Protesting Radical Islam With Concealed Weapons

The Christian fundamentalist preacher, Terry Jones, from Gainesville, FL, responsible for burning the Koran that led to 20 deaths in the rioting that broke out in Afghanistan last month (although that might have been politically incited by the Afghanistan government), is planning to hold a protest against radical Islam outside the largest mosque in the United States in Dearborn, MI, this Good Friday. His protesters will be armed with concealed weapons.

“We have made it very clear that we are coming there with very, very peaceful intentions,” Jones told the television station. “We will be armed. We do have concealed weapons permits.”

There will also be a counter protest. No word yet if they will be armed with concealed weapons. The local prosecutor is seeking a court injunction against the protest to prevent a possible riot from breaking out.

When I was a young Christian in the San Jose City College campus ministry, our church established a campus ministry at De Anza College in 1993. The two campus ministries with ten people were given the task to evangelize the campus by sharing our faith with 200 people each in the first month. We shared our faith with as many people as we could from Monday through Friday in the late afternoons to early evenings. We each got 200 rejections. Why? Because the biggest religious group on campus was the Muslim student association. They were far more serious about their religion than many of the Christians I knew then and now. For every conversation I had with a Muslim student, I walked away impressed by their unshakeable faith and disturbed by my own shakeable faith. Although our church hailed the new campus ministry a success (at least, by the numbers), it was a discouraging month for each of us individually.

What is the point of protesting against radical Islam in front of a mosque with people who are least likely to convert to Christianity and generally don’t support radical Islam?

Terry Jones is trouble looking for more trouble. A Christian extremist trying to make Islamic extremists unhappy. A part of me hopes that a gun battle breaks out and everyone dies at the protest. One, it would cleanse the gene pool faster of these idiots who think they are doing God a favor. Two, senseless violence for a cause is still senseless violence. Three, this is what America is becoming in the 21st century, where the threat of violence speaks louder than actual civil discourse.

A Moment of Silence For GOP’s Nonexistent Jobs Policies

Representative Joseph Crowley (D-New York) made a silent presentation before the House to point out that voters demanded jobs, the Republicans promised to focus on jobs, and, after 100 days into the new Congress, the Republicans have done nothing to add jobs and/or keep jobs in America. Although the unemployment rates are starting to decline across the United States, people are still hurting from the lack of jobs and expiring unemployment benefits. There is a proposal to extend unemployment benefits for 99ers who had exhausted their benefits after two years for another 14 weeks, but it’s unlikely to make any headway in this Congress. If you’re not a member of the super rich (i.e., the top 1% of all Americans), screw you and your middle-class American dream.

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Although Silicon Valley is starting to turn around, many companies are not hiring fast enough. When I was laid off in February 2008, I was interviewing for desktop/help desk support positions that paid $25 per hour. Now I’m interviewing for PC technician jobs that pays only $13 per hour. When a recruiter learned that I had previously made $23 per hour in my previous full time job, I had to talk him into submitting my resume for the $13 per hour position. As the Great Depression taught my father, the Great Recession taught to me live on significantly less.

Take a guess what Congress is doing for the next two weeks? That’s right, another recess. Seems like they work two days straight, and, exhausted from their unheroic work of representing special interests who funded their re-election campaigns, take two weeks off. No wonder nothing is getting done in Washington.

Fairchild Video Game Inventor Passed Away

The San Jose Mercury News posted an obituary for Jerry Lawson, who passed away at 70 years old, the inventor of the first cartridge-based video game system in 1975. I had to scratched my head over that one, having never heard of the Fairchild Channel F video game system. At least, not in a store. I was surprised to find out that the Atari 2600 came out a year later. Video game didn’t take off until the early 1980s, where home systems and arcades at the mall became more prevalent. Besides that Atari 2600, there was the Magnavox Odyssey 2, Mattel Intellivision and Coleco ColecoVision. All cartridge-based systems. The Channel F must have been a very short lived system.

In the mid-1970s, he was director of engineering and marketing for the newly formed video game division of Fairchild Semiconductor, and it was under his direction that the division brought to market in 1976 the Fairchild Channel F, a home console that allowed users to play different games contained on removable cartridges. Until then, home video game systems could play only games that were built into the machines themselves.

