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Friday, February 28, 2014


There are ten trillion planets in our Milky Way Galaxy.  And that's a conservative estimate.  Oh, there are more than 200 billion galaxies in our Universe, meaning something like 10 with twenty four zeroes planets, or a SEPTILLION  (quadrillion in the UK) planets.  How many Universes?  Watch Chris Anderson (left).  I'll save you five minutes of your life:  between 1 and infinity.

In 1976 I joined 19 other professors at NASA's Ames Research Center to design an instrument to detect the first extrasolar planet.  Chapter 4 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity reports on this adventure.  The Kindle edition costs $3.99, but you don't need to even do that, as this blog site serialized the book.  Here is the excerpt for my Ames experience.  It was 16 years later in 1992 that the first exoplanet was acceptably confirmed.  If only NASA had funded my concept, I could have done it earlier for a tenth the cost, and, also determined the atmospheric composition of Earth-sized planets.  Read my posting of 7July2013.

Clearly I am not happy with NASA, so when they today announced finding 715 new extrasolar planets by Kepler (left), I said to myself, so what?  Why?  It was monumental to actually find the first planet outside our solar system, but when you reach 100 (the number is today up to 1800), it should be obvious that they completely surround us.  Shouldn't NASA now shift gears and turn to other tasks?  Like seeking signals?  Certainly don't even think about sending any one or any thing to those exoplanets.

 Then, I thought, wait a minute, isn't the Kepler telescope broken?   Yes, almost two years ago the space system shut down and appears to be beyond repair.  This latest finding represents the first two years of measurements from 2009.  Kepler supposedly found 3601 candidate planets, so a few more will no doubt be later verified.

Do you know how Kepler detects these planets?  The telescope looks at an area of the sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra and simultaneously measures variations in the brightness of more than 100,000 stars every 30 minutes, a method known as transit.  However, the orbit must be in proper alignment, which statistically means 1% of stars fit into this lucky state.  For an Earth-sized planet blocking a Sun-sized star (that's the diagram on the right with Earth that tiny dot near the middle in the 3'oclock direction), the light is diminished by 84 parts per million, or less than 1/100th of 1%.  You can't observe this precision with ground telescopes because stars "twinkle."

Okay, so why doesn't NASA now declare victory and expand their efforts to detect signals from extraterrestrials?  You know, like Jodie Foster did in CONTACT?  One of my Huffington Post articles is entitled, Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  For one, Congress in 1993 prohibited NASA from doing any Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence work.  In 2001 Congress had a hearing on the subject, but nothing much else has happened.  In 2003 the New York Times hinted that SETI respect seems to be gaining, but NASA officials still treat it like a four-letter word.

Sure, blame Congress, but NASA is finding ways to continue to play this game with attempted extravagances such as:
  • The Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF): this option was killed in 2011, but could be linked to the now $9 billion James Webb Space Telescope (right) contemplated for launch in 2018, but don't hold your breath.
NASA has an important role to play in creativity and challenging our youth, but why do they mostly advance multi-billion dollar contraptions?  Because the aerospace companies are essential for congressional lobbying, and they wouldn't bother helping NASA if it only supported paper studies.  Unless China lands a man on the moon, NASA will only continue to recede into oblivion.


Thursday, February 27, 2014


The ultimate energy is fusion, a process which combines hydrogen or its isotopes to produce energy and helium.  All the stars in the Universe use this mechanism.  Depending on the parameter, hydrogen is from 70 to 90% of known matter.  However, this might not mean much, for scientists have determined that only 4% of what we see and can measure is known:  dark energy and matter take up 96% of the Universe.

Nevertheless, I was so intrigued about the prospects of man-made fusion that, soon after gaining my PhD building a tunable laser, forty years ago, I found myself working for Edward Teller at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNR) on laser fusion.  Alas, I was disappointed that the type of laser to accomplish the commercialization of fusion was way beyond the capability of science, and I wrote this option off as a real prospect during my lifetime.

