Thorium Remix – Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors – nuclear power tutorial

Um... why aren't we doing this already?
Um… why aren’t we flying Thorium-powered cars already? (Image:

Robert Llewellyn posted Thorium Remix, a 2 hour-long video on Google Plus recently and I’ve just sat down to watch it in its entirety.  In it, Kirk Sorensen explains Thorium, Liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTR or “lifter”) and using Thorium as a fuel in addition to Uranium in existing nuclear power plants.

Apart from a few comments about solar and wind that I think are a bit dismissive, you can learn a lot from this video about the history and science of nuclear power.  And you’ll wonder why we haven’t got one of these already.  It is not so much a big global conspiracy that is keeping it down; the reasons for the direction the world took on nuclear power are lamer than that.

There’s also some good discussion about Fukushima Daiichi power plant. I was in Japan in October 2011 (I was originally going to be in Sendai on 11 March 2011) and there was still a lot of concern about the nuclear industry. When a radioactive source was found a few km away from me in Tokyo by a mother with a Geiger counter/dosimeter, the first reports wondered how such a strong source could have travelled 250km and what did this mean for areas closer to Fukushima. The source was bottles of Radium that had probably been it an abandoned shed since 1955. (In 1956, new laws about the safe handling and storage of Radium took effect.)

I also learnt more nuclear physics in these 2 hours than I did at years of high school and university.  What’s the correlation between half-life and how radioactive a substance is?  It is worth your time and effort to watch this video about a version of the future of energy.

As homework, it’s worth comparing these two terms:

  • Linear no-threshold that radiation is always considered harmful with no safety threshold, and the sum of several very small exposures are considered to have the same effect as one larger exposure (response linearity)
  • Radiation hormesis that low doses of ionizing radiation (within the region and just above natural background levels) are beneficial, stimulating the activation of repair mechanisms that protect against disease, that are not activated in absence of ionizing radiation.

The Bonner Widowmaker and creating segments in Strava

Strava view of Bonner Widowmaker segment
Strava view of Bonner Widowmaker segment

This morning the fog was quite thick and had only just burnt away when I went for my ride. I intended to explore a few new tracks identified as segments on Strava.  The Border Run has an alternative downhill section I wanted to check out and I also wanted to create a segment that Amandeep and I have ridden (and in my case walked) recently.

Bonner Widowmaker

That name comes from the Widowmaker Hill Climb that I saw on Wide World of Sports 30 years ago.  The main event features 1000 ft (305 m) of climbing on a nearly impossible hill.  Despite modifications such as paddle-wheel style tread rear tyres and very long chain stays, only 19 riders have reached the summit in over 4500 attempts.  I can’t find a gradient measurement, but it is beyond steep.

The Bonner Widowmaker is steep and silly like its Utahan namesake.  The average gradient is 11.25% (the figure above for distance is rounded to the nearest 100m.) with sections as steep as 23%.  It is almost too steep to walk, let alone ride up.  Or down.  The path is mostly grass with thin tyre tracks in the hard clay.  Pink quartz is scattered in sections, making the path quite bumpy.  It is so steep that your front wheel is very light and can easily leave the ground and it’s all too easy to loop the bike.  Even sitting on the nose of the saddle with my hands on the bar-ends with elbows bent and my body forward and low wasn’t enough to prevent wheelies.  But at least I was able to keep a fairly straight line.

I stopped five times.  My elapsed time was 18:18, which felt like my earlier attempts.  My resting time was 12:41, time that I spent sitting, admiring the view and waiting for my heart rate to fall to a human level.  So my riding time was 7:27.  Had I stayed on for the length of the climb, I’d say that 7:27 was a good time.  With better fitness, I might just be able to climb that hill in a single go, or at least without stopping for death 5 times.

On my first attempt on 6 April 2013 I walked 90% of it.  I simply couldn’t stay balanced when the front wheel bounced around and it was almost impossible to get my clips into the pedals to push off again.

My second attempt on 12 April 2013 with flat pedals was much better and much steadier, as previously reported.  I spent a lot of time riding across the hill and zig-zagging up it.  I only walked a 10m section just before the top to get better grip.

Props to Amandeep who has ridden the entire length a few times.  He had to stop now and again, but unlike me he rode it.

Strava – making a segment

This is very simple.  Take an existing ride and mark off a section of it, give it a name and save.  Cross-referencing with the map and altitude graph makes it easy to pinpoint the section.

