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Tuesday, August 31, 2010


A mouthful, but a bunch (maybe even up to a thousand?) of participants are attending the Summit at the Hawaii Convention Center.  I went by, said hi to a few friends, and went golfing.  Governor Linda Lingle and Senator Daniel Inouye were scheduled to give kenote addresses.  Today was the day for conservation, smart grids, education and financing.

On Wednesday, the bioenergy, Department of Defense funding opportunity and "the energetic ocean" sessions might be worth a visit.  The gathering continues Thursday morning, with the alternative aviation and DOD programs looking interesting.

That is the first truly commercial plug-in electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf, above, which can go 100 miles on a charge.  This is a $33,000 car, but Federal and State tax incentives can bring it down to around $25,000.  Also there was Henk Rogers' Tesla to the right, the only all-electric sports car, which can get 200 miles on a charge, and maybe even up to 250 miles.  Zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds.  However, it only costs $109,000, but, with all tax credits, you get it for less than $100,000.  Soon to come is the Model S sedan, which should cost under $50,000 with tax credits.

The Chevy Volt will be available from November and cost $40,000, but subtract those same credits.  Ford has a different strategy, for they will produce the Focus with a variety of options, not only the traditional internal combustion engine version, but also a hybrid (they call it the Fusion, $28,000, and named the 2010 North American Car of the Year) and to come in 2011 for fleets, a plug in electric ($??).

The Dow Jones Industrials edged up 5 to 10,014, with world markets also all positive.  Gold increased $10/toz to $1247 and crude oil sinking to $72/barrel.

Wow, we're up to 7 ocean storms.  The new one in the East Pacific is off the Mexican coast, and not expected to do much.

But in the Atlantic, Hurricane Earl is now up to 135 MPH and heading northwest, with all models showing a lot of big waves and the eye just about missing the USA, but getting awfully close to Long Island.

Right behind is Tropical Storm Fiona looking to move north and fizzle, but on her heels is another disturbance off Africa to take the same path as Danielle, Earl and Fiona.

In the West Pacific Typhoon Kompasu is at 115 MPH, should slightly weaken, and zoom right over Inchon as a Category 2 storm Thursday morning.  If you're flying in that day, be prepared for some delay.

Tropical Depression Namtheun at 25 MPH has dissipated, and is just about making landfall north of Hong Kong.  However, right behind is Tropical Storm Lionrock, now at 50 MPH, to brush Taiwan, turn left, and strike the same region of China just as Kompasu hits Korea on Thursday.


Monday, August 30, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Saint Andrews Golf Course (Part 15, Section B)

The following is section two of Scotland/Ireland from the final chapter of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.

Revenge of the Green Buggies 
(circa 2000)


Leaving Edinburgh in Scotland, seven of us were led by Professor Grant Burgess, bon vivant and champion karaoke singer, on about a one hour drive to St. Andrews, home of golf, which reeked of history. He arranged for us to stay at the dormitories of St. Andrews University.

We had back to back times at the New Course, which started play more than 100 years ago. The hallowed Old Course of Open fame initiated golf in 1574. We signed up and some of us rented pull carts. No riding here, except for the dreaded Green Buggy, a golf cart, and weapon of choice for the Course Marshalls, who maintain a vigorous regime of discipline at the club.

We were shown to the first hole by the Starter, a tough ex-military type with a large moustache, who clearly put up with no nonsense. He gave us a few derisory looks. There were four all–American jocks standing behind the tee off area, immaculately dressed, with real golf shoes and the latest golf technology. In fact, I recall two of them were actually wearing tweed plus four trousers with sky blue socks. They were anxious to tee off and get going but had the misfortune to have a 9:13 tee off time after our groups.

At 9:01 AM four of us went to tee off (they move things along promptly here at St Andrews), and a few obviously snide comments were heard. No problem. I was in the foursome with Tadashi Matsunaga and two of his colleagues from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, one of whom, Professor Miyata, went on to become President at this university, the institution where Grant spent his post-doc period under the mentorship of Professor Matsunaga, who himself, seems destined for that same honorable position, president of the university, that is.

In group two were Phil Wright (from Australia, but a faculty member of Heriot Watt University), Visanu Meyoo (from Mahanakorn University in Thailand) and budding pro, Grant Burgess. Actually, Grant was not quite ready, and, had last golfed sometime the previous year or so.

The story is taken up by Grant Burgess, then with Heriot-Watt University (HWU), but now with the University of Newcastle:

The Fife wind was howling cold, and, actually, the first group did not tee off at 9:01, for Tadashi, more used to the climes of Hawaii and the relaxed pace of Japanese courses, had come dressed in a T shirt, but urgently required his windproof St Andrews top he had purchased the day before. Unaccustomed to the police state regulations in force at the New Course, requiring that one must tee off within the 6 minute allocated time slot, Tadashi began to saunter back to the car park to retrieve his windproof top, a stroll of about ten, maybe fifteen, minutes. Recognising immediately the ensuing catastrophe, Jim Bryce, Royal and Ancient Club member with a two handicap, and my close colleague from HWU, who had come to see us off, flung him his own sweater and urged in almost panic to TEE OFF NOW! The wind lifted, the tension mounted, sweat trickled down Jim’s temple, and his reputation was at stake. All eyes were on Professor Matsunaga, who now was reasonably warm and confidently strode to the tee box. The American Foursome was scrutinising his every wiggle with piercing blue eyes and voluminous quantities of derision.

