Tag Archives: YouTube

Eight of Humankind’s Best Years

by Rick Bretz

The 2013 New Year is approaching and well might be here by the time you read this.  With that obvious statement, I thought it would be a useless exercise in listing the best years human kind has produced. I’ve picked years with the important inventions and developments with an understandably subjective slant.

1800Invention of the battery; this event is a vital point in history.  This could well be the point where civilization begins.  Without batteries for everything from smart phones, remotes, and automobiles, humankind would be lost and forced to talk to each other.

Congress holds first session in an unfinished capitol building.  I could make a nasty comment about congressional recesses, unfinished government business such as budget approvals, and fiscal cliffs but I’ll refrain from easy targets.

Washington, DC officially established as nation’s capitol.

Library of Congress established with initial $5000 funding. After the War of 1812 when the British destroyed much of the library, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his vast collection of books to establish the library again in 1815. He sold his books to the library for $29,950.

Spain cedes Louisiana to France (Setting up the later purchase of the territory from France in 1803 during the Jefferson administration).

1770-The invention of the eraser; if this event had not occurred, many students taking class during pre-computer days would have been forced to submit first drafts.  For many of us, the eraser was an essential tool in math class.

1966-The development of Fiber Optic Cable, perfected by George Hockham and Charles Kao, gave Internet providers the ability to transmit massive amounts of data through optic fibers.  This is a huge development in our ability to watch YouTube videos.

fiber optics
fiber optics (Photo credit: go_nils)

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act.  This act lets someone request information from any government agency so that they can “sanitize” it.  Viewer can see this process in any number of documentaries when the host shows the audience an official government document with big blocks of black covering vital information to the story.

Star Trek premieres on NBC-TV. The birth of “Trekkie” Nation and a movie franchise.

1978– With the first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, launched on February 22, 1978, the world was on its way to traveling without maps. The system was fully integrated with the 24th satellite launched in 1993. It was just a matter of time before the public tossed the map in the back seat and mounted the latest and greatest GPS unit. Today older people can brag that they used to find restaurants and streets by using maps and their internal compasses in three feet of snow.  The GPS technology saves lives today by finding victims more easily. Moreover, the industry also creates thousands of jobs worldwide. In addition to those positives, it almost single-handedly eliminated arguments between spouses while traveling the nation’s highways.  Yes, it was a very good year.


The only GPS satellite on public display is at...
The only GPS satellite on public display is at the San Diego Aerospace Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1859Internal Combustion Engine developed from a steam engine by Belgian inventor Etienne Lenoir. It was the spark that created road trips through the ages.  With Henry Ford perfecting the assembly line production system, cheaper cars would give people the ability to go mobile.  Humankind would invent the hangover later.

In related news, the first successful oil well was drilled near Titusville, PA.

1564-The invention of the lead pencil.  It must have been messy writing with a quill all those years, with ink dripping all over the place.  What is so perplexing to me is that someone didn’t invent the erasure until 1770-people used bread  to erase mistakes instead.

lead pencil
lead pencil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1848-The light went on in Joseph Swan’s head and he invented the light bulb.  With the help of Thomas Edison and some electric current, soon all of America and the world would be able to get up at night without banging their knees on the night stand.

English: Light bulb patent application. Photol...
English: Light bulb patent application. Photolithography reproduction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gas lights first installed in the White House during the James Polk administration.

1897Swiss Army Knife. The original “McGyver” before there was such a thing.  The only thing this knife doesn’t have is a paper clip and some string.    The “Offiziersmesser” or officer’s knife was developed in Schwyz, Switzerland by a surgical equipment manufacturer who didn’t like the fact that Germany supplied the Swiss Army with its knives.  US Army soldiers popularized the knife and started calling it the “Swiss Army Knife.”  Today the company, Victorinox, makes millions of them and sells them worldwide.

Victorinox Swiss Army knife, photo taken in Sw...
Victorinox Swiss Army knife, photo taken in Sweden. This is a Mountaineer model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Edison patents his Kinetograph (movie camera)– later first movie critic invented.

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The Chernobyl Disaster and Fukushima Accident

by Rick Bretz

Nuclear power has the ability to create energy, liberate countries from other energy sources like coal, oil, and water, and therefore pull a nation’s struggling economy forward after years of lagging behind other nations.  In the process, the same nuclear power source can produce tension between players on the world stage as North Korea and Iran are doing today or force every global leader to deal with a disaster and the environmental fallout that leads to an energy policy debate about the viability of nuclear reactors. Nuclear energy has positives and negatives but the one point every one agrees with  is that nuclear accidents are devastating to the environment and can wipeout entire city populations if the fallout isn’t controlled.   As with any new technology, the process and procedures continually evolve.  Engineers learn from design flaws and build systems that have better fail safes.  Operator training improves as scientists and political leaders develop better ways to handle the unique challenges of running nuclear power centers.

