Monthly Archives: June 2009

Understanding Your Readers.

As we’ve seen previously I’m no marketing guru. I started this blog out of a slightly delusional and naive idea that everything I had to talk about was in some way interesting, as I think most blogs do. After a while I came to realise that it was a creative way for me to try and get some educational information online for people. While I’m no sceptic who goes around fighting all of the scientific injustices that might be committed around the world I do hope that some of my articles give people enough background to understand  the content; and hopefully spur them on to do some reading themselves.

It was then interesting to note then how other people got into blogging and how they carve out a readership online. I think I can break them down into about 3 different categories:

  • Transitioners: The ones who came to online web logging from some other medium. These people have the experience in other media to make an online presence work quite well for them, and their blogs tend to have a high level of polish. Some of them are even created out of spite for the old medium, with these bloggers seeking freedom from their editors and publishers so that they can publish their ideas more freely. They also come with an installed readership, which helps to get the site rolling.
  • Famous/Celebrity/Pop Icon: We’ve all seen these kinds of blogs. Whilst I doubt the majority of them are actually the people themselves posting (that’s what a PR department is for) you do get the occasional one where they’ve decided to become more involved in an online way. Some of them are great to show the person behind the fame, as we often forget that celebrities aren’t always the people we see on TV.
  • Journalers/Aspirers: People like myself who for one reason or another decided that a blog was a good idea. These make up the majority of online blogs and they all usually have something in mind. A lot will just be a personal web space to share with friends, others will start with great aspirations for stating a claim on some online territory.

The first two categories come with a built in audience, and I think that shapes what people will expect from them. One of my favourite blogs, The Dilbert Blog by Scott Adams, shows that he knows he’s readers tend towards the slightly nerdy and politically active crowd. Much like his Dilbert comics which satirise office life so does his blog about the real world. He sums it up pretty well with his definition philosotainment.

Due to my training as an engineer I tend to put a lot of trust in the raw data that this site generates. Having a look at the stats for the site it seems like most of my readers are technically inclined, love their games and have a head for political debate. That fights quite well with the overall aim I have for this blog, and I love a good discussion.

Passing the Torch.

After just over a year at my current position I will now be moving onto greener pastures. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve been working as a contractor for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and that website is on part of the infrastructure I helped maintain. I’ve done a lot here over the past year and it was a great first contracting gig. The combination of a small yet extremely innovative environment let me accomplish things that I’d never saw myself doing before, and gave me a taste for the technical solution architect in me. On Wednesday I will be moving onto another contract at the Australian Trade Commission, working in a much larger environment with a completely different mindset. I’m very excited.

So the last month of my time here has had me finalising everything that I’ve done over the past year and it has been quite an interesting experience for me. Most of the organisations I’ve worked with prior to here haven’t had me solely responsible for a large section of their IT infrastructure and I realised that without a proper handover I’d be leaving these guys without a leg to stand on. It was good to note however that they loved my idea of spending the last week and a half handing everything over, and I’m sure they’ll be able to keep the whole show running whilst they get other staff trained.

This was probably one of the common challenges I’ve faced in small organisations. With such environments its very hard to get all the skills you need to ensure you’ve got full primary and secondary coverage on them. It usually ends up that if the person who knows a system is sick or incognito you’re pretty much up the proverbial creek without a paddle. In high turnover environments your even more likely to suffer from this and that’s when documentation and handover become critical, and it’s something that I noticed when I left my last position.

Whilst I wasn’t responsible for as much in my last position I was still a key player in a lot of projects. I had requested that I got the people in my team (the projects guys) for a couple days to do some detailed hand over. Instead I got about 3 hours on a Thursday afternoon, which was barely enough to cover everything that needed to be done. Needless to say I knew that something would go wrong and I was called by them no less than 3 times the week after I left and spent a good few hours explaining to them what was going on and why. They were lucky in that respect since I’ve tried that in the past and been told that they did not have the time nor inclination to speak with me. Harsh but completely understandable (from a professional point of view anyway).

So these last few days I have here will be spent making sure they’ve got everything they wanted to know out of me and giving my heart felt goodbyes to everyone. The CIO has said that I’ll always have a place here at AMSA and I must say, it’s the first time in a long while that I actually feel like coming back would be a good idea.

Maybe I’m just becoming soft in my “old” age 🙂

Game Censorship.

