Supply and demand in the Middle East

In the continuing interest of figuring out what in God’s name is going on with the price increases in oil, I did a little research on the US Government’s Energy Information Administration website, which apparently exists. (I suppose it may be an inexorable fact that governments continue expanding until beaurocracies are created to represent all possible three letter combinations, at which point they move on to four letter ones like USSR.)

birge-oil-prices-big.png

To put the world oil supply in historical perspective, I took the past data for proven reserves and divided it by the yearly world oil consumption. The result (shown above in red) is a plot of the number of years worth of reserves in the ground expressed in the years of consumption at that time. If you can trust the reserve data, this number is basically a lower bound on the amount of time before the oil hits the fan. For reference, I’ve also shown the total worldwide consumption.

There are two interesting things, I think, about this plot. First, it’s kind of hard to worry too much about “peak oil” when the amount of time our reserves will last keeps going up, not down. Second, there doesn’t appear to have been any change in the consumption or suppy (at least in terms of reserves) that would justify the sustained rise in prices that occured around 2001.

Continue reading “Supply and demand in the Middle East”

LaTeX equations in WordPress

There is a very nice plugin for WordPress done by Automattic that allows one to include LaTeX mathematics in a post. However, their version handled everything as inline math, so that operators like integrals and sums were too small, as if they were trying to be fit within the space of a line, and not as they should be in a displayed equation. Fortunately, they made it open source, so I just made a few very minor changes to fix that, and plan to extend the plugin in the future to allow for both inline and display equations to be created.

You can download the current version of what I have so far here. It requires the fauxml plugin, so remember to download and install that, first.

If anybody is interested in this, let me know via a comment and I’ll try to get to this sooner rather than later. I think the ability to write math in a post and comments would allow for some very interesting science and math blogs. For example, it would be great to see people throwing equations around in the comment stream of a post about some contentious interpretation of quantum mechanics.

At any rate, here is an example of the kind of beautiful output that can be created with the LaTeX plugin:

$latex E[(X|Y)^2]-\mathrm{var}[X|Y] = \left( \frac{1}{f_Y(y)} \int_\infty^\infty dx \, x f_{X,Y}(x,y) \right) ^2 $.

Pretty cool huh?

WordPress upgrade

Just upgraded to WordPress 2.3.1. So far so good. However, it would be nice if they would keep all user-added files in a single folder. As it is now, any added plugins and themes must be remerged in. There’s no reason that the included distribution themes and plugins have to be in the same directory as user-added themes and user uploads. It makes no sense, and renders the upgrade process a much more laborious enterprise than it really has to be. Good design would dictate segregating everything the user might want to add or change into a single directory that wouldn’t have to be touched during an upgrade.

Go

All blogs must start with the following message:

“Hello, world!”

Review: Harmon Kardon AVR 247 Receiver

The sound quality is quite good, especially for an amp of this price point. However, this unit (and probably others in HK’s line, I imagine) has a flaw that will especially affect those users that rely on over-the-air TV (either digital or analog). Somehow, despite (and to the detriment of) their reputation, HK failed to effectively shield the digital electronics in this amp, and as a result it creates a tremendous amount of radio interference. They allude indirectly to this on their website FAQ, in fact, in warning cable users to use properly shielded cables. You know you’ve got a serious interference problem if you have to warn cable users about interference. God forbid you should actually try to get a digital over-the-air broadcast; apparently HK forgot about those users. Over-the-air users have no way to shield themselves from the interference coming from this unit, unfortunately. In my case, whenever I have this amp turned on, I lose digital TV reception. Given that I’m living within 7 miles of the transmitters, this suggests the 247 is quite a naughty little electromagnetic neighbor.

Perusing the net a little more thoroughly than I did upon my initial search, I find that others are having similar problems with various HK receivers, so this appears to be a problem across their recent line of receivers.

Even if most people have cable these days, this is inexcusable for a company that makes AV receivers. While HK was once a great manufacturer, they have clearly gone downhill in quality in some respects. The sound on this unit is good, but it may very well wreck your TV reception unless you have cable.

Review: SanDisk Sansa e250 media player

Forget about the video functionality. It crashes often, and even when it works it’s so small as to be pointless. But the sound is fantastic. Sound quality is a variable that’s often forgotten when shopping for MP3 players, but quite a variable it is from experience. This player has better sound than my ipod, and much better sound than my Insignia player. Just because MP3 players are digital doesn’t mean the quality can’t vary. Clearly they used good components in these, and the sound is crisp and without distortion. (I’m listening on a pair of high end in-ear phones.)

Review: Etymotic ER6i in-ear headphones

The company claims that if the bass seems weak, it’s because you don’t have them in right. However, I’ve used these for a long time and I’m pretty convinced these really are missing a lot of low end. They seal quite well in my ears, and do a fantastic job of noise isolation, but the bass is rather weak. This observation has also been made in reviews by respectable sources, such as c|net. That said, the mid- and high-range is incredibly detailed, and makes these earphones worth every penny. You can hear details in recordings that you completely miss with the standard iPod earbuds. For the price, they are quite good. If I had to do it over again, though, I might have gone with the Shure EC-3s for their broader response.

Don’t be too swayed by the claims by Etymotic that their earphones are the most ‘accurate’. There’s no generally accepted way to define that; it’s just a marketing gimmick. You don’t have to be a hip hop listener to miss the fullness of actually having bass in your music. Symphonic music, especially, suffers and sounds thin. But the low price and incredible sound quality otherwise make these a good buy. You’ll finally get the full value out of your MP3 player.

Review: Capresso Infinity burr grinder

At first, I was very happy with this grinder. It does a great job of producing a uniform grind. But then I started to notice that the fineness of grind would slowly change as I went through several cups of coffee. With use, the accumulated coffee dust must either misalign the burrs or clog the teeth. Whatever the reason, the fineness of the grind slowly but definitely changes with repeated use. After you clean it you start all over again. After a while I learned to just adjust the grind to compensate for this.

However, a second, even bigger, design flaw and one that is inexcusable is the fact that the delivery mechanism that takes coffee from the grinders to the bucket holds enough coffee for a single shot of espresso! In other words, when you grind enough coffee for one shot, you’re not getting the coffee you just ground, you’re getting the coffee that was ground up last time! Apparently, they expect you to not use the capacity of the hopper and grind only what you plan to use all the way through the system every time. But then why have a hopper to begin with?

Ground coffee does not do well when exposed to air, and so if you notice that subsequent cups of coffee made with this machine start to taste bad, you’ll know why. Using this product correctly is incredibly inconvenient, and requires a lot of cleaning and dumping in beans every time you want to use it. As good as some of the features of this are, I can’t recommend it. This tends to get great reviews, but I can’t help but think that the folks who love it are probably not aware of the fact that the perfect grind coming out of their beloved machine was probably ground the day before.