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Sunday, January 31, 2016

DOES RENEWABLE ENERGY STILL NEED GOVERNMENT HELP?

Here is a quote from an article written three years ago in FORBES by Paul Nahi (right), CEO of Enphase Energy, a provider of micro-inverter systems for the solar industry:

One might question the rationality of this position,* given the fact that between 1994 and 2009 the U.S. oil and gas industries received a cumulative $446.96 billion in subsidies, compared to just $5.93 billion given to renewables in those years. (The nuclear industry, by the way.  received $185 billion in federal subsidies between 1947 and 1999.) Certainly, subsidies are a useful tool to help establish an emerging industry. But where there is no projected end to funding, subsidies stop being a catalyst, and start becoming a crutch. This is especially true when companies supported by subsidies become powerful enough to influence governments to perpetuate their support.

* Nahi's position was to terminate government subsidies for solar.  But that was when oil sold for more than $100/barrel.  Today?  With petroleum at around $30/barrel, he would not dare publish that article.

So to go on with his publication, during that 15-year period, fossil fuels, thus, gained nearly a hundred times more government subsidies than the renewable energy industry.  So why was this paper entitled:  Government Subsidies:  Silent Killer of Renewable Energy?  Basically, he argued that government definitely should level the playing field, but, more so, focus on demand creation and not supply management.  He cited those now infamous failed solar company as one example of this problem.

Here is another comparison showing oil/gas getting "only" 13 times more in historical subsidies than clean energy:


In case you were wondering, that orange bar is almost three times larger than the green clean energy option.  The orange mostly represents ethanol from corn.  

In any case, these studies create their own comparative boundaries, sometimes to skew the final results, and you can get an order of magnitude difference in the final analysis.  The bottom line, though, is that fossil fuels have certainly received a lot of government help over the past century...and continues to feed at the trough.  Why?  Because their lobbyists are smart, effective and, like the military-industrial complex, farm lobby and unions, ingrained in our decision-making process.  For example, where do political candidates get most of their funds to remain in office?  Then there are the other gray benefits that could well be more influential.  I know.  I worked in the U.S. Senate in DC for three years.

Here is yet another bar graph, for you probably noticed that the fossil subsidy has been ongoing from 1918.  To my surprise, the nuclear percentage as a share of the Federal budget continues to be abnormally high:


Now, what should government do when oil is at around $30/barrel and biofuel companies have no real chance to compete?  Jacob Sullum, senior editor at Reason Magazine, decried the fact that all the Democratic candidates and  9 of the 11 Republican ones competing in the Iowa caucus this coming Monday have expressed their support for corn ethanol.  To quote:

The RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) raises food prices and imposes a hidden tax on motorists because ethanol is more expensive than gasoline and produces less energy per gallon. Between 1982 and 2014, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Robert Bryce found, ethanol cost an average of 2.4 times as much as an energy-equivalent amount of gasoline.

Senator Ted Cruz is known to want to scrap the RFS, and the state director of America's Renewable Future (ARF--a biofuel organization) is Eric Branstad, whose father, Terry Branstad (left), is that six-term (yes, 6 terms--longest serving governor in U.S. history) Iowa governor who has regularly lambasted Cruz.  Maybe it has more to do with Cruz's personality, but there is something about ethanol and the farm belt that has long been troubling me.  The difference in Donald Trump beating Ted Cruz in Iowa could have everything to do with ethanol.  I should add that Marco Rubio is also anti-ethanol, but has smartly kept under the radar on this topic.  For example, he avoided participating in an Iowa agricultural summit because he just had to attend a wedding.


So, does the renewable energy industry still need government help?  Yes, of course, because  most green alternatives still need some time to ultimately become sufficiently competitive to reduce energy importation, remediate global warming, and solidify energy security.  However, there are a few truly dumb solar options that deserve to be dismissed, with ethanol from corn being a prime example.  But be careful what you say in Iowa.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

15 CRAIGSIDE GOES TO LE BISTRO

Let me quote Zagat:

Leave the strip mall behind as you enter this "true hidden gem" owned by "talented" Japanese chef Alan Takasaki and his wife, Debbie, serving "fantastic French" fare in an "unlikely" Niu Valley venue; the "service-oriented staff" is "committed" to delivering "beautifully prepared dishes" made with "lots of local ingredients" and an "outstanding" wine list while the "elegant" room retains a "cozy feel", making for a "magnifique" and "memorable" experience that's "well worth the price.


