Category Archives: Thinking

Liebig’s Red Line

I often see articles with inter-generational time spans and predictions that make no sense. The idea of nearly ten billion of us living on this little rock come 2050 is based on linear predictions of things that are already becoming non-linear. See Functional Triage for more thinking on this.

Our society has bumped into Liebig’s Law of the Minimum twice in the last two hundred years, as I first described in Dead Gods Of Atacama eight years ago. These two collisions in which we hit the upper limit of the least common basic plant nutrient, biologically available nitrogen, were resolved by first finding a fossil source, and then later by developing a process that trades fossil fuel for ammonia and follow on compounds.

Biological Liebig minimums put a cap on our population size. If we keep making biologically available nitrogen using fossil fuel, which currently contributes 1.5% of our total carbon dioxide, as well as a poorly characterized share of very potent nitrogen based greenhouse gases, we’ll find the limits are more to do with water and growing degree days. Corn wants moist soil and 86F days. Productivity declines when it’s hotter and all but ceases around 100F. This has grim implications for sub-Saharan Africa.


While originally developed in the context of biological systems, Liebig’s Law applies to technical systems as well. The same hopeful view on population also appears in connection with America’s automobile habit. “We’ll just be driving electrical cars.” This statement supports a future most Americans can visualize, but it’s not accurate. There simply isn’t enough lead, lithium, or other battery components to support a straight across switch, even if we could make the needed electricity.

This article on explains without descending into breathless warnings. There is a bound on our clean energy future thanks to the availability of key minerals. Even if we accept that we’re not all going to drive Tesla sedans, the constraints are tighter than that.

Research team warns of mineral supply constraints as demand increases for green technologies .

The same may be true for technology metals that could become essential in green technologies—like neodymium, terbium or iridium. These minerals are only needed in small quantities, but they are indispensable to making the technology work, meaning that while the scale seems small, the value is immense.

And that is the very soul of a Liebig Minimum in a single paragraph.

What happened in Somalia, what is happening in Syria, what NATO triggered in Libya, what has just begun in Yemen, these are the new normal. Overpopulated, arid places will be the first to fail. Egypt erupted in 2011, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are ticking bombs. When these oil producers are unable to escape what engulfed their smaller neighbors, we may finally turn to the renewable energy path we ought to have taken at a variety of inflection points over the last fifty years.


When we finally, inevitably do make that course correction, we’re going to discover that there isn’t enough to go around. Our population overshoot, rising from one billion circa 1800 when we began working the Atacama’s fossil nitrate deposits, to the seven billion today, rides on the back of our temporary conquest of this biological minimum, but there are technical minima required to turn Trinidad’s natural gas into American corn and wheat.  Peak oilers liked to talk about “getting back to our solar maximum”. What that solar maximum looks like is going to be heavily modulated by how much of the sun’s energy we capture and in what form.

A purely biological capture system looks like the world circa 1800, while a mindful use of mineral resources might leave us with a 20th century standard of living. Nobody has modeled this, really, because it’s too complex, and because those with the power to change course lack the political will to even make a clear eyed examination of our prospects.

There are a spectrum of potential outcomes for the Anthropocene, ranging from relatively cold, isolated, culturally homogenous Japan as the last bastion of our developed culture, to a genetic bottleneck for our species that finally pinches out on Wrangel Island or some other Arctic redoubt. Even the best outcome is a hard future to swallow from the perspective of someone born at America’s peak and inspired by the hopeful techno cornucopia  of Star Trek seen against the backdrop of our first shuttle flights.

Abandoned Buran Shuttle

Abandoned Buran Shuttle

Political Spearphishing

If you’ve ever visited my LinkedIn you know that I admit to working for a “nameless detective agency” in Los Angeles. I haven’t displayed any of the stuff I’ve been doing, but this week I got something where I can make my findings public, a broad political spearphishing campaign.


The origin of the emails were obfuscated, but all anchored at Using Maltego I found dozens of subdomains.

