Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

But if we do, I'll still love you

My little brother, David, sent me an e-mail today. It was the first time. He says he has enjoyed my blog. We have a four-year age difference.

David lives in the desert on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. He is a poker dealer at a casino and drives a black Corvette very fast on the empty desert highways.

You may remember the beagle, Snoopy, from the Charlie Brown comic strip. Snoopy has a homeless brother beagle that lives in the desert, looks a little disoriented, wears a beat up hat and talks to saguaros. I think of Snoopy and his brother sometimes when I consider my own brother (right).

I remember a day in 1954 when we loaded into our father’s new Cadillac and drove out on Waters avenue in Tampa to see Bud and Juanita. Juanita was a Seminole Indian who was breastfeeding her tenth child. I remember the baby was about three and talking.

Bud and Juanita lived in a lonely patch of palmettos that has since turned into a highly industrialized area on a six- lane highway. They had prepared a feast of turkey, sausage and other delicacies. I remember a small puppy that ate scraps until its belly dragged on the ground. In the south we refer to an temporarily extended abdomen from overeating as “puppy belly”.

Bud was a carpenter who also raised turkeys to eat. David and I discovered that turkey excrement was in the form of hard little brown balls, perfect for our slingshots. We filled our pockets with turkey shit.

My brother did something to outrage me and locked himself in the Cadillac, rolling down the power windows from time to time to spit in my face. Then he rolled one window all the way down and captured my neck by quickly raising the window. He spared my life, so eventually we made peace and used the Cadillac’s power windows to slice watermelon. Our father was very irritated.

In 1966, David came to our wedding in Miami. My Jewish mother-in-law, who may have had too much to drink, asked me in a very loud stage whisper, "Have you been circumcised?"

After a moment's panicked thought, I pointed to my brother and said, "No. But my brother has." All eyes turned to him.

That was not my only gaffe at the wedding dinner. Asked to make a toast to the bride, I fell back on this old standby:
Here's to you
and here's to me
and may we never disagree.
But if we do, piss on you.

In that way of all history revisionists, we now agree that the last line was actually:

But if we do, I'll still love you.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Hydrogenated Coal: The Tipping Point

World demand for oil is projected to increase from 31 billion barrels today to about 42 billion barrels a year by 2030.

In comparison, German oil consumption was 46 million barrels a year in 1938 and 71 million barrels a year in 1943. By 1943, about 50% of Germany’s needs for diesel and gasoline were supplied by the production of synthetic fuel, primarily hydrogenated coal.

In 1929, Standard Oil entered into cartel agreements with I. G. Farben. Standard Oil engineers developed synthetic gasoline production processes in America and transferred these processes to I. G. Farben in Germany.

Hydrogenation of coal allowed a synthetic gasoline with an octane reading of 60 to 72. With the aid of lead tetraethyl, the octane reading could be raised to 87. Standard Oil supplied I.G. Farben with the formula for lead tetraethyl, allowing synthfuels to be used in aircraft engines requiring more power and higher compression ratios.

At the time of the invasion of Iraq, the price of a barrel of oil was $30. Recently, the price has approached $100. Oil is an important input for nearly everything produced by the global economy. My best estimate is that global price levels inflate 15% for every 100% increase in oil prices. Double digit inflation will return in the next few years despite the best efforts of central banks.

The good news is that now we have reached a price point where hydrogenated coal is economically competitive with oil and will soon place an effective cap on oil prices and consumption.

Ethanol from corn is a truly bad idea. It is simply the result of pandering to agribusiness and requires an input of 1 unit of energy for every 1.3 units of energy output. The collateral damage is a huge spike in food prices, including milk and meat. You can't eat coal or feed it to pigs.

The US Air Force is currently using increasing amounts of synthetic fuel. They plan to be running all their jets on pure synthfuel from coal by 2011. Synthetic fuel from coal costs $45 to $60 per barrel, making it a bargain in comparison to traditional oil.

Octane is not an issue with jet fuel, heating oil or diesel. These fuels are heavier than gasoline and rely instead on cetane ratings which measure energy content. Europe has already gone largely diesel and the US will soon follow. The recent increase in oil prices makes liquified hydrogenated coal a sure winner in the 21st century.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Bone Valley

Peace River, Florida

We rent a canoe in Arcadia for a ten mile paddle down the Peace River. I ask Mrs. Phred to sit in front and let me do all the paddling. This is an effective strategism which eliminates any harsh words about who should be paddling on which side.

The river, unlike most in Florida, doesn’t have an Indian name such as Withlacootchee. Curious about this, I Google and find out it was named River of Peace by the Spanish in the 15th century.

The first five miles is lined with weekend cabins, mostly vacant. There are a surprising number of “no trespassing” and “private property” signs. This is probably the result of the usually heavy canoe traffic and people stopping to picnic in inappropriate places.

A number of the paddlers have shovels and screens to search for fossils and prehistoric shark teeth. The Megalodons swam here during the Pleistocene. The teeth are up to seven inches long. They may have reached lengths of fifty feet.

The river runs though an area of Florida known as Bone Valley. It is a huge area of phosphate deposits and fossils that fuel agriculture around the world.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Amelia Found!

Sarasota, Florida

I have various “bots” searching out news on Amelia Earhart which I monitor continuously. Today the truth was finally revealed.

Impeccable sources report that Amelia has been discovered by the FBI. She has been operating a chicken farm in North Carolina staffed with illegal immigrants.

I went online today and found a canoe ride that goes ten miles down the Peace River. It’s rated one of Florida’s best rivers. It’s over in Arcadia, about an hour away. We plan to do it tomorrow.

The high temperature finally dropped below 80 F today for the first time. Winter is on the way. We’re waiting for a part from Emporia, Kansas…waiting to move on.

This place offers some nice features. We play doubles tennis in the morning, lift weights, read books, hang out in the hot tub and swim laps in the big pool. Nice, but it can’t compete with new places.

Sometimes Phred thought about the economy and sometimes he thought about butterflies. “I like thinking about butterflies better than thinking about the economy”, he once said. “They’re cute and you can watch them flutter around and land on flowers. You can’t say that about the economy.”

On the 1st, I took Mrs. Phred to "our" restaurant on St. Armand's Circle for her birthday.