Outrun Change

We need to learn quickly to keep up with the massive change around us so we don't get run over. We need to outrun change.

More worlds far away I’ll never visit, including a fraud education tidbit for CPAs.

Image of in-person illegal drug sale courtesy of Adobe Stock. I don’t quite know what image to use for an illegal on-line sale.

There are many dark places on the underside of life that I will never see. One item on the long list of reasons why I blog is to look into those places by explaining what I read on the ‘net. I describe those places as worlds far away that I’ll never visit.

Two topics for today:

  • Deep background on Silk Road, the marketplace for anything
  • Selling positive pregnancy tests online

From 2013 through 2015 I wrote about 10 articles on Silk Road and the Dread Pirate Roberts who ran that dark world where you could buy anything you wanted. You could buy drugs, weapons, forged passports, poison, anything. You can find my old posts here.

Turns out Dread Pirate Roberts (an unfortunate choice of names that sullies the reputation of one of the best slap stick movies ever!) is Ross William Ulbricht. He is currently serving a life sentence at the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center. The Bureau of Prison website lists his release date as “Life.”

Now there is a full length book describing his assent to the peak of the dark world and descent into a life of free federal housing for the rest of his natural life. At a current age of 33, that will be a looooong time.

6/13/17 – Wall Street Journal – The Dark Web’s Dark Prince Review describes American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road.

Review summarizes the origin of Silk Road, its rapid growth, and challenges of running an organization with a billion dollars of illegal sales.

Reviewer suggests there is not really that much unusual about Mr. Ulbricht: he suggests people who love Ayn Rand, have extreme confidence, and can build a competent website are on both sides of each street at every corner of Silicon Valley.

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Announcing “Ancient Finances”, my newest blog

Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Ancient Finances will explore finances and money during the Viking age and Roman Empire. Lots of posts on other blogs addressing those topics have been cross-posted to the new blog. This includes lots of discussion of the loot Alexander the Great lifted during his rampaging world tour.

I’ve been having loads of fun reading about the Viking age and am intrigued by finances and money during the Roman Empire.

Why a new blog?

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This is what the destructive part of creative destruction looks like. Creativity producing amazing new stuff is the upside.

Creativity” by Sean MacEntee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Amazing new services and products arising from the technology revolution are a delight every day. We are all benefiting from astounding stuff. Tons of entertainment options on the ‘net. Astounding capabilities for our smartphones.

The downside is companies that can’t keep up are getting swept away. The people and space involved in old stuff can be reused in new services. That is creative destruction.

5/31/17 – Fortune – RadioShack’s Tweets Offer a Bleak Look Into the Retailer’s Demise – Over Memorial Day weekend, RadioShack had a liquidation sale at over 1,000 of its retail stores. After closing those locations, there will only by 70 corporate owned stores and 500 dealer owned stores left.

Sales dropped from a peak of $6.3B in 1996 to only $3.5B last year, due to the company not being able to counter the shift to on-line sales.

Consider the missed opportunities, from a comment by Stephen Green at Instapundit:

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More graphs of North Dakota oil production in April 2017

Yesterday’s post described the 2.4% increase in North Dakota oil production. Here are a few more graphs to tell the story.

Here is the average sweet crude price in the state by month:

 

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Oil production in North Dakota up 2.4% in April 2017

Big increase in production in the state. Increase of 2.43%, from average of 1,025,690 bopd in March (revised) to 1,050,630 bopd in April (preliminary). That is the highest average production since March 2016. The April production was only 160,700 below the high water mark of 1,207,276 bopd in July 2015.

 

That upslope since last fall is not quite what OPEC+Russia had in mind.

Million Dollar Way pointed out the production increased at the same time as the number of inactive wells increased and the fracklog increased. I sure don’t understand the dynamics.

Producing wells increased 122 to 13,434; fracklog increased 141 to 830; inactive well count increased 167 to 1,466. Some of that is a recovery from drops in March.

Here is another graph of production, for a longer term perspective:

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Venezuelan government supported with cash from investment bank while support from military is weakening

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

A New York investment bank bought bonds from the Venezuelan central bank at a steep discount and got a lot of heat for doing so. The military is applying more violence to protesters as support from the rank and file appears to be shrinking.

5/30 – Wall Street Journal – Goldman Sachs Under Fire for Venezuela Bond Deal – Goldman bought $2.8B of bonds issued by the government-owned oil company for $865M. That is 31% of face. If, and this is a big if, the bonds were to be paid in full, on-time, at face value that would produce a 40% return.

Goldman is in a PR mess because the bonds were held by the Venezuelan central bank, meaning Goldman essentially put almost a billion dollars into the government’s hand.