Tadashi swung and struck the ball well, it curved up beautifully and we all watched as it veered majestically straight into the metal grandstand with a loud “bong,” a central strike on the metal scaffold pole, and ricocheted into the gorse. The grandstand was in place for next week’s Open. The American’s rolled their eyes skyward, the Starter began to frown, but I thought it was quite a good shot! The panic continued and Pat teed off next, fast and hurried, but unbelievably straight down the perilously narrow fairway. Professor Takahashi was not much of a golfer himself, actually. Dr. Wake was next, then Professor Miyata. “Quick quick,” Jim implored, urging them on, the clock ticking…already three minutes late…”walk up the fairway and crack on.” The green buggies had started to gather, like storm clouds. I should just clarify: St Andrews has “Course Marshals,” whose job it is to “oversee play,” and they do this with Stasi like efficiency. They chivvy and chase you at any delay, for slow play is a crime in St Andrews, on a par with murder. It is not to be tolerated and must be rooted out at all cost. The Green Buggies, dark, worryingly dark green, ferry the Marshal’s all over the course watching, and, as you will see, striking down those who do not comply.

So, somewhat shakily, the first group was off, but the Americans again began to make loud and disparaging remarks, and another Marshal in his Green Buggy drove up to the tee off area and watched the proceedings solemnly. Three of us were left. No racial comments as such. It was just that Visanu, who had never golfed in his life, was wearing a World War II Eisenhower jacket (it was really cold, slightly drizzling, and this was August), jeans and army boots. Not regular St Andrews golf wear, while my own garb also left a lot to be desired. My Hawaiian Aloha shirt was bright orange rayon with real coconut buttons and a foot long blue flying fish swimming across the front. I must enquire of the Royal and Ancient Club byelaws whether such dress is allowed on the New Course. Flapping in the wind, as this shirt did, I had the feeling that it did not endear me to the gathering throng of Course Marshals. The next sequence of events to unfold left us all in shock. Bear in mind, that by now, tempers were frayed at the delay, plus the obvious insult of our ensemble, and, frighteningly, yet to come, golfmanship.

Visanu had no clubs of his own. Another major felony. But it was OK, I thought, he was sharing mine. My own golf bag was a 1930’s antique orange canvas bag, which matched my Aloha shirt. It had seen better days and had holes and significant leather failure. But it was equipped with fully four clubs. A rusty five iron, a brass putter, a sand wedge and a club of indeterminate identity. All with the grips falling off in tatters. Well, as a beginner, I wasn’t going to splash out on expensive clubs now, was I? My lack of any drivers did not worry me at that time, as I always teed off with my five iron, and was always happy to chip my way round a course in under 150 or so. At least I rarely lost my ball! The Starter, Marshals and American Jock Pack were aghast. We were by now four minutes late. High treason.

Visanu had trouble placing the golf ball on the tee, something he was doing, maybe, for the first time in his life. His major error was pushing the tee into the turf at a slight angle so that the ball rolled off two seconds after he had straightened up. This happened three times. He then realized, being an internationally recognized engineer, that the angle of the tee was of paramount importance, and gravity must be allowed to do its work. The summer howling winds so prevalent in these links courses did not help.

He finally laid his club calmly on the ground, and with two hands, succeeded to insert the Tee vertically and balanced a dirty ball perfectly on top. He took a practice swing and almost fell down, as his attempt was more reminiscent of American baseball.

At this point, the Starter, in utter apoplexy, leaped out from his Starter’s Box and stormed across the tee off area, screaming:  “You….OUT!”

Visanu, in stunned embarrassment, backed away. But you can appreciate the situation. Every golfer was supposed to have his own bag and Visanu and I were sharing a bag, very much against bout four or five byelaws. The Americans’ equipment made the difference too intolerable, for mine was a decaying mess and the Marshals had, of course, noticed every detail.

“You’ve got nae clubs, and YOU (pointing to me) CANNAE PLAY GOLF !”

“Get off my course!”

Despite this, I knew that Scottish anger was quick to dissipate and we succeeded somehow in placating the Starter as his colour returned from purple to russet. Extremely reluctantly, he allowed us a second chance, I had convinced him that we could play on, and that Visanu was actually my caddy.

I gallantly teed off under immense pressure and was happy because I hit the ball, and it was quick. I knew the waiting Americans and the Starter would be pleased. Not my best shot, a 30 meter skiff into a vicious looking gorse bush (all gorse in St Andrews is vicious, it’s a special breed). And it was freezing, but, after all, I grew up in Edinburgh, and this was to honor Pat.  As my ball hit the gorse the Americans went ballistic. The Marshall crossed his arms, and appeared perturbed. Disregarding all this, I began walking up the fairway, followed by Visanu, carrying, very professionally, I might add, my bag, and I with the demeanour of Arnold Palmer, stalked off…….

We almost pulled it off.

The Marshals jumped unto their Green Buggies and followed, stalking us with field glasses. There were two. They travel in pairs you know, like policemen.

