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:
Image 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.
Ask people on the street about Windows Vista and you’ll usually get the response “Isn’t Vista crap?” even though many of them have not used it nor have a clue about what you actually get from it. For the past year I’ve been using Vista as my main desktop and really I found it to be quite usable. Sure there were some things that were obviously changes for change sake (where did my up folder button go?!?!) but overall the new UI was pretty appealing and once you were past about 2GB of system memory there wasn’t much of a performance difference between them. However, the initial fiasco of it requiring such an exotic system just to run and the incompatibility with many legacy devices lead to bad perceptions all over the place. Something that Microsoft hasn’t been able to shake to this day.
Enter the ring Windows 7, Microsoft’s evolutionary step into the next world of operating systems. With such a shorter development time then Vista this wasn’t going to be the new revolution of the computing world that Vista was supposed to be. No this clucky little system was supposed to build on Vista’s success whilst making the whole user experience much more pleasant and secure. As it turns out, Windows 7 might actually achieve what Vista set out to do.
I’ve been using Windows 7 exclusively as my main computer for the past couple weeks, and there’s a couple things I’d love to share with you.
First off the installation of Windows 7 takes a much shorter time then any other OS that I’ve installed. From booting up from the disk to a usable system I had the install time just shy of 20 minutes, with most of that spent with me away from the computer. They’ve even gone to the trouble of making the loading screen look pretty, which while completely useless is a nice touch.
Boot times have been significantly reduced, including time to usable¹. Vista had a nasty habit of showing the initial loading screen and then a black screen for a while before letting you login. They’ve bypassed this part and once the initial logo disappears the login screen comes up seconds later.
They’ve redesigned the UI for Windows 7, which I initially groaned at. Most of the time I encounter UI changes things are moved around for no good reason (hello Facebook) and it takes me more time to figure out how to do something than what I actually want to do. However, the Windows 7 UI is a refreshing change from this, with many of the changes being revisionary steps forward, rather than a whole paradigm shift (Ha! Correctly used buzzwords). The augmentations to the start menu are very useful, especially for things like the Remote Desktop Client. If you could navigate your way around Vista you won’t find Windows 7 hard at all. In fact, I think you’ll find it easier.
Windows 7 really does seem to be everything that Vista should have been. It’s fast, very usable but different enough from the previous version to really set it apart. However, under its sleek and shiny exterior it really is a revamped Vista at heart, which leads me to my main point for this post.
Vista got blackballed from the first day it was released and unfortunately could never shake the negative press associated with it. Microsoft in its wisdom tried to remedy this by initiating Project Mojave, a sneaky little project that gussied up Vista as some new and exciting OS from Microsoft. Whilst this proved Microsoft’s point that Vista was actually a very capable and usable OS it did not improve the market’s perception of the product. Windows 7 on the other hand is Microsoft’s next genuine attempt at a new OS and as much as I’d like to say it’s changed, it’s still Vista underneath.
Sure, there are many changes between the two and not just in terms of UI. The revised UAC model is a tad more usable although still fundamentally useless from a security perspective, and there are several other administration tweaks. Device Stage sounds like a great idea, and hopefully the driver writers step up to the plate to take advantage of this.
Overall I’m very happy with the way Windows 7 is going. I believe more frequent releases of operating systems leads to them being far more in tune with the market and it will help ease the transition pain we saw with XP to Vista. The great news is that Microsoft is offering Windows 7 as a free upgrade to all Vista users and downgraders, something that will definitely work wonders for its initial adoption. Additionally most applications that have been reworked for Vista will work with 7, so there should be a lot less compatability issues moving from XP to 7.
It does beg the question however, was Vista really the failure it was made out to be or was it the failure they had to have in order to get everyone in the mindset for a change?
That is an exercise left up to the reader 🙂
¹This is the time taken from pressing the power button to actually being able to use the computer. Vista would start up quick but wouldn’t be usable for quite some time.