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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE

This is Hump Day, so let me again depart from saving Planet Earth and Humanity.  If for whatever reason you feel sorry for yourself, read about these individuals who have soared against extraordinary circumstances.

First, of course there was Helen Keller, who was born normal, but at the age of one and a half became deaf and blind from an illness.  How she went on to earn a degree from Radcliffe, cum laude, then a spokesperson for the handicapped until almost reaching the age of 88, is a miracle, indeed.  You can watch the latest edition of The Miracle Worker, the whole 2000 TV remake, by clicking on that link.  The 1962 original with Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke gained a 100% rating by Rotten Tomatoes.

About more recent extraordinary individuals, mostly unknowns, merely representative of many more, I got to start with my namesake, Patrick, who from birth was diagnosed to suffer from bilateral anophthalmia with pterygium syndrome and congenital bilateral hip dysplasia.  People like Patrick Henry Hughes, who is merely blind from birth, with hip joints that largely don't function, but played in the University of Louisville marching band, can hopefully turn some of your lives around.  He graduated magna cum laude and played in the Grand Ole Opry.  More than anything else, it's  his attitude that impressed me.  His sense of humor makes me cry.


From South Korea, another blind pianist, 5-year old Yoo Ye Eun (above). That clip was from 2007.  She is now eleven and performs around the world.

Many of you were amazed by the first China Got Talent winner, Liu Wei (23):


He lost both arms at the age of 10 from an accident, and plays with his toes.  Wei is roughly quoted to have said:  My life only have two road, or to die, or wonderfully alive.  You get the point.  Runner-up was six-year old Zhang Fengxi, a stand-up comic.  Make your day, watch her performance.

Another 6-year old is Britain's Got Talent Connie Talbot.  She only came in third in Year One but here is her effort five years later, a tribute to Whitney Houston.  Eerily reminiscent, and she was only eleven.


Well, one more.  Magnus Carlsen from Norway, all of 22, is the top chess player in the world.  He picked up the game at the age of eight, and made grandmaster at the age of 13.  The world record is held by Irina Krush, who was born in Russia, but grew up in the U.S., attaining the grandmaster level at the age of 12.  She is now 30 years old.  But along came Carissa Yip of Massachusetts, who at the age of 9 is the youngest American chess expert, and should this year reach a rating of 2100, a hundred points short of grandmaster.  She has three years to become the youngest grandmaster, ever.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

GOODBYE FLOSSIE, HELLO GIL

In the East Pacific are two more storms:


The lead is Tropical Storm Gil, now at 45 MPH, and expected to attain hurricane status in a couple of days, heading straight to Hawaii:


However, Gil will most likely lose strength before getting here.  But, you never know for sure.  In anticipation of the worse from Flossie, I bought a case of water and another of beer, so I'm ready for Gil.

The sunset was average, with Flossie somewhere over the sunset:



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A FEW THINGS ABOUT CHINA THAT WILL SURPRISE YOU

NewsChina is the English version of China Newsweek, which is not related to Newsweek.  I've long wondered why NewChina pretty much reports it as it is, with little propaganda, as such.  I don't yet have this answer.

The August 2013 issue (cover to the left) was particularly surprising.  You can read the details by clicking on that link.  Let me summarize five article in a row, from pages 34 to 51:

Exam Boot Camp:  
  • Well, China might be even more fanatic.  Nine million students took this exam in June.  Here to the right are parents wishing their children well at the site of the exam.  Does this ever happen in the USA?  This article reports on Maochangtan Middle School in Liuan City, located 545 miles west of Shanghai.  There are 10,000 high school seniors, with 13 hotels dedicated to families of these students from outside the city, usually child and mother. Students pay up to $7800/year for tuition.  They study from 6AM to 11PM.  Why do they come here?  In 1999, 98 students passed the exam.  In 2012, 7,626, 80%, passed.  Successful teachers earn bonuses of up to $8,000 (annual salary is about this amount) for successful students.  The worst teacher gets fired!
  • Mothers, students, teachers...everyone feels this process is crazy, but the Chinese system forces this effort if you really want to succeed in life.
Worked to Death
  • In Japan was once known as karoshi, or overworked-to-death.  They don't work so hard anymore.  Such is progress.
  • In China, white collar workers in their 20's are dropping dead from high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, cerebrovascular diseases and death from fatigue.  The term "mattress culture" is endemic, for those who sleep at work to keep up.
  • Again, to keep up and keep your job, they have no choice but to give up on life.
Paying the Price

