Saturday, August 17, 2013

Vaclav Smil

There is a nice interview with polymath Vaclav Smil here. I recently picked up one of Smil's books about energy from the library and never realised that he was a polymath genius with prodigious output covering a wide range of subjects.

"I’ve read about 80 books a year for the past 50 years. ...When you spend all your time checking your cellphone messages, or updating your Facebook (of course I don’t have a Facebook page) then you don’t have any time for reading."
 This comment reminds me of the importance of keeping the idea of opportunity cost mind, a notion that has surely become increasingly important now that we live in a world where distraction is more readily available. It's so easy these days to melt into an activity that bathes the brain in happiness in the here and now, versus doing something that may not deliver an immediate happiness hit that while you are doing it but brings a greater, deeper sense of satsifaction after the fact. 

Here's a corker on the most important invention in recent times:
If you ask “what has been the most important invention of the past 100, 150 years?” it’s been the synthesis of ammonia. If we could not synthesize ammonia by taking nitrogen from the air, hydrogen from natural gas and pressing them together in the Haber-Bosch cycle… if we could not do this to make nitrogen fertilizers, we could not grow enough food for about 40% of people. So you are talking about something like three billion people. In existential terms, that is the most important invention.  

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