During the 1970s I had two video game machines, one that plays tennis and another that plays tank warfare, both require two players. You could play by yourself if you wanted to operate both sets of control. There was no Artificial Intelligence (AI) to play against. I also had handheld games like the Coleco Electronic QuarterbackColeco Quiz Wiz and Mattel Battlestar Galactica Space Alert. These single player games had an AI to play against, but they were very predictable AIs that were easy to defeat once you learned the patterns. Which was why the Coleco Quiz Wiz was a huge disappointment for me. I only had three quiz books before I realized that the answers for all 50 questions in every quiz book were identical (i.e., question 1 / button a, question 2 / button c, etc.). The electronics for these early games weren’t sophisticated enough to have an unpredictable AI to play against.

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I developed the life long habit of recognizing patterns from these games, which became useful when I became a video game tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises). I was the lead tester for Atari Anniversary Edition (Game Boy Advanced), which was a collection of classic arcade games that I played back in the 1980s. (I routinely shocked younger testers who believe that there were no video games before the Sony PlayStation in the 1990s by telling them I played Pong when it first came out and introduced them to another tester who tested pen-and-paper strategy games in the 1970s before they were born.) Since the original arcade game ROMs were being run in an emulator, I remembered all the patterns and re-discovered all the bugs that would never be fixed. Last week the Atari’s Greatest Hits for the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad came out. Didn’t take me long to reproduce an unfixed bug in Pong to show off to my friend because the original ROMs were being run in an emulator.

I always wanted to be a historian when I grew up. That never did happen. A blind pursuit of mathematics—and video games—caused me to drop out of San Jose State University. If I ever win the lottery and/or score a multi-million-dollar book contract, I would go back to school to finish a degree in Silicon Valley history. (With school funding being cut back and prices being jacked up, you need to win the lottery to avoid being debt for the rest of your life.) I’ll need to add Jerry Lawson and the Fairchild Channel F video game system to my list of research topics.

Finding More Bargains At Several Closing Borders Stores

Before my friend and I went to see that groan-inducing stoner comedy movie, “Your Highness,” on Saturday night, we stopped at the Borders store in Oakridge Mall. We didn’t know what to expect since we haven’t been to this location since Borders announced it was closing 200 stores around the country. Borders haven’t sent out any emails on the current state of the going out of business sale. As we approached the store after buying our movie tickets, we noticed the signs in the windows proclaiming a $1 per book sale. What was left in the store for sale?

Overwhelmingly, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin books (about 100 each). No one was buying these and other books written by conservative writers at $1 per book in this working class mall. I seriously doubt that the publishers would take any of the books back even if Borders wasn’t in bankruptcy court. A half-dozen shelves were stocked with mostly political and history books, plus a few odds and ends. The rest of the store was closed off with yellow caution tape. All the shelves were up for sale at $100 or more, with signs that they would look great in the laundry room or garage. It would be cheaper to buy lumber from Home Depot and build new shelves that fit.

Here are the four books I picked up for $1 each:

  • “The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America” by Frank Rich
  • “Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and The Crack Cocaine Explosion” by Gary Webb
  • “Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption” by Jules Witcover
  • “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward

The next morning I went over to the Santana Row store. The 90% off sale was still going on with much of the first floor stocked with books, and the second floor closed off. The few Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin books were hidden away like Easter eggs all over the store, but books about President Obama were more prevalent in much smaller quantities (10 copies or less). That makes sense since Santana Row is a mixed development of stores and luxury condos. People with money are more likely snap up the latest conservative books than working class people. Political and history books will probably be the big leftovers for the $1 per book sale.

I kept thinking that this was a treasure hunt and a riot will break out over that one special book that everyone wants but can’t have (perhaps a signed copy of a Harry Potter book). Nothing that exciting took place as everyone milled about from one shelf to the next, pawing and gawking at the books. I spent most of my time watching people and listening to their conversations. The two sales clerk leaning against a stocked shelf that I was trying to browse had an over the top discussion about their sex lives. I know there is a short story idea to be found in a bookstore going out of business sale—treasure hunt, Easter eggs, gossip, murder— but I haven’t figured out how to pull it together yet.

