The videography in this one is not of the best – you can’t see most of my slides because of a combination of camera angle and lighting, which rather damages the effect, and for a good bit of it you can only see me from the nose up, which is quite distracting. This is the one I delivered to an almost empty room for course credit; the Communications Department did video the Oak Awards version, but did not make that edition available to me.
For this reason, I’ll present a transcript with the slides inlined, but since vocal delivery is important too, here as well is the video of my second persuasive speech, "Our Friend the Atom".
Here’s something we don’t consider normal in the Western world today: the lights going out for no good reason.
In 1965, a mechanical defect at a power station in Ontario blacked out most of the northeastern United States and Canada, including New York City, for up to 12 hours. They called it the Great Blackout of 1965. A LIFE Magazine photographer immortalized the eerie scene in this photo.
Forty years later, Californian authorities were doing it on purpose, in so-called rolling blackouts – not because of technical faults, but due to insufficient generating capacity. Elsewhere in the world, that sort of thing is part of everyday life. But as technology advances, and individual electrical demand trends downward, collective demand always goes up as more and more people get onto the grid.
This chart, from the 2010 U.S. Department of Energy International Energy Outlook, shows the projected growth in worldwide generating capacity through 2035. Note particularly the red line, which shows projected growth in the parts of the world that don’t currently have the fully meshed electrical grids that we’re used to here in the First World.
Using information gathered from the U.S. Department of Energy and other authorities and historical documents, I’m going to tell you about one thing that I think we need to do in order to head off the potential energy crunch of the coming decades. Obviously we need to increase our generating capacity – by 87 percent in the next 25 years, if you believe the Department of Energy. So how can we do that? Where will it come from?
Well, we can’t build more conventional power stations, because…
… that will either mean feeding the demon Foreign Oil, or worse, burning more coal, which is messy and harmful.
We apparently can’t build wind farms…
… because they mince birds and make an annoying noise. [Ed. note: In the Oak Awards version I adjusted the delivery of this line to the more Clarksonian "because they make an annoying noise… and mince owls," which got a huge laugh…]
We can’t have more hydroelectric dams, because they inconvenience fish and other…
… wildlife. [Ed. note: … but not as huge as this one got.]
And solar power obviously isn’t going to be much help in places like Maine…
… where the weather is usually like that.
So what’s the answer?
Our friend, the atom.
Nuclear power was the promise of the future in the 1950s, but it’s gone into a steady decline in the public eye since about 1970. This wasn’t helped by two high-profile accidents, one in the US, the other in the USSR, in the late ’70s and mid-’80s.
As described in the American Chemical Society’s Three Mile Island Accident: Diagnosis and Prognosis, Three Miles Island Reactor #2 in Pennsylvania suffered a partial core meltdown in 1979 thanks to a stuck coolant valve. The reactor’s containment vessel and other emergency backup systems did their jobs perfectly. There was no significant radiation release from Three Mile Island, and no one was harmed in the incident. It should’ve been the case study in why nuclear technology works, not the national horror story it became.
The 1986 explosion of Reactor #4 at Chernobyl in the Soviet Ukraine… was a horror story. It’s inspired films, video games, and at least one deeply creepy website. This was a disaster perpetrated by Soviet design, Soviet construction, and Soviet operational standards, all of which were, well, Soviet. As John Tabak explains in Nuclear Power, the Soviets designed a type of reactor that lacked an inherent safety factor, built it shoddily, and then decreed that a dangerous experiment should be carried out in the middle of the night by the second-string operators. It’s almost as if they wanted it to blow up. David R. Marples summed it up in Chernobyl and Nuclear Power in the USSR, one of the first books to analyze the accident, when he wrote: "Chernobyl was a badly built edifice, with a demoralized workforce." That was the Soviet system in the 1980s. Things have moved on a bit since then.
I believe that with the lessons learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and other, less famous incidents over the 60-odd years of nuclear history, a new generation of power stations – properly engineered, properly built, properly operated – can provide electricity in abundance, without damming rivers, causing acid rain, or annoying people who live near hills.
