Sunday, April 30, 2006

Earthquake Preparedness and Probability

I live in San Francisco. Just a little over 100 years ago, the city was destroyed by an earthquake. Scientists are as sure as they can be that another major earthquake will hit San Francisco. A 62% of a 6.7 or higher in the next 30 years. I'll leave a discussion of exactly how this is calculated and what it means for a later post.

People are very, very bad at understanding probability and the math behind it. They don't grasp what this means. So let's put it another way:

If the forecast called for a 62% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow, would you take an umbrella with you?
You should. And likewise, all of us who live in the Bay Area need to be prepared for a major disaster on a daily basis. But most of us aren't.

Fortunately, I have some friends who recently held an "Armageddon Night", where we got together and talked about how to prepare for this stuff. We had someone from FEMA come and talk, and some presentations and discussions on earthquake preparedness.

Since then, I've started making real preparations. Flashlights and radios that don't need batteries. Extra food. First aid kits. Water. A "go bag" stashed in my car. I just need to get some important papers copied and I should be as set as I can be.

If you live in the Bay Area, you should make sure you're prepared, too. It's yet another thing to deal with. But having lived through the Northridge quake in Los Angeles, I know first-hand how much life can be disrupted by even a modest interruption in services.

The last time the power was out, how much were you annoyed? Inconvenienced? OK. Now the power is out. The water is out. The gas is out. The phone may be out. For several days.

The only thing you can do is to act now. So do it. And read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Fooled By Randomness".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dr. Greg Kimble (1917-2006)

I just found out that Dr. Greg Kimble passed away.

You can read the link to his obituary above and read about his achievements in psychology, but that really doesn't provide a full picture.

Dr. Kimble had a profound effect on my life. I first met him in 1982, my second year at Duke University's Talent Identification Program. He was teaching Introductory Psychology. I had never had a teacher or classroom experience like Dr. Kimble's, and had never been so excited about learning. Nor had I been so challenged. I took the next class he taught ("Thinking, Knowing, and Problem Solving") without even reading the description.

When I finished my first class with him, I asked him to sign the textbook we used (which he had written with Norm Garmezy and Ed Ziglar - names I can rattle off 20 years later because I studied the book so much!). He wrote:
Anu - So much seems to be going on underneath the surface. Peace!
- Greg
Of course, he was right, and I've never forgotten his insight, pithiness, and brevity.

Over the next few years we had other interactions - I was asked to speak on TIP's behalf a few times, and Dr. Kimble (along with Dr. Robert Sawyer) was always there, smiling. I attended TIP's first alumni reunion, and he was there. Remembered us all. I eventually became the first alumni member to serve on the TIP advisory board, and he came to many of the meetings.

Dr. Kimble had an incredible capacity for caring for people. It's a cliché, but his smile really did light up a room. He also had a gravity and seriousness about him such that no one ever mistook his good charm and humor for lack of substance. He always treated everyone with respect.

He's why I teach at TIP. I strive to accomplish even half of what he did. I hope to inspire some bright kids to love learning, work hard, not give up, "become who they are", and find peace. I crib shamelessly from my memories of how he taught - the speech cadences, the different instructional methods. He was able to keep a room full of antsy teenage prodigies attentive and engaged for hours a day.

I knew this day would come, and he certainly lived a full life. But I mourn the loss of a great human being. I can still see twinkling eyes and charming smile, still hear his wonderful voice. And my heart breaks.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Nuclear Power

I have been pro-nuclear power since reading my first few ecology books back in the 1970s. The world is running out of oil (another thing I've been hearing since the 1970s). Burning coal and oil is directly contributing to global warming, pollution, and political and economic instability.

Nuclear power costs less. It emits no greenhouse gases. If our own uranium reserves aren't sufficient, we can buy uranium from Canada, which is acknowledged as having some of the largest. I'd rather send them our cash than some of the other places it goes.

Some other fun facts: Most coal has traces of uranium in it. So much coal is currently burned yearly that the total radioactive waste release from coal plants is much greater than that from even today's old reactors. And if that's not enough, the uranium that's "thrown away" in this fashion contains more energy than the burned coal trapping it.

I think people's objections to nuclear power amount to fear of catastrophe and fear regarding the waste. So what about those issues?

The world recently passed the 20th anniversary of the terrible accident at Chernobyl. Truly awful. But one bad disaster shouldn't scare people away from one of the many sources of energy we'll have to utilize. Look at the recent coal mine disasters, or look at the coal mines on fire and burning out of control. How many toxic oil spills have there been? Does anyone even pay attention to them anymore?

Safety improves when there are incentives and when it's a priority. Look at the abrupt, substantial changes that happened in airports after 9/11. Many people (myself included) may argue those changes are largely cosmetic and do little more than address the public's fear and perception. But the goal (removing fear) is still accomplished. And to be clear, nuclear power requires real, serious, rigorous safety measures in place. Nobody sane will argue with that.

People continue to be irrational regarding nuclear waste. Much money has been spent on WIPP - the legendary New Mexico nuclear waste repository that has yet to be opened. People say "it's not safe enough" - but it's the safest possible place and design humanity is capable of creating at this time.