Many Mail Servers

Many Mail Servers

The Whois lookup for the domain was completely useless, a proxy registration intended to thwart diggers. Current Whois Current Whois

But this particular operator didn’t register clean at the start of this game. Hello, Mohammed Benyahia. by Mohammed Benyahia by Mohammed Benyahia

The other 21 domains associated with his name were available:

Mohammed Benyahia domains

Mohammed Benyahia domains

Domains are registered to, and a quick scan shows that and are quartered in the same place today. This gives me the sense I’ve got the right guy, it’s not like someone picked up the domain at random and put it to work using Benyahia’s business as a cover. & &

I visited’s site and they conveniently revealed the @tersea Twitter account. It only took moments to find @Salutismo, Benyahia’s personal account, and then from there the rest fell out quickly.

@tersea & @Salutismo Common Contacts

@tersea & @Salutismo Common Contacts

Some of those are big media accounts, stripping those, it appears we’ve found some possible associates:

Benyahia's Probable Associates

Benyahia’s Probable Associates

Among them, I most like Dany Tech aka Omar Salhane, since he’s locked down and that sounds like a Moroccan name, same as Benyahia. Small accounts like these, particularly long abandoned, are absolutely treasure, they’re a candid admission of how things were in the past, and only a really experienced player will know to clean up, or to salt their trail with fake stuff.

Omar Salhane's One Mention

Omar Salhane’s One Mention


So that’s some initial recon. We’re looking for someone who can pick out who is important in a specific left leaning political organization and go at them hard. A Moroccan living in Paris with rented servers in Ireland? That doesn’t add up, so at this point I guess this guy is a service provider to many activities, perhaps some shady, and I change direction a bit.


If found thirteen IPv4 and two IPv6 addresses active for the twenty one domains.

Active IPs

Active IPs & Friends & Friends

The domain is hosted within AS36884 Wana in Morocco. There are some other servers within AS8560 1 & 1 in France.

1 and 1 Servers

1 & 1 Servers

I thought it would be interesting to employ ThreatCrowd, a Maltego transform that queries Alien Vault’s Open Threat Exchange. Two of the fifteen IPs came back hot – involved in malware campaigns. Notice the number of German domains here? All of Benyahia’s contacts are French speakers, so this looks like a generalized place for bad actors.

ThreatCrowd Results

ThreatCrowd Results

And the main domain came back hot, too.

tersea ThreatCrowd Results

tersea ThreatCrowd Results


I think Benyahia is a fraudster, a spammer, but he doesn’t read like someone who goes hunting in the American political space. He probably sold some services to someone who did, and that’s a deeper level of digging required to expose the truth. I haven’t seen the details on the attempts so I can’t predict if I’ll be able to display them here, or if they’re specific enough to identify the target.

This sort of work is fun for me, like doing a puzzle where there’s a scavenger hunt for the pieces before I can even start.

Cascadia’s Inevitable Tsunami

The Cascadia subduction zone is the most dangerous fault on the west coast, running seven hundred miles from California’s Cape Mendocino to the middle of British Columbia. Unlike the noisy faults of California, this one saves its energy, unleashing individual, massive quakes every two hundred to nine hundred years. The most recent event was in 1700 and the average over the last 18,000 years has been a quake about every two hundred fifty years.

Projections show that another event like the historic full fault slips of the past will take out pretty much everything west of I-5 in Oregon and Washington.

Oregon Quake & Tsunami

Oregon Quake & Tsunami

I’ve been looking for something that would illustrate what will happen to major coastal cities. There are long, fairly boring simulations and plenty of videos with people yelling in Japanese, but nothing that quickly conveys what might happen here.

The San Juan de Fuca plate has been sliding beneath the North American plate at a rate of 4cm for 317 years. Oregon and Washington are going to lunge westward forty feet in a matter of four or five minutes, sinking three to six feet in the process. Predictions are all over the board as far as tsunami height but the 1700 wave in Japan reached fifteen feet.

I tend to focus on things that are global rather than local and incremental rather than situational, but I keep coming back to this. It’s enormous, it’s inevitable, but since we don’t get periodic education the way California does the area doesn’t even have appropriate building codes.