My second shot dribbled left, only a few meters, but with unbelievable fortitude and a hockey like chopping action with my five iron, I made it to the fringe of the first hole in eight shots.

At this point, the Green Buggy drove up to me, and the Marshall, showing considerable authority, said, “if you quit now, we will refund your green fees.” I really had no choice. But for a Scottish professor to be kicked off St. Andrews! I’ll never live this down. Visanu and I went back to the clubhouse to drown our sorrows, and discuss Tee physics. I also later visited Argos to remedy my lack of drivers, determined to do better! Funnily, things got worse later that day, as Pat continues.

The four of us finished our delightful round in less than three hours. Well, there was little choice! We were sweating profusely, but had avoided the green buggies, and Tadashi had only lost fourteen balls. We were surprised to see Grant and Visanu already in the clubhouse. (Not sure what happened to Phil. The ignominy of the whole thing must have distressed him.) When they told us their story, we couldn’t stop laughing through several beers. The unsmiling old Scotsman remarked at the next table in gruff Highland accent, “Highly Irregular!” Needless to say, he was not amused.

Then, it occurred to us that we should sign up tomorrow for the Old Course. The previous time I had played there, Jim Bryce signed up and joined us. There is another system there (where the British Open is played) called the daily ballot, whereby, if you registered by 4PM the day before, a lottery is held, and you can check back by 6PM to determine if your foursome lucked out. So, Grant and I went to the computer lady located in the clubhouse. I gave my name, showed my club golf card and placed my order for a foursome. You needed to have a minimum 24 handicap to play the Old Course (36 for females), and our foursome qualified, but more by counterfeit.  I made up Tadashi's card on my office computer. A poor golfer shoots about a 24. As mentioned earlier, Grant can get around a course in about 150 strokes, handicap, if allowed, of about 75…in fact, his golf more closely resembles hockey. Of course he did not have a handicap card.

Grant then was asked by the nice lady the name of his “home” golf club. Grant, in perfect brogue, nevertheless stammered, ehm, “Blackhall” (actually a 9 hole ladies course in Edinburgh, which would have set the silent alarm bells ringing—intruder…intruder). The extremely experienced lady had senses worthy off the El Al check-in staff, and immediately spotted a flaw. Probing further, this now vice-marshal in green became stern and asked, glowering, “what is your handicap?” Grant couldn’t think of what to say, although he had heard the word “handicap” used in reference to the sport of golf, we shall give him that. She remarked with heavy irony, “you don’t golf, do you?” Then, ominously, she closed her clipboard with a crushing finality. Grant, thus, became the only native Scotsman to get kicked off both the New Course and Old Course of St. Andrews on the same day.

Be on the watch for The Return of the Dreaded Green Buggy! A movie script is being discussed.

Well, another bad day on Wall Street, as the Dow Jones Industrials skidded 141 to 10,009, while world markets were mixed, the Japan Nikkei jumping above 9,000 to 9,149.  Gold remained unchanged at $1238/toz and crude oil is at $74/barrel.  Remember, this is only $1.76/gallon, so someone is making money on gasoline.


There are now six named storms, three each in the Atlantic and West Pacific.  In the Atlantic:

1.  Danielle is still a hurricane, but moving off east.  

2.  Hurricane Earl, already at 125 MPH, however, is not heading north like Danielle did, having already affected St. Thomas, Anguilla and St. Martin, popular cruise ports.  Earl will attain Category 4 status, then slight weaken into a 3, but looms to strike the East Coast as early as Friday.

3.  Tropical Storm Fiona, at 40 MPH is right behind Earl.

The three storms in the West Pacific:

1.  Typhoon Kompasu (also known as Glenda), now at 85 MPH, will strengthen into a Category 2 tomorrow when it  passes over the main island of Okinawa, then lose typhoon status before hitting the west coast of Korea on Thursday.

2.  Tropical Storm Lionrock, at 65 MPH, seems to be meandering, with models indicating weaving towards Taiwan, then turning west to hit China by Thursday, or not.

3.  There apparently is Tropical Storm Namtheun at 40 MPH right on the heels of Lionrock, also trying to figure out where to go.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

*THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Scotland and Ireland (Part 15, Section A)

The following continues the serialization of the last chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  This section will be in two parts, as the next entry will report on a hilarious series of incidents at St. Andrews Golf Course.

         Scotland and Ireland


Why am I reporting on these two countries? First, because they are among my favorites. Second, these two countries serve as the backdrop for a story I just had to share, which follows this section.

August is the finest month to visit Scotland. Make it the only good month. The Edinburgh Festival (largest cultural event of its type in the world, ending on September 5 this year), single malt scotches and the home of golf make for an idyllic combination. Let me, though, write Scotland off with two words—too cold—but, still provide an entertaining story featuring Professor Grant Burgess, favorite son of Edinburgh, who when this tale occurred a decade ago, was the biotechnology expert for Heriot-Watt University located in his home town.

When a small group of us first visited that campus, their vice provost, or something similar, welcomed us into  his capacious conference room, and this being the late afternoon, wheeled out a cart of six single malt scotches. He proceeded to provide some background of each, from the lightest up to Lagavulin, a peaty 16-year old malt, which soon became my favorite. We came to talk marine biotechnology, but never got around to that subject.

