Reactor Problems in Japan

After the recent quake near Japan and the tsunami that followed have killed thousands, destroyed billions of infrastructure, left many without power or water, destroyed trains, and destroyed oil refineries outright in an inferno worthy of Dresden, we keep hearing about the reactors.

The short answer: yes, it’s a shame. Yes, some people will get some exposure to radiation outside of the plant. Yes, parts of the plant will likely be shut down for good. All in all, the plant suffered an earthquake well in excess of design parameters and has been shut down. The core may slag itself, and some radioactive gases may be vented (and dissipate, and rapidly become non-radioactive ) relative to normal background, but in the end, explosions of the reactor core, or anything like Chernobyl, is just an impossibility.

The long answer is here, from the guys at MIT’s Nuke sciences division.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the nuclear fuel in a reactor can never cause a nuclear explosion like a nuclear bomb. At Chernobyl, the explosion was caused by excessive pressure buildup, hydrogen explosion and rupture of all structures, propelling molten core material into the environment.  Note that Chernobyl did not have a containment structure as a barrier to the environment.

Additionally, Chernobyl was designed so that it got more reactive when it lost water, and the moderating material that made it more reactive was flammable graphite which caught fire.

So please go read the whole thing. 


In Support of “Laziness”

Reminiscent of Lazarus Long’s story of “The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail” from Time Enough To Love, I recently stumbled into this quote:

Code you don’t write is the easiest and fastest to debut, test, document, read and support.

This quote to me outlines several principles. 

First – while I strongly believe in learning by trying the hard, slow, painful way, by going through the basics, this doesn’t apply to when the priority is to actually produce. Also, the whole point of of doing it hard, slow, and from the basics is to gain an intuitive grasp of how to do it more efficiently, to improve the quality of your work, so that you get better at it, not to be a masochist.

This applies to code as to anything else. Brevity matters. As the quote attests, any line of code you don’t have to write is not only less time spent typing, but the time figuring out how to do it in fewer steps often pays itself back in better performance, and easier maintenance. Lastly, the next time a similar solution is needed, you don’t have to think about it anymore, and you still get the rest of the benefits.

What Your Actions Say About You

The other day I stumbled into another short post from Steven Barnes that reminded me of what I had written several days back
If you were judged by your actions more than your words and your words more than your intents or feelings…how would you look?
Easy enough, right? I stated that the choices we make day to day, minute to minute, demonstrate whether we really make a priority of the things we claim we want. And Steven asks you to step outside of yourself and look at how you appear – what is the discrepancy between what you do, what you say, and what you intend? Are they the same? If not, why?
Both of these also mesh with Eric Raymonds essay: Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun, which, no matter what you think of guns themselves, discusses several universal truths. First, the fact that in the end, no matter what your predilections, strengths, and weaknesses are, it all comes down to your choices – and no-one else’s. Circumstances can inform or skew your choices, but in the end, it’s your decision to act, or not.
A second is that choices cannot simply be undone. Time’s arrow runs in only one direction, and any action, once taken, is permanent. The best that you can do in most cases is expend additional effort to counteract the consequences of the original decision or action. This is important because it applies to not only large, obvious actions, like pulling a trigger, but to small ones without immediately visible consequences: Eating a slice of cake probably won’t harm you (diabetics may beg to differ), but a person complaining about their weight who has a dessert every night is making a series of small decisions that in the end add up to weight gain. 
Thirdly – the universe does not care about your motives. It doesn’t care if you want to be thin, fat, famous, a writer, an actor, and engineer, or bum. As I said earlier, whether or not you become these things depends on what you choices you make every time you reach a decision point. It depends on what you do when other, easier alternatives may present themselves.
“You are who you decide to be.” Not who you want to be, not who you say you are. Who you decide to be. It’s a great truth, but most people forget that this is an ongoing and constant decision, at every turn that other options present themselves.
And as Steve Barnes reminds us: actions speak far louder than words.
Just what are you going to do about it?