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Monday, November 30, 2009


The November 5 posting of this blog published the first draft of my Part 1 and Part 2 versions of "Biofuels from Microalgae." As for some reason the Huffington Post has delayed publication of Part 2, I thought I would place this final edition of Part 2 here, again, although, slightly adjusted. This a continuation of my Part 1 HuffPo article of November 5.

Knowledgeable colleagues tell me that microalgal biofuels today would cost about $50/gallon to produce, while a current Department of Defense estimate shows a minimum figure of $20/gallon. Let us, then, look at a few possible biofuels from algae speculative future cost of production per gallon estimations:


$ 1.....A few entrepreneurs (of significant dubiousness)

$ 2.....Department of Energy (very unofficial, but murmured)

$ 4.....Noted scientific authority (someday if all goes right)

$10+...Noted industrial authority

My noted scientific authority (I can send you to real people for the science and industry individuals if you ask) said this is like comparing apples and asteroids. He is right, of course, for what do those above figures mean? Someday with major breakthroughs in genetic engineering? He provided a dozen more qualifiers. Well, for one, almost surely, these guesses represent the cost after a decade of development, not today. Even then, the Department of Energy projection must be more wishful than anything else. At least, though, that department is now treating this field with some urgency and has applied $50 million of stimulus funds toward this cause. DARPA, more so, is reported to have set aside $100 million for this adventure. But the Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the country and half of energy use in the military is for jet fuel, so they better be concerned. Ah, the private sector: Exxon Mobil is said to have dedicated $600 million, in partnership with the genome table co-champion, Craig Venter.

So to summarize, don't believe $1/gallon biofuel from algae, hope for $3/gallon someday, but for the next few years, don't be surprised if biofuels from algae only become competitive when oil reaches $200/barrel ($4.76/gallon). As mentioned in Part 1, linkage with pollution control or the co-product of animal feed can provide an added value factor, while generous tax incentives, as for example, presently available for ethanol, plus incorporation of life cycle costing and externalities, would work. For their $600 million investment, you can bet that Exxon Mobile is covering its future by setting the stage for their success through traditional Congressional and White House discussions.

The situation seems more difficult for jet fuel, as the current price is about $2/gallon, almost the cost of crude oil itself. It is more expensive to refine jet fuel than gasoline, yet, over time, the selling price of jet fuel has been cheaper than gasoline. The ratio for jet fuel has over the past few years been in the range of 1.25. How can this be? Well, bulk purchases, advanced commitments and lower taxes. In any case, a microalgal jet fuel producer, thus, will actually be faced with the same production cost to match crude oil, as one selling biogasoline, for the price to the consumer is, for the investor, almost irrelevant.

The State of Hawaii absolutely depends on DARPA succeeding beyond all expectations, for at those predicted astronomical future oil prices, which could come at any time, and certainly in five to ten years, airline fares will go sky high, tourists will stop coming to our state and we will enter into a prolonged great depression. Unless, of course, the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper, by some miracle, suddenly gains an Apollo-like following, with mushrooming wind farms, geothermal fields and OTEC plantships providing cost-effective hydrogen. Yes, dreaming...but not much more so than the reality of bio jet fuel from algae.

The Dow Jones Industrials increased 37 to 10,347, with Europe mostly down and Asian stock exchanges up in the range of 3%. Gold added $3/toz to $1180 and crude oil is at $77/barrel.

Former Super Typhoon Nida is now, at 105MPH, the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane. More importantly, it has stalled, with a slight westward movement. Located midway between Guam and Japan, Nida should weaken over the next few days and dissipate. It is, though, producing challenging surfing waves.


Saturday, November 28, 2009


I’m now and then reporting, alphabetically, on our 195 countries. As you know, I have had visitors from 126 nations. My next entry will be Belgium, from which 25 e-mail addresses have visited this site.

I thought I would, today, though, initiate a review of crucial years. I will start with 1939, 70 years ago and two years before I was born.

1939 was a year when the Great Depression was finally being overcome. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped four points for the year to 150. Thanksgiving was moved ahead a week to lengthen the holiday shopping season. The average annual wage was $1730, gasoline cost 10 cents/gallon, a loaf of bread was 8 cents and a new car cost $700. That's a 1939 Ford on the right. Kind of looks like some of the models of today, doesn't it?

