Orka og auðlindir

Þegar efnahagshrunið reið yfir heiminn haustið 2008 fékk ég stóraukinn áhuga á hagfræði, pólitík og efnahagsmálum. Ég sökkti mér á kaf í allskyns efni um þessi mál til að reyna að skilja betur það sem var að gerast. Allmargar bloggfærslur urðu til sem hliðarafurðir af því grúski mínu, þar á meðal ein mest lesna færslan sem ég hef skrifað: “Tími stórra breytinga“. Hún stendur enn býsna vel fyrir sínu og ég fullyrði að því breytingaskeiði sem þar var lýst sé engan veginn lokið.

Þetta grúsk hefur leitt mig áfram og undanfarið hefur áhuginn beinst meira og meira að orku- og auðlindamálum. Ég ætla reyndar að ganga svo langt að fullyrða að skilningur á þeim málum sé grundvallaratriði í að skilja efnahag, alþjóðapólitík og mannkynssöguna. Líka þá sem framundan er, því það eru margvísleg tímamót framundan í þessum málum. Ég lít engan veginn á mig sem sérfræðing í þessum efnum, en til að skerpa þessar pælingar mínar ætla ég að skrifa nokkrar bloggfærslur – eins konar glósur úr mínu grúski – sem ég vona um að koma af stað áhugaverðum umræðum um þessi mál og hjálpi mér að skilja frekar.

Akkúrat núna sé ég fyrir mér að þetta sé efniviður í 4 nokkuð ítarlegar bloggfærslur:

  • Orkumál
  • Málmar og önnur jarðefni
  • Matur og vatn
  • Ísland og auðlindirnar

Ég lofa engu um það hversu hratt ég mun koma þessu frá mér, en stefnan er a.m.k. sett á að gera þessum málum skil á næstunni, eins og annir við annað leyfa.

Fyrsta færslan er alla vegana komin í loftið. Svo sjáum við til.

What does a random place look like?

What does a random place on Earth look like?

Is it pristine and beautiful like this one?
I've reached the end of the world

…or polluted and gloomy like this one?
Floating rag picker

Let’s find out. Let’s find photos of 5 random places around the world.

But how?

Random places

The first challenge is to select 5 random places. This is not as straightforward as one might think. Selecting random latitude and longitude points would disproportionally select places in the polar regions and under represent areas around the equator in very much the same way as the common Mercator projection does.

For a proper mathematical explanation and several different methods to randomly selecting points on a sphere (mathematically the Earth is almost a sphere) see this article. Fortunately I did not have to write the code to actually do this as the good people at Geomidpoint had already done so. I decided to use their tool to select my five points. Here we go:

Latitude Longitude
Point 1: -11.57648598 -147.10410403
Point 2: 36.39272192 15.24576048
Point 3: -15.79660947 -15.32783472
Point 4: -7.39762107 130.9382905
Point 5: 21.31180918 142.2912205

So far so good. But how will we know what these places look like?

Photos of random places

One way to do this would be to use geotagged images on sites such as Flickr, using their map interface to navigate to the randomly selected points and pick the nearest photo. The downside to this is that this would not be truly random. Most images are taken in or near people’s homes, typically in urban areas, or in places that are in some way of special interest like a lakeshore, a mountaintop or other noticeable geographical feature. This would not give me the result I was looking for.

In the early days of the internet, I learned about the Degree Confluence Project. This is a site with a simple concept: Participants from all over the world gather descriptions and images of every confluence point on the world’s lat-long grid.

As the reference points and grid size of the lat-long grid are assigned somewhat arbitrarily to begin with, these points should not be biased towards any attractions, as the photos on a photo site would be. As the sample we’re aiming for is not big, using the confluence point nearest to each of my randomly selected places will do fine. So, here’s my list, snapped to the nearest confluence points:

Latitude Longitude
Point #1: -12 -147
Point #2: 36 15
Point #3: -16 -15
Point #4: -7 131
Point #5: 21 142

Let’s go…!

70% ocean

Here’s a map on Geomidpoint, showing these 5 points:

…and the information about these from the Confluence project web site:

Latitude Longitude
Point #1: -12 -147 279 km from land
Point #2: 36 15 42 km from land
Point #3: -16 -15 889 km from land
Point #4: -7 131 43 km from land
Point #5: 21 142 382 km from land

All 5 points are in the ocean. Actually that’s bad luck, but it does hammer in the fact that of the surface area of planet Earth, most of it is ocean. In fact, only 29.2% of the planet’s surface is land, so I should have expected only 1 or 2 of my 5 points to be on land. Point #2 came close, but it managed to hit the Mediterranean, just outside of Malta.