Grant later took us to his office, and pointed out that his two neighbors were the Scotch Professor of Scotland and a biology faculty member who, while also a specialist in malting and brewing, had a membership in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Dr. James Bryce had a single digit handicap and took us to his home course on occasion.

I’ve challenged Carnoustie, the home of the Open in 2007, and even toyed with the Old Course of St. Andrews, or, make it the other way around. Anyway, will come back to Scotland later, but one day, Grant Burgess, Mayumi and Tadashi Matsunaga and I golfed at the Royal Dublin Golf Course, in Ireland, which was on that other island to the West.  Ireland is a favorite of many, and the town of Dublin has terrific character, with a good many bars and a lot of artworks consisting of painted cows. There’s a reason for this, and I’ll need to Google the reason. Anyway, the day I landed, I had transferred through Heathrow, and London had, for the first time in recorded history, hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with Dublin at 98°F. The major news item was a warning to place sun block on cow udders.

Of course, I thought about protecting myself, too, so I went to a department store but couldn’t find any for humans. After much scurrying around, I finally was able to purchase a small tube of Johnson and Johnson for a ridiculously high price. It went on fine, although it seemed to stain everything white, but just wouldn’t come off, even with soap. I think I bought something for cows.

Well, back to the Royal Dublin, Grant and I each rented a golf set, while the Matsunaga’s had brought theirs.  We were going to buy golf balls, which were very, very expensive, but Tadashi said, we could use his, for he brought a lot of them. We teed off, but by the fifth hole, were down to one ball each. The rough grass just consumed our balls, and Tadashi had not brought that many, maybe only 35. Well, anyway, the more interesting story occurred at St. Andrews, where golf was invented. But I eliminate Ireland from contention because it also is normally too cold and you’re never quite sure about some terroristic threat, although that is, really, in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. Ireland is its own nation and deserves a top ten standing.

What has this got to do with Scotland and being the best place to live? Nothing much, but serves as a link to the next story.

Wow, there are now six storms over our oceans:

1.  Hurricane Danielle in the Atlantic is still at 80 MPH, but moving east.

2.  Hurricane Earl looms to become a Category 4 storm:
However, while the Carolinas and Cape Code could be threatened, odds are that he will turn east before getting close to land.  However, you just don't know, for at least one computer model has it hitting land.

3.  There is another storm tracking Earl, but does not yet have a name.

4.  A disturbance popped up in the Central Pacific, south and west of Hawaii.  It does not loom as a threat.

5. and 6.  However, there are two in the West Pacific.  First, Tropical Storm Kompasu, already at 65 MPH, will become a Category 2 typhoon, and appears to be headed somewhere between Shanghai and Cheju Island.

Next, Tropical Storm Lionrock, at 45 MPH, will make landfall on Wednesday north of Hong Kong.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010


The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

g. London


Next, London was experiencing frigid conditions, but, with no wind and a lot of sun, walking around was a very tolerable experience. This was about the tenth time I had visited this sprawling city. I had the pleasure to have lunch with Don Lennard (who has since passed away), the OTEC guy from the U.K., at his stately club: dry sherry, followed by a bottle of Claret (British term for Bordeaux), with a kind of cream soup and hare—a large bunny, which tasted exactly like the Minke whale I had in Bergen, both of which had the odor and consistency of a tough piece of beef liver. So much for trying the food of the region. 

We connived on the future of OTEC, which appears now to be experiencing a measurable revival. I chatted with Professor Bill McGuire of University College of London, who gave the annual Science Museum lecture on monumental disasters, two chapters of my upcoming book. I saw THE PRODUCERS, to next month (remember, this is the continuation of my letter to colleagues) be released for the second time as a movie, with Lane/Broderick, and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, probably the best stage musical I have ever seen, mostly because the sound (there were 20 foot tall speakers—if you have a pacemaker, don't go) was incredible, and the cast, after the usual bows, kept singing and dancing, with the audience, for another half an hour, they said, because it was Saturday night, which it was that night.

In London, reading newspapers like the Financial Times, I noticed that gold, at nearly $500 / troy oz, is the highest it has been in 18 years (in 2008, the price rose to $900 / toz), and copper hit an all time high. In case you don't keep up with these things, almost always, these signs mean that inflation is coming. (Well, it never came, but wait till 2012!) The Japanese Nikkei hit a 4.5 year high and the South Korean stock market has never, ever, been any higher.  Sell!!!  On the other hand, I'm usually wrong on stock prices.  Google, which was less than $100/share a little more than a year ago, is now at $400 (but soared past $700 in 2007, dropping some in 2008).  Of course, I didn't buy.  [Google is back at $450 or so in August of 2010]  Twelve of the most respected fifteen international companies (Toyota at #3; British Petroleum, an oil company that has a progressive view on sustainable resources; and Siemens, also a company with good attitude are up there) are U.S. corporations, with Microsoft as #1. I guess we're doing fine as a Nation, even though no one likes us.  [Remember, this was written in 2005.  Since then, the stock value of Microsoft has remained in the range of $25, while Toyota and BP certainly ran into problems.]