  • Remember the 49ers of the 1800's gold rush?
  • Chinese miners from Shanglin County ran out of places to mine for gold in their country, so many of them went to Ghana.
  • Regulations in that country prohibit foreign miners.  However, beginning in 2006, 12,000  local residents of Shanglin paid off landowners and village chiefs to do the mining.  Unfortunately, the Ghanaian bribery system is not the same as in China, and the national government recently began kicking out Chinese gold miners, partly because these miners were ruining the environment.  These 158 are waiting be deported.
  • Next?  Zimbabwe or Cambodia.  What a life!
Up for Review
  • China is the fastest growing pharmaceutical market (to be $162.5 billion/year).
  • But there are only 120 government employees to screen 6,000 new pills/year.  In comparison, the US FDA has 3,300 staffers with far fewer applications.
  • Bribing is a tradition, but the bureaucracy is almost impenetrable, with downright stealing of the process a given, for Chinese companies end up selling the products much more cheaply without providing royalties.
  • What a mess, as people are dying from the lack of pharmacological options.
  • Don't get ill in China.

Swiss Bliss
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Tropical Storm Flossie came and went.  No serious problems.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

FLOSSIE HAS ARRIVED

While the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Seaboard and Eastern Pacific have had their share of serious ocean storms, Hawaii has largely been spared since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, more than two decades ago.  I have mostly lived here all my life, but have not yet experienced a hurricane.  I was in Utah when Iniki devastated (nearly $2 billion of damages) the island of Kauai.  It was, nevertheless, a surprise to me when I learned today that the Big Island of Hawaii has never yet been struck by a hurricane or tropical storm in recorded history.  Tropical Storm Flossie (left) has had this island as the prime target since my posting last week.

Maybe those tall volcanoes do this, but Flossie did take a more northerly track, and is now heading straight for Maui, then right over my apartment in Honolulu tonight and on to Kauai tomorrow:


That's Justin Cruz of KHON to the left, and he predicted the state of Flossie over Oahu:

  • 60%  Tropical Depression (less than 39 MPH)
  • 21%  Tropical Storm (39-73 MPH)
  • 18%  Total fizzle
  •   1%  Hurricane (74 MPH+)
(I had to slightly adjust his numbers, as they added up to 102).  Any cyclonic storm wafting over the Hawaiian Islands is very rare:


Hurricane Felicia in 2009 was a Category 4 (145 MPH), but fizzled short of the Big Island,  The eye, however, kept moving west and, exactly similar to the incoming Flossie, flew over my home.  How I am doing in Honolulu today?  Well, when I woke up:


Then by 10AM the sun came out and the skies are now blue.  But by 6PM tonight, things will change.  How much is difficult to assess at this time because Flossie has pretty much torn in two, with a huge cloud bank south of the eye.  If this heavy rain portion goes south and the eye itself keeps moving west at 17-20 MPH, maybe I'll even be able to golf tomorrow.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

THE BEFORE TRILOGY: Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight


The "Before" trilogy must be the lowest grossing trilogy in the history of film.  Also, the most boring.  The films are talky, without any killings, no action, a total absence of superheroes, vampires and zombies, no animation, and yet they worked.  Has something to do with your relating to those phases of romance and marriage.

