Peak Oil, Fracking, and Fashion

“There’s no such thing as gas shortage man, its all set up by the government, everything’s controlled by the oil companies like I heard about this guy who invented a car that runs on water man, its fiber glass, air cooled and it runs on water!” – That 70’s Show

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That twisty line is the road to the North Slope.  The straight line is the Alaska Pipeline, see all the dead wildlife?  No?  Good times.

There are a lot of new readers to the site, so I thought I’d throw out some general notes: 

  • New posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My time, so if you get up early in London, might not be there yet.  You know who I’m talking about.

  • Mondays are Big Ideas (Wilder Weekly Wisdom). Wednesday is Wealthy Wilder.  And Friday is focused on health, mostly. 

Energy from oil allows us to move at great speed through space, hurl our ideas to one another at nearly the speed of light, and grow and move food to feed billions that would otherwise have no chance at life.  It heats us, cools us, and, most importantly, cools our beer.

Energy from oil is the most critical question of our lifetimes.  Unless you count fashion.  And I have NO IDEA what I’m wearing tomorrow!!!

There’s always some fuddy-duddy in the background during the party on Saturday night saying, “Hey, dudes, you are going to have SUCH a hangover tomorrow.”  In the 1950s, that party was oil and the person was M. King Hubbert.  And everyone smoked and drank martinis, and listened to Sinatra on their gramophones.

In a really short version, Hubbert said that there’s really only so much oil in the ground.  I know that you’re saying, “Duh, John Wilder, we know that, since the Earth is essentially a finite bounded sphere.”

Well, Mr. Internet-Smart-Pants, Hubbert made his claim on a much more immediate basis.  We were going to hit peak production in the whole world in 2000.  Here’s his original graph:

Hubbert_1956

(Source, M. King Hubbert, 1956)

Amazingly, Shell Oil paid him to do stuff like this.  At work!  Sounds like a job John Wilder needs.

From this, you’d take it that we currently live in a Mad Max® style Road Warrior© land populated by ex-football players chasing Mel Gibson.

ROAD WARRIOR

But no, I have it on good advice that Australia is currently engaged in a long term war against New Zealand, where the primary combat mode consists of Australia discussing the quality of wool produced by New Zealand sheep (shameful, what!) and New Zealand continues to pummel Australia in rugby.  (Note to Australia – I’ll get off your back when you get above 1% of my monthly visitor count, and I’ll start drinking Fosters® again.)

So what happened?

Well, Hubbert was really kinda exactly right.

Here’s the graph of what Hubbert predicted for United States oil production.  There’s a lovely peak in 1973.  Hubbert drew this out almost 20 years before then, so he nailed it, within months of actual United States oil production.  This prediction was almost spot on and pointed to the first time that OPEC (Oil Producing and Eating Communists) could use oil as a weapon, which they did with the Oil Embargo of 1973.  Thankfully, the federal government controlled oil prices so that they could ensure that we had very long lines at the gas stations.

hubbert united states

(Source, M. King Hubbert, 1956)

But then we get to something interesting – here’s the graph of oil production since then.  There was a secondary peak in the late 1980’s.

chart

That secondary peak was from production coming from Alaska’s North Slope shooting down the pipeline and buying freedom and crushing the Soviet Union.  Part of Reagan’s strategy to bring down USSR was to deprive it of cash.  The Saudi government opened the spigots, the United States drilled away, and, the Soviet export of crude oil no longer brought it the cash it needed for Pez® and nuclear bomb parts to build more missiles to get through the missile defense screen we were pretending to build.

Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union . . . using cheap oil.

But, like I said, Hubbert was still pretty much on the nose with his US prediction, since he excluded new technology and unconventional (Arctic, Deep Sea) oil.  The Arctic was really the first of the extreme locations that we looked for oil in the United States.  We followed it up with locations mind-numbingly deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  And that’s how we extended Hubbert’s curve.  But then oil hit $120 a barrel.  People freaked out!  The end of cheap oil was everywhere!

First we extended Hubbert’s curve.  Then we blew it out of the water (in BP’s case, they took that a little too literally in the Gulf of Mexico).

That last little spike upward?  That’s oil from fracking.  Yes, whereas “frack” used to just be a made-up cussword (you know, like “felgercarb”) on Battlestar Galactica, “frack” now stands for money.

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Fracking is the process of drilling horizontally into an oil-bearing layer of rock and jacking the pressure up higher than a Colorado bed and breakfast.  Bits of sand and chemicals are introduced to hold open cracks in the rocks to allow oil to flow out.  And how does it work?

Fantastically.

The oil and gas produced from fracking allowed the US to reach near all-time production in a relative eye-blink of a time.  It’s distorted the entire economic picture of the world again, since the US can effectively produce a significant amount of its required production in a fairly quick period of just a few years.

This new technology allowed the world to find new reserves that were unthinkable in the 1950’s.

But are they good reserves?  Fracked oil and gas produces about 85 units for each unit of energy invested.

Let’s compare them to the rest of the crowd:

eroi

By Mrfebruary – Own work Data from Table 2, Murphy, D. J. and Hall, C. A. S. (2010), Year in review—EROI or energy return on (energy) invested. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1185: 102–118. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05282.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05282.x/pdf, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16238068

Wow.  Fracked oil produces MUCH more energy than most everything we currently produce.  And while we’re right now fracking only the best spots, and the return on energy will drop, it’s still really, really high.  Oil sands up in Canada have about a 4:1 return, so I expect, based on their relatively poor energy production (plus huge unpopularity) that they’ll not be an investment hub in the near future.

And, I’ll admit – I didn’t see this coming.  My original take on fracking was that it was a side-show – that the energy produced would actually be an energy drag on us – taking almost as much energy to produce as it took to drill the wells.  Nope.  Totally wrong.  Fracking will be with us for decades.

Why do I predict this?

  1. People like driving.
  2. People like plastic things.
  3. People don’t like living cold and in the dark.
  4. Given the current return on energy invested? Fracked oil is huge.