I might have missed something on MapMyRide but I got the impression that I could only create a “Course” from a real map; not from a Workout.  And since many of the tracks I took weren’t on maps, I couldn’t create a Course.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Segments are best made without pauses or stumbles

My segment has a few wobbles.  As my iPhone was in my jersey pocket (I can’t find my waterproof case anywhere!) when I stepped off the bike, a new wobble was recorded.  It also put little dips on the tracks that aren’t there.  It wouldn’t make sense for Strava to automatically straighten out a segment, especially if those dips and shuffles were part of the track.

I think that the solution is for me to walk the track (without the bike) and use that straight run as the basis of the segment.  I’ll record that as a walk so as not to post another impossible time.

Today’s time and my previous, impossible times

Strava recorded 18:18 as my time on the climb.  That was the elapsed time but I spent 12:41 of that resting for a total riding time of 7:27.

My previous times recorded on MapMyRide, converted to TCX files and then uploaded to Strava are 4:25 on 6 April 2013 for my first ride (or walk) and 5:03 on 12 April 2013 for my second.  Both seem to have been affected by the auto-pause function and seemed to have been tricked by my very slow progress.

The only way to post a fair time is to ride the climb in one pass or getting straight back on after stumbling.  I’m working on it.  My elapsed time of 18:18 should crumble soon as I didn’t need that much rest.  My riding time of 7:27 was slow and steady.   I wonder if I’ll even beat the impossible 4:25 one day!

Border Track detour – Mulligans DH

I’ve noticed a few Strava users taking a different line from the Border Track along a segment known as Mulligans DH (down hill).  About 1km from the junction of the Border Track and Mulligans Circuit and just over the second climb you’ll see the Treecreeper Gate to the right.  Through that gate and Mulligans DH is the track along the fence.  You avoid two steep climbs and a somewhat tricky descent adjacent to a pine forest on the Border Track going this way.

Mulligans DH is a nice down hill; no jumps, moderately rough terrain and some 90° corners just for fun.  Though the newly-metalled parts were a bit squirmy.

I took it easy at the top and let it go about 1/3 of the way down.  The final sharp corner and small climb caught me out a little so I took at fairly easy to the finish; the Curlew Gate on the Pipeline Track .  After seeing my Starva time of 3:00 was only 11 seconds behind the KOM, in hindsight I could have gone a bit faster.

Using Strava for the benefit of mankind

Perhaps that’s too high a goal.  But I am using Strava as a benchmark for my own times; firstly to log what I’m doing and secondly to see if I am improving as I go.  It would be interesting to combine heart rate and power over a ride because that’s where an improvements will be subtly obvious.  I mean that my time might be slower for a particular run but if my heart rate is relatively low, then I completed the ride more efficiently and I’m getting fitter.

The rides are a bit too hard to be in the zone for burning fat.  A 166 average HR is about 30 beats higher than it could be for a good burn and I spend 1/3 to 1/2 of the time above zone 3.  I’ll start using my cross-trainer for a steady HR-specific workout.  Winter sometimes gets an early start on ANZAC Day; we’ve had a few sub-zero mornings already.  Hopefully I’ll stick to a reasonable riding routine during Winter and be bursting by Spring.  Whenever that decides to visit.

If you want to be offensive be funny, not lazy

I first heard of Andy Ihnatko when I saw him on Robert Llewellyn’s Carpool.  By way of introduction, here’s the episode. 

I started listening to the Ihnakto Almanac podcast soon afterwards.  His topics range from comics, movies, culture to technology and back again.  I’m not interested on all of those subjects, but as I look back over the 68 podcast titles I now realise that I’ve been greatly influenced by his suggestions and I’m not even a comic book guy (more of a manga otaku).  So far he has apparently influenced me to do the following actions:

  1. Bought Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs
  2. Watched Hugo in 3D (I never go to the cinema.  Last film was Death at a Funeral, original not remake)
  3. Supported my local comic book store (Of course I’d support Dee’s)
  4. Bought Stan Sakai’s 47 Ronin… and wondered why comic books are so short!
  5. Considered buying The Big Bang Theory box set.  (Channel 9 makes every one of their programs so uninviting on the promos that I’d not considered it worth watching.  My PeopleMeter records and pristine remote control button will attest to that channel not featuring in my TV viewing.)
  6. Looked for an old DVD of Ground-hog Day
  7. And finally, while listening to the podcast, bought Jonathan Coulton’s rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back from iTunes to cock a snoot at his being ripped off by Glee and Fox.