And while the irrational people argue about WIPP's inability to absolutely, 100% guarantee safety for 10,000 years, where is the existing waste being stored?

The exact details are considered state secrets. But much of the waste is sitting in rusting drums in military facilities surrounded by little more than chain-link fences or in temporary storage at the originating plants. These temporary facilities are much worse than what WIPP, imperfect as it is, could offer.

We must all realize there are no "permanent solutions" to our energy needs. Our civilization will be playing technological "leapfrog" forever. Put the waste in WIPP for now, and keep working on finding a better solution. Switch to more nuclear power for now, and keep working on improving and developing better, cleaner, and greener sources.

Nuclear power won't solve all of our energy problems. It will create some new problems. And we still have to deal with oil - we can't just give it up overnight. But it's a start. There is no single solution to our energy problems. We have to chip away a little bit at a time.

Inevitably, people resort to the weak strategy of asking me "well, would you want a nuclear power plant in your backyard?" Of course not. I don't want an oil refinery, prison, garbage dump, airport, or strip mall there, either. Nobody does. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have nuclear power. And that doesn't mean that we all shouldn't be prepared to sacrifice a bit for safer, cleaner energy. I should probably start answering them with something like "I'd rather have a nuclear power plant in my backyard than blood on my hands (or someone else's hands)".

The NIMBYs who keep voting against putting wind farms in various places are especially offensive to me. There is no free ride, people.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Improving the Blog

As you may have noticed, I've spruced up the blog a bit. My HTML skills are extremely rusty, but I managed to get a few changes made:
  • Dark gray background. Easier on the eyes than the straight black.
  • Addition of some Rhapsody stuff - you can click on any of the album covers under "Hear Me" and get taken immediately to the Rhapsody stream. If you're not a Rhapsody subscriber, you can still play 25 tracks a month for free!
  • Truncated the displayed bio and moved the rest of it to a post. Sort of a hacky solution, but it works.
  • Added many new links and new link categories.
I'll be adding and modifying more in the future - adding more music and Rhapsody features as they become available and looking for other ways to keep the blog current.

If I had more than 3 readers, I might consider dropping the Google ads on the site, too.

Let me know what else you'd like to see/hear/experience! If you want linkage, drop me a line and let me know.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Time and Life

Though it may seem as though I have been failing my New Year's resolution, rest assured I have been doing a lot.

My occupation has been keeping me, uh, occupied. Many good people left the company over the last 9 months - old friends and new. Several new companies came a-calling, wanting me to come and work for them. This resulted in a very long period of contemplating what the "right decision" would be -- which one of these fantastic jobs should I take?

I probably take too long to make up my mind, but I like to think things through. All of the jobs had good points and bad. I probably talked to almost everyone who might conceivably be reading this about my options (even if they didn't know it at the time!).

In the end, I decided to stay at RealNetworks. I received a promotion, more responsibility, and more work. I like a challenge. A few years from now I'll be able to decide whether or not I made the right choice. In the meantime, things are already getting better at work.

I also decided (and made a condition of staying at RealNetworks) to teach my music class at Duke TIP again this summer. This requires lots of preparation, especially since I haven't taught it in several years, and I try to make each year better than the last. I am compiling notes, reading some great new books, and working with my friend Adam Tober. That last bit is only slightly complicated by his living in Tokyo. But come July, I'll be flying to Durham for a month. I'll keep you posted from there.

I was lucky enough to see my brother a few times this year. He took a contract position with a video game company here in San Francisco, and was in town every other week. I really enjoyed seeing him so frequently - he is so very talented and smart. Unfortunately, his contract wasn't extended, so I probably won't see him in person for a while.

He's been doing a lot of music - a record he's been working on with his friend Tommy looks like it's getting picked up by a small, hip German label. In addition, my brother is almost finished with his own solo album, which I am dying to hear. What little of it I have heard was fantastic.

As for my own music, I've been doing some writing, too. CHILL finished a new collection in honor of the recent probe launch. We each chose a planet to compose music for. I did "Saturn" and "Jupiter". I wish I had more time to do more electronic music. Or even just get to know my tools better.

Also, Rich Trott (the artist formerly known as "Throb") has practically finished an album, most of which I recorded and engineered here at Blue Moscow. Looks like he's putting together a live band, and I think I am the designated bass player.

My friend Sid Luscious has written 5 new songs. I helped him out a bit with those, too.

The guy who used to be the bass player in my first band ever got in touch with me a few weeks ago. Turns out he's been living in San Francisco for years. It was great to see him and catch up. I hope to do some recording with him soon, too.

Wait, there's more.

2 weeks ago, I had my body fat measured. 22%. I need to lose 10 lbs. Like that's a surprise. The funny part was the gym guy said "all you need to do is 1 hour of cardio a day for...hmm, 2 months, and you'll hit your goal."

1 hour a day for 2 months. 60 hours. That's all. It sounded almost ridiculous, but given that my current workouts haven't been producing the results I wanted, I figured "can't hurt to try." So today was Day 10. Let's hope this works!

Anyhow, I will try to post more frequently. Next time: Adventures at Guitar Center!

Also it's been raining a lot. Boo!