Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Thoughts on the Consequences of a Clean Tech Boom

A common catch-phrase in US politics is the need to "free ourselves from a dependence on foreign oil." So for arguments sake, lets assume there is a boom in Clean Tech and a variety of alternatives become economically viable. Not only improvements in efficiency and cost, but also improvements in functionality making their uptake more attractive. I'm NOT suggesting government policy mandate, but legitimate free market uptake of alternatives.

If this is the case, is it possible that the price of oil will drop given a lack of demand? Or could OPEC increase production of oil to squash the uptake of cheaper alternatives?

So to answer Grant's earlier question, I think the eventual uptake of clean-tech technologies will fuel another economic boom (much like how steam power fueled the industrial revolution and cheap oil spurred growth in the 1900s). However, the more interesting question is what becomes of the current oil producing nations when oil can no longer fuel their growth given the decreased cashflow (from lower demand and/or lower prices). Will they become more stable or less stable? Could regional instability offset the economic boom experienced by the rest of the world (consider potential simultaneous conflicts in South America, the Middle East, and Africa)? Or will traditional oil nations invest HEAVILY in alternatives (rather than football teams and stock exchanges) to hedge against such a result?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Predict the Future, Win £1,000,000 (just kidding)!

One thing I've noticed is that after huge events like the current financial crisis, it's always easy to look back and say, "yea, I saw that one coming from a mile away". I'd like to apply this line of thinking to the future and see how good we really are. So I'd like to post a series of questions about the future for people to answer now (just use the comments feature and copy and paste the questions), and we can see how good we really are at predicting the future. Answer as many questions as you feel like. If nothing else, it's a fun way to think about future global scenarios and to get insight into how others are thinking about it.

What will the Dow Jones Industrial Average be in 6 months?
One year?
Five years?

Assuming the Democrats sweep the US Election, how long will they stay in power before screwing it all up?

What will the Dollar/Pound exchange rate be in one year?

When will the housing crisis be 'over' (defined as when cable news networks stop talking about it)?

Will there be a clean tech bubble similar to the IT bubble of the late 90s?

What is the next big 'hot' area of the global economy?

Will this be accompanied by a global boom similar to the 1990s?

Who will Russia or the US invade next? (joking, sort of)

Are we looking at a new cold war? Are there any prospects for continued collaboration and cooperation between the two former superpowers?

Is the term 'superpower' relevant any more?

When will China's GDP surpass the US (or EU) based on purchasing power

When will India's GDP surpass the US (or EU) based on purchasing power

Will there be a permanent shift away from concentrated political power in North America and Europe to concentrated power in Asia and South America in the coming years, or will the world be more balanced?

What will the price of oil be in 6 months?
1 year?
5 years?

When will we reach peak oil?

How much longer will gordon brown remain the prime minister?

Who will host the Olympics in 2016?

While this financial crisis precipitate a depression (10% or greater contraction in GDP) or just a recession?
And how long will it last?

Does the current crisis mean an end to globalisation and liberal markets on the western model?

Will there be a nuclear power renaissance? What about wind? Solar?

Will Iran liberalise?
What about Pakistan?

Will Afghanistan collapse (more than it already has), or will things get better?
What about Iraq?

What is the future of the Kyoto Protocol and its successors? Will China/US/India succumb to an emissions monitoring agreement?

During what year will you first be able to take a holiday cruise to the North Pole?

Starbucks and the Collapse

Starbucks, world economic interconnectedness, and the financial collapse


Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Power of Powell's Endorsement

With just over 2 weeks until the US election, today's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama by retired General Colin Powell is perhaps the most significant revelation since the conclusion of the party primaries (I would argue even more so than the announcement of Vice Presidential running-mates in August).

While I cringe knowing this overly US-oriented post will validate many of your preconceptions of my overly self-interested nation, I thought you might enjoy some insight given the significant amount of coverage that our elections have warranted in many of your nations.

Colin Powell is regarded by many as the preeminent American soldier/politian. A well decorated soldier in Vietnam, Powell eventually became a 4-star general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (ie, the highest military position achievable in the US). Powell served as National Security Advisor under Republican President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s first administration. Given his highly visible and highly influential role in such republican administrations, his endorsement of a democratic nominee is unprecedented and is considered by many as a possible determining factor in the upcoming election.

Powell, an African American, has frequently been discussed as a possible presidential candidate himself as his distinguished military service and conservative views appeal to a majority of Americans. If you were to poll Americans up until late 2006 as to who could be the first African American president, Colin Powell would have been the unanimous choice (I am not exaggerating when I say 100% consensus with no second place, for at that time, Barack Obama was still a little known 2nd year senator and no other credible candidates had ever emerged). Powell’s possible candidacy was mentioned both in 1996 (against Bill Clinton who was seeking a second term) and again in 2001 (as a possible successor to George W. Bush following his appointment as Secretary of State). It has been reported that he chose not to seek the office of the presidency at the request of his wife, who feared for his safety after receiving hate mail—an unfortunate reality.

Powell resigned as Secretary of State following the revelation that many of his decisions regarding the invasion of Iraq were founded on unreliable information. On Sunday’s interview, he also acknowledged that there would not have been an invasion given more accurate evidence from the US intelligence community.

It is thought that an endorsement by Powell, a moderate conservative, will have significant sway with not only independent voters, but traditional republicans who feel alienated by the party’s recent shift to the extreme right. His endorsement was extremely well thought out and exhibited a keen understanding of issues—domestic and international, economic and militaristic, immediate and enduring. I can only hope that most Americans will agree with his well articulated opinions, not only regarding the outcome of this election, but the direction of the Republican Party and United States politics in general.

You can read and view the interview at a variety of news outlets. I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Scientia potentia est

[I've copy-pasted a few articles below, for a bit of light reading. Also emailed it to a few of you - apologies for the repeat spam. 

Anyone see a trend?



"Jeff [a guy at Google - RN] wanted people to start thinking of having very large scale systems of 10M machines split into 1k different locations and how these would deal with consistency, availability, latency, failure modes, and adaptively minimizing costs (especially power costs)."

[That's ten million machines, in case you missed it, at a thousand locations.]


"On Monday, a group of major libraries that are participating in Google’s Library Project, said they are working together to create what amounts to a publicly accessible backup of the digital library that Google is creating. The project, which is called HathiTrust, includes libraries at 12 Midwestern universities like the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa and the University of Illinois, plus the 11 libraries of the University of California system. (Hathi is Hindi for “elephant,” an animal that is said to never forget.)"

[PLUS all the old stuff:]

New satellite to give Google Maps unprecedented resolution

The idea of floating data centers is hardly a new one, but Google looks like it might be set to take things a big step further than most, at least if one of its recent patent applications is any indication. Apparently, Google not only plans to take advantage of the sea water for a cooling system, but generate power for the floating platforms using so-called Pelamis Wave Energy Converters as well. 

Google to Digitize Newspaper Archives