I would guess we have at least 10 years’ worth of high quality fracked oil, if not 20 or 30.  I don’t have the data (and couldn’t find it easily) but this may be the most important question of your life – how does fracked oil impact the Hubbert curve?

I know that many folks are of the hope that we will get rid of oil, natural gas, and especially coal.  I’m sorry for you, really, because as the graph of United States energy consumption shows (below):

renewable energy

  • Renewables are pitifully small and, if they keep growing at this rate, might be 20% of the energy in the country by 2435.
  • Oil use dropped when it was a $120 a barrel. Headed back up now.
  • Natural gas is now much cheaper than a decade ago since they’re finding it everywhere (fracking). Huge growth.
  • Coal has dropped, primarily due to making it tough on coal electricity providers. Still a huge player in electricity production.
  • Nuclear is level. The things are horribly hard to build and hard to get rid of, too.
  • Biomass is steady-ish.
  • Hydroelectric (our best ROI!) is flat and at the bottom. Nobody wants a new dam, but you have to have dams to have the cleanest energy source possible.

But let’s see how that compares to the rest of the world:

Bp_world_energy_consumption_2016

By Martinburo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53803246Oil
  • Oil, increasing.
  • Coal, increasing. A bit of a drop off (probably mainly the US).
  • Natural gas.   Steady.
  • Meh.  Mainly replacing nuclear.
  • Nuclear – dropping off.

I’m pretty much at the point where, although I see that forests of wind farms have been built, and California has this Death Star® array where they fry birds with a million mirrors focused on a big Rubik’s Cube® filled with molten salt, I’m not impressed.  Okay, I really am impressed that they talked someone into building this Dr. Evil-style structure out in the desert, and I’m expecting it to show up in the 2028 movie, Kingsmen:  Diamonds Sunlight are is Forever.

Just like you, I’d love to live in a world powered by clean, renewable energy, where everyone loved one another, and Disney® wasn’t in the process of destroying Star Wars©, but that’s not where we live, and if we tried to go there?

Billions would die. (not from the Star Wars™ thing, but from the lack of energy thing)

Fortunately, not many would die where I live, but mainly in the rest of the world.  I’d be fine, and, probably you too since you’re a reader of this blog and thus smarter than 99.999% of humanity and everyone in Australia (again, Australia, I know you speak English, so start visiting and I’ll activate a truce).

Unless we get a breakthrough in physics or oil suddenly disappears from the Earth due to a virus cunningly devised by an evil scientist named Mike, oil will be the primary power source for decades.  After that?

It’s the most crucial question that we’ll ever face as a species.

Except for fashion.

Oh, I do know what I’ll wear tomorrow!  That was easy!

Gold Panning, Little Dogs, and Opportunity

“Ever prospected? Ever hit pay dirt? I’ve dug for gold, silver, lead, mercury. I’ve dug more holes than a whole regiment of gophers. I ain’t never dug a decent day’s wages yet.” – Bite the Bullet

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How can you not find the river???

Mankind has been chasing gold forever (Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett).  Probably the most iconic image associated with prospectors is the gold pan.  Oh, and the whiskey.  But gold panning has been documented to exist at least since the Romans did it, and gold panning exists across cultures – the Japanese gold pan is called the Yuri-ita, and gets much better mileage than one made in Detroit.

The Boy, Pugsley and I headed towards a small river, intent on prospecting.  The Mrs. came with us, intent on trout fishing.

This, of course, is where the trouble started.  I had fished this river as a young boy, but it had been many presidents since I had hiked down there, since the only reason that I had gone fishing was for the adventure.  I had never had, not one time, even one fish bite on any lure or worm or fly I’d ever put in the water.  Half the time I went fishing with my friend, C.R. (you would use initials too if your first name was Clyde) we’d end up just playing in the ice cold river.  Because?  Because we were 11.

As I said, I’d hiked down there dozens, if not hundreds of times, that had been long ago.  The walk to the river started as a nice walk along a sage brush plain.  Then there was steep gravel drop off – as steep as a gravel slope could be.  As an 11 year old, I’d have half jumped down the slope.  Now?  Not so much.  Plus there was the factor of the gear we were carrying:

  • Two five gallon pails
  • Shovel
  • Pick
  • Metal detector
  • Sluice box (only about 36” long, and more about this later)
  • Waders for The Boy and Pugsley
  • Gold pans
  • Snuffer bottle (sucks up itsy bitsy pieces of gold)
  • Lunch
  • Fishing pole
  • Folding chair
  • Two small dogs on leads
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • A drone (that’s what took I took the pictures on)

So, we were carrying nearly everything we own.  But the drone allowed me to take videos like this:

The Mrs. was carrying her folding chair, fishing pole, and previously listed two idiot dogs.  The dogs, relatively unused to being on leashes, would constantly attempt to kill The Mrs. as she walked down the steep gravel slope by wrapping the leashes around each other and her legs.  As we stepped into the thick forest, it got worse, since now, in addition to trying to kill The Mrs., the dogs now had the option of trying to kill themselves by wrapping their leashes around trees.

To top it off, the smaller of the two dogs had to be carried over some of the fallen timber, being, apparently afraid in its dog brain of falling down a cliff on the other side of the dead tree.  To top it off, there had been record snowpack, so areas that had never been wet when I was a child were swampy.

Everyone who has a wife recognizes “that” tone, when they’ve nearly reached the end of their rope, and the emotion will be jumping out full force.  “That” tone showed up.

“Okay, everybody put the stuff down.  I’ll go ahead and find the easiest way.”

I dropped the things I was carrying and headed toward the forest, and, I hoped, the river.

I could hear the river, and started that way.  I wove around trees and over fallen trees, and through at least one (small) swamp.  Right next to the river, however, I was faced with a relatively impenetrable wall of willows.  I could have made it through, but would have needed a machete.

So, falling the wall of willows, I made my way back around and found . . . the steep gravel slope.  I had come in a full circle.  Fortunately, I found both the way to the river, and an easy way for our stupid, frightened dog to walk.  The big plus?  An easy path back out for when we left.  And right there was the fishing hole I hadn’t seen since the Soviets were a thing.