As some background, there are two types of fusion:
  • Magnetic confinement schemes generally use a torus or donut.  This is the design of the 500 MW ITER (once known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), an $18 billion partnership of 35 nations (the USA contributes $200 million/year) to build such a facility at Cadarache, France for initial testing in 2027.  This concept was selected because in 1997 the British Joint European Torus produced 16 MW from an input of 24 MW, 65% of the way to net positive.  Nothing like some optimism, for the European Union already is planning for DEMO, a 2000 MW fusion facility to produce continuous power by 2040 for commercialization by 2050.  From what I've seen, don't hold your breath for this particular system to make it.
  • Inertial confinement, usually using a laser, as is being developed by LLNR National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore, California.  The cost is coasting to $5 billion, using 192 lasers to compress a BB-sized capsule of deuterium-tritium (the two isotopes of hydrogen):

Three years ago I posted on Star Power for the Huffington Post.  Last year, it was reported that the NIF produced almost twice the amount of energy as was inputted, and ignition was attained.  Breakthrough?  Well, good, but not terrific, as the laser shot represented only 1% of the energy that was used to produce the beam.  Thus, the ratio remained under one, or, something close to 2% efficiency.  Remember that the 1997 European donut produced 65% of net positive.

There is another pathway:  Heavy Ion Fusion.  Read the details by the president of Fusion Power Corporation, Charles Helsley:

So where are we on man-made fusion power?  Sixty years ago, controlled fusion was 30-40 years away...or we should have gotten there by the year 1995.  Today, the prospects for commercialization remain 30-40 years away.  The ITER option is further along because more money is being spent for that option than at Livermore.  Much more.

What about Cold Fusion?   It remains on the fringe, with little real government interest, but there are a few opportunities.   Intriguing stories now and then pop up, like Italian Leonardo Rossi's Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat).  The concept appears to be losing support, and Forbes last week leaned in the clownerie direction.  Read the Cold Fusion Times.  This mechanism is now referred to as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I have, maybe, my final major tour of  the Orient in a few weeks.  I hope to finalize all the research I will need for a book or two I'm contemplating, and will have a couple of Blue Revolution meetings.  However, I have not completed the details, and the following predicaments are weighing on me:

1.  CHINA:  Air Pollution
  • Back in December, here was a summary:
    • the most reliable source of information is the U.S. Embassy
    • the parameter of importance is the 2.5 micron index because at this size the particulates can enter your blood stream through your lungs
    • a PM 2.5 of 100 is deemed unhealthy
    • the average in airport smoking lounges is 167
    • a PM 2.5 of 300 is hazardous
    • a couple of American cities reached this level, but only during forest fires
    • the normal high for Beijing is in the 300-400 range, which is ten times what is considered to be safe
    • Linfen, Lanzhou and Urumqi are worse than Beijing
    • at these high readings, visibility on airport runways is just several hundred meters, and flights are regularly cancelled
    • China just last year began using PM 2.5 readings
    • lung cancer is the leading cause of death in China and birth defects are worsening
    • the estimate for 2007 was 656,000 premature deaths from air pollution--which has gotten worse since then
    • hacking coughs are common in Beijing and Shanghai
    • while the air is terrible, water pollution is also becoming famous, and citizens now rarely drink tap water
    • air pollution is high in the winter because the use of more coal
    • the 3.5 million cars in Beijing for 2008 is close to being doubled
    • sand storms begin in March
  • When I last visited Shanghai and Beijing in April of 2013, I began to cough, and it took me a month to finally get over the exposure.
  • Okay, this one doesn't worry me one bit.  Sure, China is expanding it's military capabilities, but not to attack Japan, and, certainly, not the USA either.  They feel historically compelled to posture for resource and political rights.  Remember, though, that their defense budget remains around one-sixth of the U.S.
  • More than anything, these are plants by our Military Industrial Complex (MIC), this time to minimize budget cuts announced by Secretary of State Chuck Hagel.
  • Every state has its designated news reporter for the MIC, and in Hawaii it is William Cole (right).  He wins awards, but the MIC is smart enough to have reasonably respected reporters plead their case.  Further, the local readers identify with this point of view because people are concerned about jobs and their economy.  Every state has important military contracts.
I have a two-week Shinkansen trip on my schedule to visit Sakura sites and finalize my roots search for a possible novel about my grandfather's grandmother, who might have been a female samurai.