Of course, nuclear power does have inherent hazards, but there are hazards in any energy technology. Any coal miner or oil rig worker can tell you that. But since when have we, as a species, shied away from using things that are dangerous if mishandled? If that were the case, we’d never have mastered fire or stone tools. This new generation of reactors must be carefully researched, carefully designed, and built to be as safe as they can be, then operated vigilantly and never handled complacently – but they need not be feared.
My grandfather was once a member of the U.S. Army rifle team. He taught me to shoot when I was a small boy. One of the first things he taught me was that a firearm must be respected, but never feared. I think it’s the same thing with nuclear power: We need to be vigilant; we can’t be afraid.
In my future, this new generation of reactors plays a large role in helping the electric power industry get ahead of the curve – cleanly, safely, and economically. I’m not saying we need to stop research into alternative energy. More choices are always better. I am saying that the atom should play a big part in what we do going forward.
The atom is a tricky little so-and-so, but we – you and me, our society, right now – are the smartest, best-educated, most technologically capable human being who have ever lived. We can do this. Here in the defining days of the 21st century, we face a choice. We’re either heading for a brightly lit golden age… or a sputtering slide into darkness. Our friend the atom is a powerful but sadly neglected tool that can, in my view, if grasped with authority and wielded with care, help us achieve the better future that I think we’d all rather have.
So let it be known that you support the safe, responsible use of atomic power. Spread the word that the atom is misunderstood, and should be respected, but never hated or feared. Insist that nothing be done in haste, but that it must be done. Throw off your outdated fears and learn to love the atom – for it will set us free. Thank you.
Yesterday was the last regular day of the fall semester, and the events of the day have an eerie sort of encapsulating symmetry about them, if you look at them from a certain angle.
The first order of business was the robot competition in ECE 101. This was held in the big lecture hall in the new wing of Barrows (the same room where ECE 100 seminars were held), and consisted of a showdown in the 4×4 maze for the four teams whose robots had performed best in the preliminary rounds of testing, which were held in the week’s regular lab sessions.
The rules of the ECE 101 robot contest are fairly simple: The robot has to navigate a maze based on 12-inch squares without any outside intervention. The robot that is consistently the fastest over three complete runs wins. Grounds for disqualification include manual intervention by the robots’ builders, any attempt by the robot itself to circumvent the structure of the maze (extremely unlikely given the nature of the robots’ construction), and contact with the maze walls. Keep that last rule, particularly, in mind for the next thing I say:
It may give you some indication of how well the robot Let’s Call Him Matt and I built performed in the preliminary round when I tell you that it ended up being dubbed Harvey.
So, uh, we weren’t participating in the finals. We did get it to move (the reason it wouldn’t turned out to be a programming problem in one of the header files that was so abstruse even Andy was impressed with its subtlety), but could never find the sweet spot for the sensor gain settings that would lead to any useful navigational abilities. We ended up just running out of time – the Wednesday lab ended without Harvey having logged a single successful run in the 4×4 maze, and neither of us was able to attend the optional evening session or the Thursday afternoon lab, so Friday morning came with us never having gotten on the board at all.
Regardless, it was fun to watch the finals, and the performance of the robot that won overall was impressive. The winning team received "production" robots, based on the same design we used for the ones we built in class, but based on a grown-up printed circuit board instead of a forest of Wire-Wrapped pins in plain perf board – not really much more practical than a trophy, since the ECE 101 Maze Robot’s practical usefulness potential is rather limited, but certainly something with more engineering cred when displayed on a shelf.
In the afternoon, I finally managed to deliver my fourth and final speech in CMJ 103 for credit, having done one dry run with it in Zay’s* office on Wednesday evening. The second run was necessary because the visual aids were unavailable the first time, and it took us quite a lot of fiddling around to line up a room with a working projector. We did finally get it done, though, and I had the curious experience of delivering an impassioned persuasive speech to an audience of one in what may be the oddest classroom on campus: 44 Dunn Hall, also known as "the airplane". This gets its name from the fact that it is a curiously long and narrow room that’s been set up as a sort of miniature lecture hall. It’s got four columns of seats arranged two-by-two with an aisle in the middle and a projector screen at one end, and the entrance is in the middle of one of the long sides, making entering it feel uncannily like boarding a commuter flight.