This entry completes my travel report to the Indian Ocean and Europe. A few of the stops were ideally arranged for me to confirm decisions for this chapter. I took the trip, I guess, at least partly, for this purpose.

Nothing has changed for those 5 storms mentioned yesterday.  Hurricane Earl remains a concern.


Friday, August 27, 2010


The following continues the serialization of the final chapter in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

            f. Norway, the Next Best Place in the World


Week 3 in Oslo was enjoyable. Norway has for the past five years now been selected as the best place to live. (Niger was the worst.) Yes, it is far too cold, although, apparently, when I was there, 15 degrees F warmer than normally. It was still, though, too cold, and this was only November.

Prices are very high for everything, and their best restaurants charge ridiculous amounts for very pedestrian cuisine. I noted that their newscasters surely sounded like they were speaking English in reverse. Serious climate warming can only help this country, but, then, with sea level rise (as much as 250 feet can occur over a long period of time) both Oslo and Bergen would go underwater.

Why, then, is Norway so terrific?  There is no homeless, nor insects, true peace of mind (you can actually walk the parks at night), and everything works. The bathrooms and airports (when you want to leave Bergen, there is no check--in desk--you must use those scary looking machines, but someone is there to help you) are well engineered, elevators arrive within 10 seconds (if not already there—in London, the average wait is more than a minute), cities and public lavatories that are really clean, with soft paper towels, and a transportation system that is frequent and dependable. The people are attractive and nice, with no obvious obesity problem. 

Hydropower supplies their electricity, oil has been a godsend, plus, they have vast quantities of natural gas yet to tap. I gave several PowerPoint talks on THE BLUE REVOLUTION and NEXT GENERATION FISHERIES, for, many decades from now, when they run out of fossil fuel and have overfished their still OK stocks, the open ocean will need to be their future, something they have not needed to think about. I think I planted a seed for their future.

Then, on to Bergen, another fine city. In a special summit with Chile, Norway and the USA, we created the Bergen Declaration for Next Generation Fisheries. A century from now, some historian will discover this document and trace the relative abundance of seafood to this international agreement. 

Bergen rained about 8 inches in a 24 hour period and then snowed 4 inches, but the one day we were free, the sky was sunny, the snowfall looked majestic and the various touristy sites educational, enjoyable and almost free. Yes, Norway deserves its high world ranking.

The Dow Jones Industrials jumped 165 to 10,151, while world markets were mostly up. Gold went up a buck a troy ounce to $1238 and crude oil snuck up to $75/barrel.

There are now five storms:

1.  Hurricane Danielle is up to 110 MPH, but is moving north, then will turn east.

2.  Tropical Storm Earl is up to 60 MPH, but will become a Category 3 hurricane and shows signs of generally following the movement of Danielle, but will do this closer to the Eastern Seaboard.

3.  Then following is a third disturbance showing all the same signs as Danielle and Earl.

4.  Tropical Storm Frank is at 45 MPH, weakening and meandering towards Baha.

5.  A new disturbance has popped up between the Philippines and China, and will strengthen before making landfall north of Hong Kong.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Mauritius (Part 12)

The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  The distance between Reunion and Mauritius is about the same as a flight between Honolulu and Kailua-Kona.

 e.  The Paradise Known as Mauritius

Well, for Week Three, I was next scheduled to fly back to Paris to meet with UNESCO on the Blue Revolution, but riots had started, so, instead, by their request, I flew to Mauritius, a half an hour away, which is smaller than Reunion, but has 1.2 million people, just like Hawaii. It has a sugar industry on the edge of going bankrupt, a declining textile industry (because of China) and a smaller and smaller fishing fleet. However, there is low unemployment, religious/ethnic harmony (Lee Kuan Yew pictured on the left in his youth, evidently, some time ago, came here and copied the system for Singapore) and an inspired leadership, which has selected the Blue Revolution as their future. (A small team visited Hawaii a year later.)

I was housed for three days at Sugar Beach Resort, a combination of Mauna Lani Bay and Mauna Kea Beach Hotels. The dinner buffet was at least twice as large as anything I'd seen anywhere, with various stations for carvings, creole food (yes, same kind as Reunion…and Louisiana—but at least this one was temperature hot), pasta, etc. There was also a stage show at dinner time, very similar to those you see on a cruise. The one distracting factor one night was another large cockroach that seemed to enjoy running from the stage to my table and back, with the lead singer and me subtly and unsuccessfully trying to kill it. 

The breakfast buffet was equally impressive, with free champagne every morning. After my ordeal on Reunion, this was  a nice change of pace.

I gave my talk on THE BLUE REVOLUTION to the government planning group of the Mauritius Research Council, headed by Arjoon Suddhoo, a PhD aerospace engineer and past chairman of the board of Air Mauritius (Air Madagascar is on the “don't fly” list…..Air Mauritius is doing quite well, unlike United Airlines and most American airlines, and is the only one, I think, to still pass out metal knives with their meals).  Mauritius is a nation (same vote as the U.S. in the United Nations) and linked historically with Great Britain, meaning they all speak English.  As Brisbane was an oasis, Mauritius reminded me of what Heaven might be.