They all are R rated, for reasons I can't fathom (well, the third one had some breasts), and did very well on Rotten Tomatoes:

                                Reviewers     Audience

  Before Sunrise           100                 91
  Before Sunset              95                 89
  Before  Midnight          98                 90

They each cost $3 million or less to make, and the first two only made a little more than $5 million each in the U.S., double that worldwide.  Before Midnight is approaching $10 million in one month of release, the total for each of the first two.

It all began in 1995, with Before Sunrise when Ethan Hawke as Jesse, a heart-broken backpacker (his girlfriend had dumped him) on Eurailpass, meets Julie Delpy as Celine, a Sorbonne student, and in that one moment that makes a life, decide to take a chance on spending a day together in Vienna.  They do nothing much but walk, talk and kiss, lots of kisses, and they made it twice in the park.  By early morning, or just after sunrise, actually, they decide not to exchange vital info about how to contact each other, but promise to meet in six months at a certain train track in Vienna.  A great city, as last year it was, again, Mercer's  highest rated for quality of living.  Yet, they never really went anywhere of import, mostly back alleys.

Did they meet in six months?  No.  Jesse came, but Celine's grandmother suddenly passed away around that time.  Jesse then wrote a bestseller about his time with Celine, mostly to again find her. He arranges a European book tour nine years after Vienna, and ends up in Paris with a final reading, where he sees her smiling at  him.  However, he only has a short while to catch a flight back to the USA, and is married.  They do the same kinds of things in Paris as Vienna, mostly talking, no kisses, nothing, but at the end, fidgeting with his wedding ring, Before Sunset concludes rather suddenly without the ultimate consummation.  You wonder, is that the end?

How do I know so much about these two movies?  Well, never saw them when they came out.  I happened to park my car next to Barnes and Noble in the Kahala Mall a few days ago, and, first, was surprised it was still there, and second, remembered that I still had a gift card in my glove compartment.  Incredibly, the $25 card still was valid and just that week, a double feature DVD of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset had arrived at a price of $12.95 (but Amazon.com and Walmart only charge $7.98).  B and N had a three for two sale, so I also picked up Shawshank Redemption and Contact, for someday soon I'll watch all my favorite films in one day.  These two were only $4.95.  Netflix is awful, for they don't carry these classics.  I also dropped Kahala Blockbuster, for it is nearing the end of it's closure.  The earlier Before videos were actually cheaper, if you can find them.

So, finally, just before the film stopped playing, I went to see Before Midnight.  Again, lots of talk, all occurring in Greece, with Celine (a bit more matronly, especially below the waist) and Jesse (matured, but hasn't changed that much) now married with twin girls.  He has published three books.  They meander through the usual squabbles couples go through, and seem to reconcile at the end.  But the movie ends rather suddenly.  Nah, can't image they would think about a fourth in the series. Why would I want to pay for boredom and continue to suffer through their problems?

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Tropical Storm Flossie at 65 MPH has actually, against most predictions, strengthened.  Worse, the current track has her eye sneaking west between the Big Island and Maui, meaning those high mountains might only minimally weaken this storm.  


North Hawaii and South Maui will still get the brunt of the moisture and winds, but Honolulu might be a lot more brisk than was earlier expected.  Almost certainly, no golf on Tuesday.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

A FEW THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JAPAN

1.  The population of Japan has dropped for six straight years.  Just 1.03 million were born last year, the lowest since the end of World War II, while 1.24 million died, the second-highest (2011 was worse because of that Fukushima disaster) in the post war era.  Demographers predict that the 128 million current population will drop to 87 million in 2060, when 40% of the population will be 65 or older (it is currently 20%).  In 1950, the average mother had 4 children.  The birthrate has dropped to 1.39.  While Monaco has the highest median age at 48.9, Japan is #2 at 44.6, but Italy is #3 with 44.3 and Germany is #4 with 43.7.  The USA is #59 at 36.9.  The lowest three are Uganda 15.0, Niger 15.2 and Mali 16.2.  It is pretty clear that the growing population of Africa will pose huge problems.