Being a gamer in Australia is a pretty unique experience. When I say unique I should say censored since we’re the only country that doesn’t have a 18+ rating for games and we’re continually gouged for any game that has to be released in Australia. What then end up with is either a modified product as we saw with Fallout 3 and GTA IV or the possibility of never seeing it as was the case with Manhunt 2. Whilst this isn’t such a big deal for most Australian gamers since there’s about 100 different ways to get these games they’re usually either dubious (ordering from overseas) or highly illegal (pirating), something which most people like to avoid. Now the government is seeking to censor the dubious method by blacklisting the sites themselves using their filter, as shown here:

The Federal Government has now set its sights on gamers, promising to use its Internet censorship regime to block websites hosting and selling video games that are not suitable for 15 year olds.

“This is confirmation that the scope of the mandatory censorship scheme will keep on creeping,” said Mr Jacobs.

“Far from being the ultimate weapon against child abuse, it now will officially censor content deemed too controversial for a 15-year-old. In a free country like ours, do we really need the government to step in and save us from racy web games?”

There’s two key points that are raised in this article and they are worth expanding upon. Firstly Australia is the only developed country in the world that does not have a R18+ classification for games, yet we have it for film and other media. What this means for us Australian consumers is that we either receive a delayed and watered down product or we never see it at all. Not only is this an act of censorship but is a detriment to the Australian market, as game sales not only help the developers but also the local stores that sell them. We can thank the honorable (HA!) member for Croydon Michael Atkinson for this, since he’s vetoed every attempt of getting such a rating in. Seems he’s got a great slab of cognitive dissonance going since I can go see someone be dismembered at a movie and that’s all well and good, but if its in a game that’s unacceptable. As we Australians say, I think he’s got a few kanagaroos loose in the top paddock.

Secondly we’re seeing a typical form of scope creep for the Internet filter. Now I’ve mentioned many times before that the filter was poorly thought out with no proper implementation details anywhere. Now this is fine for a design phase of a project but for something that is going to be put into law it’s unacceptable and is a avenue for abuse. What we’re seeing here is the government expanding the powers of a program that was already a complete disaster and doing things like this only makes it worse. What really gets me is that you can’t conceivably link this to any kind of rhetoric that Conroy has spewed forth previously. I mean how exactly does banning material that is aimed only at adults protect children in anyway? They might stumble across it online? Wait, shouldn’t it be the parent’s responsibility monitor their child’s presence online and not the governments? Shouldn’t adults be allowed to view legal material designed for them without having to be wrapped up in the same cotton wool as the children of Australia?

I just hope that the association of the R18+ rating with the Internet filter grants it enough air time so that we can finally get public pressure to get it passed. Keeping a developed nation such as Australia on the back foot like this is just plain unacceptable, we’re all adults here and I think we’re all capable of making decisions for ourselves. It would seem that the government is more then willing to take our own free will away from us, something which as a libertarian I can’t stand to bear.

Maybe we need another shameful radio interview with Senator Conroy to convince him to stop this crap.

Renewable Energy.

After my last foray into the controversial world of the environment and power generation (which generated some stimulating discussion and research for me) I thought it best to take a look at the renewable means of power generation and which of them have a future. I’ve had a bit of experience with most of the technology in the past with a few of my off site engineering lectures, a requirement for any engineering degree, being held on renewable energy technologies. My father also teaches renewable energy classes at the local TAFE here in Canberra, and I’ve seen quite a few interesting projects he’s been involved with over the years.

When we talk about renewable energy sources we’re looking for something that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. The main candidates for renewable energy are:

Now not one of these solutions can provide meet all of the energy needs of the entire world and there’s many different factors to consider. The ideal solution will probably end up with a combination of many of these technologies (and some of the ones that are currently under development) just like the power generation we use today.

First the main consideration is base load power generation. Whilst this is usually trotted out as the argument to destroy the idea of using any form of renewable energy it does have raise a key points that need to be addressed. Many of the renewable energies I’ve mentioned (in fact just over half of them) can’t produce stable amounts of power. Solar, wind and oceanic technologies vary their power output significantly depending on their environment. To solve this issue base load generating stations like geothermal and biomass have to be used to supply that base level of power. The other alternative is to invest some storage technologies, like molten salt for solar thermal. For Australia I believe that geothermal and solar thermal are probably the way to go. This is because we have so much uninhabitable land that is very dry and sunny, something that these technologies thrive on. Photovoltaics are nice for smaller installations however they currently do not scale as well as the others, although that might all change when sliver cells take off¹.

