Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

micronuke vs solar: some quick math

Hyperion Power Generation has been making some waves recently. They, like Toshiba, have designed a micro-nuclear plant. When I say 'micro' think "powers a small town", not "fits in your back yard.

I first heard about Hyperions device on SGU, where one of the group said something like: "well if it can power a town for 7 years, then it can power my bunker for 100 years!".

Sorry, it doesnt work like that. The reaction takes place whether you use the power or not. The fuel is hot, and as it gets expended, it cools, which is why the life time is limited.

Edit: Rod Adams corrected my original contention that this was not how these reactors worked. They in fact should last longer if they are used less. This is not due to a control mechanism within the nuclear reactor. The fuel itself is designed such that if the temperature starts getting too hot, then the reaction dies down. It self regulates. It is the act of extracting heat (either by diverting it and using it, or by boiling water into steam for a turbine) that controls the reaction. Its a very safe way of doing the reaction, and further the fuel should last longer with less use. However, I'll note that Hyperion still has not claimed any life longer than 10 years, I'm not sure if this is due to the expectation that the load will always be there, or if there is another decay mechanism, related or unrelated to the actual nuclear reaction. More info and thoughts here.

No where do they say exactly what the fuel is, but I wonder if they are not taking waste from a normal nuclear plant and instead of planting it in a cooling pool, they are simply encasing it in concrete and providing a path for heat to get out.

Edit: In fact they do say what the fuel is. Its uranium hydride.

Anyway, this comment and the one on their website got me thinking. Here is their claim:

"Hyperion’s innovative energy technology is even more affordable than many developing “alternative” energy technologies."
Well on a $/watt basis this is 100% true. Checking current solar module prices, we have 3-4 dollars per watt. Non-utility installation will double this price (these prices are the #1 reason why solar is not more ubiquitous). If you convert the heat to power you get about 25 megawatts, they claim. So we are really talking about 1 dollar per watt. This is supposed to include security, installation and so forth. I dont know if it includes the turbine and water system required to get the power, but lets assume not.

But what about the energy capable of being created over the life of the product?

Well the lifespan of the hyperion device is about 5 to 7 years (lets give it the upper end). 25mW*7 years*365 days/year*24hours/day
*.001 kW/W = 1.5x10e9 kWh= $0.016/kWh.

Wow, that is pretty good. Industrial electricity costs about 5 cents/kWh, and residential can be 2x to 3x higher than that!

What about solar? For 25 million dollars at 4$/W, you can get about 6.25 MW. But the life of a solar panel is very very long. The general thining is that solar panels last 20-25 years. Some companies are claiming 35 years. For for our 25 million dollar investment, we get:

6.25 MWe *25 years*365 days/year*24 hours/day*.001 kW/W = 1.37x10e9KWh= $0.018/kWh

Yeah that is a bit more expensive, but that looks like a wash to me, because we have not gone over the fine details of each of these, mostly because this data is not available from Hyperion. these details include:

  • Installation: Does the price tag include the turbine and new water system? Does it include the water routing? Does include the tie in to the grid?
  • Maintenance: Does this price include the security guard? The upkeep of the turbine? The upkeep of the power switching and load ballancing hardware (less lectricity is used at night).
  • End of Life: Does it include waste disposal? Digging the unit back up?
Solar has similar questions associated with it. So once again, the Hyperion system is not a clear winner and to claim that it is less expensive than "alternative" energy solutions is really pushing it. Further, photovoltaic solar panels may not be the best comparison to make.

Solar thermal, which provides energy storage, and therefore does not suffer from the cyclic power generation of photovoltaic solar systems, is a far more likely substitute. Costs for a ST system show that a kWh can be had for as litle as $0.10, in a single year, not as analyzed above over the life of the plant! Geothermal is another system that may be more applicable for comparison.

All that being said, Im am totally for the deployment of the Hyperion systems for the following reasons:
  • They do not emit greenhouse gasses
  • They are inherently safe and can not melt dowm
  • They are a simple device with few mechanics involved for its operation (besides the turbine)
  • They are clearly cost effective
  • They provide a decentralized power system. this is beneficial with regard to loading on the power grid, i.e. a blackout need not effect large areas. But also they make terrible targets for enemies as damage from an attack would be very minimal.
  • They are economically feasable now, they do not need government sponsorship (something the republicans call socialism) to make them financially effective. Solar, wind, geothermal, biodiesel and other forms of alternaive energy do not share this feature right now.
Nuclear fuel is cheap and most of it comes from people who are friendly with us (Canada and Australia). At least they are friendly now.

