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20 Comments

  1. While I agree that with a nuclear reactor operator you want people to be perfect (via hard work), raising a child to be perfect via hard work is a recipe for a dysfunctional personality and a huge therapy bill.

    1. @Tony – I do not think there is any mention of the word “perfect” in my commentary. The idea is that striving for excellence and mastery of a subject is worth the effort. Though it might be too early to tell, neither one of my adult daughters have spent any time in therapy and both turned in rather “boring” monochromatic (essentially single grade) report cards through their entire educational history.
      I think they even still like my wife and me.

    2. No, perfect is the enemy of good.
      If your design has to rely on your people being perfect, then it is a very poor design.

  2. My thought on hearing about Amy Chua was “I hate to think what would happen if two such mothers had children in the same class…”

    1. @George – having two (or ten) students with “tiger mothers” in the same class might be a bit of a challenge, but imagine the benefits that might accrue if some of the techniques that Ms. Chua uses were employed by a “tiger teacher.”
      Part of my fascination with her book – which I am now reading – is her deep respect for the resilience and capacity of the human mind. I may be publishing a post today on the contrast in current American society between adulation and rewards given to sports coaches who expect sacrifices and hard work from athletes and our relative lack of similar rewards for teachers that demand sacrifices and hard work from math and science students.

  3. Has it been said that a giraffe is an animal designed by committee?
    Committees have their place, just as individuals striving for excellent have their place. Not sure where David Brooks’ excellence is.

  4. While there were other auto manufacturers before Mr. Ford – all producing practically bespoke cars with arguably far more “excellence” in design and “craftsmanship” than the Model T – requiring “excellence” in technical skills to operate and maintain them – they did not make the sort of impact that Mr. Ford did.
    Mr. Ford produced simple cars that ran good enough at an affordable price, and he produced a tremendous amount of them. Through mass production, he brought down prices enough that most American families could afford one. Admittedly, they weren’t exactly models of “excellence”, but they worked decently. And they didn’t cost much, unlike the original cars made by those talented “craftsmanly” manufacturers. Mr. Ford became rich; the “craftsmen” either changed their ways or went out of business.
    The moral of this story: quantity has a quality all its own; an insistence on “craftsmanly” “excellence” that prevents the widespread dissemination of a technology arguably hinders its development far more than attempting to dumb it down to a reasonable level, make it simple and idiot-proof, and distribute it as widely as possible.
    What I found most inspiring about the Adams Atomic Engine is that it does not require the same level of “excellence” in facilities, operations, or personnel that large scale LWRs do. It does not need to have expensive, active safety systems, or an expensive containment, and, assuming it has a sufficiently user-friendly interface, it probably does not require extremely skilled personnel to operate it. It’s practically pour, plop, plug, and play. And it probably can be fabricated in mass production.
    It’s kind of like one of those not-so-excellent Model Ts – it works and it probably can be made very cheap. And that’s why it has an “excellence” all its own.

    1. @Dave – As evidenced by my effort to develop Adams Engines, I once thought about the future of nuclear energy as being aimed at just the kind of simplification and mass market appeal as you are describing. My model was the personal computer (and now handheld computer) accessible to almost anyone.
      My thinking has evolved. I still think that there may be a day in the future where such a model is possible for nuclear energy, but we are at least a full generation away from that. In essence, nuclear energy is still at the stage of mainframe computing before there were timesharing terminals. The number of people who are completely comfortable with the technology because of daily contact and routine lessons learned is still an incredibly tiny slice of the population. We do not have enough of them to provide the teachers for a move to broad accessibility.
      Before we can ever get to a time of “personal” nukes, we have to move through a stage of “mini”, not “micro” nukes. We need to have a whole generation where the number of people who work with the technology on a daily basis steadily increases so that those people can spread knowledge broadly.
      Though some children born today may take personal computing for granted, there really was a very long process of broadening and teaching quite complicated subjects with enough repetition so as to allow human minds to begin to think of those topics as so simple that “everyone knows that”.
      It also took a whole lot of people inspired by demanding task masters like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates working hard behind the scenes to develop the technologies that made really complicated tasks and connectors seem so simple as to be almost trivial. Having struggled to learn a bit about how computers, networks, user interfaces and microprocessors work, I will testify that those technologies are not inherently simple and did not evolve through magic, but through a LOT of hard (rewarding and well-compensated) human intellectual effort.

      1. What you’re saying is true. We’re still in the IBM 704 stage of nuclear power.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_704
        We need to get to the IBM 360 stage before getting to the PDP-11 or the Apple II stage.
        Of course, it would be nice to see Moore’s Law take effect sometime soon.

  5. I successfuly went through the program in the early eighties. Then it was tough. 1/3 attitrition rate was the rule of the day. I have recently worked at the prototype in Charleston, S.C. for three years as a civilian contractor. For the most part, the kids that go through now are taken by the hand and walked through the whole program. The Navy has been bombarded with so many law suits because “little Johnny” failed out of the program, that the academic attitrition is almost zero. Used to be you had to be in the top 10% to get ELT (Engineering Laboraroy Tech) school at the end of prototype. Now they just take volunteers. I’m pretty sure Rickover would be greatly disappointed to see how the Navy has lowered its standards in the face of political correctness.

