Wednesday, December 24, 2008

HILO HOLIDAY CAR CRUSHING

Hilo made the international news recently with a “Crushing Asian car competition” headline. It seems strange for a business to attempt this gimick in a town where the majority of the people are of Asian origin.

What is an Asian versus American car these days anyway? Cars built in the US by American companies are assembled using parts from Asia. Toyota, Honda, and Huyndai all have plants in the US where Americans assemble Asian cars.

How then can one identify the nationality of a particular car? BuyAmerican websites have tried to help resolve the car nationality confusion by calculating the percentage of US-made versus Asian-made parts in each car's make and year. Today's cars are a confluence of global ingenuity and components that are assembled all over the globe.

Island Chevrolet's stunt with a Suburban outfitted with massive tires costing $20,000 blew a hydraulic hose when attempting to drive over a Honda Accord that went unscathed. The Suburban had to be repaired before it was finally able to drive over the Honda and a Hyundai Excel. We drove by the Chevy dealer the other day where the Suburban sits suspended over the two cars in an empty parking lot for all to see on Kilauea street. It is unclear if the headline that got so much coverage has resulted in sales for the car dealer.


If we could send a Hilo headline around the world, it would be about how wonderful it is to be in warm Hilo town nestled below snow covered Mauna Kea during this peaceful holiday week.



Mele Kalikimaka from Hilo, Hawaii!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

DEFLATION ARRIVES IN HILO

Our grandparents use to talk about deflation during the 1930's but we haven't experienced it until now.

We have enjoyed unprecedented price drops for our Christmas shopping both online and at local retailers in Hilo, Hawaii. At Macys, clothes and house wares were marked down over 50%. We have never seen prices like this at Christmastime before. As we prepared to do our yearly online Christmas shopping for family on the mainland we were barraged with emails offering discounts of 20% on orders. We held off on the orders to see if the deals would get even better and they did. Some vendors threw in free shipping and others had an additional 10% off.

As we watched oil drop over $110 a barrel (a drop of 74%) our local premium gasoline prices plunged from $4.75 to $2.59 a gallon (a drop of 54%).

Everywhere we look prices are dropping. Used cars, for instance, have been high throughout Hawaii, but they have dropped to some of the lowest prices we have ever seen here. We estimate they are down about 50% from last year.

We believe this Christmas season deflation is just the beginning of a deflationary trend that will make living in Hilo much cheaper for years to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

UNIQUE SHOPS IN HILO

The arrival of the Christmas season and our start of gift shopping has us thinking about unique shops in Hilo. Here are a few of the stores in Hilo that we think stand out because of their products and overall specialness. Let us know if we missed your favorites so we can add them to our list.

Sig Zane has a store in downtown Hilo that shows off his unique cloth designs of Hawaiian plants and flowers in shirts, dresses, and bags. Sig, a native of Oʼahu, moved to Hilo in the 1970ʼs. He studied hula under the renowned teacher Edith Kanaka'ole and her daughters, Nalani Kanaka'ole and Pua Kanahele. He learned about the plants of Hawaii and their uses as a part of his hula immersion and married Nalani after which he created his first Sig Zane's designs. His designs are used by hula dancers and have expanded to become the desired dress-up clothing of choice in Hilo and by those that can appreciate his Hawaiian designs as different and special from the standard Aloha wear.
Walking into Sig Zaneʼs Hilo store, the colors and set up feels calming and inviting, similar to the feeling his Hawaiian designs invoke. Our purchase was lovingly packaged and put into a beautiful bag creating an overall wonderful experience.



Big Island Candies opened in the 1970ʼs in Hilo to create cookies and macadamia nut candies using only Hawaii-grown macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, island eggs, real butter and high-grade chocolate. The delicious cookies are becoming known around the world. The cookies and candies are packaged in gorgeous containers and boxes with careful attention to the color and decoration. Each cookie is individually wrapped keeping them fresh and sanitary

The Hilo store is located in the factory which allows you to watch the cookies and candies being made through huge glass panes. When you visit the store, you are greeted at the door with a welcoming hostess and offered free samples of cookies and candies and Kona coffee making it a warm and delicious shopping experience.




