoslovakia no longer exists, and i hope that the past ten years have treated you well. i am trying to focus on kwerk, and finding ways to make money in the meantime, but i am also starting to write a short story – pretty heady sci-fi – and when i finish, i will seek you out, and send you a copy, and if you have the time and interest to tear it apart, it would be a tremendous honor.

15 minutes: ADHD, evolution, and me

Monday, January 26th, 2009

i’ve been thinking a fair bit about ADHD lately. a good friend of mine has a son who was recently diagnosed and has begun medication, and in my own quest to understand my own scattered behaviors and bouts with anxiety and depression, i have started to humor the idea that i could probably pretty thoroughly convince myself, and at least one health care professional, that i ‘suffer’ from the adult version that is currently making the rounds in the popular psychology press. this is a touchy subject and i have resisted writing about it in the past because i want to respect the people who sincerely believe that the recent trend towards medication in our culture has really helped them and/or the people they love. i will never, and i mean NEVER, deign to judge anyone for their personal decisions regarding self-medication, prescription or otherwise. there are a lot of weights to bear in this world, and very little that is known for certain about how to make them lighter. it is up to each of us to evaluate the evidence that we are given and make the best decisions that we can. that said, it is up to me to undertake that sort of evaluation for myself, and talking about what i see and feel seems like it could help others in their own quest for understanding, so i am trying to find the courage to be open and honest while still retaining a fundamental respect for others’ ability to do the same. so.
enough preface, eh?
what am i thinking?
as i see it, the rise in ADHD and other neurological diagnoses, both in our children and adults, can be explained in one of three ways:
1) we have always been crazy, but we didn’t have the tools to diagnose it until recently, so people either just died or found a way to deal, even though that often meant living with a great deal of pain;
2) we are being driven crazy by our society – too many lights, too many preservatives, too much reinforcement of predatory behavior in the media – and we need to change our lifestyles or drug ourselves in order to cope;
3) we are evolving – technology in our society is enabling us to think in new ways, work in new ways, relate to one another in new ways, and by and large this is a positive development, but there will be growing pains as our cultural structures evolve with us in ways that support our development rather than hold it back.

this last option is not one that has a great deal of support in the current medical literature, and less in the media that seeks to explain that literature to the rest of us.
but it is the option that resonates the most with me, and i am not alone, and i think it’s about time for me to start exploring the idea more publicly so that i can start figuring out what it means.

i wrote this post as part of a new experiment with my friend erik, and the experiment is: write about something you’re thinking about for 15 minutes and then post it. no looking back. so that’s all i have time for. here goes! :)

fortunately for me, i was not attempting to successfully guide a spacecraft through re-entry

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

i have officially failed to write a novel for NaNoWriMo.


i did very much Start to write one, however, and i wrote several poems and made progress on short stories that i have been putting off for a very long time, so i do not consider the experiment a complete failure. the true test will be if i keep up writing every day.

that has been a “this-should-be-a-new-year’s-resolution” topic for a few years now, so i think 2008 will be the year, in tribute to my as-yet unborn novel.

i reach for the moon, i get the stars. :)

it is a dark and not at all stormy night…

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

every day i go through a little dance with myself in order to find the motivation to work on the things i really want to be doing right now even though i know i should also be spending more time focusing on making money.

i have spent a good bit of time in these past few months sticking my tongue out at the whole “making money” thing, and i think i’ve just about got the nyah, nyah bug out of my system. i can acknowledge that my current patterns are unsustainable (and waiting for an unknown uncle to bequeath me a castle is always best as fallback-plan rather than centerpiece-of-financial-portfolio), and that i don’t seem all that driven to find short-term work in portland for some reason, so i had kind of given myself an end-of-year deadline on deciding whether i am going to stay or move.

in that spirit, and with the “make money” script running as well, the other day i started applying for holiday work around town, but then i realized that i am going to be in florida for nearly a week in november, and i am most likely going back again for christmas, and there is really nothing on my calendar in portland for december other than “become progressively annoyed with the rain.” so…

i made the decision that i really should just give my notice on my apartment, move out at the end of the month, and pursue living arrangements that do not require me to pay rent until such time that i have secured gainful employment.