Secondly load following plants are also required in order to accommodate variations in power requirements. Biomass and Hydroelectric are both options for this however I’m not entirely sure how well they can scale up. It may be more efficient to have more base load plants and just disconnect them from the grid. Whilst that may sound counter-intuitive it would be perfectly acceptable since the energy is usually not being harnessed anyway.

The last problem I’ve seen with the implementation of renewables is the lack of ideal locations for certain technologies. Geothermal requires geysers to be present or implementation of a hot rocks plant. Wind requires either high altitude or favourable wind environments such as offshore. Solar and solar thermal require a decent amount of sun and a nice flat area. You can see where I’m going with this, there’s a fair amount of work to be done to get these things in and working.

Having said all this, I’m still all for these technologies. All of the problems I’ve put forward are nothing short of solvable and eventually we’ll be forced into implementing these solutions. The great news is a lot of the supposedly big bag oil companies are in fact on board and supporting this kind of technology. The ones who aren’t will eventually fall by the wayside and we can only hope they come around before they pull an Enron and dissolve the company.

I still believe nuclear would be a great transition technology, but only time will tell.

¹I actually had the pleasure of meeting the developer of sliver technology, Andrew Blakers, back when I was a fledgling engineer. His technology does have the potential to change photovoltaics in a way that would make them highly viable. Origin Energy has some great pictures of the cells in development, and hopefully they’ll be commercially available soon.

The Abandoned Ones.

Most people I know have something interesting to say about a certain topic, and I’m sure that goes for just about anyone. For one reason or another some of these people will then take it upon themselves to take these ideas to a wider audience. This used to involve arduous tasks such as writing a book, speaking at a seminar or utilising some other means of communication. In the days of the Internet however the barrier to entry for people to distribute their ideas to others is much lower, and as such many people (myself included) take it upon themselves to inform the wider world of their thoughts.

As we all know inspiration can only take you so far. Once you’ve convinced yourself that posting your thoughts to a wider audience is a good idea you then have to find a medium in which to communicate. Once you have that decided you then have to actually get in and start sharing. This is where it gets interesting, as it would seem the majority of people get as far as having the medium down pat (the Internet, using a Blog/Twitter/Social Networking) and getting a thought out, but then lose interest completely, leaving their blog abandoned:

According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.

Judging from conversations with retired bloggers, many of the orphans were cast aside by people who had assumed that once they started blogging, the world would beat a path to their digital door.

It would appear that this is not unique just to the blogosphere and is probably more to do with the low barrier to entry of Internet services, with Twitter experiencing a very similar phenomenon. Indeed take any free to use service that has the potential of providing fame/fortune/respect and you’ll find that whilst it looks wildly popular the minority of its users are the ones extracting the majority of value.

I am unfortunately part of these statistics. Before this blog came about (and people told me they liked reading what I wrote) I had attempted to create 2 blogs, several web pages and signed up for a myriad of other Internet based services. All of them were created with the same idea that if I created something on the Internet someone else would care, and then word would spread. Thankfully I can pin a lot of that down to the folly of my youth and I now know that if you want to be popular online you’ll have to do just as much work as you would in other mediums. It’s just easier to get started on the Internet.

I would wager however that a lot of those blogs also fit into a category of what I’d call time sensitive presences. A great recent example of this would be the Alice and Kev blog which is about 2 characters a person is playing in The Sims 3. It’s a touching story and it does have parallels to the suffering people endure in real life but will this blog still be updated in a year? 6 months? A week? Whilst some of the themes it deals with are universal and timeless the blog’s content is not and that will be its eventual demise. The same can be said for Blow My 900, a blog dedicated to spending your Kevin Rudd stimulus money.

The combination of a low barrier to entry, the throw away mentality and the allure of fame and fortune that is ingrained in our society is what has lead to this phenomenon. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but when the Internet already contains so much noise I sometimes wish it wasn’t so easy. But then again if it wasn’t then the Internet probably wouldn’t have become so popular in the first place…

Argh, there goes that cognitive dissonance again! 🙂

Edutainment – Yes it’s a word!

When I was a young lad I never had much interest in the news. I found it pretty hard to sit down with my parents for what would equate to 30 minutes of some stranger lecturing me from the TV so I of course sourced information from various other places. Whilst this has changed recently (thank you whoever got me interested in politics, I now waste HOURS on the news!) I did start to notice a trend towards getting my information from non-traditional sources. It seems that I wasn’t alone in this fact as demonstrated by this article written about 5 years ago:

The 2004 presidential campaign is continuing the long-term shift in how the public gets its election news. Television news remains dominant, but there has been further erosion in the audience for broadcast TV news. The Internet, a relatively minor source for campaign news in 2000, is now on par with such traditional outlets as public television broadcasts, Sunday morning news programs and the weekly news magazines. And young people, by far the hardest to reach segment of the political news audience, are abandoning mainstream sources of election news and increasingly citing alternative outlets, including comedy shows such as the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, as their source for election news.

