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Thursday, March 22, 2018

#10: MY LIFE

I have less than 40 days left for this blog.  Actually, it's not that dramatic, for this site will continue in its eleventh year, but not as a daily.  More like whenever I feel like it.  Thus, for the next few weeks I will be presenting a variety of consolidations crystallizing the essence of this decade-long effort.

Today, I will begin with #10 of the most meaningful postings I've ever had.  The numbers are only chronological.  I will traipse back from the beginning and end up with #1 as a relatively new article.  And I will tell you already what will be #1.  

Over the course of the past decade, I have averaged 500 viewers/day, and they have come from 221 countries.  Yes, I know, the United Nations has fewer than 200, but locations like Antarctica get counted as a domain.  The #1 most "meaningful" posting came this year, but only because it drew more than 27,000 viewers.  Why?  I'll let you know when the time comes.

If I had published a blog every day, I would today be up to around 3600.  As of today, however, my list shows 3767 articles, but some remain as drafts.  I might use one of them in this top ten.

I will upgrade these older postings by adding graphics and references, bringing them up to date as necessary.  (I might provide comments, and these will be in parentheses, italicized and colored magenta.)  There is some relevance to historical accuracy, so I will massage the content to provide what is best, remaining as meaningful as possible.


My Life [10May08]

FIRST THE GOOD NEWS: The price of petroleum dropped below $26/barrel...oops...make that below $126/barrel...all the way down to $125.96.  (The WTI price of crude is today $65/barrel--look to the right column.)

Oil was ten times cheaper AFTER the First Energy Crisis in 1973/74. The price of petroleum was LESS than $3/barrel BEFORE this event. The average car then cost about $3,000. Gasoline in 1973 was purchased for $0.39/gallon and milk, $1.31/gallon. Thus, if each of these went up by the same proportion, these items should today cost:

Gasoline $16.38/gallon

Milk $55.02/gallon

Car $126,000

Does this make any sense to you? Read SIMPLE SOLUTIONS to understand what is happening.  (At this point in time there was only SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.)

Goldman Sachs just this week predicted oil going up to $200 in the not too distant future. How long, then, before $300/barrel, 100 times the price of the 70's? Remember, Goldman Sachs in 2005 predicted petroleum going as high as $105 in the "not too distant future," as an extreme super-spike. The industry scoffed.

The following excerpt is borrowed from the Introduction of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:


A good place to start is a little more than a century ago, for this is where I can trace my beginning to sustainable resources, the underlying theme of Book 1. Somewhere around the turn of the century—that is, 1900—my grandfather from my father’s side, returning to Japan from some education or training somewhere in the USA, stopped off on the island of Kauai in Hawaii to help build a 2.4 megawatt hydroelectric facility. You wouldn’t think there was electricity in those days, especially on Kauai, made popular by recent movies such as King Kong and Jurassic Park. After all, around this period, immigrant Chinese could not marry nor own property, and were banned from most shops and public institutions in Los Angeles. Even I can’t distinguish between Chinese and Japanese. What a hellacious time he must have had. Bigotry was a way of life then…and still carries on today in many parts of the world, including Los Angeles.  (That's me where the incoming water feeds the hydroelectric power plant.  Today, more than a century later, this same facility still is producing electricity.)

I was born on September 6, 1940, and grew up in Kakaako, a fishing village of Honolulu, only a couple of blocks from where in 1995, I presided over a ceremony to dedicate the International Marine Biotechnology Culture Collection, close by where the new University of Hawaii Medical School was to be built, and which is now in full operation. I graduated from Pohukaina Elementary, Central Intermediate and McKinley High Schools, public schools. Then I left Hawaii for the very first time in 1958 to attend Stanford University.

My very first job after graduating in 1962 with a degree in chemical engineering was, appropriately enough, in sustainable resources, more specifically, biomass processing, or to be perfectly accurate, working in a sugar factory. This was with the oldest company in Hawaii, C. Brewer, in Naalehu, the southernmost community in the USA, where I met my wife, Pearl, who was a nurse in the next town, Pahala.  (In the middle is Bill Baldwin, Manager of Hutchinson Sugar Company, who "arranged" for me to meet with my future wife.)

When I joined the sugar industry I thought I was the first of my direct family line of relatives to do so. Most Japanese in Hawaii trace their beginnings to their ancestors being brought to Hawaii to toil in the fields. Turned out I was the second, for that grandfather mentioned above, I later learned, worked for Eleele Plantation, now McBryde Sugar Company, but on a very specific mission, to be outlined in the section on hydroelectric power.  (Wainiha is just above Hanalei.)

