Amateur Hour

Update: 2016-09-232
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What does it take to survive, even thrive, when you're a complete amateur? This hour, TED speakers share stories of plunging — or being plunged — into new situations and emerging as experts. (Original broadcast date: August 14, 2015).

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support for this podcast in the following message come from concur a service where employees get simplified expense reports and business leaders get full visibility into their company spending habits expense travel invoice learn more at concurred dot com slash Radio Hour hate sky here and we have a new shell and the and threw up a scene and food coming up soon but in the meantime take a listen to this one from our archives it's called amateur hour and it's all about what it takes to survive and thrive when you're a complete amateur you hear stories from an amateur a nuclear physicist to an amateur who ended up running one of the biggest advocacy campaigns in modern history to the ultimate amateur acts parenting this is the Head Radio Hour each week groundbreaking Ted talks Technology Design at Stanford and Ted conferences gift of the human had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy rise there are people who are afraid to try new things right but then there are people I like A J Jacobs I'm the author of The Year of Living biblically A J is Year of Living biblically was exactly what it sounds like and it started one day with a simple realization I'm Jewish but I'm Jewish and the same way the Olive Garden is Italian and I don't want to insult the Olive Garden a lovely restaurant was not very Italian and I'm not very Jewish but I had a child and I want to know what to teach him I thought millions of smart people found and what am I missing so I decided I am going to try to dive in headfirst and actually live the Bible the gate quick detour here to explain it AJ as a writer is basically made a career decisions like that diving into topics he knows almost nothing about in fact he's practically a living definition of the word amateur I looked it up and it comes from Amma to or from Latin for love so the file of a topic as a writer what I like to do is just dive into any topic and live in the ee the AJ rights that is amateur experiences in books or for Esquire magazine where he is also an editor and some of the things he's tried outsourcing is life so I hired a team of people in to do everything for me like English but they do everything they answered my phone they responded to emails for me they argued with my wife my wife how those wonderful my life would bring up the topic and I would say hold that thought I would tell them and they would come up with a response an email to or in another experiment AJ decided to live according to a set of rules George Washington wrote as a young man one hundred and ten rules of life be respectful to elders don't gloat when you are victorious some are less expected the number two rule in George Washington's list is Do not adjust your private parts in public ha that's the number two rule that's what I I'm I'm fine with that rule it's a good rule and more recently AJ tried to become the healthiest person alive even when the fad diets called calorie restriction and he had dinner with its founder the appetizer was a Walnut and the main course was a newbie that and I will say we all got our own Walnut he's not likely to Canada basically for AJ living life as a professional amateur I love that Dad was a good way to get paid for collecting funny stories it's a little bit oxymoron but I am a professional amateur them until the experiment we talked about earlier because it wasn't just funny it was actually life changing I decide to write down every rule every piece of advice every nugget of wisdom that I could find in the Bible without picking and choosing so I want to follow the famous ones like Love your neighbor and Ten commandments but I also wanted to follow that the hundreds of rules that are not so famous AJ picks up the story from the Ted stage the Bible says you can now wear clothes made of mixed fibers sell I thought sounds strange but I'll try and you only know if you try it so I got rid of all my poly cotton t shirts the Bible says that if two men are in a fight and the wife of one of those men grams the testicles of the other man in her hand she'll be cut off so I want to follow that rule that one that when I followed By default by not getting in a fight with him and his wife was standing nearby looking like she had a strong grip so I will say it was an amazing year because it really was life changing an incredibly challenging and there are two types of laws that were particularly challenging the first was avoiding the little sins that we all commit every day I could spend you not feeling but spending a year not gossiping not comforting not lying you know I and I work as a journalist so this is seventy five eighty percent of my tank I had to do it but it was really interesting because I was able to to make some progress because I couldn't believe how much my behavior changed my thoughts this is one of the huge lessons of the year is that I almost pretended to be a better person and I became a little bit of a better person so I had always thought how you change your mind you change your behavior but it's often the other way around you change your behavior and you change your mind this has really changed you like like following these rules absolutely that was one of the big lessons how much the outer effects the inner how much behavior affects your thoughts there's a great phrase it easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting like fake it til you make a total fake it til you make it this idea of trying things out testing them out and that's how you become an expert as you you actually live it that's the idea will explore the show today and try our ideas about what it takes to survive even thrive in situations we have no idea what you're doing and so for an entire year living in New York City with his wife his kids AJ Jacobs really did live by the rules of the Bible now some are pretty easy to follow like the rule that man should not shake the corners of his beard I didn't know where the corners