4-12-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Please Don't Take This Offer

The above is the title of an email Amazon sends to each of its employees once a year:

... "The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want," [CEO Jeff] Bezos explains. "In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don't want to be isn't healthy for the employee or the company."
Bezos adopted the practice from a company Amazon took over. That company had figured out that the "quit money" was less expensive than being dragged down by an unmotivated employee.

Weekend Reading

"Sounds like a paradox, but it's true: In order to find the love you want, you have to be content with being on your own." -- Michael Hurd, in "Attracting a Healthy Romantic Partner" at The Delaware Wave

"Biological determinism is the false belief advanced by scientists and even some mental health professionals that we are all hardware and no software." -- Michael Hurd, in "Human Hardware and Software: Do We Have Both?" at The Delaware Coast Press

My Two Cents

Writing against biological determinism, Michael Hurd takes a brain imaging study as his point of departure. It has become something of a cliche for the press to take whatever grossly simplified explanation comes with such a study and run with it, often adding misinterpretations and plain old error to the mix. But Hurd is right to focus on the the fundamental error driving the sensationalism. There are many parties, from people looking for convenient excuses to paternalistic politicians, who want this view of human nature to enjoy undeserved scientific credibility.

Thorium Time?

The Economist has run an interesting article about research in China and India aimed at using thorium reactors to meet significant portions of the energy demands of the respective countries.
One of the cleverest things about LFTRs [liquid-fluoride thorium reactors] is that they work at atmospheric pressure. This changes the economics of nuclear power. In a light-water reactor, the type most commonly deployed at the moment, the cooling water is under extremely high pressure. As a consequence, light-water reactors need to be sheathed in steel pressure vessels and housed in fortress-like containment buildings in case their cooling systems fail and radioactive steam is released. An LFTR needs none of these.
The article also explains why thorium is basically useless for building nuclear weapons.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

Coincidentally, I recently had a text conversation with an acquaintance about 4th generation nuclear reactors. Small and producing no fuel, they will (hopefully) come online starting around 2030 and should in theory provide enough energy to fuel the entire world.

Thorium may save the human race from a dismal future since baring a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research it is the one and only known fuel which can provide enough concentrated energy far into the future. It is estimated that we have about 75-300 years of minable uranium reserves. Thorium on the other hand is about 600 times as abundant as uranium which means it could last for tens of thousands of years. In addition, small engines could be powered by thorium which is difficult to envision with plutonium or uranium. Engineers are already working on thorium powered cars.

But this future depends on two things, attitudes and getting rid of government regulation which along with high insurance costs (due to attitudes not science) have pretty nearly wiped out the nuclear industry in North America. The scientific issues were solved in the sixties; what remains is a political problem. Most people don’t realize this but nuclear power was the environmentalist’s first target BECAUSE it is safe, efficient and cost effective. Now they’re tackling the next best source of power; fossil fuels. Anything that works will be their target; because it works.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the interesting follow-up, as well as for noting the real obstacle to the more widespread use of thorium.