A woman was scanning for the used book prices with her iPhone and carting books over to the cash register, where a sales clerk was processing 600+ books. I’ve sold my old books from library through Amazon before. If done right, reselling books can be quite profitable. I made money but I didn’t do it right: I sent everything by first class and not media rate since I was shipping out of a drug store and not the post office. Media rate is dirt cheap but slower and subject to inspection. What the woman had stacked up, I estimated that her average profit margin was about $3 per book.

Here are the books that I got for 90% off each:

  • “Apollo 13” by Jim Lovell and Jeffery Kluger
  • “The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism” by Mark Morford
  • “An Accidental Goddess” by Linnea Sinclair
  • “Unplugged: My Journey Into The Dark World of Video Game Addiction” by Ryan G. Van Cleave
  • “Insurrection (Starfire, Book 1)” by David Weber and Steve White
  • “March Upcountry (Empire of Man, Book 1)” by David Weber and John Ringo
  • “March to The Sea (Empire of Man, Book 2)” by David Weber and John Ringo
  • “March to The Stars (Empire of Man, Book 3)” by David Weber and John Ringo

I was disappointed with the limited selection of science fiction books for $0.80 each. Nearly every available paperback was a series book, and I didn’t want to read a book from the middle or end of a series. I got lucky with the David Weber books, picking the first book of one series and the first three books of another series. Military science fiction is a genre I don’t read that often. Since I’m planning to write a military science fiction novella in the near future, I need to man up on what I would be writing about. Anything less would be space opera. Not that I don’t mind space opera. This particular novella is aimed at breaking me into Analog or Asimov’s Science Fiction, which would be ironic since I don’t write that much science fiction. I wanted to get some fantasy and mystery paperbacks, but those were long gone before I showed up.

After months of whittling down my unread book pile, I have too many unread books. So much to read, so little time to read them all.

Stoning Your Highness (Preferably With Stones)

The new “Your Highness” movie has all the makings of a classic sword-and-sorcery movie that we haven’t seen much of since the early 1980s. A younger prince being resentful of his big brother’s claim to good looks and quest fame. The older prince comes home with his soldiers from yet another challenging quest and a beautiful damsel in distress in tow that he plans to marry. An evil sorcerer and three witches barges into the marriage ceremony to kidnap the damsel in distress. The two princes and their soldiers are sent by the king on their new quest, and they see the wise old wizard who provides a magical compass to find the labyrinth with a powerful sword that can defeat the wizard. After they are betrayed by the soldiers, the two princes encounter the beautiful warrior who agrees to join their quest. The older prince is kidnapped by the soldiers to be tortured by the evil sorcerer. The younger prince raises to the challenge of finding the powerful sword, defeating the evil sorcerer and redeeming himself in the eyes of his people. A classic sword-and-sorcery movie, except that this a stoner comedy movie that you need to be stoned (preferably with stones) to really enjoy.

Most critics panned the movie as being really bad, which could mean either really bad as to suck or really bad to be funny. After groaning my way through this unfunny pot fest, the movie is really bad. A few critics were comparing “Your Highness” to “Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke” and “Mel Brook’s History of The World, Part 1” as to what viewers could expect in this movie. These critics need to be taken out and stoned with stones. “Your Highness” comes nowhere to close being like these classic movies because the non-stop vulgar humor dives straight into the sewer. Had this movie been made in the spirit of “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny,” which turned vulgarity into hysterical poetry, it might have been more successful.