2.  There are 1.5 million people of Japanese ancestry in Brazil, most near San Paulo (the above photo was taken in this city), and 1.3 million in the U.S., with California being home to 272,000 (less than 1% of state) and Hawaii with 186,000 (14%).

3.  Mount Fuji is the highest mountain (12,388 feet) in Japan, and only took its present form 10,000 years ago.  The Hoei eruption of 1707 affected Osaka and Tokyo (lava flow reached this city and the ash was several inches thick).  Since 781, Fuji has erupted 16 times, or an average of every 77 years.  But that Hoei eruption was the last one, and that was 306 years ago!  Japan will long suffer from the Fukushima nuclear cataclysm, and will be decimated by more earthquakes and tsunamis, but a serious eruption of Mount Fujii will be catastrophic.  This is one of Hokusai's Mount Fuji prints, but he was born in 1760, more than 50 years after the last eruption.

3.  How long will Shinzo Abe remain as prime minister?  He was PM in 2006.  Seven years and seven prime ministers later, he is back.  Abenomics has worked.  Around the time he was elected for his second stint, the Nikkei was below 9000.  It now flirts with 15,000:


But the Nikkei was once up almost to 40,000:


The differential comparison is actually considerably worse, for the 2013 value of 39,000 is today closer to 75,000, or the Nikkei has a value today when at 15,000 only 20% of what it once was in 1989.

However, PM Abe has: 
  • pissed off China and South Korea with his nationalistic policies (which is affecting trade), 
  • lowered the value of the yen, which helps exporter companies but is seriously increasing the price of commodities at home, especially by increasing the consumer tax
  • proposed a more aggressive defense budget (where the Constitution will need to be changed) and 
  • has indicated a strong preference for more nuclear power.      
When all these policies begin to take effect, he will become so unpopular that he will by the end of next year be kicked out of office.  Guaranteed!  But that is the Japanese way of conducting national leadership.  Their head of government makes difficult decisions for the good of the country (they absolutely, for example, must reactivate their nuclear reactors, for those 50 currently idle facilities have a value of at least half a trillion dollars if  replaced by other options, and the masses are strongly against this).

4.  I need some help from you readers out there, especially if you're from Japan.  There is a long story to this, but there is a statue in the Jindaiji (Tokyo) Botanical Park that looks exactly like my deceased wife Pearl:


The sculpturer is Yasuo Bussi, and he created this statue in 1961.  Interestingly enough, Pearl looked like this in 1961, but it's unimaginable that she was the model.  I discussed with the staff of the park about the name of the model, and they said they would contact me if they were successful in their search.  However, it has been more than a year since, so my question to you if you live in Japan is, do you have any idea?  I Googled Yasuo Bussi and Yasuo Bushi, and found nothing.  Thank you for your possible assistance.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

STORAGE COULD BE THE KEY TO EXPANDED WIND /SOLAR ENERGY

Geothermal energy and ocean thermal energy conversion are baseload, so they intrinsically are preferred over intermittent sources.  The problem with solar energy and wind energy is that the Sun only shines a few hours each day and the winds come and go.  If a utility had the ideal water reservoir at elevation from their solar farm, that would work well, as pumped storage can be effective if you don't need to build that reservoir.  But for residences and most utility applications, you are left with batteries, flywheels and compressed air:


Ignore the Orange box as too fossil fuel and the Yellow one as too expensive for now.

About a year and a half ago, I posted on Danielle Fong, who had an idea about using compressed gas. Her company, LightSail Energy, has announced shipment of their pilot unit later this year.  If the promise shown to the left pans out, she will become a billionaire.  However, I worry that she tends to move on at will, for she dropped out of junior high school at 12 to attend Dalhousie University, but did graduate at the age of 17.  But she left Princeton's plasma physics department without completing the program.   On the other hand, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg also left college and became famous.

