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Monday, June 30, 2014

TRANSITIONS: PART 13C--Worst and Best Places in the World

Many of my best trips occurred after I retired.  However, there were several throughout my career that deserve mention, and these details can be found in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, Chapter 6.  You can look inside by clicking on that link.  Among the highlights:
  • I picked Hawaii as the best place when I wrote this book in 2008.  Hawaii would rank somewhere in the top ten today, if I had to do this over, but not close to #1.  Why?  I worry that the next serious energy crisis will throw Hawaii into a long economic depression.  We are too dependent of tourism.
I have taken up to a dozen around the world trips, the first in the 1980's, and several after I retired.  My next posting on TRANSITIONS will feature my global adventures.  Among a few other later features will be my Green Car Japan Rail Pass journeys in the spring and fall periods and my best meals from among many Michelin 3-Star and Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

THE SEARCH FOR EXTRASOLAR PLANETS

What are the monumental challenges facing society?  If fusion can work cost-effectively, energy for humanity can be for millennia and longer secured.  Peace?  Well, science is one thing, but when Homo sapiens get involved, you can only wait for a time in the future when religious, political and a million other factors get sorted out for rational decision-making.  Same for global warming.  There are today too many competing interests.  So the only remaining epoch-making enterprise left is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Mind you, I've tried.  I worked under Edward Teller on laser fusion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  Forty years later, laser fusion is  fizzling and ITER in France is becoming an expensive mess with hopes for commercialization maybe by 2050.

My Huffington Post articles began with a plea to "candidate" Barack Obama to consider a 10% solution for ultimate peace.  I posted several articles on the subject, and my The 10% Simple Solution to Peace was four years ago.  

Global warming?  I convened a workshop funded by the Environmental Protection Agency a quarter century ago to produce a plan for global warming remediation.  We submitted a $3 million proposal to the National Science Foundation, and was told to forget remediation for a decade until the atmospheric science work is completed.

SETI, or the interception of possible alien signals, might be beyond the ability of science today, so space application scientists have instead focused on Mission to Mars and detecting Earth-like planets around other stars.  My two-cents?  Forget Mars.  It is too far, too expensive and too dangerous.  Plus, what do we gain by going there?  Maybe a millennium or more, surely, but not now.  Too many other earthly problems of much higher priority.

I actually worked on Project Orion for NASA's Ames Research Center almost 40 years ago to design a telescope to detect extrasolar planets.  With input from Nobel Laureate Charles Townes, I proposed to NASA a Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer to not only find that exoplanet, but determine the atmospheric composition...for a few million dollars.

Well, today, there are three competing telescopes to do this job (actually there is an even larger European version, but let me leave this one out at this time):
  • Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT):  smallest of three
    • Las Campanas Observatory in Chile at an elevation of 7810 feet.
    • Aperture diameter of 24.5 meters, with a collecting area of 358 square meters
    • Cost = $700 million
    • First sight = 2020
    • Will "see" objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope
    • IT IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

  • European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT):  largest
    • The top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile was just this month blown off to provide a foundation (this would just not happen in Hawaii, the third telescope in planning, below) at 9450 feet elevation.  
    • Aperture diameter of 39.3 meters, with a collecting area of 978 square meters.
    • Cost = $1.4 billion
    • First sight = 2022
    • Will soon begin construction.
  • Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)
    • Proposed to be built at the top of Mauna Kea at 13,000 feet.  This site selected over the #2, Cerro Armazones.
    • Aperture diameter 30 meters, with a collecting area of 655 square meters.
    • Cost = at least $1 billion
    • First sight = 2021 (but the official approvals have not yet been all obtained)
Each telescope will not feature one giant mirror, but segments, and interestingly enough, both the E-ELT and TMT picked 1.44 meters.  However, there is no plan to make these segments interchangeable, and if they are built according to current design, won't be.  Which leads to the larger question:  WHY DO WE NEED ALL THREE?  We don't, but America has two competing huis (partnerships), each super powerful (click on those links above to get the details) and Europe felt compelled to jump in.  Internationally, Brazil is linking with the E-ELT, South Korea and Australia to GMT and China, India and Japan are backing TMT.  Yes, I'm from Hawaii, but TMT looks solid...except for one almost fatal flaw...they protest everything here.

Considering that the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars will cost the USA up to $6 trillion ($6,000 billion), why quibble about a mere few billion dollars.  In 1989 the Feds looked into a manned mission to Mars and estimated a cost of $500 billion.  However, more recently, Mars One estimated $6 billion to take four to Mars by 2023 and leave them there.  100,000 volunteered for this extravagant delusion.  That's the problem about space.  There are romantics...and there is the reality.  Mars One is a reality TV show out of the Netherlands, and I don't recognize one name in a basketful of team members and advisors.


