Garbage Collection – Nuclear Energy And Tons of Other Junk

Sounding smart takes too much time and energy. Garbage collection is a way of clearing the air. It’s what machines do to reclaim bits of temporary space. We all need to do this to our minds once in a while. My own mental garbage collection starts … now!

It’s unfortunate that so many people hate on nuclear. We screwed it up a few times. We have reactors that were designed to swim in the ocean, where there’s unlimited water. Some awesome American gents at Oak Ridge National Lab designed a reactor meant for aircraft. This is insane: a reactor light enough and safe enough to swim in air instead of water. Despite success, their project was politically shut down. Now, India and China are carrying the concept forward. To learn more, look up LFTR.

Solar doesn’t solve all of our problems. Deep space exploration is tricky when you fly into the shade. And there’s also this wrinkle about getting far away from stars. There is a lot of blank space in between them. A reactor makes the plot of The Martian work. Without it, the story’s credibility deteriorates.

The space elevator concept has a number of problems. One of them is energy transmission.  You have this thing climbing up a super long tether. It needs energy to climb. We currently use lasers to shoot energy at it. This is kind of inefficient. What if the elevator had an onboard reactor?

What if we designed reactors safe enough and small enough to power a car? Would we finally get the flying cars we’ve been waiting for?

If we found a way to take reactors digital, we might all end up pocketing atomic iPods. Image phones that (almost) never need charging. More energy than we could use in a few lifetimes. At least until we find new uses for it. I know, I know, it sounds like science fiction.

{People at the top have a lot to lose}

Someone out there is selling uranium fuel. They probably don’t want the party to end. Unlimited, cheap energy sounds awesome to me. But not everyone. Not the people who have something to lose.

Someone out there is selling chemotherapy drugs. What happens when cancer is finally cured? Who wins and who loses? For some jobs, the public sector performs better than private sector. In 1969 America declared victory in Kennedy’s war on space. Since 1971, Nixon’s war on cancer rages on.

Almost no one studies natural remedies. You can’t patent a mushroom. If you can’t patent it you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, there’s no market advantage. If you can produce and sell it, your competitor can too. So they don’t. Average Joe loses. If the story were different he might have a natural, side-effect free cure.

There’s not much glory in simple solutions. Experts like the complicated stuff because it sounds better in published papers. Someone’s gotta do the simple stuff. Complicated stuff has more problems. Every problem is an opportunity for partnerships and deals. Drug side-effects are treated with more drugs. Do you have restless leg syndrome?

Almost all countries have banned prescription drug advertisements from TV broadcasting. The exceptions are the United States and New Zealand. The rest of the world figured out it’s best patients and doctors discuss medicines.

{planned obsolescence}

It’s wasteful to engineer short product lifetimes. This is what happens. So we buy more stuff when it breaks. Often it’s more convenient to buy new than fix the old. So we fill up landfills. What kind of incentives and disincentives would fix that problem? I don’t know.

If our world wasn’t hooked on selling, we’d (almost) never have to change lightbulbs. We could move on to solving bigger problems. Isn’t it funny that we will probably build robots to change our lightbulbs before we build lightbulbs that don’t need changing? Be reassured that we’ll need robots to take care of the other robots.

I heard this joke somewhere. NASA spends millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to build an ink-pen that works in space. Russian Cosmonauts just use a pencil.

{TV and media and shopping}

Media providers want to get your attention. Websites want you to click on a link and land on their page. Brick-and-mortar stores want to get you in the door. They play all kinds of tricks to influence your behavior and get you there. We have a world filled with BOGO’s and fluffy clickbait headlines.

Websites and TV channels want you to stay as long as possible. Big box stores want the same. You stay longer when entertained. Most everything on TV is engineered sticky content. This includes news and politics. Presidential debates are stickier than sticky. You get millions to sit at attention for a few hours. Stuck!

The longer you stay, the more stuff you buy. The more ads you watch, convincing you to buy stuff later. The more scared you are, the less you think. Why think? Your role is consumer. Buy more stuff! Be entertained!


Addiction is a growing problem. It’s right in front of us. Smartphones are addicting. Caffeine is addicting. Nail biting is addicting. No one questions what can go wrong when everyone is making daily coffee runs and checking app notifications every 5 minutes.

Addiction works against self-esteem. This is a serious problem since we now see 30-year high suicide rates. There is some emotion we don’t want to face. To build self-esteem we have to face it. Accept it. Repressing the emotion pushes us from our highest self. Addiction is a security blanket for our ego. We carry the disgusting thing around like Linus from Peanuts.


{mental masturbation}

Reading lots of books makes you really good at reading. Your real goal is to master some other skill. You actually have to practice. Take writing for example. You can’t just theorize about writing and read books about writing. You have to write. A lot. 20,000 hours of writing. Reading those books and watching those videos makes you feel good, but it’s not the real work. It’s mental masturbation. Let’s get that straight.

