Lately the distribution of hits per hour on this blog has become very fat-tailed. In other words: the readership shoots up immensely now and then. I just noticed today’s statistics:
That spike on the right is what I’m talking about: 338 hits per hour, while before it was hovering in the low 80’s, as usual for the weekend. Why? Someone on Hacker News posted an item saying:
John Baez will give his Google Talk tomorrow in the form of a robot.
That’s true! If you’re near Silicon Valley on Monday the 13th and you want to see me in the form of a robot, come to the Google campus and listen to my talk Energy, the Environment and What We Can Do.
It starts at 4 pm in the Paramaribo Room (Building 42, Floor 2). You’ll need to check in 15 minutes before that at the main visitor’s lounge in Building 43, and someone will escort you to the talk.
But if you can’t attend, don’t worry! A video will appear on YouTube, and I’ll point you to it when it does.
I tested out the robot a few days ago from a hotel room in Australia—it’s a strange sensation! Suzanne Brocato showed me the ropes. To talk to me easily, she lowered my ‘head’ until I was just 4 feet tall. “You’re so short!” she laughed. I rolled around the offices of Anybot and met the receptionist, who was also in the form of a robot. Then we went to the office of the CEO, Trevor Blackwell, and planned out my talk a little. I need to practice more today.
But why did someone at Hacker News post that comment just then? I suspect it’s because I reminded people about my talk on Google+ last night.
The fat-tailed distribution of blog hits is also happening at the scale of days, not just hours:
The spikes happen when I talk about a ‘hot topic’. January 27th was my biggest day so far. Slashdot discovered my post about the Elsevier boycott, and send 3468 readers my way. But a total 6499 people viewed that post, so a bunch must have come from other sources.
January 31st was also big: 3271 people came to read about The Faculty of 1000. 2140 of them were sent over by Hacker News.
If I were trying to make money from advertising on this blog, I’d be pushed toward more posts about hot topics. Forget the mind-bending articles on quantropy, packed with complicated equations!
But as it is, I’m trying to do some mixture of having fun, figuring out stuff, and getting people to save the planet. (Open access publishing fits into that mandate: it’s tragic how climate crackpots post on popular blogs while experts on climate change publish their papers in journals hidden from public view!) So, I don’t want to maximize readership: what matters more is getting people to do good stuff.
Do you have any suggestions on how I could do this better, while still being me? I’m not going to get a personality transplant, so there are limits on what I’ll do.
One good idea would be to make sure every post on a ‘hot topic’ offers readers something they can do now.
Hmm, readership is still spiking:
But enough of this navel-gazing! Here are some recent Azimuth articles about energy on Google+.
1) In his State of the Union speech, Obama talked a lot about energy:
We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.
He acknowledged that differences on Capitol Hill are “too deep right now” to pass a comprehensive climate bill, but he added that “there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean-energy standard that creates a market for innovation.”
However, lest anyone think he actually wants to stop global warming, he also pledged “to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.”
2) This paper claims a ‘phase change’ hit the oil markets around 2005:
• James Murray and David King, Climate policy: Oil’s tipping point has passed, Nature 481 (2011), 433–435.
In 2005, global production of regular crude oil reached about 72 million barrels per day. From then on, production capacity seems to have hit a ceiling at 75 million barrels per day. A plot of prices against production from 1998 to today shows this dramatic transition, from a time when supply could respond elastically to rising prices caused by increased demand, to when it could not (see ‘Phase shift’). As a result, prices swing wildly in response to small changes in demand. Other people have remarked on this step change in the economics of oil around the year 2005, but the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy-makers.
3) Help out the famous climate blogger Joe Romm! He asks: What will the U.S. energy mix look like in 2050 if we cut CO2 emissions 80%?
How much total energy is consumed in 2050… How much coal, oil, and natural gas is being consumed (with carbon capture and storage of some coal and gas if you want to consider that)? What’s the price of oil? How much of our power is provided by nuclear power? How much by solar PV and how much by concentrated solar thermal? How much from wind power? How much from biomass? How much from other forms of renewable energy? What is the vehicle fleet like? How much electric? How much next-generation biofuels?
As he notes, there are lots of studies on these issues. Point him to the best ones!
4) Due to plunging prices for components, solar power prices in Germany dropped by half in the last 5 years. Now solar generates electricity at levels only slightly above what consumers pay. The subsidies will disappear entirely within a few years, when solar will be as cheap as conventional fossil fuels. Germany has added 14,000 megawatts capacity in the last 2 years and now has 24,000 megawatts in total—enough green electricity to meet nearly 4% the country’s power demand. That is expected to rise to 10% by 2020. Germany now has almost 10 times more installed capacity than the United States.
That’s all great—but, umm, what about the other 90%? What’s their long-term plan? Will they keep using coal-fired power plants? Will they buy more nuclear power from France?
In May 2011, Britain claimed it would halve carbon emissions by 2025. Is Germany making equally bold claims or not? Of course what matters is deeds, not words, but I’m curious.
5) Stephen Lacey presents some interesting charts showing the progress and problems with sustainability in the US. For example, there’s been a striking drop in how much energy is being used per dollar of GNP:
Sorry for the archaic ‘British Thermal Units': we no longer have a king, but for some reason the U.S. failed to throw off the old British system of measurement. A BTU is a bit more than a kilojoule.
Despite these dramatic changes, Lacey says “we waste around 85% of the energy produced in the U.S.” But he doesn’t say how that number was arrived at. Does anyone know?
6) The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has a new report called The Long-Term Energy Efficiency Potential: What the Evidence Suggests. It describes some scenarios, including one where the US encourages a greater level of productive investments in energy efficiency so that by the year 2050, it reduces overall energy consumption by 40 to 60 percent. I’m very interested in how much efficiency can help. Some, but not all, of the improvements will be eaten up by the rebound effect.