were so I just let the whole thing grow am by the end I spent a lot of time in airports secure some love for real the Bible also says you should only wear white clothing to AG did but I have to say there was something very cleansing and purifying about wearing all white and it goes back to that idea that the outer affects the inner and by the end I was really getting into it and I would put on a rope but other rules not so easy to follow perhaps the clearest example of this is stoning adulterers I I it's a kid it's a big part of the Bible so I figured I had to address itself I was able to stone adulterers happened I was in the park in distress to my biblical clothing so sandals and the sort of a white robe and and this man came up to me said White dress like that and I explained my project and he said Well I'm an adult or are you going to stone me and I said Well that would be great the I actually I I took out a handful of of stones for my pocket that I'm carrying around for weeks hoping for just this interaction and you know they were pebbles but he a he crammed them out of my hand is actually an elderly man mid seventies to see it now but he's still an adulterer and still quite angry he grabbed my hand through my face and I felt that I could eye for an eye I could retaliate and throwing back at him so that was my experience toning and it did allow me to talk about in a more serious way these big issues like how can the Bible be so barbaric in some places and yet so incredibly wise and others how should we view the Bible to review it you know as original intent like a sort of a scaly a version of the Bible was written in black was kind of silly but it wasn't like a totally latest entree you really did want to learn something from the Bible I did I really earnestly want to see what about religion could make my life better and one thing that really struck me with this idea of gratitude because the Bible says that you should give thanks for everything in your life and I took that literally so I would press the elevator button and I would be thankful the elevator King I'd get in the elevator I be thankful it didn't plummet to the basement and break my collarbone and it was a strange way to live but it was also quite beautiful because you realize there are hundreds of things that go right every day that we totally take for granted and we focus on the three or four that go wrong yeah and I've tried to keep this perspective and it's made my life better another lesson is that thou shalt Have reverence this was not unexpected because I started the years an agnostic and by the end of the year I became what a friend of mine calls a reverent agnostic which I love the basic ideas whether or not there's a god there's something important and beautiful about the idea of sacredness and that our rituals can be sacred the Sabbath can be sacred this is one of the great things about my years doing the Sabbath because I am a workaholic so having this one day where you cannot work they really that changed my life also thou shalt not disregard the irrational because you know I grew up with the scientific worldview and I was doing all these rich wealth these biblical rituals are now separating and linen and I would ask these religious people you know why why and I will possibly tell us to do this why would God care and they said you know we don't know but it's just rituals that give us meaning and I'd say no but that's crazy and they would say Well what about you blow out candles on top of the birthday cake if a guy from Iris came down and saw here's one guy blowing fire on top of the cake versus another guy not wearing clothes of mixed fabrics with the Martian think black guy he makes sense for that guy's crazy now I think the rituals are by nature irrational so the key is to choose the right rituals ones that are not harmful but rituals by themselves are not to the dismissed the this change or I mean full bucket you come after thinking OK I and nine Olive Garden choose I like more like a cancer is deadly to the little bed of a man I I did join a synagogue at the end of the year because I like the community like giving my kids a little sense of tradition and that they can reject or accept an I'm OK if they grow up and decide to reject a new look I just want to give the little bays and i also wanna give them a little knowledge so that they can make jokes about it I know I think there's something very important about making fun of your heritage of course that heritage would have probably remained unknown to AJ and his kids had he not admitted just how little he knew about it in the first place that is he not been honest with himself and everyone else about just how much of an amateur he was right I am a big believer in that going in knowing that you know very little and knowing that life is full of unknowns and graze among the blacks and whites and if you can do that and going with an open mind I think that you can make your life a lot better by being an amateur we all did Jacobs editor at large for Esquire magazine his book on all this is called The Year of Living biblically and he's others as well check out all the attacks had back on our show today amateur hour the ornament the guy rides and you listening to the Ted Radio Hour from NPR the O A wants to thanks to two of our sponsors who help keep this podcast going first to buy shares because the best preparation for tomorrow is building your future today so whatever you're inspired to build in life this is the time to make it possible I shares by BlackRock inspired to build the salsa to blue apron apron partners with sustainable farms fisheries and ranchers to bring you all the ingredients you need to create incredible home cooked meals ingredients compared with an easy to follow a recipe card delivered to your door weekly in a refrigerated box we discovered how fun cooking can be while enjoying specialty ingredients exploring new flavors and cuisines get your first three blooper meals for free plus free shipping visiting Blue apron dot com slash Radio Hour it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR guy Russ and I show today the amateur our ideas about jumping into and just kind of figuring it out of my name is Taylor Wilson and I'm twenty one years old and I'm an applied nuclear