Does this 25-year energy forecast look plausible?

Before I share with you who is making the 25-year energy forecast illustrated in the following two diagrams, I’d like you to consider the plausibility of their prediction.

Basically they are suggesting that the supply and demand for energy are going to flatten out and perfectly support each other for the next 25 years. I’m sorry but that just seems like a totally impossible dream concocted to quell concerns of a future energy crisis. Here are the diagrams:

This forecast was produced by the U.S. Federal Government, the EIA (Energy Information Administration) specifically. Read more about this official prediction at The Oil Drum or from the horse’s mouth directly at the EIA website.

Now if the feds are selling this kind of snake oil it is definitely high time to invest in a few solar panels and learn to be a better gardener.

Apple sends Lala.com to the virtual electric chair tomorrow

Apple Inc. bought the online music service Lala.com back in 2009 and now Apple is shutting down their former iTunes competitor. (see news story at WSJ)

This kind of thing makes me sick.

It’s also a good example of what can happen when a company gets too big and uses its strength to squash a rival. You see instead of competing with Lala.com, Apple choose to simply buy them and shut them down. I guess that’s one of the perks that come with success, you can eat your competitors.

But I shouldn’t complain too much, I’ve been a cheer leader for Apple since they were small and part of the real mechanism behind Apple’s growth. So we can’t really blame the giants for their size if we’re not ready to change our voting (spending) habits.

I for one will think twice before I take another bite of this bitter Apple… and Linux is looking more and more user friendly every day.

True Motivator – Our Quest for Mastery, Purpose, and Self-Direction

I first spotted this on The Tiny Life. It’s a presentation by RSA Animate that explains what really motivates people.

In a nutshell it explains why punishment and reward are not a good motivators for people with jobs that require cognitive skills. It all boils down to the human quest for mastery (of a skill or subject), self direction, and purpose. In other words we do things because we like feeling good about what we’re doing.

Money (reward) only enters the motivation equation when it reaches a level that frees people from financial stress, giving them the opportunity to feel masterful, self directed, and  purposeful.

It also explains why open source communities are so successful and why companies that provide ‘free time’ for innovation are so successful.

Google must know everything. Why worry?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California and left with the lingering impression that Google must know everything.

I realize this is the stuff of science fiction and conspiracy theory but I think we’re at a place in time where fiction is becoming reality. Shoot… just look at the technology in your own pocket and then look around your house; then think back to what life was like 20 years ago.

Speaking of time slipping by, on this date twenty years ago the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were 23 and 22. Google got its start in March of 1996 as a research project by  as a school project, specifically it was the Stanford Digital Library Project. You can read the complete history on wikipedia but I wanted to put into perspective that in the short time Google has existed they have been able to concentrate an enormous amount of information, wealth, and power.

But like all centers of power they are also double edged swords simply due to their size. Brands like Google and Apple have earned a lot of public trust, but now that they have acquired so much power, can they still be trusted?

It’s kind of like having an immortal benevolent giant as a pet who is really good at taking care of himself. As he grows he becomes more and more helpful. In fact soon you begin to depend on him for everything and he seems perfectly happy to look after you. But at some point living with giants can get a little dicey when they forget who’s in charge.

This is the potential problem with immortal benevolent giants. When power concentrates and the human scale is forgotten we all become at risk of experiencing the other side of the double edged sword. No conspiracy theory here… just a bit of philosophical rambling and something to noodle over the next time you’re out surfing the information waves.

The Future in Limbo for the Emerald Triangle

The other night Julia spotted a story about The Emerald Triangle on one of our local Sacramento news channels. The Emerald Triangle is the nickname for California’s most prolific marijuana producing region, a tri-county area made up of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties.

I don’t watch TV anymore but I did take 5 minutes to watch this story. It confirmed something I learned when I lived there over a decade ago, marijuana growers mostly prefer pot to stay illegal.