The Boy, Pugsley and I got to work.  We used the metal detector in the water (it’s waterproof) and then The Boy and I began to dig up the area.

Now, I had panned for gold before, but only in a half-hearted way.  This time?  I wanted to get serious and really understand it.

The gold pan kit that I’d bought (LINK) came with a screen that we used to get rid of the bigger rocks.  I figured that if we started getting gold nuggets the size of my fist that I might be able to recognize them, and screening out the bigger rocks allowed us to fill the bucket with smaller material so we could go to step two . . . the sluice box.

A sluice box is a device that uses the current from the flowing river to wash most of the smaller material away.  The idea is that gold is quite heavy, and will fall down in the water faster than the surrounding soil and will get caught in the carpet, riffles, and parts of the sluice box.  A good picture of the sluice box we used is here (LINK).

After you wash the sluice box, then it’s time to pan.

And one thing I will say – the biggest mistake I made was being too gentle with my initial panning.  Again, gold is heavy.  Gold is ten times denser than sand.  It is four times denser than magnetite sand (also called “black sand”), which is what is left over after you’ve panned out the regular sand, and are getting to the point where you’ve eliminated most of the material.  And you won’t just swish the magnetite out of the bottom of your five gallon pail – it, like gold, drops out fast.

So, as we panned, we got down to the black sand, and I’d use the snuffer bottle (it came with the gold pans) to pick out the very, very small flecks of gold – nearly gold dust – that would appear in the bottom of the pan.

I still have about five pounds of black sand to go through to find all the gold dust – I imagine that by the time I’ve gotten through it we’ll have gotten $10 or $20 worth of gold, which is the product of three people working eight hours.

Pretty quickly I realized that gold panning was like life and opportunity.

  1. If you don’t pan, you won’t get any gold. This is true of opportunity.  You might have a wonderful idea for a novel.  You might have a great business idea.  If you don’t get up and get going?  You’ll never know.
  2. The more material we processed, the more black sand, and thus, the more gold we’d get. If we had stopped after the first bucket, we’d only have had 1/6 of the gold.  And opportunity is like that – the harder you work, the more opportunity you’ll have in life.
  3. Most of the gold is very, very small. Most opportunities are small.
  4. There’s gold everywhere, but in most of those places it’s not worth getting because it’s too diffuse. There’s 20 million tons of gold in the world’s oceans, but only a 13 billionths of a gram in each liter.  Nuggets are rare everywhere.  Most huge opportunities are rare, too.  That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking, but you should look in the right places (LINK).
  5. The better I get at panning, the more gold I’ll find. The better I get at reviewing places that might hold opportunity, the more of them I’ll find.
  6. More experience will tell me what’s worth panning, and what I should ignore. Many opportunities (most!) aren’t worth your time.  Experience tells you which ones to focus on.
  7. Most people who strike it rich in gold spend every bit of what they found . . . looking for more gold. I’ve seen this in life, too.  How many people look for that same set of conditions to arrive again and again and fail as the moment has past?
  8. Everything goes better with big, heavy equipment.   Huge pumps!  Water cannons!  Now we’re talking!  If you have a business with tax lawyers and accountants and experts?  The size of the opportunity you can jump on increases.

Oh, and The Mrs. and her fishing?  A nice trout hit her lure on her second cast.  But she didn’t get that one reeled in.  But still that was a better fishing day than any I’d ever had there, but I did get another insight on life, and got to play in the rivers of my youth one more time.

Fortunately, my fishing streak is still unbroken!

Information Vacation – More than a Rhyme, it’s Good For You

“Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.” – X-Files

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The Boy, looking out over the Fruited Plain.  Sadly, cell reception is great there.

As I’ve alluded to in the previous two posts (GOLDand SUDDEN WEALTH), The Mrs., The Boy, Pugsley, and our borderline idiot dogs (who try ever so hard) recently went on a vacation.  We took off for the Fourth of July, which in Great Britain is known as Benjamin Franklin is a Jerk Day.  Part of the idea was to have some fun experiences (which we did, and I’ll describe in future, meaningful posts) but when we finished I had some other observations, as well that I’ll share in the next few posts . . . anyway . . .

We went off to the mountains, because:

  • that’s where the gold is, and
  • that’s where the cold is.

Lower Northern Midwestia summers bounce between hellishly hot and molten iron, although this year the summer has been quite mild and pleasant.  One other nice thing about the mountains is that they don’t have large populations – lots of solitude is possible.  And there are reasons for the low population:

  1. It’s really, really cold in winter, like -40˚F. I know.  I grew up there.  People (outside of my family) don’t appear to cryogenic levels of cold where plastic turns as brittle as Shia LeBeouf’s temper.
  2. Since there’s not much atmosphere above you when you’re over 8,000 feet in altitude (that’s over 100 meters!), it doesn’t block the Sun’s incoming pain rays. I can walk around in Midwestia all day long without sunscreen.  Up high?  I burn like a California resort town during a drought in about 15 minutes.
  3. Economic activity (mainly) consists of tourism, which, because of the whole “bitter cold and five feet of snow on October 1 and no ski area” ambiance, only lasts four to six months out of the year, but mortgages are a 12 month out of the year affair. It’s a poor area, except for the really rich people that own cool summer chalets.  They’re all Texans.
  4. Services are bleak. From our campground, the nearest gas station was 30 miles away (17 meters).  There is no natural gas to any house or business.  Propane is trucked from 30,000 miles away.  Electrical service is beamed from the moon, since that’s closer than any power plant, and, most importantly for today’s post:
  5. There is no cable, no cell phone service, and only a tiny bit of Internet.

Honestly, that was part of the allure of the camping spot, and part of what we were paying for, that dwindling of focus and distraction . . . we’d had that before . . . in Alaska.