There is a general sense that Amelia Earhart flew into the Pacific War. Yes, she did, but Pearl Harbor did not happen until December of 1941, and she was declared dead in 1939. In Bombay, Gandhi began his fast (the prevailing remembrance is that this was initiated after WW2).

Nuclear fission was achieved by Otto Hahn, a German chemist. That's Otto on the left. He certainly looks like someone I know. (Hahn won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944.) In reaction, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, initiating the Manhattan Project (most think this did not begin until WW2 started). Hitler was beginning to conquer the world, with Shell Oil a strong supporter. Yes, Royal Dutch Shell infused considerable funds to support the Nazi Party and, it is reported, saved Hitler.

There was the New York World’s Fair. It has been said that this

was the best Expo of all time, as it portended the Wonderful World of the Future. Siam became Thailand. World War 2 began in Europe. The first jet plane was flown. Nylon stockings were first sold. Sigmund Freud died and Tina Turner was born.

The top three songs were: #1 “Over the Rainbow” (Judy Garland, and this song was recently selected as the most popular tune of all time), #2 “Moonlight Serenade” (Glenn Miller) and #3” God Bless American (Kate Smith)

The state of our society was reflected in the movies being produced that year. The top three grossing films were: #1 Gone With the Wind (which also was the Academy Award winner, with Vivien Leigh as Best Actress), #2 The Wizard of Oz (from which came “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) and #3 Ninotchka (where Greta Garbo starred in her first comedy, and laughed). Victor Fleming was named best director, for he was responsible for #1 and #2.

Those other films in this incredible year were: The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Babes in Arms, Beau Geste, Dark Victory, Dodge City, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Four Feathers, Goodbye Mr. Chips (Robert Donat won Best Actor), Gunga Din, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Intermezzo, Jamaica Inn, Jesse James, Love Affair, Mexicali Rose, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (and if you are disappointed with Congress today, see this 70 year old film), Of Mice and Men, Only Angels Have Wings, The Three Musketeers, The Women, Union Pacific, Wuthering Heights, and Young Mr. Lincoln.

The average cost of a movie was 23 cents and Technicolor was invented. CBS Television began to broadcast, and with the coming war, forever changed the landscape of entertainment.

Why, then, was 1939 so important? This is just a start. 1776 was certainly monumental, and so was 1945, or 1492 or 5 BC (birth of Jesus Christ) or 1439 (Gutenberg press) or 1991 (end of Cold War). 1939 is worthy of a first look because it was transitional and, frankly, I picked it because that was the best year for movies.


Super Typhoon Nida is still a potent 160 MPH, but is moving away from Guam and Japan.




Friday, November 27, 2009


There comes a time in one's life when some decisions have to be made about how you perceive and interact with the world around you. Depends on how philosophical or technical you want to get, there are at least 5 senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. I'm doing fine with the first three, but have had glasses for at least 35 years.

A few years ago I happened to be walking by the Hearing Aid Center on the ground floor of the Ala Moana Building, and walked in to get my hearing checked, for free. Randy Wohlers himself did the testing. He had a micro camera linked to a TV set and showed me how shiningly clean my ears were. This was a revelation, because I feared the worst from all the sweat and sunblock that I thought were clogging my hearing canals. He indicated that the skin grows outwardly, so this was expected. Further, he said my hearing was borderline, but not bad enough for a hearing aid. Great.

Well, two weeks ago, I was walking on campus with Milton Staackmann of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and he raved about new hearing aids he just got from Costco. I've notice that I more recently had to ask people to repeat their questions, and this hearing defectiveness was especially troublesome trying to make conversation in the back of a moving automobile or when someone asked me a question in a large auditorium.

So, I went to Costco and found out you had to make an appointment, which I did. I was checked a couple of days later in rather scientific fashion and learned that my problem, which is normal for people my age, was with the higher frequencies. So, I got what turned out to be Milt's type of hearing aids, picked them up two days ago, and am very pleased. It feels comfortable, and I can better hear birds in trees and make more intelligent conversation, as tested over a Thanksgiving meal yesterday. The batteries are said to last a little more than a week and only cost 30 cents each at Costco. I hear that the price is three to four times higher elsewhere. Costco wants you to keep returning. The total cost was around $2700. Oh, if you happen to lose your hearing aids, just come in and ask for another pair. No charge!