that decision made me feel good, but there remains a playful “i see your bluff, and i call” twinkle in my eye that the nyah, nyah bug has made difficult to see, and the fact that i am feeling about ready to lay down this hand does not at all mean that i am second guessing my game.

this summer has been very, very, good for me, and i am not so much walking away from the paths i have been teaching myself to walk as i am taking the time to prune and weed the garden that i am learning to plant as i go. that is the dance of finding motivation that began this post. it takes energy each day, but at some point, one message i always come to is “write more,” “write anything,” “write every single day.”

i was remembering this message this morning when kevin says to twitter he says:

WTF am I thinking?? I just signed up for NaNoWriMo.

and i says right back:

@kmakice WTF are you thinking, indeed?! I’M the one who should do that! In fact this is the first year i’m not too overcommitted. hmmm…

NaNoWriMo, you see, for those of you who have not followed the link yet, is a brilliant project wherein some folks try to get you to commit to writing a novel over the course of the month of November. NaNoWriMo is funspeak for “National Novel Writing Month”, and i realized when i was thinking about it today that the idea is really the same as the idea behind the one hour essay project: use the power of a community of accountability to get people to write stuff they already want to write anyway but usually make excuses about. NaNoWriMo is just on a way bigger scale and has a way better name. but NatEsWriHo doesn’t really roll off the tongue very well, so i think i can be forgiven.

anyway, the actual commitment is to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30, and i have thought about doing it for many years, but i always felt like grad school or work or the fact that i was out of the country and changing where i slept every few days were sufficient excuses to defer. today, however, i woke up saying to myself “you are going to keep working on your own projects for the rest of november” and “write more” so when kevin reminded me about NaNoWriMo and i realized that it was indeed november 1, it kinda felt like the universe could not possibly have hit me on the head with a bigger stick.

so what can i say?
i listened.
i have officially pledged to write myself a novel this month.
and move out.
and keep working on a web project with a friend of mine.
and go to florida for my mother’s ordination.
and enjoy some birthdays and turkey days with the fine, fine folk here in stumptown.
because of all the things that have kept me pulling for a reason to stay for a while, they are the only ones that ever really mattered, and i will miss them deeply and visit whenever i can.

so here’s to friends, freedom, and fifty-thousand fucking words.

because if i write a novel this month i will not even care if pirates ransack all of my possessions and leave me penniless on the plank.
i will do a swan dive and swim across the sea because i will be just that cool.


for erik, re: angles of approach, aka the bigger-than-burningman convo i wasn’t sure how to begin as we walked home across the UCSD campus with much in our arms and minds and hearts

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

because perhaps an online record should begin, no? considering we both aspire to full disclosure? ;)

other folks, please feel free to toss in any change your pockets care to share.

an excerpt from prometheus rising, by robert anton wilson, which i finally finished this morning after a multi-month hiatus:

Intelligence is the capacity to receive, decode, and transmit information efficiently. Stupidity is blockage of this process at any point. Bigotry, ideologies etc. block the ability to receive; robotic reality tunnels block the ability to decode or integrate new signals; censorship blocks transmission.
If intelligence could be increased, obviously solutions could be found more quickly to the various Doomsday scenarios threatening us.
If each scientist working on the energy-resources problem could double or triple his or her intelligence, work that would require 20 years might be done in six.
If human stupidity in general decreased, there would be less opposition to original thinking and new approaches to our old problems, less censorship and less bigotry.
If stupidity decreased, less money would be wasted on vast organized imbecilities such as the Arms Race, and more would be available for life enhancing projects.
There is nothing rationally desirable that cannot be achieved sooner if rationality itself increases. This is virtually a tautology, but we must consider the corollary:
Work to achieve Intelligence Intensification is work to achieve all our other sane and worthwhile goals.
Maurice Nicholl, physician, psychiatrist, student of Jung, Gurdjieff and Esoteric Christianity, wrote that “the only purpose in work on consciousness is to decrease the amount of violence in the world.” This is Public Health Problem Number One in the nuclear age, the age of overkill.
We are not talking about mere increase in linear IQ – third-circuit semantic cleverness. We are talking of also the kinds of right-brain intelligence that Nicholl acquired from Jungian neurogenetic research and Gurdjieff’s meta-programming techniques. We are talking of, say, Beethoven’s intelligence, which so disturbed Lenin, who could not bear to listen to the Appassionata (Sonata 23) because it made him “want to weep and pat people on the head, and we mustn’t pat them on the head, we must hit them on the head, hit them hard, and make them obey.” More of Beethoven’s intelligence is needed, desperately, to create a signal that the current Lenins cannot ignore, that will make them weep, and stop hitting heads.