Even stranger, an hour later after delivering that speech to no one but Zay in a basement room resembling a small airliner cabin, I was on the other side of campus in a big lecture hall, one of the proper auditorium-style ones, delivering it again to a couple of hundred people. This was because, as I previously mentioned, I’d been selected as Section 003’s delegate to the Oak Awards, a competition among the many (this semester, eight) sections of CMJ 103.
This was… a profoundly weird experience. I mean to say, performing a set of prepared remarks in a semi-darkened theatre-like room, with my parents sitting at opposite sides pretending not to have noticed each other – it was like being a high school drama nerd again, except there was actually money on the line. First prize at the Oak Awards is a $500 scholarship. (And bragging rights for your instructor, who can thus force all the other CMJ 103 instructors for the semester to acknowledge that her kung fu is best.)
I was up second, which I thought was slightly odd since I was representing Section 003, but fine, no problem there. My slides (or, well, it was actually a PowerPoint presentation, but it contained no clever inter-slide effects, not one single bullet point, and only one font, so my conscience is clear) had been provided to the MC ahead of time, and apart from not being able to control the room lights – which screwed up my planned attention-getting device a little, since it involved simulating an electric blackout – there were no technical problems. I retired to my seat secure in the knowledge that I had done the best I could do and resolved to let the chips fall where they may.
The other seven speakers were a very mixed bag. There were two civil engineering students, a nutrition and food science major, a pre-vet biologist, and a couple of others I don’t remember offhand – and one guy who actually was a communications major, who I figured might be trouble? Except he had that rising intonation thing going on? That the kids do these days? Where everything sounds like a question? Even when it isn’t? And I may be revealing myself as an ancient fuddy-duddy here, but I just couldn’t take him seriously as a potential rival after that point.
Personally, I think the most interesting one of the seven was the guy who presented some well-reasoned and cogent points in defense of the thesis that recycling paper is a counterproductive waste of time, effort, and energy resources. Well, I say interesting. Two of the others were plenty interesting, but not in a "hmm, you know, he’s got a point" way; those would be the two who denounced, respectively, evolution and the Apollo 11 mission photos as scientific fraud. (The latter actually caused me to facepalm involuntarily, which got me kicked chidingly in the ankle by one of my colleagues in the competitors’ corner. I suppose it was a bit rude of me, but coming as it did directly on the heels of the evolution speech, I just couldn’t help it.)
So anyway, I won.
(That wasn’t a very dramatic buildup, yeah? However, it’s roughly equivalent to the way the MC announced it after the judges deliberated. I’d never seen an award announcement where they started with first place before. It rather dampens the drama, I have to admit. Also, while I’m proud of the achievement and the $500 will certainly help next semester, I’m a little disappointed that there’s no certificate or anything.)
So there you are. In the same day, I – ostensibly an engineering major – failed to even make the finals of a technical competition held as part of an engineering core course, but swept the field and retired covered in glory in a liberal arts competition held in conjunction with a core humanities course.
That, I think, summarizes my whole Weltanschauung nowadays.
On the other hand, I’m not quite done with Harvey yet. Any further work on the project won’t be useful for credit, since the class will be over on Monday, but I’m hoping to keep fooling with it over break anyway. It just annoys me to leave the thing unfinished.
This weekend: prep for finals. I have two, one in ECE 101, the other in MAT 122. Confidence is moderate for both of them at this time – except I’m not sure when/where the MAT 122 one actually is. I think the time/place I have in my appointment book is actually the final for MAT 122-0001, the Regular Course with the same prof as the online one I’m really enrolled in; the Office of Student Records claims the one for MAT 122-0990 is on a completely different day, but doesn’t say where it is. Must email Prof. Zoroya and get that cleared up.
* Her name is Lindzay, making her the first academic instructor I’ve had who prefers to be known not just by her first name, but by a diminutive form of her first name, by her students. But hey, whatever makes her happy.