While there I asked about transitional and photochromic glasses for which I paid a mint a couple of months ago. As I have several long trips upcoming, I thought it was smart to get a second pair for much less than half the cost of my traditional source. The spectacles are not as light, but those polycarbonate lenses tend to scratch easily. My new ones I think are made of glass.

Anyway, I now have all five senses working well, thanks to Costco. Let's see, now, I next need to improve my golf game.

As I indicated yesterday, there was a chance of a truly Black Stock Market Friday, for there is slightly more than a one in three chance that Dubai could default on loans. Whew, the Dow Jones Industrials only fell 155 to 10,310, for much worse was expected. European markets mostly increased, while those in the Orient all fell. Gold sunk $17/toz to $1177, while oil dropped to $76/barrel.

From my Chapter 6 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 after Britain left the Persian Gulf. There are seven states (Bahrain and Qatar almost joined, but decided to go independent that same year) and you know of only two, as described below. It’s an Islamic country with hereditary leadership. The population is around 4.5 million, where in the 16-65 age group, there are 2.75 males to each female because 85% of the population are foreigners, mostly laborers. The GDP/capita is $42,275 and is ranked #3 by the CIA Factbook to Luxembourg and Equatorial Guinea (no, you don’t want to go there), but #12 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Abu Dhabi is the capital and one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. The city has a population of 2 million and is actually an island. It is said to be the richest city in the world. Each natural citizen is worth an average of $17 million. In 2008, this emirate announced a $15 billion clean energy and hydrogen program, a breakthrough, being the first major Arab commitment to solar energy. The first paved road came in 1961, but in 2011 will open the $200 million Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry.

Dubai, the other known emirate, has no personal, corporate nor sales tax, and, surprisingly, less than 6% of its revenues comes from oil and natural gas. The 9/11 twin World Trade Center towers had 110 floors, while the tallest current building (in Taiwan) has 101 floors at a height of 1671 feet. The recently competed Burj Dubai, to be occupied within two months, has 206 floors and is 2684 feet tall, more than a thousand feet higher than #2. The Burj was built at a cost of $4.1 billion. (Going back in history, the Great Pyramid of Giza, with a height of 455 feet, had the title for almost 4000 years, until around 1300 when the Lincoln Cathedral was built in England.) Samsung, from South Korea, which constructed the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei 101, handled the construction. To discourage competitors, Al Burj, on the Dubai Waterfront, has been proposed to be nearly 1000 feet taller. Looks like this skyscraper will now only be a memory.

It was a quarter century ago that I landed in Dubai, or was it Abu Dhabi, when Pan Am had a

world route. I did not see anything of consequence then, but, certainly, times have changed the landscape, and I look forward to returning to the United Arab Emirates in the Fall of 2010 and stay at the Burg Al Arab, while also venturing forth to Abu Dhabi to discuss plans for Masdar City, the presumed greenest city in the world to be readied for operation in about a decade. Now, who knows about even this adventure.

Dubai is not an independent country, chances are that the King or some organization in the UAE will bail them out. Dubai's debt to GDP ratio is 1.48, while that of the UAE is only 0.22. (Remember that the U.S.'s is about 1.0 and Japan is at 1.7.) With specific banking exceptions (Japan and the United Kingdom, plus, Citigroup of the U.S.), the world should weather this debt default problem.


Tropical Cyclone Nida is still at 150 MPH, but weakening and will move away from Japan.


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Only two autocratic presidents have ruled Gabon since independence from France in 1960. The current president of Gabon, El Hadj Omar BONGO Ondimba - one of the longest-serving heads of state in the world - has dominated the country's political scene for four decades. President BONGO introduced a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. However, allegations of electoral fraud during local elections in 2002-03 and the presidential elections in 2005 have exposed the weaknesses of formal political structures in Gabon. Gabon's political opposition remains weak, divided, and financially dependent on the current regime. Despite political conditions, a small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous and stable African countries.