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Saturday, June 28, 2014

IS MEGA-EATING A SPORT?

The craziest thing has happened to July 4.  Sure, Independence Day, but there are no truly great celebrations around the country.  Perhaps that concert on the Mall, A Capitol Fourth, 8-9:30 EDT on PBS in DC is noteworthy, and similar events in Boston (and this year, the Boston Pops will feature the Beach Boys) and New York City (with the Macy's fireworks the best of the three).   But this has mostly become only a day off, and a three day weekend this year.

The most commanding event is now Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island.  Last year perennial champ Joey Chestnut swallowed in 10 minutes 69 hot dogs for his seventh straight title. Thirty-two year old Chestnut is 6 feet tall and weighs 225 pounds.

The women's competition was won by 46-year old Sonya Thomas with 36.75 dogs and buns.  Sonya, originally from South Korea, is a wonder.  At only 98 pounds, she has beaten men five times her size.  The pink belt (right) she regularly wins is appropriately sponsored by Pepto Bismol.  She holds 25 eating records, and among the most impressive are:
  • 44 lobsters (11.3 pounds of flesh) in 12 minutes
  • 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes
  • 1.125 GALLONS of chili in 6 minutes
  • 65 hard boiled eggs in 6 minutes and 40 seconds
  • 43 tacos in 11 minutes
  • 6 pounds of spam in 12 minutes (Richard LeFevre in 2004)
  • 121 Twinkies in 6 minutes (Joey Chestnut in 2013)
  • ONE GALLON of mayonnaise in 8 minutes (Oleg Zhornitskiy in 2002)
Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi of Japan, at 5'8" and 128 pounds, won the Nathan competition from 2001 to 2006, but has been on the sidelines since then, for contractual and other reasons.  We need  him back, for the TV coverage has dropped of recent.  Kobayashi, now 36 years old, has eaten 57 cow brains (17.7 pounds) in 15 minutes, 106 tacos in 10 minutes, 21 pounds of soba noodles in 12 minutes, 150 musubis (20 pounds of rice balls) in half an hour and two years ago consumed 110 hot dogs in ten minutes at the New York State Fair! 

Join the 50,000 spectators expected this year.  Be there by 11AM to get close so you can experience this nauseating spectacle.  ESPN televises from Noon (EDT) on July 4.  Well, heck, if this event is on ESPN, the Nathan Hot Dog Eating Contest must be a valid sport.




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Friday, June 27, 2014

IGNORE THE DETRACTORS: THE SUN AND OUR WINDS ARE ALREADY MAKING A BIG ENERGY DIFFERENCE!

Renewable Energy World this week feature an article with the title:


Coming online were:
  • two wind farms providing 203 MW
  • five solar farms with 156 MW and
  • one new biomass facility of 5 MW
The only fossil/nuclear additions were two natural gas power plants with 49 MW.

For the year, renewables accounted for 54% with 3,136 MW (about three nuclear stations) of new domestic electrical generating input, but natural gas added 1,437 MW.  Since 2012, renewable energy sources have accounted for 48% of new electricity, natural gas at 38% and coal at 13%.


On the other hand, a Dr. A. Cannara commented:

Remarkable dancing with figures! Renewables: "accounted for 54.1 percent of the 3,136 MW of new domestic electrical generating..." Only 3.136GW? That's less than 1.5 typical nuclear plants. And the 54% renewables was "nameplate" or average capacity? If the latter, real number, then less than 20% was "renewable". 

The points are that the renewable contribution is still very small, and that the sun only effectively (clouds, night, etc.) shines, perhaps, eight hours/day, and our winds sometimes stop.  Of course, Alex Cannara (left) is a nuclear proponent.

The June 16 issue of TIME magazine, however, was effusive about the growing potential of the renewables, titled:


To summarize:
  • Over the past five years, wind capacity has tripled, while solar increased 16-fold.
  • 165 coal-fired power plants have recently been (or soon will be) retired.
  • In 2009, the Energy Information Administration predicted that the U.S. wind capacity would reach 40 GW--wind power has already passed 60 MW (equivalent of 60 nuclear power plants--but remember that the actual electricity produced is two-thirds less).
  • This increase in wind power is the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road.
  • Since 2009, the price of photovoltaic panels has dropped more than 80%!
  • Or, even more impressive:
    • when I first began writing with Waqidi Falicoff and George Koide Solar/Wind Handbook for Hawaii (which can still be had for $20 from Amazon.com) in the mid-1970's, the price of solar PV was $75/watt
    • today, it is a hundred times cheaper:  75 cents/watt.
  • Utility companies are corporate dinosaurs (cartoon courtesy of NC Warn), for they are mostly clinging to what they now own, and are fighting decentralization of renewable sources, which will be inevitable, for distributed power is cheaper and better.
  • Solar energy and wind power suffer from a lack of cost-effective energy storage, but fracked natural is changing the equation, and could well serve as the transition to a greener future.
  • LED (light-emitting diode) lighting (right) is finally getting cheap enough to compete with fluorescent and incandescent, for it is five times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and lasts 25 times longer--the economic comparison with fluorescent today is debatable, but the trend is obvious--the LED market will zoom from $2 billion today to $25 billion in 2023, with lighting today using 15% of all the electricity generated.
  • The end of coal is around the corner, for the seriousness of global warning will tax this option into obsolescence.  Aside from Hawaii, the other 49 states use almost no petroleum for electric power generation because this fuel is already much too expensive and supply metastable.  Hawaii's electricity comes almost all from oil and our rate is 309% higher than the national average.  (Click on that chart to actually read it.)
  • Already, Saudi Arabia has launched a $100 billion solar initiative and China has announced plans for 250 GW (that's the equivalent of 250 nuclear reactors) of wind and solar BY 2020.  Air pollution in China cities can be 40 times higher than acceptable safety standards.
  • When someday externalities (adding the cost of pollution, security, etc.) must be included into energy pricing, the GREEN REVOLUTION for energy will prevail.  When?  Who knows?  The fossil lobbying effort remains powerful, but even some Republicans are getting concerned.  Just this week a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel of American leaders suggested that we've reached the tipping point.  Republican chiefs George Schultz and Henry Paulson were among the members:


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE WORLD OF SPORTS?

1.  USA World Cup soccer team lost today to Germany, 1-0, but nevertheless snuck into the knockout (one loss and you're out) round of 16 (32 originally qualified to get to Brazil).  Why is this significant?  The U.S. had never before advanced to the second stage in back to back World Cups.  American coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, is from Germany, and coached their team to the World Cup championship in 1990, about a quarter century ago.  Our next game will be next week Tuesday at 3:30 PM ET (9:30AM Hawaii time), most probably against Belgium.  The next World Cup in 2018 will be in Russia, followed by Qatar in 2022, maybe.  Heck, what's a mere $5 worth of bribes, unfortunately common in Olympic competitions.  For the record:

2.  Oh, by the way, they're already in Day Four of The Championships at Wimbledon, which, if you're from another planet, is about tennis.  
  • Viewers will "accidentally" watch Day 5 because ESPN also televises the tournament, AND FRIDAY WILL BE A DAY OFF FOR THE WORLD CUP.  
  • The Wimbledon final is a week BEFORE (July 6)  the World Cup's (July 13).  
  • Players MUST wear only white, including underwear!
  • The last American to win this tournament was Peter Sampras in 2000.  
  • Of course the USA has never been close to a World Cup final, and never even made it to the World Cup from 1954 to 1986.  The USA soccer team is listed at #13 in the World.  
  • The highest ranked American male tennis player is John Isner at #11:   
    • In the 2010 Wimbledon, he beat Nicolas Mahut  6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.
    • That clincher was the longest tennis match in history!
    • He is 6 feet 9 inches tall.
  • But back to the men, can you believe that the next highest American is Sam Querrey at #67?  
    • #1 is Rafael Nadal of Spain, 
    • #2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, 
    • #3 Stanislas Wawrinka (never heard of him--to the right) of Switzerland and 
    • #4 Roger Federer of Switzerland.

3.  Michelle Wi won the Women's Open this weekend.  Unfortunately, 11 year old Lucy Li, who is about a foot shorter than Wie, did not make the cut.  Michelle credited her 4.5 years at Stanford for maturing her and preventing any burnout.

4.  Andrew Wiggins of Kansas was the #1 pick today by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft, Jabari Parker of Duke #2 by Milwaukee Bucks and Joel Embiid of Kansas (yes, same school--and he has that unfortunate big man stress fracture problem) #3 by the Philadelphia 76ers.

5.  This qualifies as a sport:  coming to your theaters in October is The Interview in North Korea, with James Franco and Seth Rogan.  They will attempt to assassinate Lil Kim, also known as the Chubby Leader.  Already, Rotten Tomatoes has given this film a 99% audience like rating.  Randall Park plays the Great Successor.  