Now that you’ve read the last couple of posts and thought, God, he can whine, can’t he?, permit me to share with you a rare piece of good news.
Every year, the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine puts on a little do at the end of the fall semester. At this do, which is called the Oak Awards, one student from each section of CMJ 103 Fundamentals of Public Communication (and there are several of those, because it’s a course everyone in the university has to pass in order to graduate) is selected by that section’s instructor to deliver one of the two persuasive speeches he or she has prepared for class. Everyone else who’s taken CMJ 103 that semester is offered a few points of extra credit to attend, and most of the CMJ faculty are there, so I’m told they get a pretty respectable crowd. Certainly a bigger one than the speeches involved would originally have been delivered to, since the sections are around 20 students apiece.
When I got my outline and grade back for my first persuasive, "Man Must Explore", it had a note from the instructor on the back of the outline inviting me to be Section 003’s delegate to this year’s Oak Awards. It means sticking around for a few hours longer on the last Friday of regular classes than I would otherwise have had to, and delivering one of my speeches (either "Man Must Explore" or the as-yet untitled final one I’m working on now) to a much larger crowd than it was developed for, but it’s an honor and there’s a fairly substantial cash prize involved for whoever wins the thing.
Not bad for an engineering student…
But only on the blog. Coursework is currently up to date.
I’ll have some more things to share later in the week. In the meantime, here’s CMJ 103 speech no. 3, "Man Must Explore". (Please excuse the bit near the end where I get the century wrong. Er, and the fact that my blogging tool is so clever it can’t recognize it when I do the HTML for a simple anchor link by hand. WTF.)
As I mentioned last night, I have figured out how to capture the video streams we’re issued by the instructor in our public speaking classes and convert them into an unstreamed format. They’re a tad bit big and my upload pipe isn’t so wide, but what the hell.
The management makes no warranty as to whether you’ll enjoy the show or learn anything, but if you’re feeling brave, here is my informative speech, "Project Excelsior".
And while I’m here, I suppose I might as well link the first one, which isn’t informative but has the virtue of being shorter.
For the past three class days, and for at least one more, we’re doing our informative speeches in CMJ 103. Some of my classmates’ speeches so far have been interesting; some have been tedious; two have been downright tiresome, because the people delivering them have had clearly visible axes to grind and it’s not appropriate to grind them in what was supposed to be an informative speech. That’s what persuasive speeches, which we start working on next week, are for.
I delivered mine last Friday. It went pretty well, I think. My delivery could’ve been smoother, but hey. This is a general public speaking class that everyone hoping to receive a degree from the University at some point is required to take. The bar is not really all that high. And that’s not to say I’m not trying – I’m making a concerted effort to take the whole thing as seriously as possible and do the best I can; just that I needn’t get that down on myself about any stylistic fumbles I may have committed along the way.
Our instructor records all our speeches with a Flip video camera, then uploads them to Flip’s private video sharing site and sends us the links (only to our own) after the class, so that we can watch ourselves and file a self-evaluation for next time. (This is folded into our grade in some mysterious way.) FlipShare’s private sharing site is a YouTube-ish streaming Flash video thing, and I just figured out over the weekend how to capture the streams and convert them into something more generally useful for archival purposes. I’ve got last week’s, and indeed the introductory speech I posted a transcript of a while back, on my laptop’s hard drive now. The link from Moonbase Dad is too slow for me to upload them anywhere tonight, but maybe if you’re good boys and girls I’ll post them later.
On Friday, once the informatives are out of the way, we get to start thinking about the first of our two persuasive speeches. The first is intended to be delivered to a neutral-to-friendly audience, the second to a hostile one. I’m not sure how that’ll be accomplished, since in both cases we’ll be addressing the rest of the class. Perhaps it will involve some roleplaying. I have a few ideas for persuasive speeches I might develop, but I haven’t made any decision yet, and I won’t have to until next week. Our topics for Persuasive 1 were going to be due Friday, but since some of us won’t actually have done our informatives until Wednesday, the instructor decided to give those people a bit more time by pushing the topic deadline until the next Wednesday (since there’s no school on Monday).