The flight from Mauritius to Paris was, courtesy of Arjoon Suddhoo, in First Class, and wonderful. However, I soon noted that virtually every notable location we flew over started with an M: Mauritius, Madagascar, Mombasa, Mogadishu, Misratah, Mediterranean Sea (and several other seas, which, when you approach Italy, become Mer, for Sea), between Marseille and Monaco, at which point I began to get worried. I still had that M Curse in my mind. Clearly, this was a clue that the plane would be hijacked and flown to Munich, or, more probably, Moscow. However, as we approached Paris, riots were still going on, and the city was, indeed, burning. The civil unrest was worrisome, so I immediately transferred planes at Charles De Gaulle for Oslo.

European settlers came in 1595, and within the century, man and their animals killed off the dodo.  Interestingly enough, the Calvaria tree also disappeared, as the cycle of seed, diet of dodo and resultant poop was necessary for survival.  At least that was the story until the matter was further studied, and now the belief is that some combination of deforestation amd imported animas eating the seed can be blamed.  This Calvaria certainly looks like the typical banyan tree.

I might mention that, while Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean, it is considered to be the most successful African nation in progressive business development. It is the only African country to have eradicated malaria. The government has been stable for forty years, and featured are free education and free health care.  I was very impressed with their success at racial relations, and they have taken on the challenge of the Blue Revolution.

The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 74, and lost a digit, now down to 9986, while world markets were mixed.    Gold fell $2/toz to $1237 and crude oil is at $73/barrel.

There are now three storms in the Atlantic:

     1.  Hurricane Danielle at 110 MPH will further strengthen, but, as reported earlier, will begin to move north and avoid any landfall.

     2.  Tropical Storm Earl will strengthen into a hurricane by this weekend and could threaten the Caribbean or move towards Florida.

     3.  A new disturbance off Africa is moving west and could track either Danielle or Earl.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Frank at 90 MPH is turning north towards Baha, but should begin to weaken.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Let me start with a photo of my water lilies today:

I repeat below a response I sent to a colleague who is interested in biomethanol, but will not mention any names.  The following is a good summary about trends in the development of biomethanol and the direct methanol fuel cell.

Dear XXX:

When I click on that site, it does not exist.  But if you are referring to

YYY was originally a tiny "collect waste oil from Maui restaurants" firm that has more recently expanded in scope.  Perhaps I'd better go talk to ZZZ to see if they wish to be part of the larger picture.  I met her once in their early days and thought what they were doing was nice, but very limited.  

That article I cited surely shows all the signs of promise.  In particular, I quote:

The EERC conducted an engineering and economic analysis for the project. The cost varied, depending on the ambitiousness of the plan to pay back the capital costs. “If you’re willing to have a 20-year payback and if you operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week for 85 percent of the year, the cost of the methanol would be about 79 cents per gallon,” Hurley says. “At the time we did the analysis, the spot price of methanol was $1.80 per gallon.” Alternatively, a methanol producer could sell the fuel at the spot price; with that kind of price difference, Hurley says a project could pay off the capital cost fairly quickly. 

Do you know what it costs to produce ethanol from biomass?  Let me quote from

The cost of producing ethanol varies with the cost of the feedstock used and the scale of production. Approximately 85 percent of ethanol production capacity in the United States relies on corn feedstock. The cost of producing ethanol from corn is estimated to be about $1.10 per gallon. Although there is currently no commercial production of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks such as agricultural wastes, grasses and wood, the estimated production cost using these feedstocks is $1.15 to $1.43 per gallon.

Because a gallon of ethanol contains less energy than a gallon of gasoline, the production cost of ethanol must be multiplied by a factor of 1.5 to make an energy-cost comparison with gasoline. This means that if ethanol costs $1.10 per gallon to produce, then the effective cost per gallon to equal the energy contained in a gallon of gasoline is $1.65. In contrast, the current wholesale price of gasoline is about 90 cents per gallon.

What caught my attention was the wholesale price of gasoline at 90 cents/gal ($38/gallon).  This makes no sense at all, for what was meant, I'm sure, is the production cost of gasoline, as I know the wholesale price of gasoline since 2007 has usually been between $2 and $2.50/gallon, with that excursion to $3.51/gallon in July of 2008.  Here is a counter point of view from ethanol curmudgeon David Pimental:

Most economic analyses of corn-to-ethanol production overlook the costs of environmental damages, which Pimentel says should add another 23 cents per gallon. "Corn production in the U.S. erodes soil about 12 times faster than the soil can be reformed, and irrigating corn mines groundwater 25 percent faster than the natural recharge rate of ground water. The environmental system in which corn is being produced is being rapidly degraded. Corn should not be considered a renewable resource for ethanol energy production, especially when human food is being converted into ethanol".

A few questions ring in my mind:

1.  If ethanol is so relatively cheap to produce, why that generous tax credit?

2.  It is finally sinking in to decision makers that, given biomass, it is more economically sensible to produce methanol than ethanol.