So I say, if your community wants to invest in this system, Go For it! You could provide cheap power to your residents which may in turn boost your local economy.

But as a national plan, we need to get to the far harder to do "alternatives". We need to get a carbon capturing system in place. Algae to oil methods are the only viable method, but we are suffering from the current inability to convert the algae into oil in a financially viable (read: energy positive) way. We know how to grow it and what species to grow, we know what methods work to convert the oil to fuel. But we are stuck and the actual oil extraction part.

Similar problems abound with solar, right now the energy it takes to make a panel is only 1/7th of the energy is produces over its lifetime. This is a crappy ratio and is one of the things that leads to the high cost of the PV modules.

My moral of the story is here, endorse the local installation of decentralized, passive nuclear power, but ask your politicians to fund the alternatives, nuclear is not a long term solution. Oil and natural gas are not a long term solutions. Solar (including solar thermal and wind), geothermal, and algae are the long term solutions we need to figure out how to make financially competitive to excel forward.

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Agree with an opinion on Fox news

Note: This post is not part of the Finding Common ground Series

I use that google news gadget that inseminates my brain with news odds and ends all day. I'm not sure how it chooses what to show me, I mean I've told it 100 times to not "show me items like this" whenever some sports thing comes up. I also do that for that TMZ papparazzi crap. But again and again, it seems to think I need to be fed the latest sports and Brittney 'news'.

Anyway, somehow FoxNews has made it into Google's newsfeeder and it feeds me spoonful after spoonful of everlasting crap every day for the last few days. However today I got something I agree with.

Everyone wrote an open letter to Obama (except me, but I was tempted). I'm not sure what people are expecting there. Do you think Obama suffers from SIWOTI syndrome? Do you think that Rahm Emmanuel is going to say to Obama, "Hey, there's this obscure blog with 100 readers, you should read this!".

Anyway, it was an opinion piece, another Open Letter to Obama. I'm really doubting that Obama is taking much that Fox has to say to heart, but I gotta say, I think this guy has a lot right and it is non-partisan.

He discusses 7 points. Here they are:

  1. Increase government transparency.
  2. Open up the White House
  3. Swear off executive privilege
  4. Revamp the Transportation Security Administration
  5. Investigate the Bush administration
  6. Make fighting public corruption a top priority of your justice department
  7. Use the pardon
It was the first one that got my attention. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Unless they are discussing military tactics, why shouldn't all of government be on a web version of CSPAN all the time? Want lobbying and back room dealings to stop? Make all offices and meeting rooms have cameras in them with each feed available on the internet. Yes, I know it wont change back room dealings 100%, the dealings will be in the bathroom or back alley. I don't care, it is virtually impossible for these politicians to put on their show 90% of the time. They are trained to do it for when they are in session, can they keep it up in their office? I doubt it. Further, there should be no such thing as a FOIA request. Documentation, that is not military tactics, should be available to anyone all the time, yeah that includes your emails, senator.

I was inspired to this attitude after reading Davin Brins "Transparent Society". It seems weird at first, but think about it. Look at the points he is making. Yes, I would feel safer walking down the street with cameras everywhere with live feeds to everyone in the world able to watch than I would walking down the street with feeds to a select few chosen by the local and federal government. Opening up government for civilian inspection is a great idea (and yeah, that is more than this guy was suggesting).

As for #2, well surely a review of the rules about access to the White House is in order. This doesn't personally affect me or most Americans, but it would be nice to know that I could take my daughter on the same tour of the white house that I got to take when I was a kid.

#3 is related to #1, if your don't do anything smarmy, you wont need executive privilege. Don't get a blow job in the oval office from an intern, don't go to war based on no evidence, and so forth and you won't need executive privilege. Why not portray it as a poor tool to use? Or shall we say a tool that is used by poor presidents.

There are of course a few items that I have a hard time justifying as highly important. Yeah it sucks to go through an airport. But is it really one of the top 7 things to get done? Economy is not on this list. Nuclear proliferation is not on this list. Propelling our education system back into the 21st century is not on this list. Gaining CO2 free energy Independence is not on this list. But Mr. Balko thinks that reducing the time he has to spend at an airport should be a high priority? Sorry my heart isn't really bleeding for you. I agree with his point that I truly don't think we have any evidence that we are any safer at an airport than we were pre-9/11, but still I don't this one really lighting a fire under anyone's ass.