Flywheels started poorly, as with a $43 million Department of Energy Loan, Beacon Power went bankrupt two years ago after building a 20 MW prototype.  But they re-financed and only a few weeks ago came back to life.  Better yet, their 20 MW flywheel has been commercially operating for a year and a half and, apparently, doing okay.  Velkess and various universities are also trying to develop this pathway.

Most of the developmental action is occurring with batteries.  Last year, Arizona's largest utility, APS, tested a 1.5 MWHr system (would be the equivalent of 1200 hybrid Prius or 300,000 cell phones).  This application would work best when storage occurs at peak insolation, then dispatched in the early evening when demand surges and the sun is setting.  Clearly, batteries would improve power quality for solar and wind farms.

For residences, it is, indeed hard to believe that the PV panels you place on your roof will not power your home if there is a severe hurricane or other emergency cutting off the utility.  Has something to do with the inverter, and, maybe company policy, too.  However, there is such a device as a bidirectional inverter which can solve this problem if your local utility will allow this interface.  According to that article, this device costs $6000, and add $4000 worth of batteries for 24 kWH of electricity.   Another system is pictured to the right.

A few days ago Forbes had an article on:


It was reported that just three years ago the Intersolar conference only had only a dozen energy storage companies.  Last week, the gathering in San Francisco had more than 200.  Just the market for PV solar storage, only $200 million last year, is expected to zoom up to $19 billion by 2017.

The renewable skeptic would of course point out that a natural gas generator would be a lot cheaper than all the above.  While a hydrogen powered fuel cell system would conversely be way to expensive, as this field matures, efforts will be made to electrolyze water into hydrogen so that over time, perhaps, a severe carbon tax could make this next generation option more competitive, especially if lower cost electricity can be utilized during the wee hours of the morning.  This would then be that mythical hydrogen economy:


I can't leave this field without at least mentioning electric vehicles, especially the push towards plug-in EVs.  An article from The Economist last month indicated that electric cars are stalling in the race to   become the green wheels of the future.  Worse:  "That is not a tragedy."  Mind you, electricity rates in Europe vary widely (Denmark's are up to 40 cents/kWh), but in general are double that of the U.S.  So you would think that this region, with a  higher environmental sense than the U.S., should be pioneering plug-in vehicles.  The article mentions those failures (Coda, Better Place, Fisker).  Fiat-Chrysler sells an EV at $32,000, but loses $10,000 with each sale.  It makes fun of Obama, prattling that America will by 2015 have a million electric cars, but is today only 5% there, and reminded the reader that Angela Merkel picked the same 1 million target, but by 2020, with Germany last year only selling 3000 such vehicles.  Obama apparently wants to increase the Federal credit from $7500 to $10,000, while China is thinking about $9800.  The bottom line is that, while electric cars will be part of the solution, it will not be the whole answer.  Further, government should not pick winners, but allow the marketplace to decide.  These statements came from that Economist article.

Hate to report that A123, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer spent $132 million of federal stimulus funds, and filed for bankruptcy.  How can our USDOE keep picking losers?  Guess what, though, a Chinese automotive parts company bought A123's technology.  Toyota reported that lithium batteries are just too expensive and they, too, are losing money for every RAV4 EV they sell.

I received an e-mail from a noted battery specialist at the University of Hawaii, who sent me a reference to help decision-making, a link provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.  Hawaii's equivalent EV fuel cost is about the same as the current national price of gasoline, which is hardly attractive.  But that is because we pay three times the electricity rate of the national average.  Then, when you add the analysis for, say, the Nissan Leaf:  it is the same car as the Versa, which is half the cost with four times the range, and no need to worry about charging the car.  It makes little sense in Hawaii to get a Leaf, but this friend of mine plans to purchase a BMW i3 (base price of $42K)when it becomes available in January because he is rich and can embrace sustainability without really needing to justify the economics.  Hmm, nice looking car (right).  I responded to him:

There is a necessary and difficult transition for any new system, and in my heart I do want EVs to eventually prevail.  This is why the world needs people like you to help carry these innovations through this period.