Article says Goldman has been increasing their holdings of Venezuelan debt over the last few months. Their play is that if government gets its finances in order, the bonds will soar in value and Goldman will make a huge profit.

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News from Bakken oil patch

Rig in western North Dakota. Photographer was given tour of site resulting in many nice photos. “Oil Rig” by Lindsey G is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A few tidbits from western North Dakota:

  • More signs of a rebound
  • Amy Dalrymple joins staff of Bismarck Tribune
  • Dakota Access Pipeline begins commercial operations

6/3/17 – Star Tribune – North Dakota oil industry shows signs of a rebound – Drilling and employment is picking up in the North Dakota oil patch. Article illustrates this by telling the tale of several guys who have been out of work for a while but have been rehired.

Several analysts are quoted saying the industry is bouncing back.

Interesting stats in the article:

  • An oil rig is 13 stories tall, weighs 275 tons, and costs somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000 per day to operate.
  • Rig count: 51 now, 218 at high point in December 2012, 27 at low point in May 2016.
  • Oilfield employment in the state is 16,400 in April 2017, which is up 10% over same month in 2016.
  • Online postings for open jobs were at the highest in April over the last year and are up 94% from prior year. A trade group representative says there are likely 1,000 open oil jobs in western North Dakota.
  • Total production in Bakken is down 1.5% in the last 12 months. Meanwhile production in the Permian basin is up 25% in the last year.

Efficiency drivers:

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How to cope with the intermittent output from solar power plants during a solar eclipse? Turn off your air conditioning and sweat it out.

For one day in August the Ivanpah facility won’t be incinerating as many birds as usual, due to the solar eclipse. Photo by James Ulvog.

Yeah, turn up the a/c temp is what those of us in California should do during the solar eclipse on August 21, according to the CPUC. Sweat it out.

The eclipse will start about 9 a.m. and hit maximum sun coverage about 10:20, with full sun resuming about 11:54 a.m.

Two issues. That is the front end of peak solar production during the day and August 21 is likely to be a hot day. That means output from solar plants will be lower than usual while demand for electricity will likely be higher than usual.

Drop in amount of sunlight is expected to be about 62% in SoCal, around 76% in northern part of state.

During the eclipse, about two-thirds of the solar production will be lost at the time of day when about 40% of our electricity comes from solar plants. Using those numbers means we will lose about 27% of our electricity production during that three hour time frame.

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More news on the open frontier of space flight. Two SpaceX launches and Rocket Labs’ first launch

Successful recover of Falcon 9 booster during CRS-11 resupply mission. Image in public domain courtesy of SpaceX via Flickr.

Amazing news from the wide open frontier of private space exploration:

  • SpaceX recovers yet another Falcon 9 booster and reuses a Dragon capsule for the first time
  • Rocket Lab successfully launches their first booster which will lift small sats into low earth orbit
  • More on mining moon and asteroids
  • Concept for mining rocket fuel on the moon
  • SpaceX lifts a heavy commercial satellite into geosync orbit

Falcon 9 carrying Dragon capsule to ISS on CRS-11 mission. Image in public domain courtesy of SpaceX via Flickr.

6/3/17 – I got home about two minutes after the Falcon 9 was successfully recovered. Watched the archived copy of SpaceX’s CRS-11 launch of a re-used Dragon to resupply ISS.  The Falcon 9 booster was also reused. This is the 5th recovery of Falcon 9 on land and the 11th recovery in total. Awesome.

Made note of a fun tidbit of trivia. The booster and payload went from 0 to 1,002 km/h in 60 seconds on the way up. On the recovery the Falcon 9 booster went from descent speed of 1,119 km/h to zero in the last 29 seconds.

Pause for a moment and consider the staggering results.

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Two industries wiped out by creative destruction, two more in process of shrinking, and two nominations for next industries to get disrupted.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

There is a lot of massive disruption from the technology revolution. That is going to continue. What are the threats in your industry and what opportunities might open up?

Consider the turmoil in these industries:

  • Lots of people are cutting their cable connection.
  • Phone lines too – over half of US homes don’t have a landline.
  • Creative destruction: Video rental stores and chain bookstores as illustrations of how fast entire industries can be taken out.
  • Nomination for next industry ready for disruption: Malls? Local real estate agents?

Two shirking industries

5/3/17 – Fast Company – Cord-cutting spikes fivefold in cable TV’s worst quarter ever – Tally of people who cut their cable connection increased by a factor of five in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016.

An accelerating number of folks are dumping cable and getting all their entertainment directly from the net. Seems like a person could get whatever entertainment desired from Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, specialized sports services, and dedicated on-line channels.

5/4/17 – Live Science – Hanging Up on Landlines: Most US Homes Are Now Cellphone-Only – Survey by CDC during last half of 2016 shows that 50.8% of US households do not have a landline. Those homes use cellphones only.