I'm not a a member of "Washington's standard-bearers", but I don't see a good reason to spend copious amount of money (tens of millions of tax dollars) repeating the nonsense the republicans pulled on Clinton. So, no, this will just make Obama look bad. I don't see anything positive coming out of that activity. Americans fell for the Republican party line and got exactly what they promised, even after they were warned and warned some more.

Yes, the justice department should hold a flag for incorruptibility. I'm sure there is a lot of work being done there but it seems that they are simply being guided by things the media find out. Why did they take down Spitzer? something seems terribly wrong with some of the priorities and government corruption directly leads to the decay of democracy. What is one of the very first things we, as Americans, point out about getting aid into third world countries? Its difficult because of corruption. Corruption in our government is the fast road to democratic decay.

As for the pardon...I'm sure we'll see some. But really, with 202,000 federal inmates and 2.2 million in state penitentiaries, I don't really see a reason to devote significant resources to this activity regardless of how admirable the goal. Seems to me that this is not a presidential level activity, but something that could be taken up at the state level or within the justice department.

Anyway, as I said. These are all good things to go after, and I do agree with them with the exception of #5. But aside from #1, I don't really see any of them as so important that they must be addressed before the other burning issues.

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Bridge over Troubled Water

This post originally appeared at Finding common Ground. I have cleaned it up a bit since its original post. I realize this one is a bit foofy.

You, and only you, are 100% responsible for the way you react to everything.

You are never 100% responsible for someone else's actions, but when it comes to the way you respond to events or people, no one controls what you choose to do. Someone may say to you, "You make me do this". This is never the case, its simply laying blame.

You may make me feel angry. Something can feel unfair. An event may feel hurtful. Someone or something may genuinely, physically and emotionally hurt you. But none of those things force you to a specific action, ever.

Only you can decide your response.

The choices of reactions are many: retribution, justice, escalation, withdrawal, depression, and outright tantrums are all common, and perhaps easy, responses to negative events that happen to each and every one of us. More often than not, emotion trumps rationality. Everyone is susceptible.

How about forgiveness? How do we find it in ourselves to forgive people, or look past events, or even forgive our own mistakes? Is it possible to forgive someone for rape or the murder of a child? If so, why should we forgive such an evil act?

The Buddhists teach that forgiveness is the path to a healthy mind and positive Karma. That being able to forgive horrible acts will lead you on path to enlightenment. Other religions teach other aspects of forgiveness (and sadly many of them focus on how you can receive forgiveness from God, rather than how to dispense forgiveness to your fellow human).

Depending on the degree of the insult, the amount of effort to forgive can be anything from trivial to insurmountable. Frankly, there are thresholds and mechanisms by which forgiveness can be had, but they depend on your willingness to accept that sometimes forgiveness is not required.

If, for the moment, we focus on the actions of others that do not result in lasting harm, we can perhaps find a mechanism by which forgiveness comes easier. Actions such as these include deceit, lies, gossip, rudeness, and many misunderstandings. In general, these negative actions of other people do not let you end up with permanent harm or unresolvable hardship, although obviously they can. It is best to recognize the cause of the negative actions and then, by defining it, find forgiveness. Doing this will lead to stronger and longer relationships, happier outlooks and a generally positive life. Basically, if you don't end up in jail, maimed, or in the poorhouse, why be angry if you can find a way to forgive? There are a variety of reasons for people to do bad things to you, here are three examples.

Hanlon's Razor:

Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.

Clark's Law:

Never assume malice when ignorance will suffice.

Selfish Success:

People do things a certain way because that is what has yielded good results for them in the past.

Understanding that these may be the underlying reason that someone acted poorly towards you makes it easier to forgive them for that action and to help them understand how these things affect you.

Actions by other people that leave you in significant hardship or receiving harm, perhaps don't need to be forgiven. One may ask how does forgiveness for these action help humanity? How does it reduce suffering and increase happiness? That answer could very well be that forgiveness does not accomplish that goal and should not be dispensed. Forgiveness for negative actions that result in permanent harm may not better humanity, community or even family. Instead another form of closure will be needed. I personally think jail is pretty good, I wish jail time for horrific deeds resulted in a lifetime of breaking rocks in the winter, but I guess we don't all get what we want.