Although a tad old (They of course couldn’t of included The Colbert Report, which came out a year later) this article does highlight some good points about the way young people are getting their information about political matters. I wouldn’t of believed the majority of it myself if it wasn’t for one of my not-so-politically-inclined housemates showing a keen understanding of American politics with little to no idea about Australia. Just so happens that he was an avid fan of both of these shows.

Edutainment, whilst sounding like some execu-marketing type word, is now becoming one of those areas where a significant amount of influence can be quantified. Whilst the Generation X crowd still had some respect for the good old fashion way of dredging up their political information the Gen Y crowd (who I am a part of) are increasingly connected and are very demanding on their information sources. The research seems to show that a typical gen y person will have an average attention span of about 20 minutes and you’ll find that most TV shows base themselves around this demographic. They also tend to embrace technology, cornering my demographic even further.

Not all of the edutainment programs out there are politically charged either. Probably the most famous example is Mythbusters, a show I thoroughly enjoy watching every week. Whilst the science can be a little shaky at times it’s still a great show to get people into science and engineering. Not all of these kinds of shows are American either, with shows like Good News Week here in Australia being highly popular even after being cancelled for several years.

I see these kinds of programs as an evolution in the industry. No longer are comedic and entertaining shows seen as just avenues to market products, the populace at large now enjoys a bit of education mixed in with their TV watching. Personally I love it, and there’s nothing better to me then a good documentary or a few episodes of Mythbusters blowing things up. Sure it might not be the best way to learn, but it’s by far the most appealing and it seems the rest of my generation agrees with me.

Now if only I convince an exec that a reality TV show in space is a good idea….. 🙂

Bigger is not Always Better.

I used to have a lot of pride in the idea of big corporations. After spending much of my life working for the public service (and indeed I still am although in a different capacity) and lamenting at the inefficiencies the private sector looked like the greenest pastures I’d ever thought of. It was then interesting to note that when it came time for me to make the jump into the private sector my initial impressions were pretty much as I had expected. After a while though it all started to morph into the same story I had experienced for the past few years.

Take any large organisation and the one thing you’ll notice is the increase in bureaucracy and this is not necessarily a bad thing. As organisations grow larger they will require more people to lead and facilitate communication between disparate sections. However what I traditionally saw in the public service was that restructures often caused redundant positions to retained instead of removed. This often lead to the too many chiefs problem where you get a lot of people who are in charge of something or someone which tips the management to underling ratio unfavourably. This is not to say I didn’t see the same thing happen in the private sector, it was just less common as when you’re trying to turn a profit from your business it becomes much easier to remove those people who aren’t really adding value to the business.

More recently I’ve encountered this in my own personal financial matters. A couple years ago my fiancée and I took the plunge and bought our first house here in Canberra. The process was actually pretty easy for us and we managed to find our beautiful home in the first week, although we held off making an offer for a while to make sure it was the one we wanted. After a couple quick signatures and a couple of phone calls to our broker the process was over and done with in a matter of weeks. Needless to say we were pretty impressed with everyone involved.

Naively believing that it would be the same deal the second time around we took the plunge yet again to buy an investment property. Now I know most people would be telling us we’re crazy for trying this (I did the figures, and believe me it still surprises me how good an idea this was) but we went ahead anyway. We found a beautiful place that would rent fantastically which unfortunately fell through. We since then found another house which was in good shape for its age and was in a great location. So we went ahead and decided to purchase.

Queue the last 2 months of my life spent dealing with the bureaucracy that is one of the big 4 banks of Australia. Our first loan was from a smaller bank that was from outside of our state and was a painless process. Our new bank had so many different sections that communications between myself, my broker and the bank would usually hit at least 3~4 different sections, all of which were responsible for different things. Not only was settlement delayed over a month because of a simple question I asked they also lost several critical loan documents twice over, something I’d never experienced before from a professional institution (let alone a bank). I was left pining for the smaller banks, at least then there would only be one central location that dealt with everything.