3.  No great surprise, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is again pushing to revive nuclear power in Japan.  Not only to re-start the currently dormant ones (all 50 are currently idle), but a plan to expand this option for their long-term future.  Maybe they have no other option left, but Abe's office also indicated that they will spend around a third of a billion dollars to FREEZE the ground around the Fukushima disaster area to prevent radioactive water from leaking into the ocean.  Can you imagine then the cost of electricity that will be needed to keep the ground frozen for decades, if not centuries?

4.  The protests in Thailand are continuing.  This weekend several were killed and 50 injured, including in the busiest shopping areas of Bangkok...with grenades!  Last year it was mostly a lot of people waving Thai flags.  The previous government crisis beginning in 2008 lasted more than two years.  I almost got stranded, as the major international airport in Bangkok closed only a couple of days after I left.  Now people are getting killed.  Hmmm....Bangkok is currently one of my stops.

5.  My first leg from Honolulu is to Seoul via Asiana.  Relations between North and South seem to be improving, with high-level talks, emotional reunions and unofficial thoughts about North Korea perhaps hosting a few events during the next Winter Olympics in 2018.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Among the most popular classical tunes of all time is Pachelbel's Canon in D.  You might have heard it at a wedding. Elephants in Thailand paint to it.  Canon in D is in my top three of classical music, and for reasons I can't understand, Baroque music is also in my top four genres, with post World War II music from Japan, popular American songs of the fifties and show tunes.  Very little is known about when this piece was composed by Johann Pachelbel, but the surmisal is in 1660 or 1694.  If 1660, he was 17 years old.  This was the Baroque Period.

Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg and was close to the Bach family.  He became one of the leading German organ composers and is said to have written 500 classical pieces.  He eventually returned to Nuremberg and passed away at the age of 52.  But the life expectancy then was 36.

His Canon in D was essentially lost until 1970 when Jean-Francois Paillard made a recording and is credited for the resurrection.  Click on his name to hear that original.  This classic might forever have been lost if RCA Victor did not pick up the Erato catalog  which included this version for U.S. distribution.  Yet I distinctly remember first hearing Canon in D in a music shop in the late 60's, and wondered why I liked it so much even though I'd never heard it before.  

Perhaps there were links even earlier to the 1960's baroque pop period because Oh Lord! Why Lord? by the Pop Tops from Spain and France's Aphrodites Child's Rain and Tears were exact copies of Pachelbel's original.  This was the period when songs like A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum were popular.  Yes, there is a genre called Baroque Pop.

Absolutely no doubt that the most annoying version is Jun Togawa's 1984 punk effort from Japan.


The 1980 movie Ordinary People featured Canon in D, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.  How pervasive is Canon in D?  Just click on that to be amazed.  Can you believe that the theme song of Laverne and Shirley uses this Pachelbel progression?

Limelight lists Canon in D (one hour long) as one of the top ten wonders in classical music.  Except Pachelbel did write around 500 others.

If you linked to a few of the above, you might be surprised to learn that Canon in D, simply, is 8 bars of music repeated 28 times!


Monday, February 24, 2014


If you're new to this blog site, you might not know about The Venus Syndrome:
Chapter 6 of my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth provides all the details.

If you did not click on any of the above:

     The Venus Syndrome is this catastrophic cascade converting the atmosphere of Planet Earth into Planet Venus-like conditions, where the temperature is at 863 F.

The doomsday gas is methane (right), and there are at least two cataclysmic periods in the history of this planet where this condition almost made life extinct.  Will the third time be the charm, or real end?  

Carbon dioxide (left) is of course the most dangerous of current greenhouse gases, but the following compares this molecule with methane:

Note that methane is increasing a lot faster than carbon dioxide.  Worse, when released into the atmosphere, it is 70 times worse for climate warming per molecule than carbon dioxide.  Over a 100-year cycle, the factor is still a very high 20, but recently the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) warned that this multiplier is 34, and 86 over a 20-year time frame.  The priority given to methane is minimal today because the amount of methane in the atmosphere is only one half of one percent that of carbon dioxide.  Yet, the effect is becoming serious (methane is CH4):

While Arctic sources are beginning to worry scientists, my biggest concern has to do with marine methane hydrates at the bottom of the ocean throughout the world.  Worse, there is twice the abundance of energy in this deposit as the rest of the fossil fuel reserves combine.  As the oceans slowly warm, there will come a time when these resources will come to surface, for what happens to gas in ice?  The hydrates will float if not stuck to the bottom.  The Ring of Fire in the Pacific is a particular worry because a good portion of these methane clathrates are positioned close to this natural anomaly, and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can jiggle the methane loose.  Here are locations where methane hydrates are located:

Note that the sites mirror the Ring of Fire.