"Water under the Bridge", is a healthy attitude can be achieved by remembering that if the result of someones poor actions is not long lasting, then you are truly not affected affected by it, no matter how much it may feel like you are. Understanding the mechanism by which the person is choosing to act help for you to achieve forgiveness. But it is not your only choice and no one says its required. Seek closure, not necessarily forgiveness.

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Pinker on Morals

This post was originally found at Finding Common Ground.

In the discussion forums, [Edit: these are gone] I suggested reading an article that appeared in the New York Times that happened to come out at the same time as this community arrived on the planet and we all wrote our first posts.

Well I wanted to reiterate that request because he makes, in a far more eloquent and fact filled essay than I could have written, a damn good elucidation about our morals. He shows how we all have a similar moral structure, but that there are also morals that are community based and that as time passes we 'moralize' various aspects of our civilization. He discusses a god construct (one that I think is actually weak and easy to respond to) and its applicability to our moral responsibilities. He also, at the end, describes rather well how science and our deconstruction of our moral minds is better for humanity. Understanding why we feel a certain way is the best way to confirm its validity.

Now, if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, why should we believe it is any more real than the distinction between red and green? And if it is just a collective hallucination, how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong for everyone, rather than just distasteful to us?

Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem, of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago. Does God have a good reason for designating certain acts as moral and others as immoral? If not — if his dictates are divine whims — why should we take them seriously? Suppose that God commanded us to torture a child. Would that make it all right, or would some other standard give us reasons to resist? And if, on the other hand, God was forced by moral reasons to issue some dictates and not others — if a command to torture a child was never an option — then why not appeal to those reasons directly?

He then goes on to leave God talk behind him. I think this perpetuates the lack of communication between atheists and religious folks. He left out the obvious answer: God loves us. He loves us more than we are capable of loving each other. He loves us so much, knows us so well that he knows what each of us will do and choose.

With this rationale about god, of course he can define a set of morals that helps us to live together, without his own set of selfish reasons.

However, the rest of the article describes various perspectives of morals of our species (and similar morals that occur in monkeys and other animals, making clear that a moral foundation is not strictly a human trait). but the case is made that our moral sense is not purely a genetic trait, but a very complex one, that involves and requires the interaction between individuals in a community.

Morality, then, is still something larger than our inherited moral sense, and the new science of the moral sense does not make moral reasoning and conviction obsolete. At the same time, its implications for our moral universe are profound.

Information always leads to more free will and a more free society. Science is the only mechanism by which to advance along those lines. no other construct of humanity has done as much to increase our population, make it safer, make it live longer. this doesnt mean there are not ethical challenges along the way. But understanding ourselves and deconstructing those challenges are the best way to advance.

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Godless Morality

This post was originally found at Finding Common Ground.

Atheists Can't be Moral.

If I had a nickel for each time I heard that! (I'd probably have around 3 dollars)

How is it possible for someone who has no fear of an afterlife, no fear of a god or gods, no desire to life forever and no obvious reason to care about anyone else, to have any form of a moral code? How can someone like this find the intestinal fortitude to help people in trouble? Why would they ever donate to a charity, be kind to strangers, or raise children properly? What stops them from murderous rampages, stealing, raping, torturing and other personal atrocities?

The list of possible negative moral outcomes of atheism is endless. Atheism has been attributed to some of the worst atrocities in all of our history, some of the worst decisions and worst economic policies.

So how can we expect to trust an atheist? How can they possibly be allowed to teach our children, run our government, lead businesses, or even participate fully in our society? Even one of our previous presidents, the first George Bush, specifically said that atheists can’t be citizens. When reviewing all the negative aspects attributed to atheism, he doesn’t seem crazy for saying this does he?

Of course all of this is bunk. There are somewhere near a half billion atheists on this planet and if we were really a bunch of murderous rapists, no society on the planet would survive. I’m also sure I don’t need to go into every single atrocity, bad policy, and bad person that had a religious background.

The problem is that there is a deep misunderstanding of where morals come from, or at least where atheist morals come from. An atheist can look out into the world of religion and see where religious people think they get their morals from. It’s one book or another, the teachings of one pastor or mullah or shaman or whatever. When we examine these books, however we as atheists are totally confounded as to how the religious folks think they derive morals from these books filled with killing, raping, incest, blind faith, power struggles, intolerance and so forth.