3.  If this is true, why doesn't the USDOE have a full court press to develop the direct methanol fuel cell for transport applications, as methanol is the only liquid that can be processed by a fuel cell without reformation, and a DMFC vehicle would take it 5 (FIVE) times further than one powered by a lithium battery system, the priority pathway of the current White House?  And, by the way, the Japanese own most of the useful lithium battery patents.  Even our Chevy Volt will use a South Korean battery, licensed from Japan.  While we're at this, contemplate that a gallon of methanol has 140% the hydrogen availability of a gallon of liquid hydrogen.  You know what a gallon of liquid sustainable hydrogen costs?  Surprisingly enough, "only" $3.38/gallon, but consider the energy balance.

Here I'm a step away from sending in final galley proof adjustments for my Book 3, am being overwhelmed by some sudden interest in the Blue Revolution, am on my second day of a quest to golf five days in a row this week, and still spending so much time on the biomethanol economy.  But you asked.


The Dow Jones Industrials eased up 20 to 10,060 after dropping down to 9938, at the end of the day 3.5% lower than at the start of the year, but 6% higher than a year ago.  World markets were mostly down, with the Japan Nikkei now at a 16 month low of 8845, and yen at a 15 month high (below 84 yen per U.S. dollar last night).  Yes, confusing, but high is low, and it's not worth explaining.  Gold is up $9/toz to $1240 and crude oil at $72.74/barrel.

There are now two hurricanes, Frank at 75 MPH steering away from Mexico and Danielle at 85 MPH still moving west, but destined to go north.  However, right behind is Tropical Storm Earl, expected to take a more southernly route, to become a hurricane around Saturday, and will probably strike land next week.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Reunion Island (Part 11)

The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  Today, my trip to Reunion Island, as captured in my summary e-mail to colleagues after I returned to Hawaii.  These things take time, but nearly five years went by, and just a few weeks ago, a contingent from Reunion visited Hawaii to discuss their plan for advancing ocean thermal energy conversion.

The Challenges and Promise of Reunion Island


I embarked on an $18,000 (just expenses) trip in October and November of 2005 to Reunion Island, located in the Indian Ocean, then going on to Paris, Oslo, Bergen and London. The expense was high because there were some paid upgraded segments. This was certainly in the top 10 of worst and best trips, showing enormous promise for future interaction (see The Free Hydrogen Age and the Blue Revolution in Book 1). Mauritius was a late add-on, and a pleasant one.  They are my hope for the Blue Revolution.

Dear Friends:

By now you have probably received at least one of eleven chapters of my month long trip to the Indian Ocean and Europe. For some, it will only take you a second to delete this as SPAM. For others who actually might be interested in gaining some closure, this is a collection of the most memorable experiences and anecdotes, in chronological order:

a.   After flying (actual air time) about 28 hours, I landed on Reunion Island, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Reunion, about the size of Oahu, at the same Latitude (but they are South and we are North—close to being our antipode), with about the same population and a balanced, but different, ethnic mix of Africains, French, Chinese and Indian, is a state and, as it has turned out, “welfare” department of France. There seem to be tolerable racial relations, although those walking the markets look only to be brown/black. I actually asked someone why I don't see too many Chinese, and the response was: they are in their shops. Perhaps true, but nevertheless, disconcerting. 

Unemployment might be as high as 50%, but the government payments are quite good (the unemployed take vacations to Mauritius), although crime is distressing, most probably because of an underlying drug problem. However, I don't think I saw a beggar or homeless person. The French government subsidizes gasoline and electricity prices to maintain equality with the nation. But, to cut future costs, there is heavy pressure for conversion to coal, a policy being questioned by the island president, Paul Verges (left), who is someone I could well look like if I lived to the age of 85. Verges wants renewable energy and ocean resources, thus the reason why I am here, for they are just where we were 30 years ago: dying sugar industry, potential geothermal resources and a wealth of renewable options. 

Their meetings typically started with breakfast at 7AM and ended after dinner at 11PM. Worse, 95% of all official discussions were in French. My PhD language was French, but I know more Japanese than French, and anyone who knows me, knows that I don't know any Japanese. Amazingly, though, among the 100 or so conferees over the two weeks, I never saw anyone doze off. Even more of a surprise, as fatigued and jet-lagged as I was during these psychologically arduous sessions, I must have been too tired to fall asleep during these interminable discussions, as I hardly knew what was being said. They were all genuinely interested and dedicated to do something about their energy problem, and the planning staff was like super-humans: spoke a variety of languages, were nice, helpful, progressive and well educated. My primary contact, Laurens Gautret, from France, had a PhD in astrophysics, and recently returned from Chile, where he had a project searching for extrasolar planets, an interest area of mine, to settle on this island (his wife is from Reunion).  

There are two other problems:  mosquitoes and cockroaches. In Norway, if you see a leaf rolling on the ground, it is a leaf. In Reunion, it will probably be a roach, especially at night. Actually, I exaggerate, for there are probably more large cockroaches on my roof area on warm nights than in any equivalent space on that island.  I did, though, have an encounter here with the largest flying cockroach I have ever seen. The mosquitoes, though, were the truly worrisome factor. Just this year, Chikungunya appeared. 5,000 now have been infected, and the symptoms are like Dengue Fever, but with a lot more pain. 