Here’s the list of the unfunny vulgarity:

  • The opening sequence of the younger prince standing on the gallows for molesting the beautiful midget queen and his manservant is being tarred and feathered was fairly predictable. A gallows built by midgets for midgets does nothing more than strain the neck of a non-midget man like a tighten tie when dropping through the trapdoor. They quickly escape to be admonished by their king for screwing up a simple diplomatic quest.
  • The wise old wizard comes across as being a perverted Yoda with Michael Jackson bedtime tendencies, requesting a kiss on the lips, a hit of the bong and a cock rub before letting the princes go on with their quest.
  • The princes and the manservant are captured by bare-breasted women who bring them to a hairless fat man in diapers (the adult version of the dancing baby fad), who sticks his hand into a pot of honey mustard to summon a five-headed creature from the ground in the middle of the arena. Every time the head of the creature is cut off, the fat man loses a finger until all he has the middle finger left among four bloody stumps to wave around.
  • When the younger prince acquires the powerful sword and kills the minotaur guarding the labyrinth, he tries to claim a trophy to prove that he succeeded in this part of the quest. Unable to saw off the horns of the minotaur, he acquire a lesser trophy from the half-man/half-bull beast: a massive cock. He spends the rest of the movie wearing it around his neck and being very cocky with it (pun intended).

The only redeeming part of this whole movie is Natalie Portman, who plays the beautiful warrior babe with a straight face while being surrounded by perverts who wants to get into her rawhide pants. Alas, she is wearing a chastity belt enchanted by an evil witch that can’t be unlocked until the witch is dead, which means another quest and another movie that isn’t going to happen. When the young prince spills the beans about the magical compass and finding the labyrinth, she steals the magical compass and leaves them in the middle of the night. You wished that she had done everyone a favor by cutting their throats and finish the quest by herself. Hollywood could have done an entire movie around her character if the movie was made in the classical swords-and-sorcery format.

Zooey Deschanel plays a bosomy and not too bright damsel in distress who spends most of her time lying on her back to wait for the evil sorcerer to spread her legs for the ritual impregnation of a dragon under the eclipse of the two moons. A limited role that she pulls off with great zest.

The younger audience thought this movie was funny. My friend and I groaned through most of it. I thought “Conan: The Destroyer” was a much better swords-and-sorcery movies than this even though it tried too hard to be funny the second time around. We did see the movie poster for the new “Conan: The Barbarian” movie that is coming out soon. The poster artwork was done in the 1970s comic book drawing style. Maybe this movie will usher in a new era of swords-and-sorcery movies. Or maybe not.

Why Do I Hate The Bee Gees? It’s Walt Disney’s Fault!

This came up in Twitter last night: Why do I hate the Bee Gees? Simple, it’s all Walt Disney fault. During the disco craze of the 1970s, my parents gave me a portable cassette recorder for my birthday that was smaller than a shoebox. (The iconic Sony Walkman wouldn’t be a must have item until the early 1980s, and I never got one until the late 1990s.) I was still young enough to appreciate Walt Disney storybooks that had a sing along cassette tape, like Robin Hood and Pete’s Dragon. But there was one cassette that I had played over and over again because I had nothing better to listen to: Mickey Mouse Disco. That, plus watching every re-run of the Bee Gees in Sgt. Pepper’s Loney Hearts Club Band on cable TV, and getting The Beatles album, sour my taste in music for years to come.

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Not that I ever had much taste in music. Although I was born a Californian native, my parents came from Boise, Idaho, where hard work on the farm and smuggling on the road went hand in hand. My father and his brothers used to smuggle untaxed cigarettes from Oregon and sold out them of the trunk in Southern California in the 1950s, and a distant cousin is serving time in the Florida state pen for smuggling cocaine from Cuba in the 1990s. Since my father’s truck only had two radio stations—country and talk—I grew up on classic 1970s and early 1980s country music (i.e., Johnny Cash, John Denver, Willie Nelson, The Oakridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Hank Williams, Jr.). Needless to say, country wasn’t very popular when I was going to school with all the wannabe Duran Duran and George Boy running around. Bad enough that I was a normal student misclassified as mentally retarded by the school system, I was considered a freak among the retarded for liking country.

Unlike some of my friends, I have a modest music collection on my iPod. Over the last 20 years I grew to like the top hits from the 1980s music that I never got into when growing up, especially Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett. I listened to Hootie & The Blowfish, Jane Monheit and U2 in the 1990s. These days I’m listening more to the early The Rolling Stones, especially the recently remastered Exile on Main St. album. The only disco song that I still listen to is “I Love The Nightlife” from the theatrical release of “Love At First Bite”, which is my favorite vampire movie of all time.

