Archive for October, 2009

Interesting Conversation on a Recent Flight

October 26, 2009

I’ll admit it – I don’t often talk to strangers on airplane flights (or conversely, they don’t often talk to me). Maybe it’s because when I get to my plane seat I quickly set into passing the time (reading, listening to music/audio, sometimes sleeping) and people might interpret this as aloofness. Some conversations that I have had were fascinating such as when I shared a flight with a world-renown judge of cat shows.

I did have another interesting one recently with a young man traveling to San Francisco from the East Coast. This kid (he told me he was 24) looked exactly like the stereotypical hippie from the ’60s (he could have been a cast member for a theatrical revival of Hair) and was from North Carolina (like me) which triggered our conversation. He told me that he was moving to Northern California to work in the medicinal herb business based on his extensive experience in Florida and North Carolina. This lead to his description of how herbs can increase knowledge and awareness.

If you haven’t guessed already (and which became clear as he “warmed up” to me), the medicinal herbs he meant were marijuana/pot. If that weren’t interesting enough, he told me that he had been recruited by Northern California farmers for his cultivation skills. His new employers were going to meet him in San Francisco and take him to his work location (which he did not know in advance when accepting the job).

I found this concept fascinating – national recruitment of individuals with pot growing skills, just like any other job search and recruitment process. I’m not sure what to make of it – I certainly steered clear of him at baggage claim – but it certainly made the flight pass more quickly and gives me an interesting story to tell.

My Visit to ITER

October 22, 2009

Several weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to visit and give a talk at ITER (, the multinational laboratory for building a fusion reactor. This visit was especially meaningful since my younger son (Christopher) works at the lab.

The goals of ITER are quite lofty – to harness the energy of the stars and thereby provide mankind with a safe, cheap, and inexhaustible source of energy for the future. However, aside from the value of the science, the way that they are approaching this goal and their commitment to the environment impressed me deeply.

ITER is a collaboration between the European Union, the United States (which will hopefully keep paying its dues), China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. What is unique about their mission is that all member nations will be self-sufficient in development of the fusion technology, i.e., each nation will be capable of building a working reactor without depending upon any other nation for resources, technology, etc. Therefore fusion power will not be controlled by a few nations (like fossil fuels) and not become a tool for political machinations.

ITER’s commitment to the environment is demonstrated by the way they are constructing the massive ITER site. The reactor site is an area of many acres and is, according to them, the flattest man-made space on earth. It involved clearing a large forest and enormous volumes of earth. Trees from the forest were relocated and attached to trees in a nearby existing forest. This action enabled the wildlife living in the relocated trees to move to living trees. Likewise the relocated earth was moved to protect any wildlife that lived within it. I have never heard of a similar project to protect native wildlife (clearly much of it microscopic).

ITER’s goals and approach towards reaching those goals provides a great example that big, multinational science can still work and provide benefit to all.

By the way, anyone interested in my talk, on Web Science, can see it at