Boys And Their Toys

This is a story of a boy. This boy had a hobby. He loved science. He loved science so much that he managed to build a mini-nuke in his backyard and almost killed his entire neighborhood. Here's the whole story.

Yes, the prospect of death by irradiation is scary. But building a nuke in a shed from spare parts? So worth it.

In all seriousness, what can we learn from this story? Is this story a warning? Is it congratulatory? Are we supposed to be scared? Are we supposed to be proud? Here's what I think:

  • The Power of Youth - Adults always underestimate the intellectual power of a young mind. They may not have the repositories of worthless information that adults have, or the experience and background to make wise and educated decisions, but the learning potential of a child's mind is limitless. An infant learns more in the first two years of its life than most adults learn in 50 years. It is widely known that concepts taught early in childhood stick the hardest and the longest. All this creativity just needs a spark of physical reality to ignite a fire of innovation; or nuke building.
  • Hobbies - Hobbies are funny things. Usually, a hobby forms from pure casual interest. The avid gamer probably played his/her first game out of boredom or simply out of circumstance. That gamer will then continue to "get into" video games, by playing more or just by becoming involved in the industry, until that person reaches a tipping point. That point is where hobbies end and passions begin. That's when you start playing World of Warcraft in 5-hour stretches. That's when you start a blog about gaming. That's when you apply for jobs in the game industry. The difference between the two states is that one produces results, and one is just a hobby, a distraction. David's hobby of science started producing results very quickly. Science tends to be that way. You can only read so much until you have to start doing the things you're reading about. Young people have a much better chance of transforming their hobby into a passion. They have more time, and they don't have responsibility. If you think about the amount of time David put into this "experiment", you quickly realize that no responsible adult would have the time, resources, or energy, to pull it off.
  • Under-parenting - I'm a big fan of under-parenting. Kids tend to listen to themselves much better than they listen to others, especially their parents. If your kid says he enjoys basketball, you shouldn't push him to play baseball even if you think it's better for him. If it isn't good for him, he'll figure it out himself, which is better. If it does work out, then everyone wins. When it comes to hobbies, I feel the same way. If your kid is showing a propensity towards science, by all means get him a science kit. Don't push basketball on a kid that doesn't want to do it. That child will not want to succeeed and therefore won't. The science kit will much better for him in the long run because he'll most likely become very good at it, make it into a passion, and feel great about himself while being productive with his hobby.
  • On the other hand - Parenting is important. Kids are still kids, and they are by no means perfect. There has to be boundaries, responsibility, and honesty. Parenting is carefully guiding your child through his or her world letting them make decisions while steering them away from serious danger. It's kind of like letting your child sit on your lap and work the steering wheel. It makes them feel good about themselves, it lets them make small but seemingly important decisions, and they always know that you have their back if they look like they're about to steer into oncoming traffic. And the parent always controls the pedals. Letting David operate unsupervised out of a shed was taking under-parenting to an unhealthy and dangerous extreme. They let him operate the pedals and the wheel, and they sat in the backseat, looking out the window.
  • The NRC - Leave it to scientists to answer questions from an anonymous HS science teacher about the steps to create nuclear fission. That whole thing seems kinda shady to me. I hope that employee was fired or something. There should have been some research done before that information was given over the phone.
  • A side point - This whole story also has another moral, which is something I bring up all the time, especially when it comes to gun control. Everything can be a weapon. Any physical object can be used for good or for harm. The parts of a nuclear fission reactor are no different. There is no regulation out there that would be able to stop the unthinkable from happening in this scenario. Regulating the sale of objects that can be used as weapons (or used to potentially build a nuke) is the equivalent of saying that you need a license to buy the barrel of a gun, because you might build a gun and shoot somebody with it.
And finally, as Smoky the Bear would say...
Only YOU can stop Nuclear Apocalypse.

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