If he calls for revolution, I’m not sure what I’m going to do!

Who thinks Family Guy stinks?

In his podcast No.67 God Is Great, Markdown Is Okay, “Family Guy” Stinks Andy let fly on the lazy humour of Family Guy.  Listen from 15:40 “Stephen Freeman…” and the next 20 minutes.  Andy explained why he stopped watching Family Guy and why it is racist, sexist and advocates violence against women and children.

In the spirit of his increasing influence on my life (spooky!) his rant made me think about the humour that I like and why.  A lot of the comedy I like is edgy.  Why do I like Harry Enfield when he says “Women!  Know Your Limits!” but shudder at early Eddie Murphy (as even Eddie Murphy does these days) that is vaguely similar?  Why do I laugh uncontrollably at the torrent of filth that is Derek and Clive?  When Ricky Gervais defends the duo by saying, “Contrary to popular belief, swearing is both big and clever” is that justification enough?

Regular readers will know that I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to writing letters of complaint about offensive comedy. So I decided to comment (not complain) to some guy who does a podcast while thinking about why what I like might be offensive and OK at the same time…

#67 and Family Guy

[edited a bit to add videos and links and fix sppeling]

I’m with you to a point. I too can take only so much of Family Guy. When South Park deduced that Family Guy was written by manatees in a tank fill of balls, in which no subject no matter how pointless could be avoided, it was right.

But if comedians aren’t lazy, then edgy material can be very funny.  Apropos of Peter beating up Lucy being lazy and seriously unfunny… the funniest fight scene between a man and a woman is in The IT Crowd Series 3 Episode 4 “The Speech” when April (who used to be a man) and Douglas (who thought April said that she was “from Iran”). Their brawl is so violent that they destroy “the Internet”.  That, or the sex scene in “The Tall Guy”.

There’s lots of humour that is not racist when taken in context. Racial, but not racist. Dave Chappelle’s comedy is racial in context, but not racist. He uses stereotypes and “edgy” material to help us in the audience think and talk about the issues.  Or just laugh.

“Stereotypes are a real time-saver” – The Onion

Hung Le is a Vietnamese-Australian (you know… dreadlocks, plays the violin ) who is also racial. He is self-deprecating (like most Australian comedians) but not self-degrading.  Both Dave and Hung exploit our knowledge of stereotypes to make their gags work, but they’re not inviting us to think of them as bound by those stereotypes. I’m guessing that a doctrinaire racist would not find their humour funny because it is more empowering than degrading.

“How do you know when your house has been burgled by a Vietnamese person? Your dog is missing and all of your homework has been done.” – Hung Le

Adam Hills was born without a right foot and does a mean impersonation of the T-1000 Terminator in the liquid nitrogen.  He’s has been around for a while but his coverage of the 2012 London Paralympics on “The Last Leg” has broken down a lot of barriers. (Arguably, the “Meet the Superhumans” advertising campaign for the Paralympics and then the Paralympics did the heavy-lifting first and then The Last Leg hoped through the rubble.)

Years ago he joked to some maimed veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq that ‘…[your country] is going to have the best Paralympic team in 2012!”, to which some “normals” overreacted.  But the soldiers themselves shared his view and some even looked forward to competing.  The Last Leg was sometimes awkward to watch, but was always funny.

“What an amazing country Canada is. They’re bilingual, they have same-sex marriages and they have Braille on their banknotes. Canada is the only country in which two blind French lesbians can get married and pay for it in cash.” – Adam Hills

Watch Monty Python or The Goodies or the Q series from Spkie Milligan for a lesson in how not to write for female characters. Funny shows, but their humour was of a very different time. Sexism by omission? Can we defend the élite to make such jokes?

Apparently, yes. Derek and Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) were unremittingly offensive. When an older brother or older friend played you a tape of “The Horn” your mind was blown by inconceivably offensive material delivered by seemingly well-educated people.  What other comedians would use the phrase “wandered out of the Garden of Gethsemane” in a dirty joke? Even some “right-on” and “alternative” comedians are like the rest of us in awe of their special brand of tasteless material covered in bits of sick.

CLIVE: No, no it said, “And lo! Jesus suddenly got the horn and wandered out of the Garden of Gethsemane and f….d himself stupid for twenty-eight years.” And that bit got left out ’cause, erm, I think it was Matthew thought it would be a bad idea, bad for the image. – Peter Cook

Back to Family Guy… I agree that it is lazy comedy. It’s like that time I thought that I was asking Princess Di “when is it due?” when I was actually talking to Mother Teresa.

