Lessons from Chernobyl 30 Years Later

Source: history.com

Source: history.com

Each April 26, apart from recalling the anniversary of my first ever hard drive crash, I wonder if we have learned anything from Chernobyl.

Thirty years ago on this day, easily the worst peacetime nuclear disaster occurred on this planet. And it leaves us with a big question.

Can nuclear installations be trusted in the hands of the government near population centers?

I wonder why Chernobyl has not made the answer easier for us. Clearly not. Chernobyl is not just a reflection of the horrors of nuclear technology, but it is also an insight into the mindset of the bureaucracy in a country with a massive government.

Granted, such a design mistake has not been repeated since, yet that is not the only danger involved in nuclear reactors.

We probably do not realize the extent of irreversible damage nuclear radiation could cause. Actually, we clearly don’t.

 

Chernobyl released at least 100 times more radiation than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, according to the BBC. Other sources consider the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone uninhabitable for humans due to dangerous Cesium radiation levels, and that the inhabitable zone would remain dangerous for the next 20,000 years. That’s shocking.

Not to mention the terrible toll the disaster has taken on animal life in the region, with suppressed biodiversity and startling diseases emerging among newborn and children as a result of genetic mutations.

 

Chernobyl disaster literally turned the neighboring Pripyat into a ghost town, which sends chills down your spine.

The nuclear radiation from the disaster spread out as far as Sweden and Western Europe.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

We may hear about it on a day like this, but we never really believe that a nuclear spill or meltdown as in the case of Chernobyl could last for thousands of years.

As of January 2016, 439 nuclear reactors are operating around the world on five continents. While there is no doubt that nuclear technology has only improved over the years and most scientists consider nuclear technology very safe, it hardly changes the lethality of a possible accident.

Fukushima could not have been a harsher reminder of our vulnerability. If a highly advanced industrial nation such as Japan cannot handle the breakdown of a nuclear reactor in the aftermath of a natural disaster, even worse can be expected from countries with far poorer government infrastructure, such as Pakistan and India.

As a matter of fact, some reports suggest that the fallout from Fukushima is far worse than Chernobyl and Hiroshima and that the worst effects of the accident are yet to materialize. However, the reporting of the risk has largely to do with the politics of the source as well, there is little doubt that Chernobyl was incomparable in its consequences due to its meltdown nature.

Fukushima also reveals is that no nuclear facility is completely disaster proof and that the potential fallout is nothing short of an environmental apocalypse.

I leave this post by pondering what to make of nuclear energy policy. Nuclear energy has its benefits as clean energy and the probability of nuclear accidents is considered very low. Furthermore, with maintaining nuclear weapons becoming almost a necessity for world powers, why not just take the risk of building nuclear reactors for power generation as well?

After all, they are well protected anyway.

But isn’t the risk of the pervasiveness of civil nuclear power plants unique in its own right? Despite the fact that most of the warnings about the potential danger of this mode of generating power are dismissed as pure alarmism.

Clearly, the only lesson that is visible after 30 years is that we are only building more nuclear reactors.

But what if we were building around our neighborhoods, with our own hands, the same disaster that we feared and dreaded so much during the uncertain Cold War?

Sadly, the evidence that we have witnessed over the years is just too overwhelming to ignore.

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RIP Steve Jobs – Lessons From the Inventor

Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011) - Source: The Apple Tribute

Woke up to the terrible news of the demise of Steve Jobs, arguably the most innovative and brilliant entrepreneur of our times. His works have been monumental in computer technology and probably he is greatly responsible in part for starting the revolution which has made it possible for you to read these lines right now.

While Steve Jobs made record revenue and profits for his organization, as anyone in his place should, he is an inspiration for much more than that. His impact on the modern day technology, from software and personal computers to tablet computers, from mobile phones to portable digital music players, is immense and hardly needs any mention because then the post will look more like an Apple ad. But his creations were mostly about design and utility. No nonsense.

That is one marketing lesson.

For a man who talked frequently about death, he certainly knew how to live and showed that to everyone else by example. I am deeply moved by his death and most of all, of his attitude towards it. It is hard to be strong when you see death coming your way. It is remarkable if you defy the fear of it and go on to live the way you love.

The following piece offers a great insight into his life.

The Spiritual Side of Steve Jobs

It is only fitting that Steve Jobs be allowed to complete this post himself, as his words will surely be remembered in history as great and inspirational. His philosophy was that we are here to put a dent in the universe. He has certainly put a dent in the history of human civilization. Advances that must be recorded for the generations to come.

The following is the text of his commencement address at Stanford University delivered on June 12, 2005, which can be found on the official Stanford University website here.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

The text says it all. It is overwhelming, personal, emotional, engaging, strong and most of all, effective. It is being shared all over the internet today, in tributes and in news. It tells a remarkable story of a remarkable man and offers lessons in each phrase for anyone willing to take them.  It is never too late.

But here is the greatest lesson of all from the man.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”

                                            – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Thank you, Mr. Steve Jobs.

Lessons From Gaddafi

Source: The Daily Telegraph

So the reign of the old Colonel, Moammer Gaddafi, has come to an end. Finally.

