Excellent Adventures in Calgary (with Gordon)

Gordon McDowell is a pretty amazing guy. I “virtually” met Gordon when he stitched together several of the thorium-related Google Tech Talks into his first attempt at telling the thorium story, “LFTR in 25 minutes“. Now 25 minutes is a vast improvement over four hours, but Gordon wasn’t satisfied, so he got the story even tighter and created “LFTR in 16 minutes“.

“LFTR in 16” is still the all-time most-viewed thorium-related video on YouTube, having been issued on November 16, 2009 and having been viewed over 100,000 times as of the writing of this article. But I think Gordon wanted to do better, which is when he started asking me about coming to Calgary so he could shoot some video. A couple of different opportunities didn’t work out, but then Gordon was able to suggest me as a speaker to the folks organizing the TEDxYYC conference held on April 1st this year, and I had a viable chance to come up to Calgary.

Coming to Calgary was a great experience and Gordon was a lot of the fun. He picked me up from the airport with a camera in his hand, but he was just getting started. He’d already mounted cameras on various fixtures in the airport and his friend and assistant Chelsea Pratchett was already filming too. I felt pretty conspicuous. But even that was just a warmup for when we get to the car. I almost felt like I was in the Ghostbusters’ car–this thing was decked out with so much audiovisual equipment. It took us 10 minutes just to get out of the parking garage; Gordon wanted to have all the cameras just right, and there were quite a few of them.

So we headed off to our first stop: Mount Royal University and a talk that Gordon had arranged for me to give to a class there. My slides were simply a set of introductory slides on LFTR technology and my speaking was entirely extemporaneous. Gordon had probably already told me about the meeting but I confess that I had not done any specific preparation. Well, Gordon was filming vigorously from a variety of locations and Chelsea was helping out too. Gordon got a lot of footage and has been working his magic on it for a number of weeks now, and he has released the entirety of the presentation under a Creative Commons license (which means you can use it too, under some restrictions):

Don’t be too afraid of the 97-minute length of the video. Gordon has cut all the “good parts” into an 8-minute introduction. You don’t think the creator of “LFTR in 16 minutes” would make you watch the whole thing, right? So if you want to watch it quick just watch for 8 minutes and if you find it gripping and fascinating as I’m sure you will you can watch the full thing!

Just about the moment we were finished it was time to go to the next meeting, but Gordon allowed me to get a bite to eat in the student cafeteria at MRU. Our next venue was really interesting: it was in the basement of a “hackers’ space” in urban Calgary called “Protospace”. I was feeling a lot better because I’d had something to eat and the group seemed pretty relaxed and informal. They told me I had two hours so I used a set of slides I had previously prepared for another group that was meant to describe my background and how I arrived at the point where I wanted to be a LFTR advocate and now a LFTR developer. I really enjoyed the chance to talk about my interest in the space program and other energy technologies like space solar power, OTEC, and fusion, and how aspects and disappointments of those technologies ultimately led me to focus whole-heartedly on thorium and the fluoride reactor.

Again, Gordon has been working on this footage for many weeks and has released it under a Creative Commons license. The first four minutes at the beginning are Gordon’s “good parts” cut, but the presentation itself is something that makes a lot more sense if you follow it from beginning to end. At 156 minutes that’s no small feat. I haven’t even watched it all the way to the end yet, and I gave the thing!

After the Protospace talk, Gordon took me to my hotel and I crashed pretty hard. The next day was TEDxYYC, and I was one of about a dozen speakers there. I met Jasmine Antonick, the conference’s organizer, and one of the first things she said to me was, “So you met Gordon, right? He’s pretty intense, huh?” She wasn’t surprised at all that Gordon had done all that filming but told me that the results would be brilliant–she’d seen Gordon’s work before. Gordon and Chelsea did a lot of filming at TEDxYYC all day too, and here’s the official result:

Thanks in large part to Gordon’s promotion and so many others, this video has been viewed almost 20,000 times! It’s only 10 minutes so you can watch it without giving up your weekend like the Protospace talk.

Thanks to Gordon for all his hard work in putting these together! I really, really appreciate it!



15 Replies to "Excellent Adventures in Calgary (with Gordon)"

  • Steve
    June 4, 2011 (3:45 pm)

    You guys are doing good work. Keep it up.

  • gordonmcdowell
    June 4, 2011 (5:00 pm)

    Thanks for the kind words Kirk. I know Chelsea & I had tons of fun. I've done crazy video stuff before but this was certainly the most important. It was pretty cool we could launch right into it when you arrived, and the first thing I did was wire you for sound and point out Chelsea in the distance already shooting you with a camera.

