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:

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

"The Donors Are Taking the Place of the State"

A group of 40 American billionaires, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, has publicly vowed to donate at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. Gates and Buffett, through their project The Giving Pledge, hope to persuade the 400 richest Americans to join them. If successful, the duo could generate an unprecedented $600 billion for charity (Americans as a whole donate about $300 billion a year). A laudable example of pure altruism, right? German shipping tycoon Peter Krämer thinks not

Bill Gates, Book Critic

Bill Gates has started blogging. The homepage is here, and in the "What I'm Learning" section, he proves to be a a fantastic book critic: "I really liked Freakonomics and I think SuperFreakonomics is even better. ... I recommend this book to anyone who reads nonfiction. It is very well written and full of great insights."

More on “Creative Capitalism”

I blogged last month about a Bill Gates speech on “creative capitalism.” Motivated by the Bill Gates speech, Michael Kinsley and Conor Clarke have undertaken an unusual web experiment in which they invited a number of prominent economists to react to the Gates speech and posted them online. My colleague Gary Becker is skeptical of […]