So, point taken. A random place on Earth is at sea. But that’s not what I was going for. Let’s try this until we have 5 points that are on land. I selected another 20 points at random and snapped them to the nearest confluence point. Here we go:

Latitude Longitude
Point #6: 47 1
Point #7: -20 168
Point #8: 20 113
Point #9: 56 160
Point #10: 20 15
Point #11: 1 -175
Point #12: -32 162
Point #13: -56 -123
Point #14: 46 -95
Point #15: -57 -120
Point #16: 68 -132
Point #17: -16 62
Point #18: -54 -41
Point #19: 33 -108
Point #20: 6 94
Point #21: -11 129
Point #22: 14 154
Point #23: 28 62
Point #24: 0 -45
Point #25: 1 -52

Point #6:

We’ve already struck gold! This point is in a field in France, not far from the small town of Saint-Flovier:

Point #9:

Points #7 and #8 are also in the ocean, but at #9 we strike again. This one is in a remote forest in the Kamchatka peninsula, Russia:

Point #10:

Point #10 is also on land, but now we hit another problem. This confluence point has never been visited by any of the Confluence project-nerds. A satellite image explains why. It is in the middle of the Sahara, belonging to Niger, not far from the border with Libya:

Point #14:

The next place on land is #14. This turns out to be some guy’s shed in rural Minnesota:

Point #16:

#15 is at sea, but #16 is another confluence point on land that has not been visited. This time in a lake area far up in Canada’s Northwest Territories:

Lucky 5

So, 16 random places got us to 5 ones on land. But even with 5 randomly picked places ON land, two of them are so remote that not a single nerd participating in the Confluence project has visited them. Let’s keep going until we have images of 5 random places…

Point #19:

The next point on land is #19. It’s a a patch of ponderosa pine and juniper in a rocky ranch-land in the mountains of New Mexico:

Point #23:
Yet another unvisited confluence point. This one is in the SE part of Iran, not far from the border with Pakistan:

Point #25:
Once again, an unvisited confluence point. This one is in Brazil, in the Amazon, a few hundred kilometers from the mouth of the Amazon river itself:

One to go…

Ok, of 25 randomly chosen places on Earth, we’ve still only found 4 that are on land and urban enough to have been visited by the good people of the Confluence project! Let’s keep going until we find the fifth one:

Point #26:
Lat: -83; Lon -5.

No luck here! This one is in Antarctica, not visited by a Confluence visitor. In fact it is so remote that Google doesn’t even have a satellite image of this place:

Point #27:
Lat: -20; Lon: -138. Ocean.

Point #28:
Lat: -1; Lon: 134.

Got it! The fifth and final place that meets the (evolving) criteria is in a forest in New Guinea and you can’t really get there without a machete! The confluence visitors settled for this mud road about 80 meters from the point:

It took 28 randomly selected places to find images of 5 random places. Another 5 places were on land, but in remote areas that are not frequently visited – at least not by people that are likely to participate in things like the Confluence project.


This is by no means a scientific experiment, but it shows us that a random place on planet Earth is … most likely in the ocean. 😉

This exercise reminds us that Earth is after all a fairly big place. When flying across continents in a jet or communicating with people on the other side of the world, we may feel that it’s small, but on the ground level it is as big as ever. Enormous in fact.

A random place is neither of stunning beauty nor suffering badly from the doings of mankind. It is most likely to be remote, wild, and relatively green, often with little signs of human activities.

So, I present to you:

Five random places on Earth

Iceland & Energy – presentation w. John Perkins

Just finished my previously mentioned presentation on Icelandic energy data. Some 250-300 people showed up – mostly to listen to John Perkins obviously.

Interesting audience to say the least, but a lot of fun!

My DataMarket piece went well – and putting it together at least helped me put some things in perspective. The slides are included below. As before, full screen viewing is recommended. Enjoy:

Iceland & Energy: Upcoming presentation

I have been invited – on behalf of DataMarket – to give a presentation at the University of Iceland on April 6th.

The occasion is a small conference due to the visit of “Economic Hit ManJohn Perkins to Iceland. Perkins is here to attend the premiere of “Dreamland“, a documentary on the effects that large-scale energy projects – especially for aluminum smelting – have had on the Icelandic economy and society in general.

My role will be to present data on the Icelandic energy sector and try to visualize some of the developments that can be seen in this data. I’ll try to cover some of the developments the film talks about, but also the obvious benefits that an abundance of renewable energy brings. I’ve already seen several data sets that give us laymen an interesting perspective on these things.

As a teaser I include below a few slides on the history of electricity generation in Iceland associated with key milestones in the building of our power plants. Be there on April 6th for more 🙂

(Full screen viewing recommended)

Icesave and Icelandic deposits

As DataMarket‘s Money:Tech gig (see previous entry) approaches, we’re starting to see all sorts of interesting data coming together to form our “DataMarket on the Icelandic Economy”.