That pretty much summarizes the experience we had at Le Bistro. Chef Takasaki has been operating the restaurant for nearly 15 years, previously known as Swiss Inn, then Swiss Haus. A graduate of Kaiser High School, he went on to serve time at a range of our best restaurants in the USA, including Le Bernadin in New York City.  Le Bistro earned a Bronze as #3 to Alan Wong's Gold in the latest Honolulu Magazine's Haile 'Aina Awards of Best Restaurants in Hawaii.  Chef Takasaki came by to chat with our table a couple of times.  Here he is with me and my glass of Kir Royale, with below, a poor photo of our group.


In my discussion with Chef Alan he indicated that he had the remains of some truffles, but they were at the end of their life in his kitchen.  He did, though, mention that s couple of 50-gram bottles of caviar were available, as shown to the left, and that he would let me have one at only $1.50 over his cost, which normally would range from $80 to $125, depending on the quality.  As I already had foie gras, marrow and escargot in mind, I'll someday need to return for the caviar.

Martha, our guardian from 15 C and her lamb:


And no, she is not drinking two glasses of wine.  Here is that rack of lamb, I think from Colorado:


My first course combined bone marrow and foie gras:


The foie gras was excellent, but the bone marrow, although wonderful in taste and accompaniments, was just about all oil.  I did mention to Chef Alan that his technique of cutting the bone down the middle, the marrow unprotected through the cooking process, meant that no marrow would be left, while if the bone is cut like in shank form (as to the left), the marrow can better remain intact.  Can you believe I had the nerve to mention this to a top chef?  Anyway, he actually accepted my comment as something to consider and was good-natured about it.

Then, for my second course I had escargot with a salad, here with Charlotte and Alfred in the background:


I'm now into a Hess Chardonnay, which I did not particularly like.  The escargot dish was fabulous, but the salad was way over dressed, for me.  Yasuko sat to my left and started with escargots, but went on to a quartet of beef:


I shared Charlotte/Al's warm chocolate cake (which was fantastic) and ice cream, and ended with a cappuccino:


Everyone thought the dinner, setting and service were outstanding.  

Yesterday for lunch I again bought a huli huli chicken bento from Hawaii's Favorite Kitchen and enjoyed the gorgeous Diamond Head view:


Our Craigside Monday Night Table has recently featured Tequila Sunrise with Li Hing Mui, Gin Gizz and Sake Night:


Sake night at the bottom featured seven bottles for seven people, and one individual does not drink alcohol.

15 Craigside next will go to Forty Carrots of the brand new Bloomingdale's at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, then to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and the original Side Street Inn.

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Tropical Cyclone Stan is just about to crash into a largely unpopulated section of northwest Australia:


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Friday, January 29, 2016

WHAT IS QUORA?

I now and then introduce my readers to something new.  Earlier this month I posted on my experience with Uber.   Today, a hybrid site, QUORA.  

So what is Quora?
  • blog sharing site
  • different kind of Twitter
  • Wikipedia-like learning platform
  • spam-type link that mysteriously appears on your e-mail with answers to questions that eerily connects to your personal past
There is something going on that makes you wonder about how this organization found out what you like that invasion of privacy comes to mind.  They somehow learned I graduated from Stanford, so I began to receive the following types of questions:
  • Why did Stanford University withdraw its bid to build its own campus in New York City?  Some Answers:  
    • Let's face it, the only close rival vying for Platonic-form-of-American-university would be Harvard (if you don't care about science or sports, but that's a separate topic). So Stanford likely felt and acted like it was God's gift to the noobs in NYC, and that it was entitled to expand its world domination. 
    • Rather than kissing his feet, the Stanford contigent likely came to NYC with an entitled attitude. Bloomberg (and NYC'ers in general) was not expecting this. NYC is the center of the universe. Sure, they want to replicate Silicon Valley, but they're not going to kow-tow to those crude westerners.
    • Cornell was going to win anyway with their $350 million gift.