So here I was in 1962, when this region of the United States, Kau (Naalehu) on the Big Island, had no access to radio (in the daytime), nor TV. Even many of my classmates, who joined the Peace Corps to places like the Philippines and the Ivory Coast, could listen to the radio. But then, Hawaii had become a state only three years earlier. Today, C. Brewer is no more and the industry is virtually gone.  (And now, totally gone.)  So much for sustainability, but biomass, it is now turning out, could well provide a promising future for transportation fuel, as described in the biomass portion of CHAPTER 2.

In 1963, after a short stint in the Army Reserves, while on a C. Brewer trainee assignment to the Kilauea Sugar Company on Kauai, a newsletter noted my arrival. A very old man came up to me one day and said he had known my grandfather. My initial reaction was mild astonishment, as while I knew that my father had been born on Kauai, I don’t recall him talking much about his parents. That individual said my grandfather was involved with the Wainiha Powerhouse and was extraordinary, in that he was very well educated and served as a supervisor. Unfortunately, he died only a few years after arriving and was buried up on the hill above the town.  My family knew I was on this island. Why had no one said that I should visit my grandfather’s burial spot, for the culture of even Hawaii Japanese, was to honor the dead. Then again, maybe someone did and I did not pay any attention.

Life on Kauai was idyllic. Pearl, my wife, and I lived in the middle of where the movie South Pacific was filmed. She even looked like France Nuyen, the actress who dallied with John Kerr, at the slippery slide pool, which served as our backyard. I remember Tommy Sands and Nancy Sinatra one day just appearing and swimming there, which was really a river with a waterfall. Hanalei Bay, the foreground for that fictitious Bali Hai, was down the road a bit. We had a 145 pound mostly German Shepherd, Pepper, who I bathed by tossing a stick into the river, which he returned to me for a soap down, then another toss to wash himself out. I can recall when he was 6-months old and had never swum. we drove up to the Kaloko Reservoir, just outside Kilauea. On his own he bolted into the water, swam to the middle—quite an achievement for a puppy, as that was around a 100 yards, and probably more—and came back. In 2006, this reservoir/dam system fell apart and killed seven people.

Well, returning to 1963, weeks later, this gentleman came back and said he had found the gravestone, which was outside the cemetery fence, and that he and his friends went on to restore the area. He led me there and took a photo of me with his daughter, two neighbor children and Pearl. I am today, 44 years later, now kicking myself, for I never really expressed my thanks to him. Only as I write this sentence do I appreciate the enormity of what he did, for I recently used this finding as the starting point for my roots search. Also too, I never bothered to ask him for details about my grandfather. I did, though, mail a copy of that photo to my older brother, Stan.   (Grandad Kenjiro's gravestone, with niece, Diane, Stan's daughter.) 

I pretty much forgot about all this until 2005, when I got a sudden urge to search for my roots. At this point, all I had were a few rumors. Yes, there was that encounter on Kauai 42 years previously and my first visit to the grave of my father’s father. Deep in my brain cells were wild thoughts of this grandfather being educated at Columbia University, his grandmother being a female samurai Robin Hood on Hokkaido…but no proof. And I still did not even know what his first name was. So the process of searching for my roots started at a one day workshop held at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. This is where I created the family mon as a composite of two classic versions. I colorized this official form into the rainbow version shown on the cover. The mon represents a high bridge (Takahashi means high bridge in Japanese, or long chopsticks, and both, as I think about it, would apply to the symbolism) to connect countries and people taking the high road to cooperation. This book hopes to serve this function. The cover for Book 2 will use a gold version of this black and white mon to symbolize the Golden Evolution.

In September of 2005, Pearl and I visited Misa Tamura (right), the son-in-law of that older gentleman, to find the gravestone on Kauai. Misa, himself, was well into his 80’s by then, and he asked if we also wanted to see my grandfather’s powerhouse, for somehow, the community even then, a century later, referred to the site as Takahashi’s powerhouse. The Wainiha Powerhouse was commissioned in 1906, and today produces 4 MW with essentially the same incoming pipes and generation equipment. Around this time, my brother, Stan, found the earlier photo and sent me a note that the name on the gravestone was Kenjiro Takahashi. Thus, I learned for the first time that I was named after this grandfather, for my middle name is Kenji.

There were still huge doubts on what was real until I had the good fortune to sit next to Elsie (left) and David Ikegami (below, standing) at a 50th year Wedding Anniversary party of a mutual friend. David was born in Utah, was a Mormon, but lived most of his life in Hawaii. At the age of 80, he ran one of those Mormon family centers famous for conducting these root searches. 

I visited his office and passed on all the information I had, which was not much. Within two weeks his staff found a nine page document signed by the Secretary of the Territory of Hawaii showing that Kenjiro came to Kauai from America, was originally from Hokkaido, Japan, and served as a luna, or supervisor, at the Kilauea Plantation. He fell at the hydro site in 1906 and died in the same year that the powerhouse commenced operations. 

