The Best of Our Energies

This is an earlier draft of an essay that appears in my collection of essays which you should, of course, own right? Why? Well, let me tell you why you should buy the Raised by Turtles book.

My toilet bowl cleaner has 10X cleaning power, according to the label. It pleases and comforts me to know that the combined forces of chemistry research and marketing science have brought us to this incredible moment in human history. I feel secure and confident knowing that truly it would not be possible, even at this advanced stage of civilization and technology, to better prepare the toilet for my sister’s visit.

I think with some shame that during my brother’s visit a year earlier, I had used simple toilet bowl cleaner of unknown cleaning power. Was it 7X? 4X? I’m worried that I may have invited my guests, my beloved family, into my home and asked them to use a toilet baptised in simple 1X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner, if such a thing can still be purchased in our enlightened times. I do not believe it can.

The shame is real, but one works the technology at hand in the age one is born into.

I believe that the age I was born into was the age when we barely had 1X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner, but when the dream of a new and improved toilet bowl cleaner had been kindled by a visionary and inspiring president who would die too young.

So I doubt that I need worry that I have ever used 1X cleaning power toilet in my adult life. Chemistry and marketing science had progressed to the new and improved level while I still depended on my dear mother to purchase and deploy her primitive toilet bowl cleaners. In 2017, I doubt 1X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner could have been found anywhere outside museums.

By the time of my brother’s visit, the scientists at the Toilet Bowl Cleaner Research Institute had at least cracked the secret of 7X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner. Companies just don’t advertise it, because people are simply not that impressed by 7X cleaning power anymore. Maybe back in the olden days when Obama was president, but not now.

According to Moore’s Law, the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every 18 months. Compare that to the similarly breathtaking increases in the cleaning power of toilet bowl cleaner in recent years. It’s hard to remember what life was like without pocket supercomputers and centuries of chamber pots rinsed with water and, at best, scrubbed with a bit of Castile soap.

I doubt those soaps even had 0.5X cleaning power. This is why they call that period the Dark Ages. Back then, the cleaning power of a true, dedicated, thick blue 1X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner could not be found even in the halls and privies of kings.

Then, in the basement lab of an obscure company, or perhaps in a cutting edge lab of one of our great institutions of higher learning, an unknown scientist cracked the secret of 1X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner and brought it to market in 1962.

Sadly, history does not record the name of the first person or lab to crest the 1X cleaning power barrier. It was a heady time of progress and discovery and not all great events were met with the same fanfare. Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier just 15 years earlier. The Salk vaccine had been invented just seven years earlier. Just one year earlier, Yuri Gargarin had orbited the earth. That very year of 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. And of course, everyone remembers where they were the day in 1962 when Pat Boone released his landmark #6 single (and #1 in Norway), Speedy Gonzales (“It was a moonlit night in old Mexico”).

The toilet bowl cleaner breakthrough was lost in the swirl of these momentous events.

But it did not go unnoticed for long. 1962 was also the year that President Kennedy, speaking at Rice University, issued his challenge to put a man on the moon and develop a new and improved toilet bowl cleaner by the end of the decade.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and develop new and improved toilet bowl cleaner, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

John F. Kennedy, _Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort_, September 12, 1962.

And indeed, in 1969, the first of Kennedy’s dreams became reality. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon while Michael Collins orbited above in the command module. But it took until 1972 to develop a new and improved toilet bowl cleaner. A nation, distracted by the war in Vietnam, campus protests, and the Beatles, could not, it appears, achieve two great goals in a single decade.

If Kennedy had lived, things might have been different. Americans would have landed on the moon in 1969 as we did, but we would have pulled out of Vietnam in 1966. Ali would not have refused the draft and been stripped of his title. And new an improved toilet bowl cleaner would certainly have made it out of government research labs and into American toilets by 1968. Possibly 1967. If Kennedy had lived.

Instead, we invented Agent Orange, the ATM and perfected Napalm B. So we waited until 1972 for new and improved toilet bowl cleaner. Nobody even know for sure whether the new and improved toilet bowl cleaner had 1.2X or 1.6X cleaning power. The Toilet Bowl Cleaner Research Institute (TBCRI) did not even exist yet and, consequently, there was no scientifically validated cleaning power scale in use.

All because of Lee Harvey Oswald. And Castro. And Jimmy Hoffa. And the mob. And the CIA.

What we do know is this. It took until 2002 for a TBCRI-certified 2X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner to hit the market. That first doubling, from the breakthrough 1X cleaning power product of 1962 to the first 2X cleaning power product to be invented in the chemistry and marketing research labs, took 40 years.

We blew right past 4X cleaners without even bringing one to market. The pace of progress had quickened to the point that researchers went straight to 5X cleaning power, which made it out of the lab and into American toilets in 2014. Thus it was that the second doubling and then some (actually a 250% increase) had taken a mere 12 years.

That may not seem impressive in a world where computing power doubles every 18 months. Perhaps it isn’t. No doubt, progress had been hampered since increasing toilet bowl cleaning power has fallen in the hierarchy of national priorities. If only Kennedy had lived.

But, unlike computing power which keeps doubling at the same rate, toilet bowl cleaning power was improving at a hyperexponential pace. The speed of the doublings was more than doubling. That is to say, it was taking less than half as long for the next doubling as it had taken for the previous doubling. So here we sit in 2018, already reveling in the sparkling whiteness delivered by a 10X cleaner.

If only my mother had lived to see this.

A mere six years for the third doubling means that the hyperexponential progress has held up for yet another cycle. Using a simple exponential scale like Moore’s, one might expect that the second doubling would have taken until 2042 and the third until 2082. Indeed, we would not hit 10X cleaning power until nearly the end of the century.

As recently as 2002, fighting toilet ring with a mere 2X cleaning power product, one might have reasonably thought that only our great, great grandchildren would reside in the shining toilet on the hill, cleaned by 20X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner and that humanity’s climate-driven twilight might arrive before the golden dream of a 100X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner graced the toilets of America.

And yet, on the current hyperexponential improvement curve, we can expect chemistry and marketing scientists to develop 20X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaner by 2021. That is three years for the next doubling. And here’s the kicker, the next doubling to 40X should occur 18 months after that. And the next doubling to 80X, a mere nine months after that. Those of us lucky enough to be alive in these times of wonder are thus on track to see 100X cleaning power toilet bowl cleaners by 2024.

John F. Kennedy would be 107 years old.

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