Mammoths & Mankind

Mammoth Distribution

Mammoth Distribution


Climatic suitability for the woolly mammoths in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene. Increasing intensities of red represent increasing suitability of the climate and increasing intensities of green represent decreasing suitability. Black points are the records of mammoth presence for each of the periods. Black lines represent the northern limit of modern humans and black dotted lines indicate uncertainty in the limit of modern humans


This was lifted from the Mammoth Steppe Wikipedia article. This is an example of a dramatic historical environmental change. What might happen in the future?

This is the world today, what I think the world might look like in 3000 AD when the Greenland ice sheet has almost entirely drained, and a population distribution map.

Earth Today

Earth Today

Earth With 7m Sea Rise

Earth With 7m Sea Rise

Earth Population Distribution

Earth Population Distribution

The pink areas have more than 500 people per square kilometer and purple spaces have between 100 and 500 people per square kilometer. More details can be found here.

That’s a bit hard to parse, but what will happen is the loss of Bangladesh (1100 people/sq km), the Mekong delta, the Indus delta, Shanghai, Singapore, everywhere that we live in large numbers. Americans might have an easier time with this map.

California 3000 AD

California 3000 AD


Yesterday in What HAVE We Done I speculated that we’ve caused a serious, unappreciated global geochemical change by mass production of synthetic ammonia. The sea level information I just presented isn’t an IF, it’s a HOW SOON. The mammoths lost their historic range over less than 40,000 years and they perished 4,000 years ago.

Things are going to change much more quickly for us. This planet has ‘breathed’ carbon dioxide between 180ppm and 280ppm in 100,000 year cycles for the entire Quarternary. We’ve moved the needle 100ppm in  just ten generations. This lunge outside the norms under which our species evolved will have dramatic consequences. A feature of the Anthropocene age will be dramatically fewer humans. Perhaps we’re going to end up like Homo Floresiensis, and I wonder who our successors will be, if hominids survive our namesake geological age at all.


What HAVE We Done?

Land Hemisphere

Land Hemisphere

Ocean Hemisphere

Ocean Hemisphere

The Earth can be divided into Land and Water Hemispheres.  Six times in the past the Earth has had episodes of glaciation. The Pongola, Huronian, Cryogenian, Andean-Saharan, Karoo and our current Quarternary ice age. An ice age – an era in which the poles have permanent ice caps – is not the same as a glaciation, in which ice caps spread into lower latitudes.



The Quarternary ice age began 2.58 million years ago and it can be argued that it triggered the rise of our species, starting with Homo Erectus about two million years ago. The three part Becoming Human series is an excellent exploration of that process.



But there is a deeper story here … and one which I fear we have entirely missed. Look back at the timeline. The Oxygen Crisis is mentioned, one of five historical great extinction events. One of the others involved the Cretaceous Chixulub impact and another the Siberian Traps. The most mysterious is the Late Devonian – no asteroid, no continental sized lava flows … things just changed. One of the theories is that ocean chemistry changed due to the spread of vascular plants, which were better able to access soil nutrients. Massive changes due to plants aren’t unprecedented – the Carboniferous period resulted in massive coal beds, sixty million years worth before bacteria evolved to attack lignin.

So what are humans doing to the Earth? We know thanks to Antarctic ice cores that during the Quarternary has been breathing carbon dioxide  in hundred thousand year cycles concurrent with the Earth’s orbital eccentricity. Our species evolved with 180ppm carbon dioxide minimums and 280 ppm maximums. Today we’re at 400ppm. We have no idea what is going to happen, but we’ve certainly interdicted the Quarternary ice age – continental glaciers will be gone in a century, Greenland is a millennia, and the Antarctic will inevitably follow.

The coasts where we all live will become uninhabitable. They’re going to drown. The tropics will be uninhabitable, they’re going to simply be too hot for our species. Our current bread baskets – U.S./Canadian, Russia, and Australian wheat country are already showing periodic failure. There are too many of us on this little rock and Mother Nature is going to take care of that problem directly.