The main issue is economic. It’s estimated that 2/3 of the local economy is funded by pot. You see so many people are active in the industry and even those who were not benefited from the influx of pot money into the local economy. So in a way everyone benefitted from this huge cash crop.

In November 2010, Californians will have the opportunity to vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use. This would mean that everyone who wants to smoke pot could grow it themselves. Ever since Californians voted to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996 (prop 215) the price of pot has dropped significantly due to simple economics. More supply on the market has been driving prices down.

So imagine what will happen if everyone who wants to grow can do it legally. My fear is that the local economy in that neck of the woods will fall apart and people will be forced to find other ways to make a living. For example land prices have always been high up there making it difficult to live there without growing pot.

Julia and I have always dreamed of moving back ever since we left… no no not to grow pot. I’m not opposed to other people using it but I’ve been a mostly sober guy for years now. But if marijuana is legalized will this be our opportunity to move back as land prices drop? What will these remote communities be like without the influx of so much outside money? Will a tourist trade open up when pot is finally completely out of the closet?

Who knows… only time will tell.

Below is a photo of a little blue house in the village of Mendocino that Julia and I dreamed of buying before the recession. They wanted something like 600K for this tiny house back then. Zillow says it’s worth $658,000 now. Yeah yikes; see what a billion dollar pot industry will do to real estate prices.

We’re Stronger Together

I’ve been saying this a lot lately and mean a lot by it. I also suspect most of us need a little reminding that every system (natural or human-created) is stronger than the sum of it’s parts. Not to beat an old cliché to death, but sometimes we forget why the simple truths are true.

This particular truth happens because the connections between the separate parts actually contribute to the value of the combined group. In other words, strength doesn’t just come from the total mass of the group but the relationships that are formed between the parts. It’s like the connections themselves add mass to the total.

In business we see this happen in large companies regularly which are simply large organized groups of very talented people working toward the same set of goals. Corporations often get disrespected when their goals don’t include serving society or one abuses its power; I can think of many examples. I can also think of a few large corporations that serve society well, like Google. Google is an excellent example of how a large group of focused brilliant people can create incredibly powerful tools and technology. But even this gentile giant could easily step out of line and inadvertently step all over the people it intended to serve if its goals changed and excluded the people it once served.

In nature we see this happen when there is a wide diversity of natural living things in an ecosystem. A balance is found when the fabric of the interconnections finds a sustainable level. In other words when everyone has enough to eat and no one is getting eaten into extinction.

In a democracy we see this happen when the people still feel like they have a say their government and have joined together around central beliefs and values.

In communities we see this happen all the time when people come together around common issues, topics, and values. This can happen at many scales from a group of two or more people with the strength increasing as the number of people increase.

I personally stumbled on this realization as a community of very real people began to form around my blog, Tiny House Design. I’ve been amazed with the rapidly forming online community of people determined to solve their own housing challenges.

I’ve also experienced this first hand with the community of tiny house bloggers and builder who are as passionate as I am about raising awareness around housing issue and the benefits of living with less. As we share our learnings we’ve been able to focus in on the most important issues and topics is helping to grow the community.

Less is More Sustainable

On my blog, TinyHouseDesign.com, I use the tagline Less is More Sustainable. While this probably makes a lot of literal sense for a blog about tiny houses, but I hope people read more into this statement.

I also noticed that Seth Godin recently wrote a post called, Carrying capacity, that sends a similar message; although I suspect he’d say that there’s a sweet spot of sustainability for everything. If so I’d have to agree with him… I’d just add that the sweet spot doesn’t loose track of the human scale.

The only case where more is more sustainable happens when we’re taking about the diversity of all living things that make up the fabric of life on Earth. In other words, more diversity is more sustainable and less impact, risk, rapid growth is more sustainable. Here are a few examples:

Sustainable Ecosystem

Nature teaches us again and again that when a natural ecosystem is thrown out of balance the inevitable consequence is a rebalancing. This might come in the form of a collapse but  collapse can also be looked at as the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Life is hard to keep down for long.