In Alaska, even though we had gotten media from “Outside” (Outside means “Not Alaska”) we just . . . didn’t care.  It was too far away.  Bush fighting with Democrats (this was 2004-6)?  Who cares – not us.  Sinkhole swallows Florida?  Sounds rough – yawn.  A not news story about some subject guaranteed to polarize and produce outrage?  Unless it happened in Alaska we didn’t care.  At all.

When we moved back down to The States, we started caring again: we got meshed back into The Matrix.

  • We started worrying about issues that we couldn’t impact – but like attempting to teach a Kardashian to fetch, it just frustrates you since the Kardashian clearly cannot understand the basic concept.
  • We started using Google® as our arbiter of facts. Around the year 2000, we stopped arguing about facts.  In Alaska, we started again.  When we moved back to the states?  Stopped arguing.  Google® is wonderful to find out when Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud®.  What have we lost because we don’t argue about facts anymore?  In my case, I stretched some mind muscles on this trip I hadn’t used in a while, and we thought about the facts not as discrete digital bits, but as part of the continuum of knowledge.  When did that volcano pop up?  How did the valley form?  Why are the rocks near the stream bed at 8,400 feet in elevation rounded, while the rocks near the ridgeline at 11,000 feet angular?  The arguments about facts we don’t know is in and of itself a valuable mental process, and teaches us how to think.  (Imagine Kim even understanding that!)  We don’t need to know how a Kardashian gets into yoga pants.  We can, if we have a strong enough stomach, think it through.  (shudder)

As a family we fight back against The Matrix.  We have designated activities and times when we unplug.  No cell phones when we go out to dinner.  Gourmet Night (LINK).  These things make us turn away from our distractions, (LINK) and focus on each other, and on the present moment.  We have a secondary rule:  we don’t allow The Boy and Pugsley begin to huddle in an autistic mind meld about computers.  No computer discussions allowed.

And as we travelled?  Eventually we hit dead zones with no communication.  At our campsite?  No communication whatsoever.  No cell.  No Internet.

No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It’s primitive as can be.

Okay, we had lights, and a car, and wine, and a dvd player that we watched Firefly® on, and they had something resembling a primitive WIFI made of smoke signals (it’s digital, right?) but it was really isolated.  I confiscated devices gently encouraged The Boy and Pugsley to embrace unplugging from the Infosphere.

And it worked.

For over 90 hours (with one small break to visit the gas station) we avoided even radio.  Even AM radio.

What did we do?

  • We talked to each other.
  • We panned for gold (next post).
  • Played games. (This one is called Poor Choices and it was a LOT of fun – disclosure:  when I start up an Amazon affiliate link I’ll get paid for it, but not as of this writing)
  • Drove the High Country backroads.
  • Fished.  (no, didn’t catch any)
  • Focused on now.
  • Ate the precious, precious Pez® we brought with us.

We moved away from information saturation, from caring about each and every issue to a life where we were free . . . not to care.

Then, too quickly, we headed for home.  Like a body returning to life, with each passing mile more information was available to us, first AM, then FM, then finally actual cell phone towers.  Then personal email, finally work email.  Then, we got home, and found that our DVR had dutifully watched TV for us in our absence.

So, driving to work this week I ditched news radio.  I started by trying to listen to music, but at drive time all they want to do is talk about butts and farting.  Not that I don’t enjoy having a butt, and, well, the very first joke was probably about a fart and not a no-load mutual fund, so we’re hardwired to find those funny.  Today I drove in silence, just listening to my thoughts accompanied with the back beat of the tires on the road.

Listing to talk radio plays on your emotions – no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.  That’s what the radio folks intend.  And I had an idea while driving in silence.  Maybe a life changing one.  Maybe not.  But as Kiyosaki (LINK) tweeted the other day, you control what goes in your mind.

And I do control what goes in my mind.  (Which is why you should read this blog, since it is rated totally awesome for your mind!)  I even can control the things that I say to myself – after all, would I want to be friends with a person who says as many meant things as my inner dialogue could?

Nope.

And I can control that, too.  But there’s no way that I can make the British love Benjamin Franklin, or teach Kim to fetch.

Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett

Fry, when you downloaded her without my permission, you stole my image, and in the end, that’s all I really have. That and the largest gold nugget in the world, one mile in diameter. – Futurama

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Golden Heart . . . sounds like a Bond villian?

I apologize for missing posts last week – I was totes on vacation, however, I’ve got a zillion new posts that I’m working on that will (in a week or two) all fit together into the story of our trip.  Here’s the first:

Gold is weird.  Really weird.

Gold can only be explained through the use of the Theory of Relativity.  Yup, it’s true.  Most metals are silvery, since they consist of lots of free electrons flowing around metallic atomic nuclei.  They shine and reflect all colors.

Not gold.

Due to the density of the gold nucleus, the closest electrons have to move at half the speed of light, increasing their mass by 20%.  But electrons weigh less than a Toyota Prius in the car dealership that is an atom of gold, so they don’t add much to the weight.  But the density pulls the out electrons slightly inward. This slight change causes gold to shift from absorbing ultraviolet light to absorbing blue light. This absorption of blue light leaves the relativistic reflection of the rest of the colors . . . that particular hue we call gold.  A nice summary of gold color and relativity is here (LINK).

Even weirder is that there is considerable debate over how gold is even formed in our Universe.  It used to be thought that gold was formed, like all elements heavier than hydrogen, in the core of a star and the splooshed out into the universe when the star (if it was big enough) exploded at the end of its useful life (hint: if we all did this Social Security might be more solvent, but no one would qualify because they’d have exploded).  But after crunching the numbers, or shaking the voodoo stick at the physics god, or whatever, it became clear that exploding stars didn’t allow for very much (if any) gold creation.  They needed another answer.  That answer?

Even weirder.

When a star explodes, if it’s the right size, it leaves a core of a neutron star behind.  The material from a neutron star is so dense (not stupid, but really, really, heavy) that the normal atomic structure has collapsed and all of the atomic nuclei are stuck to each other like a swimming pool filled with hot dogs.  No water.  Just hot dogs.  The resulting stuff that the star is made of is so dense that it doesn’t make sense to anyone, just like a swimming pool filled with hot dogs.  A teaspoonful (of neutron star, not hot dogs) weighs a billion tons.  I’ll just say it’s really, really heavy.