    Future plans involve the Creative Commons licence and additional footage I'm working through… Hopefully TED will allow your TEDxYYC talk to be released under a remixable Creative Commons licence in which case it can be legally used to construct a visually high quality thorium remix. But either way, a better remix is coming, and it will take advantage of YouTube's Creative Commons remix editor so anyone can create a thorium video targeting niche audience segments.

    I mean people are already welcome to do so using the 2 CC-Share-Alike licensed videos (search archive.org to find highest quality renders), but the next one won't require editing software… It will be remixable right in YouTube!

    Oh, and your talks were great. Each one was so different, gives me a fantastic selection of subject matter to work with.

    Take care, -Gord

  • Rick Maltese
    June 4, 2011 (6:23 pm)

    Congratulations Kirk and Gordon. I see you as a team. I can easily imagine a couple of additional script writers taking the ideas and making a feature documentary. I keep saying I want to do a feature film but I'm just excited not talented in film making. Gordon you are a talent. Great combination of perseverance and believing what you are doing.

  • konst
    June 6, 2011 (11:35 pm)

    That was an awesome video! Gordon can teach a thing or two to the video guys at Google. And that 8 minute intro was edited just right enough to get you to want to watch the rest of it.

  • Peter
    June 8, 2011 (8:04 am)

    The more documentaries one sees on peak oil and the coming water and food and climate crises the more one feels the urgency of a switch in approach. This is another great informational video of how LFTR is the solution. Thorium is 36 times more abundant than the purified uranium burned in conventional reactors and is the cheapest source of energy on earth.

  • Roger Maddrell
    June 9, 2011 (1:56 am)

    Many thanks Kirk and Gordon.

    The TED talk is a great primer and introduction to LFTR. I really liked the MRU and PROTOSPACE talks because they bring the information exchange process in a more personal setting and manner – histories, stories and relational exchanges. Though the need is to impart information, at heart we are still relationally-wired beings, so feeling more relationally connected in that process is significant. Seeing the question time sessions in both MRU and PROTOSPACE, and especially the excitement and energy in the final parts of the PROTOSPACE session gave me important information but drew me in and enthused me in a way a formal lecture never could.

    The real difficulty with these videos though is time, and convincing people to give enough of their time to see LFTR’s potential. I want to connect others to this but convincing them to sit in front of a 2:36:45 video is beyond hard! Only the converted will happily do that! 🙂 So these are great, but more for those who’ve already caught the bug.

    Can I put in a request for something like an informal online video course on LFTR that is broken into 10 to 30 minute segments? My ideal would be to start with something like the TED presentation to sort out those who are interested. Then those who want more can go to the other videos which deal with different aspects of LFTR in more detail. Folks could pick from a menu according to their priorities, interests or concerns. One way could be to list the current key objections or concerns about nuclear energy – safety, waste, proliferation, cost and sustainability and deal with each of these individually, describing both how LFTR can address these concerns and how it is both different to, and better than, current PWRs.

    The historical narrative of how we ended up with PWRs instead of LFTR is also very important and likely to build an emotional connection with both LFTR technology and those who promoted it but didn’t succeed in their day. That connection could fuel a commitment to finish the job they started and ensure their efforts were not in vain. Whether that story is best woven into the other videos or dealt with as a separate session I’m not sure. My vote is for both! 🙂 The further folks work their way through the menu list, the more likely they are to be motivated to support LFTR and advocate for it. The trick is to get them started.

    As most of the current opposition to nuclear energy is coming from the shortcomings of PWRs, I see a need to clearly dissociate LFTR from PWRs and resource people to confidently articulate the differences in these to their circles of influence. Beyond that, as more people become aware of thorium, one other difficulty could be them coming across the Lightbridge approach first and bonding with that. Understanding the limitations of PWRs will be essential medicine for curing a ‘Lightbridge infection’.

    In summary, I believe videos like these, available over the internet, are how this message will get out. Yet for people to watch them, they need to be short enough (in the early stages at least) for them to be willing to press “Play” in the first place. And the information needs to be organized into easily viewable building blocks and conveyed in a way that engages people’s hearts as well as their minds.

    Thanks again to you both for these important videos.

  • Paul C from Austin
    June 9, 2011 (6:19 pm)

    Hi again, Kirk! Enjoyed both of the long videos (I was on vacation this week, so had the time to see both in their entirety;-) The informal setting and Q&A afterwards put a little different spin from your previous talks- not more or better, just a little different view to provide depth.