Well, with most of what I thought was largely made up now turning out to be true, the search was intensified with a trip to Utashinai, his home village, which I learned from two energy leaders in Japan, Fumio Ito and Takayoshi Ota, who were invaluable in unearthing kosekis (Japanese document providing family details), and will continue for Kenjiro’s grandmothers in Akita on Honshu and Otaru, just outside of Sapporo. Even if I find nothing else, there is enough already to write a book, tracing this possible female samurai Robin Hood great great grandmother to me. This one, though, looms as a novel.

My grandfather from my mother’s side also had an unorthodox introduction to Hawaii, for the mother of my mother passed away soon after her birth, and her father left her in Toyama, Japan, joined a crew on a steamer that came to Honolulu, and to avoid the authorities, literally jumped ship by swimming to shore, becoming a houseboy of the Waterhouse family, one of the pioneering local families with a lot of wealth. He must have been an illegal immigrant all his life, but, he, too, led an interesting life. I vaguely remember his hosting regular family luaus (Hawaiian feast), although he passed away when I was 9 years old. Still living there is his eldest son, Larry Yamamoto, my uncle (right, with members of the family), who, at all of 92 years old, is still driving.

Back again to 1963, after a year in Kilauea, I returned to the Naalehu, where I really learned practical engineering, for the first time, at the Hutchinson Sugar Company—how to weld, pack a pump and manage people. Also, in these small towns, you were expected to become a useful member of the community, for I grew up in Honolulu, where none of this was necessary. 

I became involved with the Explorer Scouts, served on the credit union board, and even, for their annual July 4th Fair, organized what I called The First Annual Battle of the Bands, which might have been the first rock concert held in Hawaii. It was a huge success. Oh, what an impresario future I might have had if I continued that thrust. I think I invented the concept. There were no such things as Woodstock in the early 60’s, where rock groups came together to entertain the public in an outdoor setting.

The social life on the plantation was particularly well lubricated with alcohol of all types, especially Ten High, the cheapest bourbon (you can buy a bottle today for as low as $7), which was usually purchased by the case. There were memorable parties where Mai Tai’s were fashioned using the basic ingredients, including, three kinds of rum (which is a sugar by-product) and sticks of real sugar cane instead of mini-umbrellas and pineapple.

Across the street from the sugar factory was a bar which only served Budweiser beer and Thunderbird wine. I later (much later) in wine tasting sessions filled this wine (a screw cap fortified wine made by Gallo) into one of those small skinny bottles used for ice wines, and true sommeliers usually picked this $2/bottle as the most expensive of the lot being sampled, for they could detect the noble rot from what was no doubt a late harvest riesling.

It was already clear in the early 60’s that the industry was having survival problems, so, as a matter of strategy, C. Brewer had the foresight, five years into my nearly third world existence, to send me to graduate school, Louisiana State University, for it was the only sugar school in the world, even though what they wanted was to find future options for the crop and lands. LSU had basketball star Pete Maravich, a rabid football crowd and a different way of life than Kakaako, Palo Alto or Naalehu. 

I proceeded to complete a dissertation where I built a tunable laser before one could be purchased to zap the DNA/RNA bonds of E. coli in a micro reactor to sterilize or catalyze growth, entitled, “Tunable Organic Dye Laser Irradiation of E. coli.”  (You can read all 170 pages of details by clicking on that link.)  This first involvement with genetic engineering eventually will lead to the chapter in Book 2 dealing with Eternal Life.

I received a PhD in biochemical engineering in 1971, joined the faculty of the College of Engineering at the University of Hawaii, and was told to teach computer programming, a course I never took before, with a story that is continued in the education chapter of Book 2. I obtained funds from the National Science Foundation to do some reservoir engineering for the Hawaii Geothermal Project. This episode placed into my memory banks the seed for CHAPTER 6: Six Hours to Seattle. Then the first energy crisis hit in 1973, I was well prepared for the future of renewable energy, Chapters 2-4.

Dean of Engineering John Shupe was asked by Governor George Ariyoshi to do something about the long gasoline lines. Shupe convened ten of his faculty. Each proceeded to pick an energy topic of his liking, and, as I had the least seniority, was left with wind power. I don’t think I had even seen a large windmill in my life, but just within an hour of reading, figured out that if the power obtained from a wind energy conversion system (WECS) increased with the cube of the wind velocity, Hawaii, indeed, had some potential, for we had mountains that channeled and amplified the trades. What this means is that if you had two sites, one at a speed of 10 miles per hour and a second at 20 MPH, the latter would produce EIGHT (2 cubed, or 2x2x2) times more power with the same WECS.  (Hawaii's best wind regimes are at sea between the islands, for the mountains amplify the speed.)