  • Should I attend Purdue or Stanford?  There were 27 answers to this query.
    • Purdue is a wonderful school, but the doors of opportunity that you will get at Stanford can't be matched anywhere else. Nowhere else is there the same mix of tech, entrepreneurship and raw intellect as The Farm. Not to mention that, if you like a nice campus, Stanford blows Purdue right out of the water
    • You can get a great education at both places, but there are advantages to Stanford which others have outlined. My daughter went to Stanford and had the kind of college experience everyone dreams up -- intellectually, socially, etc. I also have taught at both Stanford and Indiana (well, not exactly Purdue but still). From my side of the podium, there's no contest.
  • Why would a high school student choose Cal over Stanford?  There were 30 responses.  My freshman roommate transferred to Cal in his sophomore and returned to Stanford.  I never asked him why.
    • Diversity.
    • Greek life.
    • Bears.
    • Cuisine.
    • Nightlife.
    • Coffee shops.
    • Size.
    • Unique major.
    • Cost.
    • Can't stand the snobbery, elitism and sense of entitlement at Stanford.
    • Stanford is sterile.
    • ...there were more.
And these were just about Stanford.

How do you initiate a question?  In the search bar at the top, ask your question, ending with a question mark.  Click on Ask Question.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

WAS ANNA WHY THAILAND AVOIDED COLONIZATION?

Thailand is one of my very favorite travel sites, and I have been there more than 25 times.  Bangkok, of course, but on the Eastern and Orient Express to Singapore and through the sugar industry up north into Chiang Mai, where I managed to avoid malaria and lectured to the engineering students of Chiang Mai University.  I've also given short courses and talked at King Mongkut's University of Technology and Chulalongkorn University.  Thus, The King and I about Anna Leonowens had special meaning for me, as the King was Mongkut, or Rama IV, and his eldest son was Chulalongkorn, Rama V.


We are now familiar with the latest revival of the King and I (who was Anna Leonowens),  now playing on Broadway at the Lincoln Center, starring Kelli O'Hara as Anna and mostly Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam (above).  Daniel Dae Kim (Lost and Hawaii 5-0) will be King on May 1.  From HuffPo:

This production is based on what Siam was actually like, not what 1950s America thought Siam was like.

Turns out Kim starred as the King seven years ago at the Royal Albert Hall in London seven years ago

Well, anyway, I initiated this posting after watching two films last night, the 1946 Anna and the King of Siam (this is the entire 2 hour and 3 minute presentation) with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison and the 1999 Anna and the King with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat.  Neither featured the music of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, which became The King and I with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner on Broadway in 1951, followed by the 1956 film version with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.  This sequence was actually initiated by Gertrude Lawrence's agent who felt that the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon entitled Anna and the King of Siam showed promise as a musical.  Cole Porter declined, but that Dunne/Harrison film convinced Rogers and Hammerstein to write the songs.

My original intent was to feature Anna Leonowens as an extraordinary female, up there with Maria Theresa.  I long wondered why Siam, now Thailand, avoided colonialism.  Those films suggested that Anna was the reason.  Well, after I did some research, I came to a conclusion that there was too much sensationalism and obfuscation about Anna's writings and her life in general.  Mind you, the topic and those times, during the era of the American Civil War, in a country such as Siam, would try to discredit what a foreign woman reported.  All those films and books above suffered through bans, and much of this continues today.  Don't in  any way try to embarrass the royal family when you visit Thailand, for the repercussions can be severe.