    But my favorite part? The 4-hour radius from Atlanta to define where you could move to- laughed really hard at that- not in a mean way, but in understanding as a married man myself;-)

    Hope you are caught up on your sleep now, and look forward to your next blog!

  • gordonmcdowell
    June 11, 2011 (1:33 pm)

    Roger Maddrell, good suggestions for making video content accessible to a wider audience.

    I'm focussing on a single edit geared at a broad audience to start. And then an indexed video which branches off to detailed content is worth doing, although I'm not sure what/where the detailed content will ultimately be (unless it is these full length talks). Certainly we can link to MOMENTS in a long video.

    But I've found my grand scheme for allowing remix of long talks will NOT work…. Only video assets shorter than 15 minutes can be remixed on YouTube.

    And all the raw assets are long.

    If anyone knows anyone at YouTube… That is a giant limitation of their CC-BY editing feature. One that means a lot of LFTR video work is going to bottleneck on me, and my limited knowledge.

  • Roger Maddrell
    June 15, 2011 (1:05 am)

    How did you do the LFTR in 10,16 & 26 minutes videos? The raw assets were pretty long there.

    I’m willing to help but from what Kirk says above, I suspect I may be more likely to get in your way. Even so, let me know if there's anything you think I could do.

  • Roy Harvie
    June 17, 2011 (9:55 pm)

    Slightly OT. Kirk has mentioned that the military may be the best option to jump start LFTRs. The first and most logical is to install LFTRs on all military bases so they are not dependent on civilian power. But I was wondering if LFTRs could be made small enough to fit in a large freight container. If so then it might be practical to have 2 containers shipped into forward bases like in Afghanistan, one with a LFTR and the other with a Brayton generator. Hook them together and you could power electric vehicles, rail guns and lasers. This would greatly reduce supply problems.

  • DocForesight
    June 18, 2011 (11:05 am)

    @Peter (6/8/2011) — Whether "peak oil" is an actual concern (historically, every prediction of the "end of oil" has been proven wrong as we find new supplies or improve extraction methods) or the "food crisis" materializes (remember Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" prediction which was circumvented by Norman Borlaug and the "green revolution" using hybrid seeds?) or "global climate disruption" decides to hew to the man-made computer models telling us what should be happening (but hasn't in 10 years – despite Al Gore's predictions), nuclear power for electricity, industrial process heat and liquid transportation fuel conversion (coal-to-liquid) remains the most efficient choice. Joining the 'sky-is-falling' chorus diminishes this message, IMHO.

    LFTR makes that choice even more pronounced and defensible and makes the anti-nuclear "environmentalist" protestations more vapid anti-science and anti-human.

    Excellent job, Kirk and Gordon! This needs to go viral.

  • Jan-Erik
    June 19, 2011 (3:41 am)

    Great talks!

    What are the heat-to-electricity options for a LFTR? Currently your proposition is to desalinate water with the wate heat after a (Helium?) gas turbine.

    Would it be feasible to generate steam from the turbine output for additional power instead, or use som other heat engine like a Stirling?

    How would the process work with a supercritical CO2 turbine instead of using helium?

  • fedwatcher
    June 19, 2011 (4:51 pm)


    Have you approached the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?

    They could provide contacts to the Venture Capitalist Community as well as many governments. For marketing they could get “names” like Bono onboard. Also there is T. Boone Pickens and his Pickens Plan which is to lower oil imports by using Compressed Natural Gas as a transportation fuel for trucks and latter cars. Presently natural gas is used heavily to provide non-base electrical energy while LFTR is throttle-able and could replace natural gas generated electricity.

    A large collection of investors putting up a few million apiece could be the ticket. If the first demonstration reactor could be built into a ship which could provide relief power to places like Haiti after a natural disaster could justify participation by Bill Gates and the U.S. Navy.

  • Jean Demesure
    June 21, 2011 (6:09 pm)

    The 10 min presentation is really great. Gordon has made a first class video of a first class presentation of a first class technology. Very dynamic and clear speech (I'm French and I nearly understand all your English).

    Congratulations and many thanks to Kirk and Gordon, wish you the bests.

  • TerjeP
    July 8, 2011 (4:29 pm)

    Having watched the TED talk as well as the lengthy Protospace footage it occurs to me that the idea of a self sustaining community has a lot of resonance with what the Seasteading Institute are trying to do. And even if Seasteading turns out to be a crazy idea it may, like the nuclear airplane, be a good catalyst for some innovative recombination of concepts. It would be great if Kirk or somebody knowledgable could talk to them about the promise offered by the LFTR. If nothing else the place seems abuzz with well heeled champions of innovation who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

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