In other news, we attempted to have our second rounds of observations for AST 110 tonight, but were largely thwarted by cloud cover. We got one telescopic object in (sort of), I managed to point out two constellations (and I would’ve gotten a third one, except that the clouds ate Cygnus before I could get hold of a TA), but we threw in the towel an hour early because we were getting socked in and our weapons were useless. When you’re in a spot with as much light pollution as the Maynard F. Jordan Observatory, you don’t need the added handicap of near-total overcast.
For our first speech in Fundamentals of Public Communication, we were asked to describe a Defining Moment in our lives, and to do it in not less than three nor more than four minutes.
I had to think about that for a while, because I’m not really a big believer in the concept of the Defining Moment, and most of the points in my life that (retrospectively) appear like they might’ve been same weren’t really the kind of thing I felt like sharing with a room full of strangers. Eventually, though, I hit on an anecdote from the Elder Days (the really Elder Days, as in high school) that I figured would satisfy the requirements and maybe inject a lighter note into what I suspected was likely to be largely a stream of pretty self-consciously serious musings from the others. Here, because I don’t possess a copy of the video record, is a transcript of my remarks… because it’s my blog and I can post what I want to.
Hi! My name’s Ben, and today I’d like to talk to you about the life-altering power… of drugs.
I know – not a point of view you hear often, particularly in a setting such as this; let me explain. I’m not talking about illegal drugs. I’m not even talking about legal drugs used in a manner inconsistent with their labeling. I’m talking about using duly prescribed pharmaceuticals as directed by a doctor, and how it can change your life. Or at least brighten your day.
So! High school! For me, a long time ago in a galaxy far – OK, in Millinocket, but, uh… who here was born after 1990? … Yeah, I was afraid of that. OK. That’s when this happened. It was my junior year in high school.
I played trombone in my high school jazz band. I was actually a euphonist, but they don’t have euphonia in jazz bands. I joined ’cause I thought it’d be a good way to meet girls. That didn’t work, by the way. I was second chair, so I was entitled to perform solos if I wanted – but I was never confident enough with the instrument to try it in a public setting. I was too nervous. I hate being bad at things where people can see me.
So my junior year, the day of the regional jazz fest – first step toward hopefully making it to the state jazz festival and competing for all the marbles; I’m in my – I was in class minding my own business, and suddenly I had an attack of lower back muscle spasms. I don’t know if this has happened to any of you, but they are incredibly painful. So painful that you can’t really breathe while they’re happening. Mine came all the way around to the front (which is quite a long way as you can see), and it was terrible. Bad enough that I was excused from class, went up to the emergency room, where they whacked me up on a muscle relaxant called Flexeril and codeine for the pain – and gave me more to take away with me, with strict instructions about how and when I was to take each one.
I could’ve been excused for going home at this point and having a little bit of a lie down, but the band was counting on me and anyway, by then I felt… pretty good. And it wasn’t like I would be driving; so I went back to school, got on the bus with my little bottles of pills and a note from the attending physician in my pocket…
I should point out at this point that codeine is a chemical cousin of both morphine and heroin, which are substances long associated with the golden age of jazz musicianship. As such, I suspect I was the only person in the building that night who was in touch with what I like to think of as the true spirit of jazz. I threw caution to the wind and asked if I could do a solo in my favorite song. Mr. Walker, the band teacher, was shocked, but agreed.
And I’ll tell you something: I was awesome. That day was awesome. I went from the worst pain of my life to one of the crowning moments of my short-lived career as a musician. And it never would’ve happened… without drugs! So take your medicine! Thank you.
It remains to be seen how well that little offering actually performed, class-material-wise, but it seemed to go over well with the audience. I got laughs at all the right spots and – most gratifyingly – the goggle-eyed "I can’t believe what I just heard" face from my instructor between the opening line and the disclaimer. Well, she did say we ought to open with an Attention-Getting Device, and I decided to interpret that as a metaphor rather than employing one of those pneumatic boat horns.