I’ll say it… “Ted” was a not a conventional rom-com, but it was a good-hearted movie.  Seth MacFarlane can write good female characters.  There… he doesn’t have to be lazy. I even watched Ted again as the recent unpleasantness unfolded after the Boston Marathon as an odd form of tribute to the spirit of the city and its people.  (And because I don’t have Good Will Hunting on DVD.)

It is possible to be edgy, challenging and confronting and still be funny.  Not everyone will find it funny and some may be offended.  In the same way that your maiden aunt may laugh at a dirty joke that is funny and not laugh at a dirty joke that is just dirty.

And if nothing else, the paradox of Family Guy and similar programs on Fox and Fox News proves something about my erstwhile compatriot Rupert Murdoch… he’s in it for the money.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Sarah Silverman though…

Worthy of a response

This morning I downloaded Dr Karl’s Science talkback and The Ihnatko Almanac No. 68 Palpatine as Your Role Model over 3G; I’d forgot to sync while I was in Wi-Fi.  I even tried waiting at my back fence to hope for some signal before the morning bus came.

On the way home I heard my letter mentioned.  Listen from 50:40.  I got home and sure enough, there’s the email Andy sent to me.

So I thought, I’d better write a blog post about this.  Because that’s what Andy said I should do.

Let’s give Adam Hills the last word. 

Finally Found Kowen Forest

The location of Canberra within the ACT. Canbe...
The bit on the right that looks like it’s waving at you.  That’s Kowen Forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, that was an interesting weekend…

As even the casual reader would know, I’ve had some trials finding the trails at Kowen Forest.  My Navi takes me to a forest area off Sutton Road that has been constructed for logging truck access.  There is two small parking areas, but not much cycling action.

So… I thought that I had made a plan to meet Trevor at Pushy’s ‘car park sale’ so that I could follow him to Kowen Forest.  (Bought long gloves with cuffs for Winter for $15 reduced from $80 and two $3 cable outers.)  After spending some time and little money and not finding Trevor, I drove aimlessly towards Kowen Forest.

At my third attempt I found “East Kowen Forest, Canberra” on [the old] Kings Highway.  This link to Google Maps shows the location of the car park.   I found Trevor’s car, so I was at least in the right place.  I missed the reference to “Sparrow Hill” and instead rode Northwest to some trails.  Marked with blue arrows and fairly good signs it was easy to navigate.

My first impressions of “The Kow” were just how the tracks flowed so well without requiring much climbing or superior technical skills.  It was fairly easy to maintain pace through twists and turns and really have fun.  The narrow and unfamiliar tracks did catch me out a few times; partly from the dappled light from the mid-autumn mid-morning sunlight through the pines, partly from the pine needles on the track making the edges unclear and the surface slippery and partly from being a bit absorbed in the ambience and not concentrating.

After the 4km loop I returned to the car park and then across to the Sparrow Hill trails to the South of Kings Hwy.  Again the tracks were well-marked and I must say, well-decorated.  Big thanks and respect is due to Self-Propelled Enterprises at for excellence in trail-building, trail-naming and trail-decorative arts.  The decoration ranged from the practical (a dual-flush toilet on Dunnies) to the abstract (cow bones tastefully arranged on another) and back to the practical (yellow reflectors hanging from a tree like a mobile or 1970’s bead curtains).

Once again I was so memorised by the beauty of the trails that I ran off on an uphill corner!  Someone had hidden the curve behind a tree and hadn’t told me.

This footage taken at the Mont 24 Hour race in 2012 gives some impression of the trails and the setting.

There was only one section that I walked: a jump that was well-marked, but I came upon it before I had worked out my line.

As for times… Strava was quite generous.  I rode the 4km loop in 17:01 for 25 place from 128 riders.  I was pushing fairly hard, so that’s a good result first time.  I finished the 11km loop in 59:00 for 189th out of 355.  I had a few off-piste excursions here, so I was a bit more careful as I progressed.  There were some sections that I seemed to take at blinding speed, though this was probably more to do with taking a wide line right to the edge and holding my nerve on the curve.  If I knew the track better I could probably go faster on the right line.

Kowen is much easier to ride than Mt Stromlo.  The physical challenge is not as great so the ride is more fun if you’re not entirely fit or you want to take it easy.

5 stars

Oh, and I returned via Pushy’s to buy the cables to match the outers, some arm warmers and a pair of 3/4 length knicks.  More to come.