Yet, much of Leonowens' (this is her at the age of 74--she passed away nine years later in Canada) life, some of course understandable, was just avoided or a lie or conveniently adjusted to accommodate the storyline, for:
  • she was probably Eurasian.
  • never lived for any period in England before moving from Singapore to Bangkok, 
  • her husband was a clerk and not a famous military officer and
  • was not in Siam when the King passed away, probably from malaria complications.
I can go on an on, but the fact of the matter is that Siam largely maintained independence during those colonization days by smartly serving as a buffer between Great Britain and France.  How much influence did Anna have?  Probably significant in her six years of service to the King, and the real truth might yet be to come.  And, was there ever a physical relationship?  He would have been in his 60's and she in her 30's.  For sure, she was the first westerner to influence the 39 wives/concubines and 82 children of King Mongkut, and no doubt inspired King Chulalongkorn, who had 153 consorts and 77 children, while ruling for 40 years.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

HOW CLOSE IS SCIENCE TO STOPPING AGING?


(You can click on these graphics to read them.)  We all know that tortoises live a long life and flies don't.  Once they reach adulthood, cockroaches generally survive an additional 300 days, but only 10 days without water.  Humans range from 32 years in Swaziland to 82 in Japan, with a world average of 67.

In general, the larger the animal, the longer the life.  However, small dogs have higher life expectancies than large ones.  A parrot's heart can beat at 600 pulses/minute, but they average something over 65 years.


Trees live much longer, as this spruce in Sweden is supposedly 9,550 years old.  


#2 is the bristlecone pine in California, with a life span greater than 5,000 years.    

Will we someday become the oldest mammal...or even tree?  Scientists say yes to the former, but there are too many chances for accidents and illness to approach the longevity of the most hardy trees.

The oldest human was Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days.  American Susannah Mushatt Jones last year celebrated her 116th birthday and is the oldest person today.  Five of the ten oldest ever were from the USA.  Only two were males, both from Japan.

Creme Puff, a cat from Texas, had a diet of bacon, broccoli and heavy cream, and lived to the age of 38, but there is a report of Lucy (right), who lived to 39, or 172 in cat years.  Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog, passed away at 29, but Chilla, a mixed-breed Labrador-ACD is said to have lived to 32, or 141 in canine years.  It's a lot more complicated than just multiplying by 7.  

December featured a special issue of Science on why we age:
  • Japan
    • In 1965,  9.1 persons supported each senior citizen.
    • In 2015 it was 2.4.
    • In 2050 it will be 1.3
  • There was a time when medical research only focused on what killed you.  Now, preventative medicine is taking hold, and a new field of geoscience is growing to enhance healthy longevity.
  • What determines your biological clock?
    • Telomere (3D view of one to the right) length.
    • Genes and DNA.
    • Long-lived proteins.
    • Metabolites in blood.
  • How to live longer:
    • Dietary restrictions (eat less).
    • Exercise.
    • mTor inhibitors (right)-- Sirolimus, or  rapamycin, is used to prevent rejection in organ transplants, and is now touted to perhaps prolong  your life.
    • Same for metformin and acarbose, anti-diabetes drugs.
    • NAD (look it up) precursors and sirtuin activators, co-enzyme and protein that regulate biological pathways.
    • Modifiers of senescence (process of growing old) and telomere dysfunction, but the danger when you play with this process is inducing cancer.
    • Hormonal and circulating factors, like growth hormones.
    • Mitochondrial-targeted therapeutics.
    • Adjustment of gut microbiota (you have 100 trillion bacteria weighing around 3 pounds in your alimentary canal and only a total of 37 trillion cells making up  your whole body).
Now that you're on the verge of falling asleep (more sleep is really good for your longevity, and, surprisingly, did not make the above list), let me go on to the Palo Alto Longevity Prize to cure aging, announced for competition in 2014 and, sorry, but the deadline for applying was 31 December 2015.  Twenty-eight teams are competing.

The Prizes are dedicated to ending aging:  $500,000 for restoring homeostatic capacity and $500,000 for extending mammalian lifespan by 50%.  Jun Yoon donated the million dollars.
Another longstanding name in anti-aging is Aubrey de Grey from the UK.  He co-founded the Methuselah Foundation, which funds the Methuselah Mouse Prize and Million Dollar New Organ Liver Prize.  Upcoming, awards for heart, lung and kidney.  Peter Thiel is a major sponsor.  Grey is to the left and Thiel second from the right.

More recently, Silicon Valley has jumped into this field:


Read a HuffPo I wrote five years ago:


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