For whatever reason, human beings have the same basic set of morals. Religious folks think that God put them there (or at least he defined them and if you don’t follow them he will be condemn you), atheists generally think that we have them because they make us successful as a species (although there are a few who may think that aliens put them there). However, we all have them, and regardless of culture, religion, and background they are all very close to the same.

When faced with moral dilemmas people of all religions and background, for the most part, make the same choices as atheists. This sort of thing has been determined from a variety of scientists and anthropologists who would give moral dilemma tests as easy as “If you see a little boy drowning in the river, do you save him or do you keep you clothes clean and dry?” all the way to something like “You control the track a train goes on, you find that your parents are tied to one track and 5 well respected scientists you don’t know are tied to the other, which track do you choose?” [update: forgot to mention that I got these examples from the God Delusion, and Dawkins got them from somewhere else]

The supernatural is not needed to define a very high level of morality. Our actions and reactions can be vetted to produce these three effects:

  1. Increase happiness among our fellow human beings
  2. Decrease suffering among our fellow human beings
  3. Increase free will among our fellow human beings

These goals are not mutually exclusive, and in many cases, these three goals conflict. But it is in these three outcomes of our actions we can all agree are best for our society and humans in general. Religious background is irrelevant as these goals encompass all the morals described in any text that relate directly to people (as opposed to those that relate to deities).

Base, individual actions are easy to put up against these goals. Murder, rape and stealing all obviously conflict against all three of them. So clearly at the very root level they work very well. But when we examine things at a societal level it gets much harder. Conflict between these goals is inevitable. Using these goals as a pretext to any of the hot topic issues will immediately incite debate, measurement and evaluation.

But that is the exact reason for having morals. They keep us from actions that may eventually hurt other people. The best part of keeping this trilogy of goals in sight is that the debate will be about tangible, measurable, effects of proposed actions and keeps a discussion about what God wants out of it. Hindus, Muslims, Christians of the various forms, and atheists will not be able to come to a conclusion of the morality of societal level actions if we are bickering about what one version of God wants opposed to someone else’s version. Why god wants something may be a valid addition to the discussion, but ending debate simply with what god wants is not. This way everyone is free to enjoy their religion and do the things they think their god requires of them (including trying to get other people to believe them), but when it comes to populations as a whole, we are best served by those three goals.

Why would an atheist bother with even those goals? Is it not obvious? We want happiness, less suffering and increased free will, just like everyone else. Happiness comes with security (but not oppressive security) and prosperity, reduced suffering comes with community, and free will comes with tolerance. The small percentage of people, from all backgrounds and religious beliefs, who are bad, who cause pain, who are dishonest and so forth, interfere with these same desires all human beings share. Why would atheists have some bizarre sense of morals when we have the exact same base desires for ourselves and our families as most everyone else?

Religion provides no guarantees of morality, examples abound throughout all of history and current events. We must accept that regardless of religious upbringing, a certain percentage of our population will do bad things and make other people suffer, the best we can do as the thinking moral majority, is to make our actions and reactions, including legislation and enforcement, be subject to the trilogy of goals and measures by which they are evaluated against.

As I write more in the future on the various topics, I will often use this trilogy as a backdrop. I look forward to the various ideas and interpretations in our quest to find common ground.

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Clearly I have been out of the loop for a little while. I am having a hard time posting and there are some exterior issue with regard to blogging that I will write about in a little while. So please forgive me while I wimp out for a couple of weeks. I am going to do something that I realize is a little weak.

I am going to repost from another blog I used to participate in.

Finding Common Ground was a blog that had a good start with good intentions. The lead organizer Amanda got a good group together of christians, agnostics and athiests together to discuss things like where we get our morality from, how we view different aspects of our lives and so forth.

It was a site that was not number crunchy like this one, and yet participating in it helped me a little bit so be able to distinguish fundy from moderate and how they view each other. It was an interesting experiment, but alas, it appears to be over as comenting over there has essentially stopped.

Since I am not paying for that site, and don't have overall control of it, I thought I would repost my entries here. So if you will forgive a few days without bunk-busting, Im going to put one up here every day. I hope you will participate, read the original comments at FCG site, and perhaps peruse other poeple's entries.

Have fun.

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