The Chernobyl reactor #4
The Chernobyl reactor #4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following is a comparison of how two disasters were handled.  Research indicates that Chernobyl and Fukushima have both been labeled “Accidents”.  I prefer to call Chernobyl a “Disaster” because several lives were lost.  Fukushima should be labeled an “Accident” because no loss of life has been documented from it.  The lives were lost due to the Tsunami.  The chart below shows how the two governments handled the crisis, and more importantly, how much Japan may have learned from other nuclear problems, including the United States’ own nuclear accident, “Three Mile Island.”

                                                                                A Comparison

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Fukushima Nuclear Accident
Year of accident -1986 April 26 Year of accident –11 March 2011
Reason for Accident-Flawed reactor design. Power surge. Lack of communication between operators and Soviet government Reason for Accident-Earthquake followed by Tsunami,  generators on bottom floor. Lack of countermeasures based on current scientific research.
Inadequately trained operators Failure of imagination by designers and engineers
Active reactor sustained steam explosion followed by second explosion Partial reactor meltdown and loss of power to cooling systems   after  8 hours
Radioactive fallout-the radio nuclides reached as far as Britain and   contaminated large areas of the Soviet Union, including Belarus, Ukraine, and   Europe. Radioactive fallout-The Chernobyl accident released 10 times more   material into the atmosphere than the Fukushima accident.
Immediate casualties-50 people died immediately from radiation   poisoning that includes the first responders (fireman, helicopter pilots,   soldiers and miners) Immediate casualties-21 plant workers have been affected by radiation   sickness.  Several thousand people   died from the Tsunami.
Long term casualties unofficially in the thousands, still assessing. Long term casualties-No radiation linked deaths have been reported,   still assessing
Environmental Impact-livestock, vegetation, top soil, the surrounding   communities and fallout that was moved by the atmosphere to surrounding   countries Environmental Impact-More than 70,000 people have been evacuated   within a 12 mile radius of the plant.
Health Impact-4,000 children and adolescents contracted thyroid   cancer soon, 4 died. Health Impact-Still being monitored.
Immediate Public Information-Information about the severity was   withheld from the public for several days Immediate Public Information-Public was informed and evacuated as   soon as possible after Tsunami
IAEA Severity Level-7 IAEA Severity Level-Initially set at 5 and then raised to 7
Several years before area will be habitable Several years before area will be habitable

There are websites devoted to the analyzing what went wrong and how the fallout from Chernobyl affected the surrounding towns.   YouTube has several documentaries devoted to how the nuclear disaster was handled by the Soviet government. What is interesting about each accident is the way information was publicized to local towns and to the workers dealing with the problems.  It is study in how risk and crisis communication affected the aftermath of each accident.

The Chernobyl disaster became more of disaster because officials did not tell primary people in government the severity of the problem.  Therefore, they could not make decisions about moving people from the local area, specifically the town of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl plant where most of the reactor’s workers lived with their families.  I took several days before the families were moved from the area. Six hundred workers answered the call or the order to clean up the nuclear debris after the explosion as well as pour sand and boron from the air by using helicopter flying over.  All the while, pilots and other workers were absorbing massive amounts of radiation.  According to the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Comission, 600 workers initially worked at the site immediately after the accident. Among those, 134 had radiation sickness.  Of these, 28 died within the first four months of the disaster. In addition to the pilots who were hovering and flying over the reactor for long periods, miners were brought in to dig a tunnel underneath the reactor where a concrete sarcophagus would eventually be built.  The miners were not told how much danger they were near when digging the tunnel right underneath the disabled reactor. The Chernobyl disaster is a testament to how people can answer the call.  The Soviet era miners who are still alive to tell the story have commented in documentaries on the subject that who else would have been able to do it but us.


The Fukushima accident was caused by an Earthquake and the resulting Tsunami which caused the meltdown of three reactors from the loss of power to the generators. This is different from a power surge that caused the Chernobyl disaster.   Two different paths of communication exist when accidents and natural disasters occur.  One is crisis communication that originates from the government and local agencies through the use of corporate media to the citizens affected by the natural or man made disaster.  The other is risk communication that relies on the layers of government and other agencies to pass on vital information so decisions can be made and the public alerted.  The Soviet government failed on many levels pertaining to Chernobyl while the communication process from the Japanese government to various affected groups performed better during and after the Fukushima crisis.  Informing the public and making the decision to move citizens within the danger zone out of the area is one aspect of the disaster that went relatively smoothly, considering the Japanese government was also dealing with the damage done by the Tsunami.

Nuclear power is here to stay.  The challenge is to learn from the past while having enough imagination to think about future problems and put measures in place to prevent any accidents or disasters that may have dire consequences.