Reasons For Optimism 7-9

It’s been a while since I added to the Reasons For Optimism series, but that’s more due to me lacking focus than because of any dearth of good news. Just in the last week we saw some cool progress in all three of the sectors that I think will greatly transform our lives in the next decade.

7. Outer Space. After a successful rocket launch on Tuesday, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule successfully docked at the International Space Station yesterday, becoming the first private company to do so. The numbers are complicated, but SpaceX has essentially caught up to NASA’s capabilities and costs in just a few years and is on track to make things even better and cheaper and faster (using more reusable parts, for one). It’s pretty cool to read this latest Elon Musk interview about their current successes and future plans, and then look at the confidence he had four years ago after some initial failures made others skeptical.

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Reasons For Optimism 5-6

5. The latest Gallup poll puts public support for legalizing marijuana at 50% for the first time. Regardless of your personal feelings about what people should be allowed to do, I think it’s rather obvious that the “war on drugs” has been very costly yet very unsuccessful. It is very costly to find people with marijuana and catch them and build prisons to put them in and keep them in. The law and its enforcement has not killed the demand for the drug but only sent it to the black market, supporting violent drug cartels. It makes little sense to put people in prison for consuming something that hurts themselves and no others, especially when prisons often merely serve as a network for recruiting and running the drug cartels – creating more problems for law enforcement, not less.

Sooner or later I expect California to be the first state to successfully pass a public resolution to legalize marijuana, and as overall public support continues to increase, I expect an alliance to emerge between varying political factions that will begin to see legalizing marijuana as a silver bullet to decrease budget costs, increase tax revenue, reduce border violence, and more. (Though I also hesitate to express that expectation with too much confidence or put a time interval on it.)

6. One of the leading iPod developers has created a smart thermostat. Technology has been hurtling forward in devices like phones and cars, but the programming in most thermostats is still clunky and hard to use. Tony Fadell has done his part to bring that device into the digital age, and it’s supposed to have Apple-inspired ease of use combined with enough artificial intelligence to save energy – and money – on your air and heating bills. $249 isn’t a bad starting price, and that’s before competition brings it down.

Huge Reduction In Child Mortality Across the World

When the report on a slight increase in U.S. poverty rates was released on Tuesday, I saw it on headlines every time I checked a news website or Google News. I saw it discussed across many political and economic blogs, and I made my own attempted contribution to the discussion. However, when UNICEF released an updated report on child mortality across the world, it barely made a ripple. I happened to notice it while checking Twitter’s top tweets feed, but I never saw it in news headlines or read any commentary on it. I want to bring it to your attention because it’s very good news, and I think we need to have a debate about what factors are contributing the most and how to help those factors contribute even more.

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Reasons For Optimism 4

Today’s cool breakthrough comes from a 13-year-old kid who discovered a more efficient way to collect power from the sun:

My investigation asked the question of whether there is a secret formula in tree design and whether the purpose of the spiral pattern is to collect sunlight better…

I designed and built my own test model, copying the Fibonacci pattern of an oak tree. I studied my results with the compass tool and figured out the branch angles. The pattern was about 137 degrees and the Fibonacci sequence was 2/5. Then I built a model using this pattern from PVC tubing. In place of leaves, I used PV solar panels hooked up in series that produced up to 1/2 volt, so the peak output of the model was 5 volts. The entire design copied the pattern of an oak tree as closely as possible…

I compared my results on graphs, and they were interesting! The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day. But the most interesting results were in December, when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky. The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!

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Reasons For Optimism 1-3

A few days ago I talked about my determination not to become overly pessimistic about the future based on current trends, mainly and simply because current trends have a way of surprising those who expect them to continue. So when I came across a handful of news articles about new medical and technological discoveries, I thought it would be appropriate to kick off a new occasional series called “Reasons For Optimism.”

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