The best way to learn is by doing. On the job training. The science shows we learn the fastest this way. The second best is by simulation. Reading is somewhere further down the list. I’m so glad we figured out how to train pilots in simulators.

The best way to succeed in business is to be in business. The best way to succeed in writing is to write. It’s a never-ending experiment. A learning process. Most businesses morph as they go, as they learn. They discover what works and change their course.

{the world we live in}

Most of this post is depressing, so I’ll leave you on a high note. Californians (me included) live in the richest state in the richest nation in the world. This is seldom discussed. The world improves every day. Everyone focuses on the broken state of affairs. Our outgoing president leaves with a very positive outlook.

Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive

By President Obama

We are far better equipped to take on the challenges we face than ever before. I know that might sound at odds with what we see and hear these days in the cacophony of cable news and social media. But the next time you’re bombarded with over-the-top claims about how our country is doomed or the world is coming apart at the seams, brush off the cynics and fear mongers.

Because the truth is, if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now.

Let’s start with the big picture. By almost every measure, this country is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, 30 years ago, or even eight years ago. Leave aside the sepia tones of the 1950s, a time when women, minorities, and people with disabilities were shut out of huge parts of American life. Just since 1983, when I finished college, things like crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, and poverty rates are all down.

Life expectancy is up. The share of Americans with a college education is up too. Tens of millions of Americans recently gained the security of health insurance. Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks to lead our businesses and communities. Women are a larger part of our workforce and are earning more money. Once-quiet factories are alive again, with assembly lines churning out the components of a clean-energy age.

And just as America has gotten better, so has the world. More countries know democracy. More kids are going to school. A smaller share of humans know chronic hunger or live in extreme poverty. In nearly two-dozen countries—including our own—people now have the freedom to marry whomever they love. And last year the nations of the world joined together to forge the most comprehensive agreement to battle climate change in human history.”

This kind of progress hasn’t happened on its own. It happened because people organized and voted for better prospects; because leaders enacted smart, forward-looking policies; because people’s perspectives opened up, and with them, societies did too.

But this progress also happened because we scienced the heck out of our challenges. Science is how we were able to combat acid rain and the AIDS epidemic. Technology is what allowed us to communicate across oceans and empathize with one another when a wall came down in Berlin or a TV personality came out. Without Norman Borlaug’s wheat, we could not feed the world’s hungry. Without Grace Hopper’s code, we might still be analyzing data with pencil and paper.

That’s one reason why I’m so optimistic about the future: the constant churn of scientific progress. Think about the changes we’ve seen just during my presidency. When I came into office, I broke new ground by pecking away at a BlackBerry. Today I read my briefings on an iPad and explore national parks through a virtual-reality headset. Who knows what kind of changes are in store for our next president and the ones who follow?

Because the truth is, while we’ve made great progress, there’s no shortage of challenges ahead: Climate change. Economic inequality. Cybersecurity. Terrorism and gun violence. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Just as in the past, to clear these hurdles we’re going to need everyone—policy makers and community leaders, teachers and workers and grassroots activists, presidents and soon-to-be-former presidents.

And to accelerate that change, we need science. We need researchers and academics and engineers; programmers, surgeons, and botanists. And most important, we need not only the folks at MIT or Stanford or the NIH but also the mom in West Virginia tinkering with a 3-D printer, the girl on the South Side of Chicago learning to code, the dreamer in San Antonio seeking investors for his new app, the dad in North Dakota learning new skills so he can help lead the green revolution.

That’s how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of us. Not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody. That means creating not just a quicker way to deliver takeout downtown but also a system that distributes excess produce to communities where too many kids go to bed hungry. Not just inventing a service that fills your car with gas but also creating cars that don’t need fossil fuels at all. Not just making our social networks more fun for sharing memes but also harnessing their power to counter terrorist ideologies and online hate speech.

The point is: we need today’s big thinkers thinking big. Think like you did when you were watching Star Trek or Star Wars or Inspector Gadget. Think like the kids I meet every year at the White House Science Fair. We started this event in 2010 with a simple premise: We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated but the winner of the science fair.

We must continue to nurture our children’s curiosity. We must keep funding scientific, technological, and medical research. And above all, we must embrace that quintessentially American compulsion to race for new frontiers and push the boundaries of what’s possible. If we do, I’m hopeful that tomorrow’s Americans will be able to look back at what we did—the diseases we conquered, the social problems we solved, the planet we protected for them—and when they see all that, they’ll plainly see that theirs is the best time to be alive. And then they’ll take a page from our book and write the next great chapter in our American story, emboldened to keep going where no one has gone before.

Whew! That felt good…











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