The thing that we may have missed is something I brushed against in Dead Gods Of Atacama, now eight years in the past. Briefly, this world supports just a billion of us, unless we have access to fossil nitrogen, or we make nitrates from fossil fuels.

There has never been such as an efficient process for turning diatomic nitrogen into biologically available nitrogen as what we have done for the last century.

We make about 140 million tons of ammonia a year, the vast majority of which goes into fertilizer. The other sources of nitrogen fixation are lightning, which leads to five to twenty pounds per acre being deposited on Midwest farmlands, and nitrogen fixing bacteria that form relationships with some species of plants.  Dividing 140 million tons by 20 pounds per acre means we’re producing the equivalent of what would accumulate on 14 billion acres, or 21.9 million square miles. Earth’s total land area is 57.5 million square miles.

Those numbers are only enough to provide the sense that there is likely a problem. This biologically available nitrate addiction is something we can step back from a bit – by becoming much more vegetarian as a species – but production will remain at a similar scope to what we are doing now as long as there isn’t a major population correction.


We already screwed up in terms of carbon dioxide and we’re running another massive experiment with nitrogen fixing that I’ve never seen discussed anywhere. Modern humans went through a genetic bottleneck due to the Toba eruption. So did Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo Floresiensis. Maybe in a thousand years the only humans left will be Denisovan influenced Tibetans living in a high, dry Himalayan plateau. Or maybe we’ll find our equivalent of what Wrangel island was to the mammoths, a redoubt somewhere in the Arctic circle where we make our final stand.




Some times things change in a deep, fundamental fashion. Someone sent me the link to HyperNormalisation, a 2016 documentary by Adam Curtis. I finally set my laptop down last weekend and dedicated two and a half hours to watching this.


A cursory examination of this video free of any context might lead to the conclusion that Curtis’s thinking is conspiratorial. I see several externalities that point to this being an incorrect view.

  • This is Curtis’s 29th documentary; he’s had a long career with BBC.
  • His first Deep State focused work was The Cost of Treachery in 1989.
  • He has won BAFTA‘s Best Factual Series award three times.

Having watched it I find that Curtis successfully notes global forces and actual conspiracies, without resorting to the conspiracy theorist’s cognitive faults. The ones I expect to find in samizdat conspiracizing would include:

  • Persecution & Victimization Complex – “the man” thwarting publishing the “truth”.
  • No Accidents – attempting to explain every happening as both connected & directed.
  • Self-sealing – evidence against conclusions would be treated as a newly discovered facet of the conspiracy.

The immediate sense I had after viewing HyperNormalisation was similar to that evoked by A Scanner Darkly, a marvelous slice of dystopia based on a novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick. The method behind Dick’s storytelling is chilling; it’s a dramatization of his own substance abuse and erratic behavior that preceded a suicide attempt and a trip through a Canadian drug rehab facility.

The question this leaves me pondering, as best I can render it in a single sentence is:

How much of the confusion and uncertainty I feel is mine as opposed to zeitgeist?

Normally when presented with something new that leaves others uncertain, I immediately take some action and while not perfect, it’s often a plausible first step. The first two months of 2017 have left me largely paralyzed. While there are many things happening, none of them are things I originated, nor am I participating in a key role. And that’s a curious place to be after how the last decade of my life has been.

So … what’ next? That’s not rhetorical, I’m taking suggestions here.

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces Of Anonymous

Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy

Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces Of Anonymous


I just completed a final dash through Gabriella Coleman’s marvelous book on Anonymous during the raucous years, roughly from Operation Payback in support of Wikileaks in 2010, through the downfall of LulzSec and related events in 2012.

Chaper 7, Revenge of the Lulz, covers the HBGary intrusion, the episode with which I am most familiar. I downloaded the torrent, like every other spectator, but then wrote a white paper that was circulated on Capitol Hill, leading to eighteen House offices calling for hearings.

Part of what stirred me was this bit of good news – Barrett Brown will be released in about ninety days. I tolerated a couple of years of snitch jacketing, primarily from white trashionalist Robert Stacy McCain. I get the feeling that a bunch of outstanding business is going to get resolved in the first few months after the election.