Week One was like hell for me, as my glasses fell apart on the flight over, I contracted a cold, had an uneasy stomach, experienced marginal hotels, was subjected to Creole food (okay once a month, but not six meals in a row), and always, there was the worry about Chikungunya. My body was very unhappy with me for subjecting it to this ordeal.

b.   Week Two began at an especial nadir. We were asked to appear at 9AM for an “easy” hike up a mountain to visit a renewable energy site, stay overnight and hike back the next day. However, the directions were to douse yourself with mosquito repellent (Chikungunya!!) and bring a change of clothing. I showed up in hush puppies and a Wal-Mart shopping bag with my clothes. They were passing out large—two liter—bottles of water, a yard long French roll and some cheese to the hikers. That was to be the food/drink for the next two days. Save for me and one other, everyone else had professional backpacks and hiking boots. Someone had mentioned to me that there was a water shortage and there were no showers available at the site. As I looked so out of place, in one of my best ever exhibitions of extemporaneous brilliance—escape became a mandatory solution—I went up to my contact and indicated that my room reeked of tobacco smoke and I had a bad cold (both necessary exaggerations, although this hotel, or, at least, my room, was pretty bad), and instead of joining them, I would be moving hotels (there was a recently built Concorde Bellepierre (below right) I read in the travel guide that looked appealing). He hesitated, then said he would drive me up there and sign me in, for he was an experienced hiker (at some point in the potential challenging march, he had to assist that other person who, like me, was not prepared to undertake this expedition) and could easily catch up with the group. I weakly objected, but he fortunately was insistent, which was a good thing, because you essentially needed to speak French to make this transition into the Concorde.

c.   My Week Two was like Purgatory (which is a huge step up from Hell). This new hotel had an exercise room, plasma TV screen, a view of the city/ocean, an excellent French restaurant and, because of the relative elevation and dry climate, no prospects for Chikungunya. When the group returned, they stayed at that previous dump, while I luxuriated in the Concorde. This is one of the reasons why Americans are just not appreciated around the world. It's an attitude thing. However, I endeared myself with the conferees by repeatedly mentioning that, I, too, had severe problems with President George W. Bush. It turned out that, better yet, I could now opt out of certain whole morning and afternoons of meetings because I was sort of inconveniently located for the pick-up bus (that hill was a challenge). Anyway, I would not understand most of the discussion, so it was a relief for all involved. Week Two was actually enjoyable, for my comfort level was fine and I think I actually said a few things at rare opportunities that someday will help the island.

d. To be serious, Reunion has a shot at succeeding because, contrary to our beginnings, oil prices are now much higher, solar technologies are now largely proven (Hawaii was the international laboratory for renewables, which meant that everything that we tried essentially failed) and there is the fear of global climate warming. This is using some hindsight, but when we completed all those island energy self-sufficiency projects in the mid-seventies, the electricity part was deemed to be a given once the price of oil climbed higher (I think we will be right on this), but hydrogen was to be the key to the future, for if biomass (sugar cane) could be converted to bio-methanol, the production can be DOUBLED, if cost-effective hydrogen can be added in the process, and, the most promising aviation future had to be hydrogen jetliners. Unfortunately, because of the farm lobby, our Nation went ethanol, which will in time become obvious as a mistake because, given fiber, it is much more economical to produce methanol, which, in addition to replacing gasoline, also can be readily utilized by fuel cells. It is a shame that the National Aerospace Plane (which was supposed to use hydrogen fuel), which we helped create through the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act, was eventually killed by the Department of Defense, so the future of air travel will remain a problem, especially for Hawaii. A tiny island in the middle of the Pacific can affect the energy future of the nation and world.  I now and then mentioned this potential for Reunion, and, later, in Mauritius. Someday, they will be energy independent and provide resources for Europe.

e. Well, for Week Three, go to next section on Mauritius…

f. Go on to following section on Norway…

h. Go on to London…

I'm now back home and this is also the 14th day since I left Reunion, so I, apparently, escaped the curse of Chikungunya. This is also my final trip anywhere. Almost for sure.



But, that was in 2005. In 2006, the staff of President Verges volunteered to look closer at the Free Hydrogen Economy. Let’s see, now. They are about the same size and population as Oahu. Tourism is important; the sudden calamity of Chikungunya has left them in a pickle. They have a dying sugar industry and their mother country wants to convert them into a coal economy. They just might be at that critical stage to enter doomsday, which is almost a necessary requirement for human societies to transcend normality. If France can be convinced to pick a year, say, 2020, for good vision, when renewable hydrogen is suddenly made free, Reunion might have as good a chance as any to tap her nation’s deep pockets to get a jump on what might be the only solution for humanity, too.  Stay tuned. Reunion Island might just someday make my top place to live in my update of Simple Solutions, Book 2.

The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 134 to 10,040, world markets all fell, and the Japan Nikkei settled below 9,000 at 8905.  Gold jumped $8/toz to $1231 and crude oil slipped below $72/barrel.  Even the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for petroleum in December of 2018 is now down to $89/barrel.

Tropical Storm Mindulle at 65 MPH is just about making landfall over Vietnam; Tropical Storm Frank, also at 65 MPH, seems to be heading away from Mexico, and should become a hurricane, but is expected to hit cooler waters and weaken in a few days; and Hurricane Danielle is at 75 MPH, but none of the computer models predict landfall.  There is another disturbance behind Danielle.