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But I don’t listen to today’s country because it sounds like crap, trying too hard to be half country and half rock. Beside, the only real country music radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, Radio Keen, went off the air in 1992. When the current country radio several years ago decided to switch to Mexican music—their last English song was “Mexican Radio” by Wall of Voodoo—and switched back to country music three months later, I never bothered to listen to them again. The only thing I listened to while driving in the car (which used to belong to my father) is talk—KGO Newstalk 810AM—or the old Dolly Parton cassette tape still stuck inside the player.

Forget The Shutdown, Dissolve The U.S.A.!

If you haven’t been paying attention to the recent hissy fits in Washington, the Republicans are threatening to shut down the government unless the Democrats commits hari kari by cutting sacred liberal cows from the federal non-defense discretionary budget, which is only one-percent of the overall federal budget and isn’t driving the deficits in the long-term. What would happen in a government shut down? Probably the same things that happened in the 1995 government shutdown: about 800,000 “non-essential” government workers will be furlough, national parks and museums will shut down, and all levels of government paperwork will stop being process (including tax refunds). If you read the comment boards for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, people are very vehement about shutting the down federal government.

Which begs the obvious question: If the federal government is so bad as so many people believe it to be, why not dissolved the United States Constitution and send everyone home?

Absolutely no one is calling for a complete and total shut down of the federal government. I think because too many powerful people are benefitting from the current status quo of a divided federal government. One of the two political parties will eventually cave in to keep the government running—probably the Democrats—and the other political party will pay the price at the 2012 polls—probably the Republicans. The lobbyists, lawyers and news media will continue to do business as usual. The military will grind on in their two-and-half wars with troops being paid later. Wall Street isn’t worried about the government shutting down since there is still money to be made, although that will change if the debt ceiling isn’t raised later on.

The dissolution of the U.S.A., however, would threaten the interests of all these powerful people because power of the government will go back to the non-federal government entities of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all the assorted territories. If power isn’t concentrated in one location, it’s very difficult for any power broker to exercise influence over multiple jurisdictions without it costing a pretty penny. Even Rome stopped being the world’s most powerful empire after everyone went home and the barbarians crashed the party.

What would happen if the federal government dissolved completely? The Balkanization of continental North America is likely.

  • The South will rise again with the Confederate flag flying over head and slavery re-instutionalized for all the sons and daughters of the Confederacy to reclaim their missing heritage, plantations and slaves.
  • The original 13 colonies—minus the southern states in the New Confederacy—will embrace the original U.S. Constitution to become a Tea Party haven.
  • The Midwest and Northwest will be absorbed by the Canadians to spread that wonderful health care around.
  • The Southwest will be absorbed by the Mexican cartels to expand production of America’s favorite white powder.
  • Alaska will be retaken by the Russians to build a Bridge to Somewhere.
  • Hawaii will become New Tokyo as the Japanese nouveau riche move away from the nuclear fallout and avoid having to take care of their irradiated elders.
  • Washington, D.C., will be maintained as a monument to a great nation that coulda, shoulda and woulda if the politicians elected by the people had the brain, heart and courage to acquire some backbone to do what is right for the people and not the special interest groups.
  • California, already the world’s eight largest economy and with one-sixth of the U.S. population, will continue to party on as if nothing had happen.

Does this all seem familiar? If you read “Damnation Alley” by Roger Zelazny (1967), “Friday” by Robert A. Heinlein (1982) or “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992), the Balkanization of North America is a common science fiction theme. I sometimes wonder if  the power brokers in Washington are deliberately hurling the United States into a bleak future to prove science fiction as reality. If the U.S.A. does split into so many factions, former banana republic dictators and Fortune 500 executives will be in high demand to consolidate power. If you can excuse me now, I got a dystopian novel to write about a once great nation.