 I suggested a total makeover for Kim Jong Un last year:
  • Get a new hairstylist.
  • Exercise some and eat less.
  • Replace your severe female TV announcer with Katie Couric.
  • As President Barack Obama has several times now ignored my 10% solution, crash the next G8 Summit and provide your 10% vision for World Peace.  My services for details will be pro bono.
  • Ditch Dennis Rodman and pick up Michael Jordan.
  • Soften your provocative overblown rhetoric.
For example, North Korea just today denounced The Interview with this threat reported in the New York Times:

“If the United States administration tacitly approves or supports the release of this film, we will take a decisive and merciless countermeasure,” a spokesman for its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

So what did the Guiding Sun Ray (yes,  just one of his hundred or so official titles) do?  He fired off three rockets, not at the USA, but Japan.  Something must have gone awry within his intelligence agency, or more probably, his missiles can only travel a few miles.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

FLOATING FARMS

I was today contacted by CNN about a feature they are planning on Floating Farms.  (Whoops, when the person who e-mailed and talked to me  mentioned doing research for Ali Velshi, I immediately thought, ah, CNN.  Turns out he moved to Al Jazeera America.)  I referred them to my Huffington Post articles on:

  

and the  Blue Revolution Hawaii  website.  In particular, I cited a recent article written by Jesse Hirsh in Modern Farmer on Floating Farms.  Hirsch spent a week in Hawaii researching this effort.

He begins with a gathering of visionary dreamers, board members of Blue Revolution Hawaii, and equates our proposed Pacific International Ocean Station (PIOS) with the $172 million film, Waterworld, but in a positive way.:


Quoted is Bill Spencer of Hawaii Ocean Technology (their fish cages to the left):

It’s a shame that we always seem to wait for a tipping point, for things to get truly awful, before people take action.

Well, we are doing what we can, and Bill is part of of our advisory group, to act now.  Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is the source of energy and resources to drive the Blue Revolution, and provided is a historic OTEC timeline:

  • 1870 Sci-fi writer Jules Verne envisions OTEC in his 1870 classic “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
  • 1930 French scientist Georges Claude builds the first successful OTEC power plant in Cuba, later destroyed in a storm.
  • 1935 Off the coast of Brazil, Claude moors a 10,000-ton cargo vessel, which is built to be powered by OTEC. The boat is destroyed by waves before it can be tested.
  • 1956 Before an OTEC plant can be completed in Côte d’Ivoire, large reserves of petroleum are discovered and plans are abandoned.
  • 1967 American father-and-son scientists patent “closed- cycle” OTEC: a continual, self-generating power source.
  • 1979 After the Carter administration pumps $260 million into OTEC research, a barge called Mini-OTEC (right) is floated off Hawaii’s coast.
  • 2002 India builds a floating OTEC plant. It fails due to pipe problems.
  • 2013 Lockheed Martin signs a contract with resort developers Reignwood Group on the largest OTEC project ever, a 10-MW plant off the coast of China.

Missing on that list is the success attained by the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii with a 210 kW open cycle OTEC facility (left).

Here and there various mini-projects appear to be stepping into the ocean:

Farm Island Atlas

  • Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia: at a project called Freedom cove (right), 14 floating greenhouses and a two-story house are tethered together on old fish farm floats, producing an array of fruits and veggies.
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands: architect Damian O’sullivan is work- ing on a project called boatanic, converting a fleet of old tourist boats into floating greenhouses on Amsterdam’s canals.
  • Bangkok, Thailand: After flooding, Bangkok has initiated plans to build homes and a 300-bed hospital on stilts over the water.
  • Ningde City, China: Off the coast of ningde city, 7,000 members of the tanka ethnic group have lived on floating wooden homes for centuries, farming fish.  New York, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Design firm Balmori Associates is testing various plants on man-made floating islands (left) in the Hudson and Delaware rivers.
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Plans to build floating communities (right) off the coast of Dubai have suffered from a lack of investment, after some of the prototype “islands” started sinking.
  • Rotterdam, Netherlands: The first floating homes have already been built as part of Rotterdam’s initiative to colonize its coastal waters and canals.
  • The Valley, Anguilla: Libertarian self-starter vince cate has prototyped “ball stead homes,” semi-submerged inhabitable spheres that can easily be mass-produced.

The Seasteading Institute, founded by Patri Friedman, was mentioned as the most serious U.S. player in ocean colonization. They have been funded by Peter Thiel, and talked about PIOS at their latest gathering in the Bay Area.  Photo of Friedman on the left and Thiel.

I am quoted at the end of the article:
But despite some internal doubts, Blue Revolution’s meeting ends upbeat, with toasts to the ocean and general good cheer. Takahashi wraps things up with an emotional speech, saying this will be the legacy project of each man in the room. For theirs is an endeavor built of wonder, of pushing the bounds of mankind’s capabilities. In a hundred years, Takahashi says, people will be very thankful for the work they’ve done.  “There is no future but the ocean around us,” he says, glass raised high.

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