That is an increase of 2.8% from the previous year. Over half of houses now are without a landline.

Look at the cellphone-only percentages by various demographics:

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Peak Oil Demand. A real thing? Or only as real as Peak Oil Supply?

Photo of oil refinery courtesy of Dollar Photo Club prior to their merger into Adobe Stock.

Will demand for oil decline in the next decade or two? Or will demand continue to grow? Sorting out questions like that makes my brain hurt.

The Wall Street Journal had an extra report section 5/22/17 called Innovations in Energy. Some interesting comments:

5/22/17 – Wall Street Journal – Get Ready for Peak Oil Demand – In yet another complete repudiation of the foolish forecasts of Dr. M. King Hubert, there is a gathering consensus that instead of Peak Oil, meaning we will use up all the oil someday, we may be facing Peak Oil Demand, which is the idea that oil consumption may fall because of various factors such as improved  efficiency  in vehicles, electric/hybrid cars, and reliance on solar/wind power.

There are a lot of implications of Peak Demand, if that actually turns out to be a real thing.

For starters, there is massive impact on oil companies and the impact on oil prices. One additional factor is there would be an end to the severe pressure to always be finding more oil.

Article provides guesses from 7 major players in the energy world as to when we will see peak oil demand:

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Land of the free because of the brave

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Those of us living in the United States are blessed with religious freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom because those who went before us fought for freedom.

Many of those fighting offered up their life for freedom and the offer was accepted.

I am humbled and grateful to God that some of my ancestors are included in the long list of those who fought. I am especially humbled that a great, great grand-uncle is in the list of those who died in the defense of freedom.

Because of their sacrifice, I get to enjoy this kind of freedom:

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OPEC+Russia extend production cuts

Those five pads have 7, 1, 2, 3, and 6 wells. I’ll guess each pad will eventually have about 7 or 8 wells. That would be about 40 reasons OPEC+Russia had no choice but to extend production cuts. Photo by James Ulvog.

I don’t publish more than one post a day anymore, but with the following headline showing up today, gotta’ run another:

5/25/17 – Wall Street Journal – OPEC Extends Oil Output Cuts but Glut Fears Persist – OPEC plus Russia plus 10 other producers agreed to extend their production cuts until March 2018.

Article says this has strengthened the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the worlds’ two largest oil producers.

The combined cuts for all the participants is around 1.8B bopd down from a year ago.

Article points out the obvious: OPEC+Russia had no choice but continue the cuts. If they didn’t, the extra oil would further drive down oil prices. Their production cut hasn’t actually succeeded in pulling prices up where they wanted, but the alternative would have been even lower prices.

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Poor economics for batteries at the industrial scale and to power a home

Industrial backup power system consisting of many batteries. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Someday some wizard will develop a chemistry breakthrough that will do for storage of electricity what horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has done for oil and gas production.

In the meantime, the cost for battery storage of electricity is staggering.

5/22/17 – Wall Street Journal – The Race to Build a Better Big Battery – The unreliable intermittent nature of solar power is a massive problem blocking the way of solar being a viable substitute for fossil fuels.

Major efforts are underway to figure out some way to store electricity on an industrial scale.

One cited experiment is being run by Greet Mountain Power. They have a 7,722 panel solar plant which has a theoretical capacity of providing the power to 2,000 homes when the weather conditions are right.

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Why, oh why, did production of oil and food collapse in Venezuela? What could have caused this amount of human suffering?

Shipwreck standing on the beach with the sea in the background. Margarita Island. Venezuela. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Devastation in the oil industry and food supply chain in Venezuela is due to intentional government policies.

One article sees how the government caused the damage to the oil industry while another article sees the devastation in the food supply but cannot see any direct cause.

5/7/17 – Forbes – How Venezuela Ruined Its Oil Industry – Here is a primer on how to destroy your oil industry when you have the world’s largest proven reserves of oil and are in the top 10 of world oil producers.

If you want to destroy your country, the article provides a how-to-guide, using Venezuela as the road map.

The high point of oil production in Venezuela was 3.5M bopd back in 1998, which not by coincidence was the year Hugo Chavez became president. Production then began to slip. How could that be?

After civil unrest in 2002 and 2003, Chavez fired much of the staff of the national oil company, letting go 19,000 experienced staff.

Let me translate that: 19,000 staff who knew how to produce extra-heavy oil were fired and replaced by people whose primary job skill was loyalty to the president.

Extra heavy oil takes specialized knowledge and is very expensive to produce on top of oil production already being capital-intensive.

To generate more revenue, Venezuela invited five of the oil majors to develop more oil production. The form of investment was a partnership. The five majors invested many billions of dollars in oil production.

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