So if all lifeforms in an ecosystem stay in balance (zero rapid growth) then the system continues to thrive and provide support for every life form in the system.

Our Homes

The smaller our homes, the easier they are to heat, cool, repair, clean, purchase, furnish, and so on. In other words the smaller our homes, the fewer inputs they require to maintain which allows them to give us back time for ourselves.

Small homes also make us less susceptible to economic hard times because few inputs are needed naturally lowering risk. Living within our means and taking on less risk (debt, expenses, responsibilities) also adds to the sustainability of our lives.

Economic Systems

In business we see that rapid growth is only possible if the right inputs are added into the mix. This is usually capital and the right human resources. So one could surmise that more inputs mean more economic growth.This is true. The only trouble is when the inputs become unavailable or too costly growth slows, stops, or reverses.

An excellent example of this was clearly visible at the beginning of the last recession. Credit dried up and many businesses reliant on credit failed. Those left standing were those that ran their businesses on less risk or were big enough to be able to ride through the storm.

Governments

As governments grow past their ability to serve its citizens and maintain central control they fail. Decentralized control, like a healthy democracy, lasts much longer because the entire system is not reliant on the same central supports.

The Bottom Line

Slow steady growth and living simply is more sustainable because the margins of risk are wider. Zero growth is probably indefinitely sustainable.

For example, for the first 190,000 years[1] anatomically modern humans walked around on earth not getting much done; but I suspect they were in a near perfect balance with their surroundings like the other critters around them. Life was not luxurious or terribly comfortable for them but it was certainly sustainable, after all their descendants are still here.

For the last 10,000[2] most humans have been busy focused on progress. We’ve had a few setbacks as different civilizations collapsed under their own weight or corruption but for the most part we’ve been much more productive.

In the last 150 years, supercharged by fossil fuels, we’ve done amazing things and have been incredibly productive. In fact it seems like more people these days are now convinced that more is more sustainable because we’ve gotten so clever at making progress.

But if we take a big step back and look at the foundation we’ve built I think we’d see a delicate framework.

I’m not suggesting that we pull the plug on the whole deal and go back to living in caves for the next 190,000 years. I am suggesting that we get smarter and find a way to have our cake and eat it too. I think we are clever enough to find a sustainable way to keep most things running and moving smoothly but it’s going to take switching to a different pace and refocusing diversity and a sustainable scale.

So pissed at Apple for sending Lala.com to the virtual electric chair

It’s really bothers me that Apple bought and is now killing Lala.com, a competitor to iTunes. The cool thing about Lala.com is/was that you could listen to the whole song once. I didn’t use it much until I heard that Apple is killing it. Now I’m using it as my internet radio until May 31, 2010… the day it goes to the virtual electric chair.

I hope Apple listens to this next comment.

One thing I’ve noticed myself doing is making a list of music to buy as I’ve been taking listening trips down memory lane. In other words, access to the full songs is inspiring me to buy music I used to listen to on the radio years ago.

I could rip off the songs using screen/sound capture software, which I have right here. But that’s not worth my time and I’m happy to pay for the real thing. I’m certain the fact that it’s so easy to rip songs from streaming audio is why iTunes and others only deliver short clips but I suspect there are millions more people like me that would rather not hassel with is and just buy the music.

So… like I said I’m just making a list and not rushing off to iTunes to pay for music (yet). Before I spend any more money at Apple (in effect voting for Apple’s f#$%ed up behavior) my plan is to look for another music source because I am so f$%&ing pissed at Apple for eating and sh&%ing out it’s competition.

WTF is Apple becoming the Monsanto of the tech world?

I guess the underlying problem is that as companies get really big they can forget their roots and fail to notice the power and responsibility that success comes with. I suspect Apple is now at this point and time for guys like me, who like supporting the little guy to jump ship.

(note to self: look for a really user friendly GUI for Linux I can run on my old Apple hardware.)