When two of these neutron stars (or maybe a neutron star and a black hole) merge, it’s thought that the mind-numbingly large amounts and density of energy might account for the majority of the formation of gold.  A rather long (but well written, surprisingly since it’s from The Atlantic) article on that is here (LINK).

Gold also doesn’t have any stable isotopes (an isotope is when the number of neutrons in the nucleus varies from the “basic” atomic configuration).  Hydrogen does, but, not gold.

Gold also never tarnishes.  Silver tarnishes. Iron rusts.  Gold stays as gold.  Oxygen need not apply

Other weird gold facts:

  1. Half of all the gold ever mined came from one small area in South Africa (like sixty miles by forty miles).
  2. There’s enough gold at the Earth’s core to cover the planet in gold about 18 inches deep.
  3. The gold we have on the surface is thought to have come from meteors whomping the Earth. Otherwise it would have sunk to the core when the planet was molten.
  4. Eros, the asteroid, is thought to be about 3% metal, containing about 20 billion tons of gold.
  5. People like lists of things.

Mankind has obsessed over gold for millennia.  King Tut’s tomb had over a ton and a half of gold in it.  Most (85%?) of the gold ever mined is still in use in some place or another today.  Your wedding ring might have been made from the gold mined in 4000 B.C.

This obsession has led to the most fantastic tales:

  1. Leprechauns – Always after me lucky charms, eh? Leprechauns are hard to spell, and also appear to have the upper hand in pots of gold.  Apparently, finding a leprechaun is like getting married to Mel Gibson – catch one and you get a pot full of money.
  2. Cibola and El Dorado – In the Americas when the Spanish Conquistadores came to town, the natives quickly realized that they wanted gold. So a good idea?  Send them to another town that was MADE of gold, and get ‘em out of your town.  It seemed to work pretty well, and eliminated a LOT of stupid Spaniards from the Americas.
  3. Jason and the Golden Fleece – A really old story out of Greece, where Jason had to find a ram’s skin with hair made of gold. This may refer to the miners of the day using sheep fleece to catch small bits of gold that they mined and used water to separate.  Or it might be a metaphor for health care funding.
  4. Dead Sea Scrolls – ~$1 billion in gold hidden in Israel with instructions that no one understands because they can’t translate the words describing where everything is hidden, and some of the words that can be read (“near the place where David and Jerry camped that one time”) aren’t all that helpful.
  5. Lost Inca Gold – When Pizarro decided to kidnap the Incan king, he set the ransom at a room full of gold. Apparently, he got bored and decided to just kill the king instead of waiting for the treasure to show up, liking murder more than a ROOM FULL OF GOLD.  The Incans decided to not pay the ransom, and either put it in a cave, or dumped it in a lake.  People regularly fail to return from the Amazon while still looking for this treasure.
  6. Annunaki.  See below.

Okay, this one is my favorite:

The Annunaki are a race of aliens who came down to Earth from the planet Niburu, which is on a highly elliptical orbit, and crosses the Earth’s orbit every 3,600 years.  The Annunaki genetically enhanced humanity so . . . (drumroll) that humans could dig for gold for the Annunaki.  Thus, they created Adam and Eve for the purposes of mining, and engineered into their (our) minds a love of gold so intense that we’d collect gold for them while they were on the far part of their orbit.

Why did the Annunaki need the gold? So they could swim in it like a happy miser?  No.  Their planet, Niburu, need the gold to keep the planet warm as it zooms back out into space.  It would almost seem easier to move to a planet (like Earth?) where they didn’t have to genetically enslave an entire species to get gold for them.  Or mine an asteroid.  But, no, just like a Bond villain, they had to do things the hard way.   Here is a LINK to a site that has more information on this theory.  And there are others.

This theory (in my opinion) is like the WWE of history.  Great info, fun to watch, but don’t get it mixed up in any way with reality.

So, gold fascinates.  And several times in my lifetime, it would have been an absolutely killer investment.  However, I recently watched a video where Warren Buffett suggested that all of the gold available to us today would be able to be put into a cube 67 feet on each side.  (There are some estimates that it’s a lot more than that, but let’s use Mr. Buffett’s numbers.  He seems to understand numbers pretty well.)

Buffett noted:  He could have that gold, valued at $7,000,000,000,000 (that’s seven TRILLION dollars) or he could buy ALL the farmland in the United States, plus seven or so Exxons.  He made the point (quite well, I thought) that the gold was a static thing, but the farms produce things every year.  Exxon produces wealth for society every year.  He’d much rather have a productive asset rather than a commodity that just sat there in a giant, relativistic cube.

Me?  I think either one of them sounds pretty good.  That’s why we decided to go to gold country, and become prospectors (for a few days).  More on that soon . . .

How People Get Rich, and How To Do Well At Work

“My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. Then they became a full Taco Bell and I just couldn’t keep up.” – The Office

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Pugsley before his first day at his new job in the salt mine.  

About 47.6% of the American economy consists of books that purport to tell you how to get rich.  (The other 52.4%?  Equal shares of pictures of naked ladies and Pez®.)  But how did the rich folks get rich?  Let’s make the assumption that you’re not going to be James Bond Enemy Island Secret Volcano Space Program Rich, since Elon Musk seems to have that market cornered . . . let’s still ask the question, how do people get rich?