Map data ©2009 Europa Technologies - Terms of Use

Remember how I indicated that China could run into problems attempting to exploit resources in Africa? Add Gabon to that list.


Thursday, November 26, 2009


You can go back many millennia to that very first thanksgiving, but, for our Nation, let us honor our history books and settle on November of 1621 (we celebrate it on the fourth Thursday of November because President Franklin Roosevelt officially changed the date at least twice while in office, long after President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 first made Thanksgiving a national holiday, in August and November). An excellent summary is provided by Brian Handwerk.

This is all very complicated, but religious separatists left England, went to the Netherlands, did not like it, so got permission to land at the mouth of the Hudson River in America. They eventually sailed on my birthday, September 6, in 1620, on the Mayflower with 70 adults and 32 children (27 adult Pilgrims and 43 strangers). Sixty-six days later, either November 11 or 21 (depends on which calendar you use) they ended up far north of their intended landing point, but because of the difficult weather, chose to stay where they were, somewhere near Massachusetts or Connecticut, possibly at Plymouth named because they finally left England from the port of Plymouth.

But let's get to the heart of the matter about that theoretical first thanksgiving. Yes, the Pilgrims and their cohorts (about 50 of them) and 90 male indians from the Wampanoag tribe, did dine after their first crop season in the fall of 1621, but did not consume corn on the cob, potatoes, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. They might have had turkey, but most probably geese or duck, and it was not roasted. They did have venison. It was a celebration of harvest and thankfulness, for the indians did show them how to grow food, but, more so, because the two groups had a truce to fight off the larger Mohawk and Iroquois tribes. Interesting to note that just this month, these very same Wampanoag Indians filed a lawsuit to prevent the construction of America's first offshore wind farm. Nearly four centuries later, they are still protecting Nantucket Sound and preserving their tribal rituals.

There is more, for the History News Channel has 10 myths about Thanksgiving:

1. The first thanksgivings were held in Texas (1598), then Virginia (1619), where their ship Margaret (not Mayflower) should be the historical focus.

2. The Pilgrims landed in Providence (Connecticut), not Plymouth Rock (Massachusetts), and the correct spelling should be Plimoth.

3. They did not wear black with those funny buckles, shoes and hats.

Today (and you only have three days left) re-experience this beginning at Plimoth Plantation, which comes equipped with Mayflower II (at a separate site). They are located around 40 miles south of Boston, and celebrate thanksgiving every day from late March to late November.

Map showing location of Plimoth Plantation and Mayflower II

Yes, be thankful and feel blessed, but for a few smiles, go to "How to Roast a Turkey."

One more diversion: Black Friday. There is Black Monday, when the stock market crashed on October 17, 1987. Also, Black Tuesday, September 29, 1929, leading to the Great Depression, which was preceded by Black Thursday on October 24. There is a Black Wednesday, but that is an esoteric British event. Anyway, Black Friday, has nothing to do with the stock market, for this is the term used for the day after Thanksgiving, and black is good, for that is the color of profit (red means a negative balance), symbolizing the day when companies begin to make money after being in arrears for the year until that day. Shopping begins at midnight on Thanksgiving for some stores, although many stores open at a more humane hour of 6AM.

The November-December shopping period last year was the worst in 40 years. There are more sales this year, and our economy appears to be recovering, so investors are hoping for the best. If the worst happens, maybe there will be a Black Monday for the stocks, but, actually, there is another Black Monday now immediately following Thanksgiving: cyber-sales! And I bought Amazon. com at $16.64/share.

So virtual sales are returning, and, why online works is that it is "safer" to make purchases away from home and prying eyes, especially, if you did not want to face the crowds over the weekend.

I noticed that while we were on holiday, all world markets fell, with Japan dropping more than 300 to 9082 (-3%). It appears that Dubai is crashing, and those countries heavily invested there will truly Japan. I also noticed that the Dow Jones Industrials futures were down around 250, so Friday could be scarily depressing. Is this a good time to sell short? I'm not a day trader. I'm a lifetime buyer. However, I'm tempted to take unusual action.