Now comes fracking, where the underground is hydraulically fractured to release methane, which will only exacerbate the escape of this gas into the atmosphere.  Here is a methane escape map in the Boston area:

Global warming with carbon dioxide will "merely" warm our climate and slowly raise the level of our oceans.  A sudden release of methane into the atmosphere could swiftly convert Planet Earth to Planet Venus, which is at 863 F.

What can we do to prevent The Venus Syndrome?  Not much, except fracking can only accelerate the potential.  My next publication could be a novel entitled:  THE VENUS SYNDROME.  Quoting James Hansen:

The Venus syndrome is the greatest threat to the planet, to humanity's continuing existence... In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn all the tar sands and tar shale (aka oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty.

Hmmm....I wonder who came up with "The Venus Syndrome" first?

Sunday, February 23, 2014


My niece Lily celebrated her second birthday at Orchids in the Halekulani Hotel.  Here she is with her mother Debby:

No, Debby is my niece, so Lily must be my grand niece.  Make that great niece.  With Debby, Dean and her birthday cake:

Then a nice sunset:


The 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games are over.  After making so much fun of President Vladimir Putin, he prevailed after all.  Not only was there no sign of terrorism, and the norovirus did not attack, Russia easily won the most medals:

The United States came in second and Norway third.  However, Canada did beat Sweden for Men's Hockey Gold.  Two hundred and ninety-five medals were awarded.

What a comeback, for, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War, Russia's performance in the Winter Olympics has been dismal.  Since 1992:
  • second
  • third
  • sixth
  • fifth
  • sixth
Considering that the Soviet Union won every previous Winter Olympics, falling to #2 only in 1968 and 1980, by one medal each time, this recovery was impressive.  How did Russia go from a total of 15 medals and only three golds in Vancouver to what you see above?
  • They recruited Victor An (formerly known as Hyun-soo Ahn of South Korea), who anchored the Russian speedskating team, which won three golds and a bronze.  He missed beating the entire South Korean speedskating short track team by one medal.
  • They recruited Victor (note that they are both Victors--and this is a purposeful pun) Wild, an American from the Pacific Northwest, who has a Russian wife.  Wild gained Russian citizenship, training paradise (something the USA did not do for his specialty, which was the snowboard parallel giant slalom), and two golds.  
  • Take away those six medals and the USA easily beats Russia.
  • Host nations always over perform anyway.  The crowd is supportive and the food/language provides comfort.
  • Russia developed a four-year plan and provided wide and comprehensive support for training, winning medals in ten different winter sports.
As it was, the USA did great, for the twelve new events added in Sochi resulted in sufficient medals that without them we would have finished fifth overall in medals and only four golds, fewer than Belarus.  Consider that from 1952 to 2002 the USA never finished higher than third in total medal count.  During the past three Winter Olympics, second is the worst we've done.

Was Sochi worth it?  Supposedly, the $51 billion (some say the final bill will be in the neighborhood of $67 billion) was more than the cost of all the other Winter Olympics, COMBINED!!!.

Remember that Opening Ceremony ring that did not open?

In Russia television viewers saw the rehearsal success and not this failure.  But Konstantin Ernst, who was responsible for this embarrassment, wore this t-shirt with the goof:

His sense of  humor led to success in the Final Ceremonies, for he had five group of dancers begin with:

But this missing ring came alive:

Some final photos:

The final second of the Olympic Flame:


Note that Pyongyang is also indicated.  There is some hope that North Korea's new Masik Pass ski resort might be utilized as one of the Olympic venues.  PyeongChang is close to the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone).  The 2018 Winter Olympics could well serve a key role in reconciliation.