On the Pareto frontier in salary-vacation space

Dear (Prospective Employer),

Thank you for your monetarily very generous offer of employment!  Honestly, it’s not obvious to me how I could spend $X a year, as I am currently living quite comfortably on about one Nth of that amount.  Actually, that’s not entirely true; I’m sure I could spend it all if I got a mortgage on a big house out in the suburbs, bought a fancy car with which to commute to work, ate out frequently, and had a few kids I planned to put through college.  However, I prefer to live simply in a small home, cook my own meals, bus or bike to work, and I may very well choose not to reproduce.  I also prefer, in my all too limited time on Earth, to experience the wilderness that still remains in the world, and the myriad human cultures, cuisines, and languages that have emerged in the last 50,000 years.  Those experiences will not come easily sitting in front of a computer in an office park, and they often cannot be had on weekends or whirlwind tours.  Thus, I am concerned about the following potential scenario with your offer of employment as it currently stands.

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A Letter to David Bodansky

Hello Prof. Bodansky,

I’m a PhD student in geophysics, and I just finished reading your book, Nuclear Energy.  I appreciate the trouble you went to in the book to remain effectively neutral as to whether we ought to be pursuing the development of nuclear power.  While I can’t say that the book made me into a nuclear advocate, I am less opposed to it in principle now, and believe that it does represent a potential long term energy solution, albeit one with non-trivial caveats.  Then again, that seems to be the case with all of our options at this point.

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A Letter to Richard Rhodes

Dear Richard Rhodes,

Thank you for writing The Making of the Atomic Bomb.  It was beautiful, and terrible, in the way I imagine a nuclear detonation might be.  It deeply changed the way I think and feel about history, about technology, and about the role and limitations of human volition and foresight in the making and potential unmaking of our world.  Somehow you made these people human, and independent of the roles they played.  You made the science beautiful, and the history engaging.  Given that books like yours exist, I am appalled that I was not required to read them in the course of my scientific education, and instead have had to stumble across them on my own.  I think science and engineering students deserve to have some understanding of the potential scope and consequence of our work, for better or for worse, before we are turned loose on the world.  Too often the ethical and philosophical impacts of technology are left completely unaddressed, or even shunned as irrelevant by scientists, until after the effects are widespread.  I doubt this kind of education would have much substantive impact on the overall course of history, or technological development, but I once attended a talk at Caltech by Hans Bethe on the Manhattan Project, and even after half a century he broke down into tears on stage.  He said he didn’t regret having helped create the bomb — that it had to be done — but that he felt guilty for having enjoyed it.  I would prefer that we were better prepared for the possibility of bearing that kind of responsibility, and for taking it on knowingly, as I think Oppenheimer and Rabi did, instead of only realizing our roles after the fact.

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