Super Typhoon Nida, now at 155 MPH, is expected to make a sudden turn to the east, and should now miss Japan:

As reported yesterday, Earth Observatory by NASA had Super Typhoon Nida over the Philippines, with reports of deaths and floods, but that was because this page was posted on 19May2004. So that was the confusion.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Okay, zero for one on my predictions of November 23, as President Obama is, indeed, planning to show up in Copenhagen for the Climate Change Summit. Of course, what real choice did he really have, for he has to be in Stockholm on December 9 to pick up his Nobel Prize, and that gathering will go on from December 7 through the 18th. His word spinners will have him say he had to come because this is the meeting that will initiate the process for saving Planet Earth, and he will do everything in his power (which will not be much because there are too many Democrats from fossil fuel states, and Republicans...well, read my HuffPo on this subject) to remediate global climate warming.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHD) had a re-birth this past week. Hawaii was in the spotlight last year on the LHD, for Walter Wagner of Pepeekeo, a retired nuclear safety officer, with Luis Sancho, a Spanish writer, sued CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) because they feared the prospects of black holes, strangelets and magnetic monopoles. Kind of reminds you of the Man from La Mancha, with his trusty sidekick, Sancho Panza. They were supported by University of Hawaii Hilo psychology professor Paul Dixon. Now, where is Sophia Loren? However, the lawsuit was summarily dismissed by Judge Helen Gillmor.

What is the LHD? It is only the most expensive scientific experiment ever, located 570 feet underground at the Swiss-French border, 17 miles in circumference, and built at a cost of $9 billion over 15 years. It is expected to prove or disprove the existence of the Higgs Boson, something to do with matter and the Standard Model. But since you won't understand the science, and I don't too, let's skip this part.

On 19September08, nine days after first flash, it went kaput, and took 14 months to repair. Yesterday, LHD experienced its first collision. Whew, Planet Earth survived. Judge Gillmor was right.

Grand Mosque, Mecca
REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Timed photo of the Hajj, which began today, and goes on until Sunday. This the annual pilgrimage that has been going on for 4000 years all Muslims make once in their life if they can afford it. The ritual is a lot more involved than merely walking counterclockwise seven times around the Kabah (cubed shaped building above). You must run between hills, pray, stand in vigil in the desert, drink from a sacred well, throw stones, pray, shave your head and perform an animal sacrifice (or you can have someone do this for you). Three million or so will so do this year. A website says, "Be Peaceful, Orderly and Kind. No Crushing!" Huh? In 2006, 600 were killed through people falling over each other. That same year, 362 Hajjis (these pilgrims) also died during the stoning process.

If you still wish this experience, the dates next year are from November 14-18. Oh, if you're not a Muslim, don't even try, for, first, you need a visa with a purpose for visiting Saudi Arabia, then, there are check points. You won't be arrested, but deported. On the other hand, if only Mecca is your goal, find a way to get into Saudi Arabia during the non-Ramadan, non-Hajj period, have a local dress you and suggest how to walk, don't talk and be as unobstrusive as possible.

The Dow Jones Industrials hit a high for the year, up 31 to 10,464. The peak was 14, 164 on October 9 of 2007. World markets were mostly up. Gold surged to another all-time pinnacle, +$23/toz to $1192, while crude oil is now just under $78/barrel.

Wow, Nida is now a SUPER TYPHOON at 185 MPH.

Nida will move sufficiently west of Guam and appears still headed for Japan. However, what an incredible goof, as NASA today showed the following satellite shot, and superimposed the Philippines...
Super Typhoon Nida

...and I quote:

The MODIS instrument onboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of Super Typhoon Nida churning through the Philippine Islands. Packing winds of 100 mph and gusts of up to 122 mph, the typhoon caused floods and landslides in the Bicol region of the main island of Luzon. Nida has been responsible for at least six deaths in the Philippines and has displaced thousands as it skirted the eastern part of the country before moving towards southern Japan.