The iPad Generation Rediscovers The Ancient Typewriter

Must have been a slow news day for both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times to feature articles about typewriters. Yes, Virginia, typewriters. Those ancient devices that physically impacted black ink on to white paper that supposedly were swept aside in the great digital age. Like vinyl record players in recent years, the typewriter appears to be making a comeback. Surprisingly, the biggest fans for typewriters might be the iPad generation that grew up in a mostly digital world. Maybe they are steampunk fans, where pre-digital computers in the 19th-century were mechanical devices and dressing up in Victorian clothing is a cool trend. Although a manual typewriter cannot compute, it does share the mechanical attributes of pre-digital computers. For those digital users who don’t want a typewriter to be simply a typewriter, there is a USB-compatibe typewriter to plug into the iPad. I’m sure the younger generation will get a kick out of famous writers in front of their typewriters. But those of us in the business of writing, a typewriter will always be a typewriter.

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I fell in love with the typewriter when I was in kindergarten. My parents were attending a conference to discuss my future, the principal rolled a piece of paper into an IBM Selectric typewriter, showed me what keys to press, and the little silver ball spun to type out my name like magic. Fully distracted by this wonderful device, I kept typing out my name as the principal and my kindergarten teacher erroneously inform my parents that I was MENTALLY RETARDED (which was how it was stamped in my records that I saw ten years later) and needed to go into the special education program. Actually, I wasn’t. I had an undiagnosed hearing loss in one ear that made it difficult for me to distinguish between similar sounding words (i.e., glass and grass) and skewered my speech patterns for years. Learning how to read and write made it easier for me to distinguish the differences between similar words. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

When I grew up in the 1970s, typewriters were still king of the technological hill. When my family shopped at Gemco at Hillsdale Avenue and Ross Avenue in San Jose, my father and I would moon over the 20 typewriters on display, starting with the cheap manual typewriters and ending with the electric typewriters. Alas, no IBM Selectric typewriters since they were business typewriters sold only at business stores. Gemco went out of business to be replaced by a string of similar stores until Target came in. Typewriters were soon phased out when home computers became king of the technological hill.

Over a handful of birthdays, I got a toy typewriter that typed in ALL CAPS, a blue Brother manual typewriter with a black-only ribbon, a white Brother manual typewriter with a black-and-red ribbon that I kept for a dozen years, and, in the early 1980s, I got an electronic typewriter with film ribbon, correction tape and daisywheel cartridge that I also kept for a dozen years. I was still using my typewriters in the early 1990s while in college even though I had a Commodore 64 and a near letter quality dot matrix printer. When Macs and laser printers became more prevalent at the college library and computer labs, I would enter my final draft into the Mac and print out a clean copy since instructors were threatening a failing grade for handing in a dot matrix print out. I eventually gave away my typewriters because I kept moving around too much and relied more on computers to get my documents done.

My father and I parted ways when home computers came around in 1980s. He was strictly an analog guy and I became strictly digital guy. Later, when he gave me his old car as a birthday present several years ago, he grew frustrated at my apparent lack of mechanical knowledge when repairing the car. I had to pointedly remind him that my brother became the auto body specialist and I became the computer tech. After my mother passed away from breast cancer in 2004 and I saw a counselor a few years later, he was amused that I got a new manual typewriter that was identical to my old white manual typewriter (except the new one was made in China and a piece of junk). I was rediscovering my passion for writing and spent many evenings typing away on my balcony. Surprisingly, the neighbors didn’t complain about the tat-tat-tat and ding noise. Then again, they were too stoned to care.

Although two-thirds of my first novel was written behind the steering wheel of my car, the other one-third was written on a Brother GX-6750 electronic typewriter. I still use the typewriter for writing the rough drafts of manuscripts. If I’m having a problem writing a short story from beginning to end and have an outline of all the scenes, I would use the typewriter to write the scenes in reverse order. As most writers who uses typewriter knows, you really have to think before you start typing. Writing scenes in reverse order requires some serious thinking. After all the scenes are written and revised with a red pen, the pages are typed into the computer for further revision.

The typewriter is dead, long live the typewriter!