I have other colleagues of similar affluence and consciousness I mostly commend.  The field needs more of them to bridge a better future.  I really should cut out this current realism streak in me and accentuate the positives.  Maybe from tomorrow.

Finally, Argonne National Laboratory was selected as the innovation hub for batteries and energy storage.  Why did this not happen a quarter century ago?  The U.S. has no really useful patents for the lithium battery.  How much do you want to bet that we won't invent anything new but improve the packaging of these batteries?  I say on to the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell.

To conclude, here is a comprehensive overview of energy storage from Renewable Energy World by Markus Elsaesser, CEO of Solar Promotion:

  As Solar Costs Drop, Energy Storage Solutions Take Center Stage

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I've been ignoring Tropical Storm Flossie because she won't attain hurricane status, but at 60 MPH today and a projected path right over the Big Island of Hawaii, floods are feared.  The first effect will be felt on Monday, with the eye to pass south of Honolulu on Tuesday.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

53 BY THE SEA, THE SECOND BEST RESTAURANT IN HAWAII?

Clearly, Vintage Cave is the best restaurant in Hawaii.  However, 53 by the Sea, now about one year old, located at the former site of John Dominis, is vying for #2.  Certainly, 53 has the best view in Hawaii:


At the Sea is obvious, but why 53?   That is their address on Ahui Street.  Why is this street important?  I grew up on 524A Ahui Street, a couple of blocks mauka (towards the mountain) of this restaurant.  I caught The Bus to the closest point, and saw an undeveloped (and am being really nice here) of the surroundings to Ahui Street as I walked to the ocean.  However, given a ride home after the meal, homeless tents lined Ahui Street to Ala Moana Boulevard.  I would not recommend walking back to the bus stop at night.

Here are Benny Ron, Diamond Head and Leighton Chong:


Benny is pointing at Leighton's new book, Song of Planet Earth.  We met to discuss the Blue Revolution, and all of us were in blue.  It was one of those impulsive experiences.  We were  planning to have a drink to discuss the future, but the setting, Leighton's new book, Pearl's 4th year anniversary...whatever, but we stayed for their special dinner.  We were exceptionally well served by Chelsea:


Our first course was a sashimi trio with a Pieropan Soave Classico 2011:


The second course was a heart of palm and watercress salad with a Chateau d'Aquaria Rose Tavel:


So far, nothing exceptional, but with endearing art.  The third course was a seared diver scallop with caviar, accompanied by a sweetish Dr. Hermann Riesling Mosel, a nice complement.


The scallop was okay, but pedestrian.  I keep harping on the need to remove the moisture to gain the taste that then develops.  It appeared that the black and white morsels were truffles, a  huge plus for this dish.  Next was a  fresh catch, and I don't remember what it was, but it was fine, with a Nicolas Feuillate Chouilly Champagne:


Leighton and I had petite filet mignon (Benny, jumbo shrimps, which he loved) with asparagus, king trumpet, mushrooms, spinach and a bleu cheese sauce, plus a Groth Cabernet Sauvignon.  Almost excellent, except the steak was a bit dry:


The final and 6th course was a coconut panna cotta with lilikoi/mango topping, plus a Saracco Moscato:


I truly enjoyed this creation, even though I was satiated.  We were insulted, but Chef Thomas Ho was too busy to come by to say hi.

I should add that we were serenaded by fireworks (on a Thursday night?):


And, most especially, Ginny Tiu on the piano:


Ginny, we all know, acted with Elvis (I think she is on the right):


And was a child prodigy, appearing with her siblings on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Her sister, also above, is Vicky Cayetano, wife of Ben, the former governor.

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