  1. Inheriting it is the old fashioned way to do it. 30-40% of the Forbes 400 richest Americans . . . inherited it.  You never really hear this part of the story, because the story “Baby Billionaire Born” is not nearly as compelling as “Unsung genius invents an app to get a cab driver to come by your house and trim your nosehair with your iPhone.”  An astonishing 60% of American household wealth is inherited.  So, unless you’ve got great-aunt Grunelda leaving you a stash of cash, this isn’t in your wheelhouse.  For reference, we Wilders have little inherited wealth, but are willing to learn what it’s like for science if you want to cut us in on your will.
  2. Investments and Real Estate – 127 billionaires got their third comma from FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate), which we talked about before (LINK). In 2013, per evonomics.com, the ever-hated top 1% made 21% of the US income, which I’m sure they were pretty fond of, since that’s out punching your weight by 20 times!  But the big driver to their wealth?  Gains from their investments.  In 2013, they raked in 35% of the business gains (things like dividends, interest payments, stock price gains, and real estate, etc.).  Really, the big drivers were stock and real estate.  So, if you’re not born with cash, this seems to be the most reliable way to get buckets of it.
  3. Tech, Media, and Energy, combined to create 123 billionaires. Now don’t cry too much for this bunch being in third place, since it includes folks like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Ellison.  (I refuse to add Zuckerberg because he’s such a tool.)  It’s pretty cool that these folks managed to make bank by changing forever the way we use computers (Gates), purchase stuff (Bezos), and, well, whatever the hell Ellison does that allows him to own Hawaii.

As we’ve discussed before, a job is less preferable than owning a business, where you have other people working to make money for you, but it is possible to get into a pretty good position with a job.  This isn’t the last post where we’ll discuss this, because most people have jobs, don’t own businesses, and aren’t blessed (yet) with a really cool investment portfolio.

So, how can you maximize your income as an employee?  Here are my first ten (not my top ten, just the first ones):

  1. Do something valuable that requires you to think. College is a stupid idea for many people.  Honestly, lots of people going to college really don’t belong there – it’s just like four more years of high school for them.  Since employers can’t (by law) give IQ tests, they use college as a rough screen for IQ.  They want smart-ish workers (not TOO smart, mind you) and they use a college degree for a screen for that as well as the ability to defer pleasure now for a payout later.  Unless you’re going to get a degree that is required for the field, like science, engineering, law, medicine, accounting, finance, and teaching – I would think twice about college, especially if you choose a major like anthropology.  Seriously, fast food workers make more money than anthropology professors.  Smelly teen age fast food workers.  Also avoid: sociology, anything ending in “studies”, communications (The Mrs. has that one), recreational studies, art, classics, public administration, exercise physiology, media management, music therapy, etc., etc.  These are “degrees” made up by universities to extract the maximum student loan value from you.
  2. Pick the right industry. Pick an industry where there’s huge oceans of cash swimming around.  I’ve listed them up above – finance, real estate, energy, technology.  Pick one of those.  It’s still not easy to get rich there, but there is a TON of money floating around in those businesses.  Teaching?  Not so much.  Regardless of how much fun you have doing it, if you can’t support your family, that is going to suck your energy out like a cat eating a banana.  Find something that you can do that pays well, and do that thing.  Not many engineers (for instance) end up as really rich dudes.  That’s fine – the median engineer does well, but often doesn’t get to the top slot.  There were a LOT more guys with business degrees than engineering degrees, and you’re only seeing the ones that were good AND lucky that get to the top.  You’ve got to be good, but you’ve also got to be lucky (which will have its own future post).
  3. Work harder than the next guy – and be a closer. The only reason to watch Glengarry Glen Ross is the scene where Alec Baldwin, in no uncertain terms, illustrates that you have to work hard, and also have to show actual results.  I’ve linked to it below.  Be warned – the language and content are R-rated, so if you’re squeamish about naughty words and crude concepts, skip it, but this seven minute scene he’s in got him a nomination for best supporting actor.  Seven minutes.  Really, working hard is important because it sets the stage for results, but results must  (Note:  a recent study showed that bosses only care about how much time you’re in the office, and think if you’re there a lot, you’re working hard.  Guess they never heard about goofing off?)  Are results the only thing that matters?  No.  But they matter A LOT.
  4. Don’t scare your boss. If you work hard and are smart and are getting great results, you should be setting yourself up for amazing success, right?    You might be one step away from being fired.  Bosses are people, too, and most of them don’t want to be eclipsed by an employee, namely, you.  If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that, besides being handsome and bullet-proof, you’re smarter than your boss.  With a good boss, that’s okay – he (or she) wants to teach you and allow you to grow.  With an insecure boss?  Oh, my.  With an insecure boss who doesn’t have skills?  Competence is a death warrant, or at least a quick ride to a pink slip.  If you have a scared boss?  Act stupid.  Give them bread crumbs to come to a good decision, and then allow them to take the credit.  Most importantly?  Align your incentives so if your boss makes you look bad, it is a reflection on their leadership.  Sometimes none of this will work.  Look for a new job or a new position in the company, but be prepared to exit involuntarily.  Insecure people are horrible (more on this in a future post).  One other note?  At some point you will have a really horrible boss.  Deal with it.
  5. Stay off of lists. HR has a list of people who, say, didn’t do training.  Who showed up late to work.  Who go one too many times to Facebook on the company Internet.  Who call a radio station 3400 times in a month attempting to be caller nine with the phrase that pays (this actually happened to someone I knew).  These lists might be petty lists, with “insignificant” actions or behaviors on them, but your very presence on the list turns you into your boss’s enemy, because you just became someone he has to defend to HR.  A boss, even a good one, will only go to that well so many times.
  6. Be flexible. No, not like a gymnast.  For your boss, your job description is only the barest suggestion.  If he or she asks you to learn to translate ancient Babylonian tablets instead of your job, which is generally being an accounting clerk, TRANSLATE THE TABLETS.  A job isn’t an argument, and if you make it one, you become . . . another pain to your boss.
  7. Be firm when your principles are involved. Even if means your job.  When I was doing an internship in college, the boss asked me to do something I knew to be technically illegal (like a real “go to federal prison” felony).  I told him no, I couldn’t do that.  He was on the road, and called, yelling at me to do the illegal thing.  I went to his boss (VP), and told him about the illegal action, and explained why it was a felony.  The VP made one minor comment, but was in agreement with my boss.  I told my professor (that I was taking a business organization class from) about the situation, and asked what he thought I should do.  He told me, “Well, it looks like you already quit.”  I thought about it, and, yeah, I had quit, but I was the only one at work who didn’t recognize it.  I turned in my notice the next day.  They weren’t surprised.  Don’t be a felon.  Don’t compromise your basic beliefs for a job – that’ll tear you up inside more than having a Chihuahua with needle-sharp teeth surgically implanted next to your spleen.
  8. Be a solution, not a problem. I have a rule with people who work for me – don’t come to me with a problem.  Come to me with a problem and two or three suggested solutions.  Most of the time I take one of their solutions.  Some people?
  9. Be nice. Those people you’re working with?  They talk to your boss, too.  And if you’re nice to people?  Good karma accumulates.
  10. Be on time. Just do this.  Being late shows a lack of respect for whatever you’re late to.