    1. My comment, I suppose, doesn’t fit with the post very well, but neither does the one above.
      Just first impression, this guy “dre” sounds like he’s full of horsehockey. Yeah, the ELT NEC is/was voluntary, but they didn’t ask if you wanted it unless they thought you were suited. AFAIK, there is no 10% cutoff. I’d like confirmation from a contemporary source (I was in class 8304).
      Now they just take volunteers. That’s a less-than-clever attempt at distortion that illustrates how the way you say something reveals a sinister agenda. (Kind of like denigrating “C-students” who were so, before learning of their greater potential under proper motivation– thanks, Navy, in my case.)
      As for “…the Navy has lowered its standards in the face of political correctness.” That would be only due to orders from civvy leadership.

      1. Sheesh– what does that mean: “They just take volunteers.” US military’s been all volunteer (with slight incentive of pay) since ~1973.
        The SEALS– they just take volunteers.
        ROTC– they just take volunteers.
        Navy Nukes– man, that’s some dangerous work (ha! comparitively)– they just take volunteers.
        USNA– they just take volunteers!

      2. @Reese – I hope that you do not think that my recent commentary about ‘A’ students versus ‘F’ students was a denigration of ‘C’ students who figured out later in life that performing well in hard classes was important and worth the effort.
        I do have little respect for what I refer to as “proud C students” who never do figure out that they can do a lot better than that with, as you say, proper motivation.
        With regard to dre’s comment, there is, sadly, a bit of truth to the assertion that the Navy’s once incredibly impressive technical training programs have been harmed in recent years. I do not ascribe that to “political correctness” so much as misplaced budgetary analysis by people who think they can save money by shorting investment in people. I was in the trenches of that analysis, and fought it with every tool at the disposal of a mere staff O5, but there were people who pointed out to budget constrained O7’s and O8’s that if they could just slice a few weeks off of A school and perhaps cut C school opportunities they could get rid of 1200 instructor billets and save a few tens of millions per year.
        Then they had a few software salesmen with forked tongues telling them that self paced, computer based training could replace even more instructors.
        I will say that NR was probably the most successful organization in resisting the implementation of the reductions, but they did experience some degradation in resources.
        Of course, the long term result of those budgetary measures has been a less ready fleet that requires more maintenance. Pay me now or pay me later. I hope that things are turning around; there has been some well publicized recognition of the stupidity of the Reduction in Training. http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/12/navy-insurvs-122010w/
        I was not the only one who recognized what was happening, though I was one of the most vocal. In the eyes of at least one three star who is now a four star, I was one of his least favorite staff members because I inconveniently pointed out that his decisions were dangerous. The revenge is that he is now the guy who has to operate the fleet that is being manned by the people trained in the system he was willing to decimate to free up a little bit of cash.
        (The salesmen actually branded it as the “Revolution in Training”, but I use my own choice of words to describe what really happened.)

        1. @Mr. Adams, guest in his own house,
          From the A-F post, which BTW was a swell analogy (or metaphor– I don’t know– you’re the Lit major): “I have admitted this before; unlike a certain former president who was a proud ‘C’ student who gained a position of responsibility through popularity, I was a curve breaking geek throughout my academic career.”
          Sorry, I took that as a sarcastic jab at President Bush, “proud” being the sarcasm-enabling word, like he actually should be ashamed. Usually your Liberal angle is more subdued in your posts, so I was suprised to see a tired, throwaway line about the “dullard.” Literalness and sarcasm are often misdiagnosed in Internet text, as I’m sure you know in your decades-long history on the medium. I think he was quite humble, yet confident when he needed to be, and sometimes when he ought not have been. Perhaps that’s what you meant, that even a C-student could rise to the job.
          The rest of your reply is a little sad, comparable to the sadness that all the CGNs were cut up (to save money short term, I believe). I will have to moderate (carefully) my automatic endorsement for any Navy Nuke who comes my way looking for a position. Apparently it shouldn’t have the weight I’ve convinced my coworkers it does.

          1. @Reese – sometimes it is prudent to make it slightly difficult for search engines to match names to comments made in public forums.
            Yes, you did correctly interpret my jab. That proud ‘C’ student was the guy who hired the budget decision makers who bought into the idea that training was a good place to cut budgets. I have less direct experience with the decision processes in the formerly excellent technical training programs in sister services, but I am quite sure that the guidance for slicing instructors was coming from somewhere above the rank of my 3 star boss and most likely above the rank of the 4 star CNO named Clark who came up with the brilliant idea to institute a reduction in training under the brand name of a “revolution in training”. I may be misremembering, but as I recall there was some defense of the ‘C’ student as one who did slightly better in his MBA program. That is a course of study that often teaches people how to make more money by cutting the cost side of the equation while assuming that the revenue side will not fall as fast. I hate that kind of misuse of math.
            The humility might have been there, but so was the arrogance that engaged us in someone else’s fights and cost the country in excess of a trillion (and still growing) plus the lives of thousands and the health (physical and emotional) of tens of thousands.
            A more humble man who worked harder in school to really understand what makes the world go around would have been a less damaging choice.

            1. By the way, I am not proud to say that I voted for the man the first time around. I am pretty sure that I was convinced by the fact that he had a good name. I should have known that heredity has been proven to be a terrible way to pass on leadership roles.

              1. Eh, don’t feel bad, Rod. The other guy was a “C” student too … and a drop-out to boot.

          2. @Reese – one more thing – you can still safely recommend Navy Nukes. As I said, NR was pretty successful in stiff arming the reduction in training. Any unavoidable effect from a slight reduction during shared ‘A’ schools was made up during nuke school, prototype and fleet experience.

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