The country certainly doesn't deserve any more of this. There have been too many super typhoons hammering the Philippines, and several were named Nina, but Nida?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


The following continues the serialization of Chapter 4 on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

SETI in the 70’s

In 1971, Bernard Oliver of Hewlett-Packard and John Billingham of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center (ARC) conducted a summer workshop, and the group picked 1.42 GHz, the spectral line caused by interstellar hydrogen, and 1.66 GHz, caused by hydroxyl ions, called the “Water Hole,” as the ideal portion of space to conduct the search. For one, water symbolized life, and two, that band was relatively quiet. There is now that transitional link, for Book 1 featured a chapter reporting on hydrogen. Maybe there is something about hydrogen that goes beyond mere future sustainable utility.

In 1972, Oliver and Billingham authored a NASA study proposing an array of one thousand 100-meter telescopic dishes to pick up television and radio signals from neighboring stars. Project Cyclops was projected to cost $10 billion (which is $50 billion in 2009 dollars), but was never seriously considered. At this point in history, the U.S. Congress was not aware, or cared, that NASA was doing SETI work.

As an assistant professor of engineering, I then teamed with the resident futurist at the University of Hawaii, James Dator, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, on “Earth 2020: Visions for Our Children’s Children,” where in the summer of ‘74 we brought to Hawaii noted lecturers of national stature in topics related to Planet Earth, the environment and space, and weekly filled a two thousand seat auditorium. We also conducted a workshop for forty or so secondary and university faculty.

Having been thusly enlightened with this course, many of them went on to become principals, a university president, a provost, and elected public officials. Professor Dator later gained fame as Secretary General, then President, of the World Futures Study Federation. Identical summer workshops were held at San Jose State University and San Diego State University, with the advanced planning final report prepared by faculty from all three workshops. There was also a lot of cross-fertilization with the leaders of Project Cyclops. The information and curricula we generated became the standard instructional tools for a large number of teachers in Hawaii and California in the growing field of environmental consciousness. Remember, this was more than a third of a century ago.

Having thus been exposed to the SETI field, in 1976 I joined 19 other university faculty members from across the nation at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, on Project Orion, to detect an extrasolar planet (or exoplanet, used interchangeably), that is, a planet revolving around another star, spearheaded, of course, by Oliver and Billingham. The first question asked of Cornell Professor Frank Drake was: “Extraterrestrial intelligence? How do you know there are even other planets outside our solar system?” So the faculty group was tasked to design a system to accomplish this feat. Why me? Well, I had an idea on how to do this, plus I long harbored visions that the cure for cancer and the solution to world peace might be beaming unto Planet Earth from advanced civilizations.

Originally, in the mid 1800’s, stars were classified by hotness (Class I for white and blue, down to Class IV for red and Class V). Early in the 1900’s, the Harvard classification was adopted, ranking stars by luminosity—O, B, A, F, G, K, and M—Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me.

F and G type suns seem best suited for planets. Our Sun is in the latter category, and the guess is that there is a 7% chance for a solar system, while the former is 1.3 to 1.5 solar masses, with a 10% chance of planets. Planets do not form in binary star systems, and have a higher probability of creation in galactic arms where heavy elements are located. There is a 20-30% chance towards the external portion of a galaxy, where we are located.

How does a planet form? Well, more and more, astronomers are seeing disks surrounding stars. Very simply, the dust agglomerates into planets. Thus, first find a planet, any planet. Then, find planets where life is possible. These sites should be:

o older than 3 billion years;

o with a star smaller than 1.5 times our Sun mass;

o having a stable location between galaxy spiral arms; and

o in a solar system which is singular, that is, without a binary star.

While most of the team went on to design an interferometric system to indirectly do the job, a few of us were allowed to pursue other directions. Indirect means to measure something else. That is, as you can’t see that extrasolar planet, the starlight being so intense relative to the reflection from the planet, measure the orbit wobble of the star, with the pattern mathematically being fitted for possible planets. Direct means somehow block out the starlight and see that extrasolar planet, or, better yet, actually measure and track something, anything, from the planet itself. I was the only one to take this latter option, for I like to see what I’m doing, and the optical spectrum was my choice.

That same previously mentioned (in Chapter 2) Charles Townes, who had won the Nobel Prize for the laser, and who will later be mentioned in Chapter 10 for being awarded the 2005 Templeton Prize (generally given to a noted scientist who has religious predilections), happened to just arrive at the University of California Berkeley from the Massachusetts Institute Technology in 1976, and had published a paper speculating that planetary atmospheres lased (that is, flashed a well-defined color like in a typical laser, representing the gaseous molecule undergoing this phenomenon).

