Thursday, March 9, 2023

Thursday Night Links

  • Oil production from the best 10% of wells drilled in the Delaware portion of the Permian was 15% lower last year, on average, than top 2017 wells, according to data from analytics firm FLOW Partners LLC. Meanwhile, the average well put out 6% less oil than the prior year, according to an analysis of data from analytics firm Novi Labs. The atrophy of once-booming sweet spots has big implications for the global oil market, which years ago could count on rapidly growing U.S. oil production to blunt the effects of supply disruptions and rising demand. Without successful exploration or technological advances, the industry’s inventory constraints are expected eventually to push companies to tap lower quality wells that would require higher oil prices to attract investment, industry executives say. [WSJ]
  • Mountains offer the best hiding places from the state. There were a lot of state controls to escape from in 2022. Two days before Shanghai locked down in April, I was on the final flight from the city to Yunnan, the province in China’s farthest southwest. Yunnan’s landmass—slightly smaller than that of California’s—features greater geographic variation than most countries. Its north is historic Tibet, while the south feels much like Thailand. People visit the province for its spectacular nature views: rainforest, rice terraces, fast rivers, and snowy mountains. Otherwise tourists are drawn to its ethnic exoticism. As many as half of the country’s officially-recognized ethnic groups have a substantial presence there, including many of those that have historically resisted Han rule. As Shanghai’s lockdown became protracted, a trip planned to last days grew into one that lasted months. Wandering through Yunnan gave me a chance to contemplate the culture of the mountains. [Dan Wang]
  • In the year of grace 1345, as Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville is gathering an army to join King Edward III in the war against France, a most astonishing event occurs: a huge silver ship descends through the sky and lands in a pasture beside the little village of Ansby in northeastern Lincolnshire. The Wersgorix, whose scouting ship it is, are quite expert at taking over planets, and having determined from orbit that this one was suitable, they initiate standard world-conquering procedure. Ah, but this time it's no mere primitives the Wersgorix seek to enslave—they've launched their invasion against free Englishmen! In the end, only one alien is left alive—and Sir Roger's grand vision is born. He intends for the creature to fly the ship first to France to aid his King, then on to the Holy Land to vanquish the infidel. Unfortunately, he has not allowed for the treachery of the alien pilot, who instead takes the craft to his home planet, where, he thinks, these upstart barbarians will have no choice but to surrender. But that knavish alien little understands the indomitable will and clever resourcefulness of Englishmen, no matter how great the odds against them. [The High Crusade]
  • I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime. Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study. On the other hand, I need to communicate with thousands of people all over the world as I write my books. I also want to be responsive to the people who read those books and have questions or comments. My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode --- like, one day every six months. So if you want to write to me about any topic, please use good ol' snail mail. [Donald E. Knuth]
  • The golden mole is not, in fact, a mole. It’s more closely related to the elephant, and though most are small enough to fit in a child’s hand, their bodies are miniature powerhouses: their kidneys are so efficient that many species can go their entire lives without drinking a drop of water. The bone in the mole’s middle ear is so large and hypertrophied that it is immensely sensitive to underground vibrations; waiting under the soil or sand, the golden mole can hear the footsteps up above of birds and lizards; it can distinguish between the footfall of ants and termites. With their powerful forelegs and webbed back feet, they are described by scientists as ‘spectacularly autapomorphic’. They have been like nothing but themselves for far longer than us: there are fossil specimens dating back to the Miocene period, which extends from about five million years ago to about 23 million years ago. They have been shining for a very long time. [Katherine Rundell]
  • Remember that the next time someone tells you to just buy an index fund or a mutual fund.  Index funds are propping this bullshit up, just like they’re propping up the fact that Yahoo has a “sustainability” column. I’m sure the list of bullshit the index funds are propping up is very long now. While the concept of an index fund is sound (average many things together to lower your risk), the entire idea is nihilism unless some thought has been put into the index components. Think about it: how is Capitalism supposed to work if you just mindlessly buy whatever index some knucklehead tells you is an index? You could at least remove overt frauds like these. VCs are the real culprits though. Their hype machines are how this nonsense gets started. The chasing after of hyped up useless, mislabeled and nonexistent technologies now continues with LLM neural doodads being called “AI.” The technologies for chatbots have existed in comparably useful form for a decade. The idea …. well, Claude Shannon had something like this which worked with pencil and paper in the 40s and 50s. Sure the implementation is a little different: now you fit your models to legions of NPC Redditors. This seems to be good enough to fool  the types of people the model was fit to: slow-bus Redditor types probably make up half of the population of Venture Capitalists. [Scott Locklin]
  • If we hadn’t moved to Florida, I would be there. I would dress up as Queen Esther every day in exchange for a plate of poppy seed hamantaschen (note that the “queer role models” may not be role models for conventional transliteration because they’ve spelled “Haman” with an “e”) . My motto: Don’t stop eating them until you test positive for opioid abuse! (thus combining the ancient Hebrew tradition with the modern American one). [Phil G]
  • Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway added to its already large Occidental Petroleum stake over the past trading sessions, a regulatory filing revealed Tuesday evening. The Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate bought nearly 5.8 million shares of the oil company in a few separate trades on Friday, Monday and Tuesday, paying prices in a range from $59.85 to $61.90, the filing showed. The latest purchase, totaling more than $350 million, marked the first time the “Oracle of Omaha” hiked his bet since September. Berkshire now owns 200.2 million shares of Occidental, worth $12.2 billion based on Tuesday’s close of $60.85. The conglomerate now holds 22.2% of the oil company, up from 21.4% previously. [CNBC]
  • One driver of this is that a company has low returns on capital it will shrink over time, because it can't easily raise more funds and because management's incentive is to shrink the business. Meanwhile, if a company has high returns on capital, it will see those slowly converge with the average over long periods, simply because the more unusually-profitable their first investment category is, the harder it will be for them to get a repeat performance. So, in a sense, book value-based investing is a bet on mean reversion: good industries will attract more capital until they're not so good over time, and there is almost no industry so bad that it can't become good when enough competitors call it quits and leave the market. [The Diff]
  • Bardi, a professor in physical chemistry, has a strong interest in what I would like to informally dub “collapsology”. That is, he studies the science of collapse – what it is, what collapses on different scales have in common, how we can recognise that the collapse of a system is imminent, and what we can do to limit the fallout when they do finally happen. As he observes in this book, collapses are rapid events, often following extended periods of growth. He refers to this pattern as the Seneca effect, after the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4BCE–65CE) who already observed this behaviour when he wrote that “fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid”. The bulk of this book is a catalogue of collapses. Bardi starts small with structural failures, such as collapsing building, avalanches, or cracks in metal objects and how these grow. He then walks the reader through a selection of cheerful examples of past or imminent collapses on larger scales: financial crises, large-scale famine, the fall of the Roman empire, resource depletion (peak oil and  scarcity of ores), overfishing, mass extinctions, runaway climate change, and the breakdown of Earth’s ecosystems. What all these events have in common, says Bardi, is that they are collective phenomena involving a network of interacting elements or agents that behave in a non-linear way, which often thwarts our initial na├»ve attempts at making predictions. A defining feature of networked structures is that they are prone to reinforcing feedback loops – hence Bardi calls collapses a feature rather than a bug. These can lead to so-called phase transitions (to borrow a term from thermodynamics), that is, rapid rearrangements into a new stable state. Or, in other words, collapse. [Leon Vlieger]

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