Some graphs just speak for themselves. Here’s one that caught my eye today:


The numbers are millions ISK.

Note that these are only deposits in Icelandic banks and their immediate branch offices, not the subsidiaries of Icelandic banks registered elsewhere. It therefore only includes Icesave (UK and Netherlands) and a minority of Kaupthing Edge’s operations (Finland, Norway, Germany and Austria). See here.

We’ve marked the month Icesave is opened (UK branch). Another interesting breaking point in the graph is in early 2008. Guess what? Icesave Netherlands was started in May 2008. So, just before the crash – foreign depositors held more than half of “Icelandic” deposits (1,710 billion ISK out of a total of 3,123 billion)!

In our upcoming tool, users will be able to view and correlate a wealth of Icelandic economy time series and mark them with events and news headlines interactively. It will be a pretty powerful tool!

DataMarket at Money:Tech 2009


My company – DataMarket – will be doing a presentation at O’Reilly’s Money:Tech conference in New York in February.

I attended the first Money:Tech conference earlier this year, and I must say it’s one of my favorite conferences ever, so I’m greatly honored to be speaking there.

The topic of my presentation is “What an Economic Collapse Looks Like: The Icelandic Economy Visualized“.

As you’ve probably heard, Iceland suffered a near-total collapse of the banking system in October. Such a collapse would have been bad enough under normal circumstances, but with banks whose assets are 10x the GDP and directly account for almost a quarter of a country’s economy, the consequences are rather dramatic.

At DataMarket, we’ve been up to our necks gathering and visualizing Icelandic statistics and economical indicators, so I think we can tell a pretty interesting story. I really look forward to showing the elite of money-techies our work!

Hans Rosling strikes again

Hans RoslingI’m a big fan of Hans Rosling. He’s really the guy that opened up the eyes of the world to the importance of availability of and open access to data.

His latest presentation, from Google’s Zeitgeist08 conference, is now available on YouTube. It is not as stunning as his original TED eye-opener, but still among the best material you’ll find online, and has surprisingly not made its rounds on the web for real yet. In this new video, he brings good news about AIDS, unveils the realities of oil production in US and Russia, discusses CO2 emissions and how the economic power is shifting from the west to the east. Oh, and there is stuff about money and sex also 🙂

The video can be seen here: 10 years in, 10 years out – Hans Rosling

See my previous blog entries about Hans Rosling here:

P.S. Also speaking at Zeitgeist08 was Paul Hawken. Hawken is giving a speech on sustainability here in Reykjavik on Saturday (Icelandic). From the little stuff I’ve seen he seems a little too evangelistic for my taste, but I’ll check it out anyway – ready to be converted 🙂

DataMarket launched

I’m pleased to announce the launch of DataMarket’s new website.

As the name implies, DataMarket is about creating a marketplace for data – structured data to be more specific. This means all sorts of statistics and tabular data, including but not limited to: market research, exchange rates, various financial information, economic indicators, weather data, sports results, EPG data and the average weight of a male wallaby.

Structured data plays a big role in company operations, government and in fact many aspects of life. It therefore continues to amaze me how hard it is to find data and retrieve it in the appropriate format, let alone merging data from different data sources or creating visualizations.

DataMarket is founded to tackle these issues.

In this first phase, we open as “DataMarket – the service company”. As such we offer companies and individuals data aggregation services and custom data related projects, such as programming of interactive data applications and visualizations.

This is just the first step towards our vision of an active marketplace for structured data. Today’s launch is a way for us to get feedback and take on real-world projects as we build towards our final product – a global marketplace that brings together data providers and data seekers in a single easy-to-use, self-service market.

There are many small steps to be taken on the way to this vision. The next phase will be launched early next year when we open a relatively simple little marketplace, focused on a narrow subject – again giving us further feedback and guidance on our way towards the long-term goal.

Any ideas, feedback and help is welcomed, either in comments below or via email.

Presentation on Innovation (IceWeb 2008)

skjaldarmerki-2Ever since the banking crisis struck Iceland a few weeks ago, I’ve been running out and about to advocate for innovation as the way to rebuild the economy.

Yesterday, I was privileged to give a presentation on the topic at the IceWeb conference. The title of my talk was “The Innovation Renaissance” and the slides can be found below:

Með því að opna kynninguna á SlideShare er hægt að skoða hana “full screen”.

– – –

P.S. There are a few quirks in the layout as I create my presentations in Keynote, SlideShare only accepts PowerPoint files, and the conversion is not perfect. But they weren’t that pretty anyway 🙂

P.P.S. Egill Harðar “two-dot-o-ified” the Icelandic crest for my presentation – thanks!