So, unless one of you is gonna write me in on your will, and die soon, I’ve gotta go to work tomorrow.  And follow my own advice.  But I’m still saving up for that private volcano island.  Right now I think I can afford a small rock outcropping off the coast of that Pacific island inhabited by cannibals that kill and eat anyone who stops nearby (this is a real place).  But, hey, it’s a start.

This blog is not financial advice, yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda.  Be responsible for yourself.

(Reminder – LOTS of naughty language.)

Kiyosaki and Sources Of Wealth

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your khakis.” – Fight ClubDSC02988

Someone’s Rich Dad?  Yeah, no marble sculptures of Poor Dad.  The Romans took “Got Your Nose” seriously.

I think that Robert Kiyosaki wants you to be rich.  I’m certain he wants you to think that he’s on your side, and he’s also spent a lot of time and effort doing presentations long after I would have retired to my private island off the coast of Antarctica (I like it cold) with my laser penguins.  Kiyosaki has made a metric ton of quarters selling the concepts in his Rich Dad/Poor Dad series of books (Amazon LINK) through both the books and personal consulting (rumor has it personal coaching can cost $45,000, and those are real American dollars, not fake Canadian metric currency).

Kiyosaki’s story is that his natural father was “Poor Dad.”  I’m assuming this book was NOT originally released on Father’s Day.

Poor Dad was very smart, and had a Ph.D. and worked in high government posts, but had a worldview that didn’t set Robert up for financial success.  By contrast, “Rich Dad,” a mentor and friend, explained how getting to financial freedom and wealth really worked.

Kiyosaki breaks the ways that people make money into four categories:

  1. Being an employee. This is most of us, and society works to perpetuate this role.  What is an employee?  One who works for a salary (or hourly wages) and benefits.  We live with a misconception that being an employee carries with it a degree of security, even if it’s less security today than it was in, say, 1970.  If you work for the government, however, it’s more likely that you’ll get malaria from a married vampire bat than get fired. (really)

Being an employee is generally based in . . . fear.  And the ultimate fear that employees have is . . . termination.  The threat of being fired, for many, is a direct threat to the core of who and what they are.

Being fired brings with it:

  1. Reduction in Resources – Most jobs pay enough to keep you coming back, but only a very few offer sufficient extra income to build real wealth. To the astonishingly high 78% of Americans that sometimes or always live paycheck to paycheck, the threat of job loss is especially dire.  It doesn’t help that we, as consumers often increase our individual spending so that it matches our income.  But, I’ve posted about that before (LINK).
  2. Loss of Status – Many men (especially) think of themselves AS their job. When you think about it, this makes sense.  The first question you ask a working-age man that you’ve just met is “What do you do?”  This establishes him the social hierarchy.  Society really does define a man by his work.  Time at work can represent half of your waking time.  In 2015, I spent 48% of my waking time at work or commuting to work, meaning I interacted more with co-workers than I did with my family that year.  Status drives many important hormones, and, for men, stress and job loss actually cause testosterone levels to plummet.
  3. Loss of Purpose – I’ve discussed before (LINK) that purpose is necessary for a real life, and it’s necessary to have a big one. Given the hours and time spent at work, it’s inevitable that work can become our purpose.  When you lose that purpose, you’re set adrift until you find a new one.

In a sense, the employer/employee relationship is a kinda like an “on speaking terms” hostage situation.  They have a job that represents status, purpose, and life-giving resources.  You have all of your time, effort, and passion to trade for that job.  Kiyosaki thinks that’s a bad trade.  But he could buy his own island.

  1. Small Business Ownership is the second income generator that Kiyosaki talks about. And, if possible, it comes off even worse than being an employee.  Being a small business owner entails all of the work of being and employee, plus lots more risk.  His reasoning is that employees at least have the business to fall back on if they have a bad day, week, or year.  Kiyosaki defines a small business as a business where, if you take a day off, the business cannot go.  You’re the spark, the fuel supply, and the tires.  Essentially, you become the whole car.  Or Taco Truck.
  2. Business Owner, which Kiyosaki defines as someone who hires employees (smart ones!) to work for him (or her). Kiyosaki feels that small businesses can’t compete at all against these larger entities, since he can hire great legal, accounting, and HR people and small businesses have to do all of that themselves, generally not very well.  Given that the business has support staff in place, the business owner can focus on the business itself.  The owner can also take a day or a week off and the business will continue to function and generate wealth.  Kiyosaki likes this, since money invested into the business makes more money.  And Kiyosaki breaks with many financial advisors here – debt is just fine in his book as long as the debt is generating more revenue than it costs.  This is his formula for building personal wealth, as well as freeing up time to do . . . whatever it is you want to do.
  3. Investing is the end stage for Kiyosaki. Investing allows for all of the time freedom, plus financial freedom.  All of the wealth you could want.  Kiyosaki would NOT classify your house as one of your investments – it doesn’t generate revenue, and you have to pay for it, so it’s a liability.  Investments generate income.  Oh, and risk?

“Investing is less risky than being an employee.  Skilled investors are in control of their investments, employees are controlled by a boss.”

Furthermore, Kiyosaki makes this Zen-like statement:  “ . . . you do NOT (emphasis in original) invest with money!  You invest with your mind!”  In other words?  Find the deal and the money will show up.

