Archives for Bill Gates



Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast


We’ve all heard the depressing numbers: when compared to kids from other rich countries, U.S. students aren’t doing very well, especially in math, even though we spend more money per student than most other countries. So is the problem here as simple as adding two plus two? Is the problem here that our students aren’t getting very bright simply because … our teachers aren’t very bright?

That’s the question we ask in our latest Freakonomics Radio episode. It’s called “Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The cast of characters:

+ Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor (and head of the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s Antitrust Division) who now runs Amplify, a News Corp education-technology startup. Klein’s new book is Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, which was so informative and impressive that I blurbed it. In its review of the book, Newsweek says that Klein “politely rips the status quo,” which is exactly right. Read More »



Another Look at an Unorthodox Hurricane-Prevention Idea

Very interesting backgrounder on Stephen Salter, the British scientist who, in the course of trying to turn ocean waves into electric power, discovered a potential way to prevent, or at least limit, the impact of hurricanes:

Devastating tropical storms of the kind that battered the U.S. last week could be weakened and rendered less deadly using a simple and cheap technology based on a surprising component – old car tyres.

One of Britain’s leading marine engineers, Stephen Salter, emeritus professor of engineering design at Edinburgh university and a global pioneer of wave power research, has patented with Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold the idea of using thousands of tyres lashed together to support giant plastic tubes which extend 100m deep into the ocean.

Wave action on the ocean surface would force warm surface water down into the deeper ocean. If non-return valves were used, he says, the result would be to mix the waters and cool the surface temperature of the ocean to under 26.5C, the critical temperature at which hurricanes form.

This is the same hurricane-prevention invention we discussed in a brief Freakonomics Radio segment and in greater depth in SuperFreakonomics: Read More »



U.S. Nuclear Power to China?

In our “Weird Recycling” podcast, Nathan Myhrvold talks about TerraPower, the nuclear-power firm that he and Bill Gates are promoting, which would use depleted uranium (castoff waste from traditional nuclear plants) as fuel. TerraPower has impressive plans but has yet to build its first plant.

It was a long interview, only a sliver of which made it into the podcast. One leftover part concerned the U.S.’s skittishness about nuclear power: Read More »



Confessions of a Steve Jobs Fanboy

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.

I saw the news this morning when I looked at my iPad. Whenever I wake up, the first thing I do, before even going to the bathroom, is turn on the iPad and check the news. My heart sank when I saw the headline: Steve Jobs, dead at 56.

From my first Apple product (an Apple II+), to doing all my homework in college on the first Macintosh, to reading this news on my iPad, to typing this sentence on my Macbook Air, so much of my life has been influenced and changed by this man. Very sad day. My question for readers (please answer in the comments section) is: what was your first Apple product?

And now, here’s an essay I’ve written about Jobs:

I was standing right next to Steve Jobs in 1989, and felt completely inadequate. The guy was incredibly wealthy, good-looking: a nerd super-rockstar who had just convinced my school to buy a bunch of NeXT computers, which were in fact the best machines to program on at the time. I wanted to be him, badly. Read More »



Breakthrough Batteries?

The more time you spend talking with smart people about the energy future, the more you hear about the holy grail: great batteries. To that end, a couple of recent developments in BatteryLand are encouraging news. The first battery of interest comes from MIT:

A radically new approach to the design of batteries, developed by researchers at MIT, could provide a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to existing batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid. The technology could even make “refueling” such batteries as quick and easy as pumping gas into a conventional car. The new battery relies on an innovative architecture called a semi-solid flow cell, in which solid particles are suspended in a carrier liquid and pumped through the system. In this design, the battery’s active components — the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes — are composed of particles suspended in a liquid electrolyte. These two different suspensions are pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane.

Read More »



If Greed Can’t Sell Your Lottery, How About Altruism?

What’s the best incentive for playing the lottery? Traditionally, state lotteries have tried appealing to our sense of greed. But Washington state is trying the novel idea of appealing to our altruistic side. Read More »



Would a New Class of Nuclear Reactors Have Withstood the Tsunami?

As dangerous levels of radiation thwart emergency work at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Japanese military fire trucks have reportedly resorted to spraying spent fuel rods with water in an effort to cool them. Read More »



At Microsoft, Two Views on a New Tax

In Washington State, high-income residents and corporations are coming together to battle I-1098, a ballot initiative that would levy a 5 percent tax on “income above $400,000 per couple and a 9% levy on income above $1 million per couple.” Read More »