As an aside, there is something karmic coupling the afterlife with SETI, as Science Digest, in its October 1985 issue on “The 20 Greatest Unanswered Questions of Science,” featured on its front cover, English-born and Princeton professor Freeman Dyson, the 2002 Templeton Prize awardee. Dyson was asked the question, “Are We Alone in the Universe?” He responded, “engaging in mathematical calculations on the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is not a worthwhile exercise. The universe may be crawling with life. The answer is: Wait and see.” Dyson had previously worked on a different Orion Project, but that was around 1960, and it had to do with using nuclear pulse propulsion for space-flight.

Anyway, returning to the discussion, a Jupiter-size planet cannot be seen revolving around a typical Sun-size star tens of light years away because the starlight is so much brighter by 5 to 10 orders of magnitude (meaning 10 to that power, or in the inverse, the light from an extrasolar planet is from 1/100,000 to 1/10,000,000,000, or one ten billionth that of the star). However, if the planetary atmosphere lased, then these spiked discrete frequencies, first, might well be detectable because you would know exactly which monochromatic colors to check (the lasing frequency of those gases that would be found in planetary atmospheres), thus, also, this would accordingly give the atmospheric composition. Conversely, if no lasing is detected, then that planet has no atmosphere, and can summarily be deleted from future consideration regarding the potential for harboring life. My PhD dissertation experience, which included building a tunable laser before you could purchase one, provided this spark of imagination. I went to see Professor Townes, and he graciously provided encouragement.

My final report to NASA was called “To See the Impossible Dream: the Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer (note the acronym, PAT),” with a Man from La Mancha symbol on the cover. I of course quoted Miguel de Cervantes:

To Man, the Don Quixote of the universe

May he succeed in his impossible dream.

At first I thought David Black, the NASA coordinator, reacted to my paper as being some kind of joke, but I now understand that optical searches were not company policy. That is, as it makes a lot more technical sense to measure the microwave spectrum for actual alien signals, NASA seemed wedded to focusing only on that particular technology, even for detecting extrasolar planets. Why microwave? These signals can travel further in space (less degradation) than optical ones.

Anyway, Black surmised that the Hubble Telescope would be soon to fly and find such exoplanets. Hubble was actually deployed 14 years later, and only in 2008 (32 years later) detected a planet orbiting a star. This telescope was serviced one final time later in 2009 for operation until 2013, when the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to be launched. Without an orbit reboost, the Hubble could plunge to Earth sometime soon after 2019. In any case, the prevailing convention then, as now, was to explore and receive the microwave band, so anything resembling optical searches did not meet the accepted requirements.

Either way, there is a timing concern, as, more and more, new commercial communications satellites will cloud the radio spectrum, especially in the range of the most promising detection channels. Thus, SETI will soon need to move into outer space if the focus is to continue traditional interferometry measurement techniques on Earth.

Two final bits about the ‘70’s, in 1975, the U.S. Congress published “The Possibility of Intelligent Life Elsewhere in the Universe.” In 1978, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) selected NASA’s SETI program for one of his famous Golden Fleece Awards. The following year found me in Washington, D.C. as U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga’s Special Assistant on Energy. Little did I know that while helping to solve our second energy crisis, one of my more interesting tasks would be related to SETI.

At one point today, the Dow Jones Industrials dipped more than 100 points. However, the DJI ended down only 17 at 10,434, while world markets were also mostly lower. Gold continued to set world records, jumping $9/toz to $1169. Crude oil is now around $77/barrel.

Tropical Typhoon Nida, at 115 MPH, was at first heading in the general direction of Guam, located 200 miles away, but now looks to move towards southern Japan, perhaps in a week. There is a tropical depression now affecting Mindanao (southern Philippine island). Tropical Cyclone Bongani, at 40 MPH, is moving west, just north of Madagascar.

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Formerly part of Romania, Moldova was incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Dniester River supporting the Slavic majority population, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, who have proclaimed a "Transnistria" republic. One of the poorest nations in Europe, Moldova became the first former Soviet state to elect a Communist as its president in 2001.

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