All Those Little Nuclear Reactors In The San Francisco Bay Area

After the earthquake and tsunami damaged the nuclear reactors in Japan, the safety of the nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California became an immediate concern. KGO Radio had Dr. Bill Wattenburg and other leading nuclear experts on the air for one hour in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for the first several weeks of the crises to reassure listeners that what happened in Japan couldn’t happen in here in California. I’m not sure if that reassured anyone or not. No one cares about nuclear power when its produces electrical power without incident. But once an accident happens because of an unexpected eventuality—Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima—everyone goes into knee jerk reaction mode and run screaming for the hills. What many people don’t know is that there are many smaller test nuclear reactors tucked away in plain sight, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Indeed, the most common type of test reactor – called TRIGA, for Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics – was designed to be safe enough that university students couldn’t screw it up. Nuclear engineering students often train on the small reactors before landing jobs at big commercial power plants.

When I was attending San Jose State University in Fall 1994, I took an introduction to chemistry class and the instructor gave us a tour of the science building. Down in the basement behind these locked doors, we were told, was a small nuclear test reactor. We joked about the possibility of the nuclear reactor blowing up or melting down. The instructor reassured us that the test reactor would shut down long before reaching dangerous conditions.

Terrorism wasn’t a consideration back then as it is now to worry about the 500 or so pounds of spent nuclear fuel being used for a “dirty” nuclear bomb. For many of us who grew up during the Cold War, we had long lived with the fact that Silicon Valley was a secondary target for a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union, either for a ground burst to physically destroy military infrastructure and/or an air burst to fry out the electronic industry with an EMP blast.

During the introduction to chemistry class, I learned about half life and isotopes. I never got far enough in chemistry to conduct nuclear experiments with the test reactor. I made the mistake of enrolling in general chemistry the following semester. Everything I knew about chemistry was reviewed on the first day. I was totally lost within six weeks and eventually kicked out of the university for having a lousy semester. (If you’re junior or senior, you are not allowed to have a lousy semester; the university changed this policy a year later when 20% of the student body was at risk and threaten to significantly reduce the university’s income.) When it came to mathematics and the sciences, I could only go so far before hitting a wall that prevented me from going further.

I had a friend who worked in 13 years at the General Electric plant at Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue in San Jose (now the location of The Plant shopping center) in the nuclear division. He never did say what he worked on, or if he had a government security clearance. When pressed on the subject, he would say nuclear medicine and leave it at that. He might have been telling the truth—or maybe not.

Another friend told me he was hiking through the Mount Diablo area in the east bay when he stumbled upon a top secret government nuclear research facility. He noticed that the radar equipment was oriented differently to track intruders on the ground, and wasn’t surprised that a squad of soldiers showed up to escort him off the premises under  gunpoint. He might have been telling the truth—or maybe not.

Military installations are everywhere in Silicon Valley. Besides the more obvious Moffet Airfield and the Cold War-era radar building on top of Mount Umunhum, the famous Blue Cube (an Air Force satellite tracking facility) was visible from the 101.

When I worked in construction with my father in 1989, we built some block walls at a building next door to the Blue Cube. It was a very tense work environment. We were searched at the gate under gunpoint and armed military police with German shepherds patrolled the perimeter a dozen feet from where we were working. My father, a former Army captain who babysat tanks in West Germany in the early 1950s (the engines had to be turned over every four hours in the winter to avoid freezing over), thought building sound walls on the 280 with cars whizzing by two feet away was safer in comparison. A recruiter told me last year when I interviewed for a Lockheed position in that same area that the military was long gone after the base was decommissioned in 2007.

What’s the going to happen to nuclear technology after the disaster in Japan?

Probably the same thing that happened for the last 30 years: the nuclear industry will stay at standstill with no new major design breakthroughs for smaller, safer and efficient nuclear reactors. The environmentalists will scream, the politicians will knee jerk, the people will worry. Within 30 years there will be another crisis point when gas becomes too expensive to import and non-nuclear electricity won’t keep up with the demand to power electric cars. Don’t be surprised if Hollywood remakes all the disaster movies from the 1970s. The only reason that nuclear power is unsafe is because the electrical utilities and government regulators allowed safety to be compromised to save money in the short term. Until safety becomes the cornerstone for nuclear technology, accidents will continue to happen.