this time, we’ll build a better town

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

that’s what i really meant to say.

miyazaki is the best there is.


Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

i know i make a lot of references to stuff i want to post about but don’t, and you may or may not know that i think and scribble about many things that i don’t even manage to refer to obliquely in what survives the grueling gauntlet of distraction to make it into post form, but, fwiw, if you want a fun introduction to one of the concepts (arguably The concept) that drives the distribution of my interests across the worlds of design, the internet, cognitive science, developmental psychology, consciousness, mysticism, drugs, public health, and politics, have a listen to this radiolab episode on emergence.

it’s an hour long, but do what i do: listen while you wash the dishes. or eat. or put together a jigsaw puzzle of warholesque popart lips. ok maybe that last one’s not on your list, but tif and i had fun at the toy store the other day, so the gauntlet lengthens. :)

and sign up for their podcast while you’re at it, eh? folks do a damn fine bit of radio programming. even if the ideas aren’t new to you, i bet it’ll make you smile, and think a bit, and maybe ask me a question. and thus the march of progress continues. ;)

why doesn’t this exist?

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

so i do a lot of thinking about sleep and the arising therefrom, and this morning after i got myself up and was sipping some tea i started on the track of “all i really need is to start my metabolism going, but the problem is that i’m so cozy and groggy that it is difficult to get myself to move my arms from underneath the blanket to ingest anything, even water that is sitting right beside my bed.”

this family of thought trains has brought us such ideas as: start breathing deeply as soon as i capture enough consciousness to remember to do so, because air, at least, can be consumed in any position, and is the foundation of the rest. this does a lot, but then i still need to keep stepping up the intake ladder, and so today i started musing on how it would be helpful if i could just have someone drop one of those gross jellified energy paks into my mouth, or maybe if i strapped a camelbak full of coffee to the ceiling and then just had to slide underneath the straw. thinking of silly ideas like that made me happy, but then i was like, wait… why don’t they make time-release caffeine pills that you take before bed and then kick in after 8 hours? that’s like setting the coffee machine to make the world smell good in the morning but without the step of actually having to go get the coffee. that would be brilliant!!

i asked google and found some interesting stuff. they DO make time-release caffeine pills but not in the don’t-release-anything-for-a-while style, rather in the release-this-slowly-so-i-can-code-all-night-without-buying-more-mountain-dew style, which is useful in it’s own right, but quite different.

i also learned that green tea acts as time-release caffeine because the tea is encased in tannins, which is part of why the high from green tea is mellower. that’s nice. i’ve been enjoying toasted green tea quite a bit lately. it’s good. i like to do this walkup to caffeine thing where i drink green tea early, black tea late, and coffee after lunch. but that’s not this post, i guess.

perhaps most enlightening, however, was the discovery that one can purchase time-release caffeinated tights. snake oil man sez they get rid of cellulite. methinks they get rid of pesky extra dollars.

someone else did already have my idea, but he just mentioned it in this mefi thread two years ago and everyone else ignored him.

their loss, yo. srsly.

my first thought was that it must be hard to make something time-release after multiple hours. but we make birth control that releases itself for months at a stretch. so what gives? i’m half sarcastic and half serious. do people feel more like addicts when they pop pills instead of drinking their drugs with cream and sugar? is getting up on our own a source of emotional victory such that getting help from a pill would make people depressed? does time-release feel too sci-fi for daily use? would it be possible but expensive? did i just not look far enough into my google results to find the winner? it seems like the idea crosses some sort of line, and i’m curious about what it is.