And so marked the end of the idea that a bigger corporation could do something better. It seems that there’s a sort of bell curve phenomenon going on here. When you’re too small you can’t do all the things that the big guys do. Once you’re at the peak you’re doing just as well as the big guys without the inefficiencies. After that it’s all down hill and whilst your company might be more successful you’ve traded in your efficiency to achieve that. It does keep the stock holders happy however.

I guess now its time for me to put my money where my mouth is and start my own company and do better then them. I’ll take the easy route out and blame the global financial crisis for it instead 🙂

Ideals of Life: The Transition.

I’ve noticed that whenever I start a project or define one of my dreams there’s always a couple stages I go through. Initially I’ll get an idea about something (this blog is a good example) and I’ll muse over it for a while. During this time I’ll do some research on it, discuss it with friends which gives me a really good grounding from which to work on. Then comes what I believe is the hardest part, which is actually getting off my ass and working on bringing this idea into reality. After working on it for a while something interesting usually happens, and this is what I refer to as “The Transition” whereby I’m no longer driving myself to achieve this goal, it’s driving me to completion.

More recently this came to me whilst doing my daily CrossFit work out. I’d completed the routine for the day and this is when I’d usually just pack up and leave. After thinking about leaving for all of 10 seconds I immediately thought I could easily do another 10 minutes and the best thing was I wanted to. Now up until this stage I’d been making myself do the workout of the day and not really adding to it, as per usual I was doing the minimum work required. That day marked a change in my attitude towards doing these daily workouts and the transition from me driving myself towards the goal and the goal motivating me.

What usually triggers the transition for me is when I start to see measurable results from the effort I put in. I find it hard to start anything that I can see immediate or short term results which is why I always split most of my long term goals up into smaller ones so that I don’t lose motivation. Some of the time though I’m lucky enough to discover something  that doesn’t require small short term goals to keep me motivated, like my dream of becoming a pilot and eventually an astronaut. Although I’d class dreams as separate entities from goals, as they pose their own set of challenges.

But that’s a post for another day! 🙂

Managers, Metrics and Misanthropy.

When I was a young and naive lad I had firmly set my sights on becoming a project manager. It seemed like a great place to aim towards, the money appeared to be good and you’re not bound to one industry so there’s no end of jobs and new opportunities. I even managed to convince two groups of university students to make me their project manager, with one of them garnering a mild success with the other failing horribly (which I will admit was pretty much all my fault). Still this didn’t deter me and I continued to pursue a career as a project manager, working my way up from low level IT work in the hopes I could make the jump into projects sometime in the future.

Roll forward a couple years and I found myself working for Unisys as part of the outsourcing arrangement with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship here in Canberra. It was a good work environment and I quickly improved my skills over the first 6 months or so. I even thought I had the skills to take a shot at one of the specialist positions, something that I hoped would lead me onto more project work. Talking to the current specialists I was led to believe it was a very client facing position, and I marketed myself as someone who was capable of managing client relationships well and proving to be a valuable project resources. I didn’t get the position however they did offer me a role as a technical lead in the new projects section they were creating, something which sounded pretty cool at the time. Eventually it turned out that this position was really a junior project manager role, and for the first time in a long while I was put in charge of projects. I was in for an awakening of sorts, since the corporate world was nothing like the academic.

My first few months in the position started off well. Our section consisted of 2 other people who were in positions just like me. Our focus was small projects that wouldn’t require the involvement of the solutions architect and could be resourced internally. Most of these were IT projects that weren’t covered in the out-sourcing contract, something which I’ve blogged about previously. We were basically a pure profit centre since all of us were hired as system administrators (fully paid for by DIAC) and were moved to the projects team due to them being able meet SLAs without us. I got to work on some pretty cool projects there with my favourite being the deployment of digital fingerprint scanners and cameras to the detention centres in Australia. The house of cards started to come tumbling down when the higher ups needed a “clearer view” of what we were doing and of course bungled the whole thing.

Since we had come from the administrators team we still used the majority of their systems for all of our daily activities. Requests for new projects would come through the same incident management system and this was the first place management decided to look for to derive some metrics. The problem here was that a typical project can’t be judged under the same SLA as an incident, since one of them is a problem that needs to be resolved ASAP and the other could stretch out over many months depending on the scope. We copped a fair beating over the way the tickets were being handled, so we fought back saying the system was inadequate for accurately tracking our progress. This led to a lengthy battle between us and the Projects Management Office (which at the time was technically the Asset Management area) as they had promised us as system that would allow them to get the metrics they desired. We eventually got our way by not going through the “proper channels” (we called a meeting with them directly without involving our managers) and got a system in place. This happened a few weeks before I left Unisys, and was still suffering from teething problems when I left.