physicist okay that's weird sure sure but you know I've been doing it half my life now so it doesn't seem that weird to me fifty percent or licensee where ten years old a nuclear physicist who were ten well that's when the spark at me Suh been working on it saves the gate just a quick Pasha to explain that Taylor never got college degree has never published a peer reviewed journal article he is completely self taught and at least when he first got into this stuff a complete amateur I realize that there is this filled where people were basically manipulating atoms in a smashing them are combining and using him for all these different things and I thought Well that sounds like fun and then I realize I could do it and that was the that was the best part of all you know it's something I can play around with them I in my garage to be precise in his parents' garage somewhere along that road I decided when to build a nuclear reactor and so was the youngest person to produce nuclear fusion when I turned fourteen and then in case you dismiss that Lance Taylor at age fourteen became the youngest person in history to produce nuclear fusion fusion is a process that goes on inside this on inside all the stars in the universe around us and basically taking very light fundamental Adams things like hydrogen helium and fusing them together into bigger elements and Taylor achieve this by building his own nuclear reactor which she described on the Ted stage and I assembled the SA in my garage and now lives in the physics department and the nurse Nevada Reno and its plans together D teary is just hydrogen with an extra neutron and ll so this is the similar to the reaction the Proton chain that's going on inside the sun and slimy other so hard that hydrogen fuses together the and the mass difference in those reactions of the energy produced when at this point you might be asking Hey do that as parents brush and the answer as you might have guessed began by searching the internet you know I was an email away from basically any basis professor throughout the world you know that I had a question I could shoot off an email to one of those contacts in the meantime Taylor started gathering anything radioactive he could get his hands on all kinds of things you know your smoke detector has every seam and an artificial one that doesn't occur naturally on Earth and use the radiation to detect smoke he picked up some old radium alarm clocks because who knew they have small amounts of radioactive material on the dial faces which is what makes them glow and even found what he needed and dishes Fiesta Ware plates the old orange red Fiesta Ware plates that have uranium on really oh yeah you know the collection slowly got more and more advances I got things like nuclear fuel pellets and some point I started doing as I go out in the desert and I would dig up a bunch of uranium ore and bring in the garage and process feel a kick out of it I thought you could only get them from Saddam Hussein I mean not really but you know but you know at some point I wasn't satisfied with that I wasn't satisfied with collecting and building up things that were already radioactive or are naturally going to these nuclear actions I wanted to make my own nuclear reactions and to do that I realize the easiest way to do it would be to produce nuclear fusion build a nuclear fusion reactor slowly Taylor started to get some back in chambers pompous part seat pickup from Home Depot term industry from government labs all these different places her member one Christmas I got the fuel for the reactor under the Christmas tree which was due Terry and the heavy hydrogen fuel I was under the Christmas tree and I ask that for Christmas when their raft with the written here you go some nuclear fuel there you go mm mm mm mm mm so by round early two thousand and nine Taylor finally finished building his reactor and don't picture like Three Mile Island actually looks like a Xerox machine from the seventies with a bunch of liars and pumps and tubes coming out of it what's called a nurse electro static confinement of eyes which basically means I was just using electricity electric static potential confine ions and taken the little bit of a fusion fuel in you eyes that you strip off the electrons and his infusion is basically what happens when hydrogen bomb explodes and scientists who worked in the Manhattan Project for the first ones to achieve it back in nineteen fifty one but since then what no one has figured out is to turn nuclear fusion power like electricity the Holy Grail for power production is fusion jazz fusion does not produce long lived radioactive waste and the fuel is just abundant now I think it's possible I think it'll be very economically competitive once we do it it's just all the challenges to get there and it may be something we need a moon shot or we may get the lucky donkey is doing in his small startup we have to see what will work but I'm convinced we'll get there so a world powered by nuclear fusion for the moment to challenging said Taylor's decided to focus on something far easier far simpler and that would be nuclear fission and just in case you overslept today was explained in high school here is a quick primer let's talk a little bit about how nuclear prison works and a nuclear power plant you have a big pot of water under high pressure and you have some fuel rods and a fission reaction heats up water the water turns to steam steam turns a turban and you produce electricity from the same way we've been producing electricity that the steam turbine idea for a hundred years and our nuclear was a really big advancement in a way to keep the water but you still boil water and that turns the steam turns turbines and I thought you know is this the best way to do it is fission kind of played out or is there something left to innovate here and I realized I'd hit upon something that I think has this huge potential to change the world this is what is this is a small modular reactor so it's not as big as the directories in the diagram here is between fifteen hundred megawatts but that's a ton of power with Taylor's explaining here is that fission is basically what happens in a nuclear power plant about twenty percent of electricity in the US is generated by nuclear power but those