As I said, this is a different way to look at life – a different lens.  I’ll easily admit that my life since I was 22 has been focused on being a great employee.  At some point, it seems I need to have better investments, but note that Kiyosaki says . . . “Skilled investors,” but, alas, tonight I learned that my Pez® collection is not an investment because it generates no revenue.

Thoughts?

Free to Choose, or, Economics is Stupid

“It’s not my fault your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement.” – Star Trek, Deep Space 9

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The Boy, when you won’t buy his feathers.  

It’s amazing how it can take a lot years of study to state something that’s blindingly obvious.

Economics is one of those sciences that does exactly that.  It took an Austrian, Carl Menger, until 1871 to state a fact which most of us take to be blinding obvious – people value things differently.

Let’s take Pez©.  Everyone thinks that Pez® is roughly worth its weight in gold, and, should we need to give our gold to the aliens of Zontar-7 so they can make a gigantic gold Pez™ dispenser for their harvest god, well, instead of gold we could use Pez©.

Wait, not everyone thinks that Pez® is as valuable as gold?

Menger came up with the concept that, in a free exchange, both sides of a deal walk away happy.  When I go to Wal-Bart, I trade them dollars for steak.  They want the dollars more than the steak.  I want the steak more than I want the dollars.  We both win!

I know that sounds obvious, but this one bit of philosophy is the foundation of an entire political movement, libertarianism.  I know it sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not.

Let’s take Marxism, the whole communist philosophy thing.  Karl Marx (another Carl? What IS it with that name?) said it all a bit differently, and, history shows, a lot more stupidly.

Marx said, essentially:  an object was worth the amount of labor and material that went into making it.  Only a fool would make the obvious joke about polishing a poop . . . but that’s exactly what Marx said.  Okay, he didn’t make an explicit joke about a poop.  But the philosophy still stands . . .

If you spent a million hours of labor in polishing a poop perfectly, it’s still a poop.  But that poop represents the labor and hours and investment of good Soviet Men!  So they must be accounted that way.  The free market allows for profit!  Which is also bad, because it’s MORE than the cost of production of the item.  But it’s just philosophy, right?

And that philosophy resulted in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cambodia, North Korea, and Viet Nam.  Oh, and at least 94,000,000 dead.

The practical impact of that philosophy was felt in the USA, too.  In the 1970’s, in response to rising gasoline prices (due to the OPEC oil embargo), the price of gasoline was limited to a maximum price.  So, gasoline prices went up, but not as much as a free market would have driven them.  The result?

Long lines at gas stations.  If you were a typical driver, you needed gas to get to work.  Your boss then (as now) had zero sympathy for you not having gas.  So, you got in line at the gas station, waiting to get gas as soon as the truck showed up and filled up the station’s tanks.  But pretty soon everybody had the idea, and the lines for gasoline wrapped around city blocks.  Then rationing started – only even numbered license plates could come in on Tuesday.  And odd numbered plates on Wednesday.  And non-binary transgender plates on Thursday.  You get the point.

You and I might think that this idea was put into place to drive the public crazy, but it was supposed to help us.  When Ronald Reagan became president, he dumped this crazy Nixon-era idea, and then . . . lines stopped.  The price of gasoline went up, it went down, but nobody had to face a line at the pump.

And Menger started that revolution, simply by stating what you and I know to be true:

A thing is worth . . . exactly what someone will pay for it.  And in a free transaction?  Everybody wins.

Let me give another example:

The Boy was going to second grade.  For whatever reason, they made feathers out of construction paper.  In whatever fever-induced-second-grader dream he was having, I was supposed to buy, with real money, these feathers from him.

If you’ve never had a seven-year-old screaming at the top of his lungs, “BUY MY FEATHERS,” well, you’ve never lived.

The Boy was also pretty sure about the price he wanted.  He wanted two dollars for each construction paper feather, and demanded I buy five of them.  DEMANDED!

Normally, The Boy has, was, and is reasonable.  On this day?  He was a screaming pile of id, demanding payment.

In a rational, calm voice, I tried to negotiate.  “How about a dollar a feather.”

“NO! TWO DOLLARS!  BUY MY FEATHERS!”

“How about I buy one of them?”

“NO! BUY THEM ALL!”

It started to feel like negotiating with a cop over a ticket for not stopping “enough” at the stop sign, or the IRS about not paying them “all” of the money they said I owed them.  There was no rational basis for this.  Just like Marx, The Boy saw only one value for the feathers, and that was the value he put on them.

So, in his mind, I was to buy a set quantity of a thing, for a price that he dictated.

He should be in government, thus endeth example the second.

But when you look at the counter example, I can recall that almost every transaction where I’ve bought something, sold something, or traded something for something else, I’ve come out happy.  And so have they.

Sure, I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for electricity for air conditioning while I lived in Houston, but that was way better than living in Houston without air conditioning.  I had a choice.  And when I bought that Battlestar Galactica Original Helmet©, complete with signatures from Apollo™ and Starbuck™?  Yes.  Totally worth it.

In a free market, people are free to choose.  I get to choose my own purchases (most of them, thank you IRS, Social Security, Medicare).  When businesses are free to choose, they can choose to serve me or not.  Thus came, from this simple economic idea, an entire political idea – I can choose what schools, what kind of light bulbs, what size of toilet tank, and almost every aspect of your life.

In the year 1900, your involvement with the federal government would have consisted of going to the post office.  That was (pretty much) it.

Now?  You get up, brush your teeth with an FDA approved toothpaste, shower in water covered by several federal laws, in a shower where the valve is regulated to work a certain way, and then dress, go to your car (as approved by several governing bodies, including the EPA and the NHTSAA) and turn onto a road paved with federal funding.

All of this before you get to work!

I’m not saying that I think the end result of all of those laws was bad, but they do limit our freedom to choose our own path.  And that adds cost, removes our choices and makes us all poorer.

Except for The Boy.  He apparently can set his own price for construction-paper feathers.