All things must pass away, they say. A man, for example. Nothing lasts forever. But perhaps these taken for granted facts were something the illustrious dictator of Libya forgot. I would not go into the political echoes of the event, but just human lessons you could extract out of it and what the historian could tell you about it. Still politics is as related to the matter as the eye is related to sight.

Everyone has a loathing for Gaddafi for being brutal and cold-hearted and cruel for bombing his very own people. But at the same time, I could also imagine what would be going through his mind and in his heart. A falling dictator is the most desperate man in the world. So while I despised him for being cruel to his own people who paid for his luxuries, I also had a bit of sympathy for him and his family. Like I had for Hosni Mobarek of Egypt and his family.

I don’t want them to flourish on the luxuries they do not deserve but I want them to live. For those who want them dead because they were responsible for the death of their loved ones is a different story. I can’t fully understand death for justice so I would leave the subject to those who do and be thankful as long as I am not the one facing the shooting squad. But I still think their families are innocent and deserve to live.

Establishing this point, let us move forward. Royalty. which need not be hereditary and let me integrate it to the modern times despite the general despise of monarchies and the popularity of republics, bears the burden of the sins attached to its name. This is what the history tells us. Think of the Romanovs, murdered in cold blood in some oblivious house and picture the young Alexei and Anastasia and their other sisters dying, simply because they were the children of Czar Nicholas II. Cruel from a human viewpoint, but just the right thing to do maybe from the Bolshevik perspective. Maybe it was necessary because an Anastasia appeared in Germany several years later.

In the modern times, families of government figures may be allowed to live in peace if they remain quiet, just like the son of the exiled Shah of Iran. Gaddafi had a choice of fleeing Libya much earlier than he did. He could have read the writing on the wall. Even a child watching TV could. But maybe Gaddafi wasn’t watching TV or he would have known. Instead, he was hoping to cling on to the throne he had been clinging on to for nearly four decades. It is was too dear to him, maybe more than his family, which is why he lost his sons and grandsons in the battle for it.

It is not a question of right and wrong or good and evil here. It is a question of being a victor or a loser. The rebels were backed by the NATO and Gaddafi could not have expected to resist them for long, so in the end his rule was limited to his palace in Tripoli. So he retreated too late. I was keenly waiting for the news of his escape to another country, but the more it was delayed, the more I became convinced of his delusions, erratic thought process and messed up priorities. He was stuck somewhere in the middle of being a man who never wanted to give up and who was too afraid to die.

A spectator and a historian would never be able to make up their minds about whether to hate the man or whether to have respect for him. Most of them would comfortably eliminate the latter option, as you cannot really have a lot of respect, if at all, for a man who cannot really make up his mind between his family and his throne, and not sure of what was more prized to him. But maybe anyone else in his place would be torn apart in the same dilemma. Being as resourceful as he was, it is easy to say that he could have easily found his way to a safe country with his family.

For a moment, I thought Gaddafi was fighting for his pride and his glory. That he would fight to the last bullet in the barrel and the last drop of blood in his veins. The kind of dictators who would rather commit suicide than be overpowered by the enemy and captured and humiliated, like Adolf Hitler of the Third Reich or the great warrior kings of Rajputana. But no, he even wasn’t that type. A confused man or one who was caught in the whirlwind of circumstances. Who can tell but himself. But we can see where he was wrong and what he could have done to minimize the damage. The throne was already lost and there was no other way to it.

Had family been the first priority of Gaddafi, he could have left Libya with them way too early than when he really did. I heard the news that his daughter gave birth to a child when he reached with his family in Algeria. This is what the difference can mean. Life and death. I guess one of his sons died in the action, fighting against the rebels, or in a NATO bombing. Maybe they did not have to do that. Maybe he did not have to be so brutal to the public. Maybe he could have had enough foresight to realize that his end was near. He could have run away way before the Bastille was overrun. He did just that but he also assigned the task of guarding it to his loved ones, if that is the right term to use here.

Not all dictators give their power away so violently. There was Pervez Musharraf of  Pakistan, for example. Not all are too smart, recall the way Saddam Hussein ended up. Maybe he didn’t have many friends. A huge mistake for a dictator. Gaddafi was made to give up his power just like every other dictator, but he seemed more like a child separated from his toy, if you ignore the innocence part. But still you would expect him to foresee it.

I think it could be a completely seperate and dedicated area of research, how dictators should escape their impending doom. Survival can make man do crazy things and the things that Gaddafi did would go down in the history as among the craziest. So if you are a dictator and love your family a bit more than Gaddafi did or love your throne a bit less and if you are fighting against the NATO, it is better to make an early, safe and pleasant escape to a country like Algeria if Saudi Arabia refuses to accept your entry.

It remains to be seen if he will be tried for crimes against humanity. That also depends on how many friends you have, and how many you run out of. I just happened to glance past a New York Times photo feature based on the family pictures of Gaddafi found in his palace, which now lay in ruins. I have no idea why the American publication felt the need to publish it, maybe to emphasize the humiliation faced by the man and his family, but I leave you with it.

In the end, you have to come to the point when you need to decide whether you are a dictator or a human.