power plants are inefficient to create a whole bunch of nuclear waste so Taylor's working on a new kind of fission reactor it's small it's twice as efficiently could power up to a hundred thousand homes all without the pollution of fossil fuels that in say twenty years it's going to take us to get fusion and make fusion or reality this could be the source of energy to provide carbon free electricity the the DC that in some ways like not exactly knowing what you're doing when you start of the process like to play it at first I would imagine that in some ways it was like giving an advantage that you are almost so naive that you were like yeah can build a nuclear reactor I um I think that you know people who have spent their professional careers in a filled sometimes get into those preconceptions or the way things are done and I think that young people don't necessarily develop those preconceptions and so they just go out and do and you know I didn't really know that this wasn't the way things were done or I wasn't convinced this is the way they should be done and I think that's my personality I I try to fight against every obstacle that comes my way and I've never let someone telling me noo stop me so to speak I wonder if it's like now with all you know if if they're things that you don't try anymore because you like limit yourself because you're just he just got an amateur anymore yeah well I mean I'll certainly say that I look back and sometimes I'm awe struck at how little you know things like that but with that said you know one thing that I hope I never loses that lack of preconceptions right I think that when it's a nice thing about physics physics tells you what you can and can't do and you know if you know the physics anything else is possible whether it's you know fiscal concerns engineering materials all these things earlier than the realm of possibility if you know what physics tells you you can and can't do the And that's how I try to live my life and hopefully will continue to do so Taylor Wilson nuclear physicist you can see both of his talks at Ted that come the show on the show today we're asking what it means to be an amateur when you're so unprepared you have no idea what you're getting yourself into the humans of any because I feel that way about everything that this is the actor and writer Julia Sweeney and the moment she felt a complete novice a complete amateur like many people do when she became a parent parenting is like the prototypical yes amateur thing that we nobody knows right yeah I think some people do know how to do it really yeah I wasn't one of the the the who what you what is you think paintings can be like I thought I'd have this baby and she was gonna look so cute and wear everything I bought for her and just when I wonder do I mean I wasn't even married I thought oh continue to daydream I'm going to take all these jobs and I'm just I thought everything would be the same day and I thought of it like a puppy like Oh yeah you know while you can hire a dog I adopted her daughter Milan from China when Milan was eighteen months old and when she brought her home that's when reality set in there's an image of my mind at three in the morning and I had a parenting book open to like a teething section and she was screaming crying standing right next to me year I was crying in my tears were falling onto the teething pain and it was like This is a terrible thing that's happened to me and her the mm but even a tear stained parenting book is better than no parenting get ALL the story about hear about that today when Julia realized she had no book no plan she was a total amateur yes it was a day that my daughter asked me a question and not prepared to give the answer but it turned into good story I thus quick heads up for pan sat there listening with smaller kids this is a story they might not be ready here yet here's Julia on the Ted stage the line and when she was eighth last year mom she was doing report for schoolers have some homework about frogs and we're at this restaurant and she said So basically frogs lay eggs and eggs for dinner tables and had western fronts and I said ever my friend reproduction that much it's the females I think that way the eggs the males fertilize them and then the Beacon Council's in crime she says was only the females of the I said what doesn't what's is fertilizing so I can say though is this extra ingredients know that you need to create the arm from the mom in the arts and I She said oh so essential for humans too and I thought OK here we go I didn't know what happened so quick at eight AM I was trying to remember all the guidebooks and all I can remember was the only answer the question they're asking don't give any more information so I said yes and she sits on were two women leave their kids and I said hmm well hm funny you should ask the We have the ball to have our own the the the the AM we lay our eggs there we don't have to worry about the ratings or anything like that it's our own pond and um that's how Mormons and she doesn't have the eyes and said Well the end there from there there being as they fertilize the eggs and sperm me out on both rooms with the jaw just rubs us the home of late worry the eye and I sit on O on how you will need does the mind it is a little bit like having of waste treatment plant right next to amusement park the back the the the uh the the um but many women can never see each other near the end of the N C The ego we hope the time I put my Margaret Mead head on home heating meals and females develop a special bond and when they're much older much much older than you and they have a very special feeling then the camping together and she said Mom you done this before and I said yes and she said Mom you can have kids because she knows I adopted her in that I can have kids and I said yes and she said Please don't have to do that in the the the oven when a man and woman are together like how did he know that's a dream mom does the man just say he is now the time to take of my pants the the thus the back the the the the driving on the window and she does well with just two sides in the street like a man woman they just aren't showing it would ever have been and I said all no humans or so
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