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April 2, 2006

Unlimited Resources

The most priceless resource of all

A story I thought about once that never got written involved Paleolithic cave men conscientiously conserving flint stone so that their distant descendants wouldn't run out of it. (All though I suppose that with the recurrent he-man talk from distant armchairs about bombing small countries back to the Stone Age, we could end up needing it yet.) Hysteria over limited resources seems to have gone out of fashion at present as the major industry for scaring the public, having been eclipsed by the terrors of climate change--as if climate had ever been unchanging anytime in the Earth's history. But I always found it odd to hear the gibbering that the world was about to run out of copper, oil, trees, water, or whatever, while the most priceless resource of all, from which the ability to use all of the rest springs, was so shamefully betrayed and squandered: the creative potential represented by the minds of its young people.

The BBC's online news service of October 27 last year reported at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4375986.stm the launch from Plesetsk in Russia by a Cosmos 3M rocket of a satellite called Sseti Express, designed and built by 100 students from 10 universities in 9 countries. It shared the ride up to orbit with satellites being carried for China, Iran, and the UK. A more detailed description of the project is appears on the European Space Agency news site at www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMKINZ990E_index_0.html.

More recently in the U.S. we had a group of kids with a teacher at West Philadelphia High School who built a soybean-oil-powered car stated to be capable of 50 mpg and 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds. One of them was a former dropout on Cs and Ds, who went to straight As, thanks to the motivation of the project. See report at www.wanttoknow.info/060303carenginebreakthrough. Liberty Forum has a report at www.libertyforum.org/showflat.php?Cat=&Board=news_science&Number=294463507#Post294463507 with pictures, along with a discussion thread that contains some questioning of whether the two quoted extremes of performance are compatible, and others of the opinion that yes, a hybrid system as described might be able to combine both. Whether or not the claims turn out to be exaggerated, the achievement remains a superb example of how the natural creativity and enthusiasm of the younger generation in a civilized society should be developed and encouraged.

 
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