My short time as a project manager taught me many things. The first was that I never wanted to be a project manager ever again. Most of my time was spent either chasing clients for money or asking them whether or not they actually wanted the project they asked for. Also project managers should never be taken from a group of people they will be managing as they need to be at least 1 step removed to avoid any contention issues. There’s nothing more awkward than trying to force your friends or former colleagues to do some work, something I encountered a few times.

The second, and probable one of the most valuable lessons, was that you have to be careful in how you define and apply metrics to anything as improper use of them will skew your vision of what is really happening. One of the often use metrics that I despise is the time taken to close a call when on a help desk. The poor operators were pressured into closing their calls quickly which usually meant that if the problem wasn’t solved there would be a severe lack of information, transferring the load from the call centre to the more costly second level support teams. Closing calls quickly is great and all, but what they what they were really doing is costing the company more to get the same outcome.

It was all summed up pretty succinctly for me in this one quote I came across on Slashdot:

Management gets the behaviour that it rewards, not necessarily the behaviour that it pretends to ask for.

Metrics are supposed to encourage people to achieve goals that align with the company’s vision. However they more often than not reward people for doing something completely different and that’s where the problem lies. I guess it all comes from that culture of wanting to boil everything down to a nice chart for the higher ups, but that’s a story for another day.

It’s Pronounced “Nuclear”.

I can’t help but feel that there are some technologies out there that just get hit with a bad name once and are then driven underground because of it. Cold fusion was a great example of this since the scientists who were experimenting with it first didn’t follow proper scientific method but now any serious research into this area is immediately hit with disdain, even though there are some results that require further investigation. This becomes all the more painful when something that is proven to work gets the same sort of reaction. I am of course referring to nuclear power, or fission reactors.

Now what’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions nuclear power to you? Is it a clean source of energy or do you get images of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and nuclear weaponry? It seems the majority of the world is stuck in the latter mindset, only remembering the horrors that nuclear power brings to the world. The truth of the matter is that not only is nuclear power completely safe, it’s also a lot more friendly to the environment than any other fossil fuel based means of generating power.

The first round of questions I usually get concerning nuclear power is “Doesn’t it produce highly radioactive and toxic waste?” and the answer is yes, it does. However, per kilowatt of power produced a coal plant will release around 100 times more radiation into the surrounding environment. Additionally most of the waste produced by a nuclear plant that comes out radioactive means it’s still usable as fuel for a reactor, it just requires some more handling. This is done using breeder reactors which I do admit carry with them a small risk of proliferation. This can be easily offset by modifying the breeder to render the weapons grade stuff unusable, keeping the risk well within acceptable levels.

One country that has been listening to people like me is France, producing well over 85% of their electricity from nuclear sources. They’ve also only had 2 incidents arising from their use of nuclear power and breeding reactors, giving them an amazing track record for safety. You would think that if there was such a high risk in using nuclear power that the French would have had a multitude of accidents, but they haven’t. Clearly nuclear power is a lot safer than what the general public believes.

To give you an idea of just how bad public opinion is here’s a graph showing the number of nuclear reactors over time:

794px-Nuclear_Power_HistoryImage used under the The Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License Version 2.5 from Global Warming Art.

The Three Mile Island incident was a pretty minor affair technically and nuclear power continued to grow afterwards. However Chernobyl tarnished the world’s view of nuclear power and it hasn’t really recovered since. The fact of the matter is the reactor responsible for that disaster was known at the time to be an unsafe design and modern reactors are quite capable of shutting themselves down before such a disaster can occur.

It’s the old saying of once bitten, twice shy. The world suffered through a major accident with nuclear power and from then on anyone peddling it as the solution to the world’s energy problems has to work past lobbyists, politicians and the society at large. It’s hard to convince everyone that the risks are far lower than what they used to be, and for some reason the mythical idea of a clean coal power plant seems like a better idea than proven nuclear technologies. Australia as a nation, who’s uranium reserves are the largest in the world, is well positioned to take advantage of this technology. With so much unarable land available there’s no reason for us not to set up large reactors away from major population centres, keeping the “risks” to the population even smaller still.

So hopefully the next time you talk to someone about nuclear power you won’t see the green glowing boogey man that seems so ingrained in everyone’s heads. One day nuclear will be one of our few options left, and it is my hope that we begin working on implementing a nuclear based power infrastructure before its our last option.