Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Peak oil worries

I'm not normally someone given to paranoid ravings about the end of the world. I sneered at Y2K panickers, and I regularly laugh at fundamentalists who believe the rapture is coming THIS year... no, NEXT year... no, this time for SURE...

Recently though, the very real prospect of the world's oil supply mostly drying up within our lifetimes has begun to hit me hard. Some scattered readings on the subject:

Collapse by Jared Diamond, describing past civilizations that crumbled, and why it happened. I managed to read about half this book before giving up because it was so depressing. Diamond paints a very vivid picture of what it's probably like to be one of the people living at the end of a civilization, and it's not pretty.

If you don't plan to read Collapse, this post by Adam Cadre is a very good but morbid high level summary of it. Adam (whom I know mostly as an author of very excellent short interactive fiction) is taking this end of the world stuff seriously. He writes:

Reading Collapse along with some rather dire predictions for 2006 put me in a weird mental space as I went down to the Whole Foods to stock my refrigerator. I felt like I'd beamed in Twelve Monkeys-style from a dystopian future and was appalled at the decadent excess I saw before me. I watched people poking through a tastefully presented basket of satsuma oranges and wondered, how will you look back on this evening a few years from now when, like the Anasazi, you are scrabbling in the dirt for mice to pop the heads off of and eat whole?

There is a board on The Motley Fool called Peak Oil Party (membership required) dedicated to this subject. I've started lurking there to learn more about it.

Through this board, I read this half creepy, half hopeful series of editorials called, simply, "Things to Come". Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. The author is of the opinion that a sharp reduction in oil availability is beginning within the next few years. He tries to soften the blow and speculate how we will continue to get by in a post oil world.

My dad is a fusion research physicist, so naturally I'm biased towards the eventual development of safe nuclear energy as a way of somehow saving us before things get really bad. My dad is of the opinion that science research is pretty much crippled by politics in this country, but he's cautiously hopeful that other countries will beat us to finishing the research.

I brought this up with Ginny, so now she's paranoid about it too. She thinks we should be making emergency plans for when it happens.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Goodbye World of Warcraft

Hey everybody, it's time for another geek post that very few people will care about!

My subscription to World of Warcraft expired yesterday. I have twice paid the fee of $77 to keep playing for six months, but I was using an old credit card that got replaced, so they weren't able to charge me again. It would be a simple matter to enter my new card number and renew, but I didn't. I just let it lapse.

Those two $77 charges plus the initial purchase price of $50 add up to a whopping total of $204 that I paid to play just one game. Do I regret wasting that much money? No, because I've gotten an incredible amount of play time out of WoW. As a gaming buff, I usually buy a new $50 game every month or two. Since I started playing WoW, I can only think of three games that I bought. And they were used. As entertainment value per dollar goes, $13 a month for an hour or two of play each day is quite a lot, especially when you compare it to, say, renting a 2 hour movie for $5.

It's not that I don't play anymore; just the opposite. I still play very regularly. And in a way, that's the problem. Now that I'm in grad school while still being the sole household income provider, I've already got less time to spend with my family and I'm feeling it. The last thing I need is a bunch of online people craving my attention as well.

I love playing World of Warcraft. Lately it's been more of a single player game than a multiplayer one for me, because I play at odd hours and don't have the time to dedicate to playing long group sessions. But I'm leaving behind a level 60 human priest with 200 gold, a level 47 Tauren Hunter, and numerous smaller characters who range from level 34 on down.

I've also gained great enjoyment from my guild, The Motley Fools, all of whom are members of the Fool message board community and many of whom would not have joined without my glowing recommendations of the game. It was always nice to log in and see another 20 friends online, get greeted with a friendly "Hey Kazim!", and know that I have buddies available to go questing with or give me items I might need.

Still, real life beckons. Without the temptation of my Warcraft account, I will still play other games, but probably not quite as much.

At least not until I buy the expansion pack.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Outstanding post on education

I don't often post just to link somebody else's blog, but this post at Pharyngula deserves special attention.

Somebody at the Washington post wrote a stunningly ignorant editorial about how completely unimportant it is to have a decent math education in order to be well rounded. PZ Myers just ripped him apart.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

You suck because you know stuff

Here we go again...

The Education Oversight Committee voted Monday to reject curriculum standards for high school biology that deal with teaching evolution.

The school reform panel wants the Board of Education to rewrite a portion of the standards to encourage high school students to critically analyze evolution.

Scientists who support teaching evolution reject the idea of adding the phrase "critical analysis" to the curriculum. They call it an effort by evolution critics to introduce creationism and intelligent design in the classroom.

State Senator Mike Fair says the change is necessary because science is always changing.

Both the oversight committee and the board of education must agree on the standards. Monday's 8-2 vote sends the issue back to the board of education.

"Critical analysis?" I thought that going through the rigors of the scientific method WAS critical analysis.

You know, it occurs to me that what's really at the heart of the "teach both 'theories'" movement -- and indeed, the heart of the whole fundamentalist/neocon rise to power -- is outright hostility to the notion that some people know more than other people.

Scientists are treated as "elitists" or "not in touch with the common people", as if it's a bad thing to spend a lot of time studying a subject and becoming informed on it. Meanwhile, the opinion of "common people" is treated as somehow more "pure" because their minds are unfettered by specific education.

By extension, in today's exciting world of neocon rule, generals who actually study war aren't the ones who plan our wars. Disaster management experts who study disasters aren't the ones put in charge of national disaster management agencies. Brilliant legal minds who have offered respected opinions aren't the ones who are put forth as the best supreme court candidates. Instead, we get people whose major qualification is that they are ordinary people who happen to be well connected. And then people who know things are slandered and ridiculed for being snobs.

Being called "ignorant" about something shouldn't necessarily be considered an insult. I'm ignorant about cars, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. There are guys who change their own oil and diagnose their own car troubles, but I am not one of those guys. When I have car troubles, I pay somebody who works on cars for a living to fix it. I try to understand as much as I can so as not to get ripped off, but in the end there's a point where I agree with the mechanic by default because he's interested in cars and I'm not.

People who approach their lives with the perspective that everything is "faith based" hate to admit that somebody knows more than they do (other than God, perhaps). Their point of view is that no one knows everything, therefore no one knows anything, therefore all opinions are equally valid. And if you claim to know more than they do about a subject, that's an attack, and you must have a sinister motive.