Armed with this awesome knowledge, I went to Washington, D.C. to talk to the Energy Research and Development Agency, the predecessor of the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE). Lou Divone was in charge of the winds (that was in 1974, and several decades later, he was still basically involved with this technology within the department in the same Forrestal Building), and I told him that Hawaii had started a wind power program.

He literally laughed out aloud, reached behind his desk and pulled out an almanac, showing that the Hawaiian wind velocities were among the poorest in the Nation. But, I noticed that the measurements were only taken at airports, where you don’t want high winds. Such was the level of knowledge in 1974. He conceded that this was perhaps worth a second look, so suggested that, as there was a solar energy conference in Denver the following week, I should drop by and talk to the experts there. This story continues in the CHAPTER 2 section on Wind Energy Conversion Systems.

That trip in the previous paragraph was particularly monumental, for, while I don’t remember why, I first went to Miami to participate in the charter international hydrogen gathering chaired by Nejat Veziroglu. A couple of years ago I wrote a recommendation for him to the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee. Professor Nejat Veziroglu (left) started and has been the continuing inspiration for the modern era of hydrogen. 

One of Nejat’s Romantics, John Bockris, also was there, and is credited with coining The Hydrogen Economy. It is this group that has initiated a campaign to “save the world” from Peak Oil and Global Heating, as reported on in CHAPTER 3.  (John and I communicated almost weekly for more than a decade.  He was one of the early developers of Cold Fusion.  I still think there is something to this concept.)

I thus additionally got interested in the subject of hydrogen, but in offbeat ways. In the 70’s I spent some time at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on two assignments, sustainable resources and laser fusion, the latter mainly to extend my PhD research, and a summer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Ames Research Center to participate in a faculty study on extrasolar (orbiting other stars) planets. Fusion, of course, depends on isotopes of hydrogen, and the individual leading the program at LLNL was Edward Teller. As the H-Bomb was such a terrible weapon of mass destruction, Teller’s dedication to fusion for peaceful uses no doubt was his attempt to balance the morality problem. 

Regarding my NASA experience, it turned out that the quietest portion of outer space is at a frequency where the hydrogen molecule vibrates. This combination of seemingly disparate experiences with the first element in our chemical table, hydrogen, directly links me to CHAPTER 3, The Silver Bullet: Hydrogen, and a chapter in the upcoming Book 2, Seeking the Light: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Over the next few years I taught, did sustainable resource research and served in various administrative capacities with the College of Engineering and Chancellor’s Office at the University of Hawaii. In 1979, I co-authored the Solar/Wind Handbook of Hawaii for the U.S. Department of Energy, but when the second energy crisis came, my conclusion was that the solutions to our energy problems could more effectively be solved through politics.  

So off I went to Washington, D.C. to serve as the Special Assistant on Energy to U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga. I helped pass legislation on a variety of sustainable resource measures, including wind power, solar energy, hydrogen, ocean thermal energy conversion and seabed resources. These areas all became the foundation for Book 1.

At the end of my third year in D.C., Paul Yuen, the new Dean of Engineering at the University of Hawaii, and I concocted a plan for future financial support of our projects. We decided to create our own funding agency. Thus, I returned to the University of Hawaii in 1982 and we co-founded the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR) to serve as a dual bridge: between academic research and the marketplace and between Hawaii and the Pacific Rim and Islands. Details on how PICHTR came into being are provided in CHAPTER 4 on the Blue Revolution. I also found time to tinker with electric vehicles, OTEC, energy storage and materials science, only to give them up on a hands-on basis when I was selected as director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute in 1984.

Over almost half a century I have taught courses in environmental engineering, computer applications, technology and society and renewable energy. I have written more than a hundred publications in the fields represented in this book and edited the Journal of Energy Engineering. I have chaired/directed a variety of sustainable resource workshops, conferences, national panels and projects, and might even suggest that I was the principal investigator of more National Science Foundation research prioritization workshops than anyone else. I initiated Project Green Enertopia (CHAPTER 2) and the Blue Revolution (CHAPTER 4), and drafted the first hydrogen (CHAPTER 3) bill introduced in the U.S. Senate. I’ve also determined that one of my greatest flaws is starting something, but not making time to finish them. If you’re reading this, then this could be one of my first accomplishments at completing anything.

After fifteen years as director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, I took early retirement from the University of Hawaii in 1999, and began to write a dozen docu-novels related to my academic experiences, which got me nowhere, because a writer has to focus. Taking a cue from my personal flaw theory, I think I solved this problem by integrating all of them into SIMPLE SOLUTIONS.  (So now there are three SIMPLE SOLUTIONS books, the yellow one a compilation of some of my Huffington Post articles, as a tribute to Pearl.)

There is a tropical storm off northern Australia to become a Category 2 and make landfall where few live:

Tropical Cyclone Marcus remains potent at 145 MPH, but will weaken and at most skirt Perth:


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