Hilo Guitars and ukuleles shop is in downtown Hilo and has an incredible collection of Hawaiian made ukuleles and guitars as well as hand crafted guitars from the mainland. The little store which caters to the many local musicians, who often hang out there, was started by Ken Cameron, a musician from Scotland. Ken also carries affordable instruments for new musicians and there are music classes for students and beginners in his shop. Whenever we go to the store, we often find a group of musicians talking animatedly about their upcoming gig or jamming.






Tokunagaʼs is an indispensible fishing store tucked away in Hilo since the 1920ʼs. The shop is filled with things you can’t live without on an island like heavy grade rash guards for winter swimming, sun protection hats, fins, wetsuits, and every kind of fishing rod for every type of fishing. If you want to know about fishing, it is the place to go.





Hilo has some really wonderful museum stores. Lymanʼs museum and the ʽImiloa Astronomy Center both have great little shops filled with special topic books, calendars, toys, jewelry, pens, and posters. Both the stores are open to the public without having to pay admission.















Tuesday, December 2, 2008

BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU ARRIVES IN HILO

We have been looking forward to this year’s release of French Beaujolais Nouveau so we can celebrate the holidays in Hilo Hawaii like we would in Paris France. Nouveau wine is made from grapes just picked this autumn and is highly celebrated by wine lovers who want to get an early taste of the year’s vintage. The wine is bottled in France and shipped around the world on the third Thursday of November so it can be hard to find in remote places like Hilo.

Thanks to the wonderful people at Longs in downtown Hilo, we were able to preorder bottles of our favorite Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau wine. They ordered extra cases for others in town that are looking for the Nouveau and others that want try this extraordinary wine. It is popular as a holiday season wine and goes great with Turkey. We had our first taste of it last week and it was light and fruity apparently due to the sunny and cool weather in the Beaujolais region this September.


Hilo is amazing – here we are in the middle of the Pacific on the other side of the world from France and our wine arrived November 20th the same day the rest of the world received their shipments.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

THE UNIVERSE FOR FREE

Wayne Rosing came to Hilo last week to give an Astrotalk at UHH about a foundation he is funding to provide access to a global network of professional quality telescopes to everyone in the world for free. The network of telescopes include existing scopes that he bought and new scopes that he designed and are being built by his foundation.


Wayne talked about his telescope design using new materials resulting in a vastly lower cost than conventional scopes of its size. He has made the design and code open so that anyone can use his blue prints to build their own. He is building and deploying telescopes around the world that are accessible to the public for free via the internet.

His foundation acquired the 2M Faulkes Telescope on the summit of Haleakala on Maui. This scope was having operational and software problems which he invested a lot of energy and money to fix and upgrade. Now UH uses the telescope along with others around the world. Wayne talked about a group of grade school students in England that are using the telescope and how the young students figured out how to pose as teachers and operate the telescope on their own. Wayne Rosing thinks access to his telescopes will get kids excited about math and science again.
There were lots of excited college students in the audience that asked about how much time they could get on his telescopes and how to get set up.

One of the Astronomers in the audience suggested it would best for Wayne's organization to hire his graduate students to help “train” people on what to look at and how to use a telescope “properly.” Wayne’s surprising response was that people can learn themselves and they can teach themselves. “In school I could teach myself faster than any class could teach me so I sat in the back of the room with a book and learned myself.” Wayne's discussion about his self learning and contradiction with the PhD's in the room were said with great humility, not haughtiness. The response of this self-taught multi-millionaire makes more sense when you know about his incredible achievements.

Wayne has been involved in revolutionary projects for much of his career. He led the Apple Lisa project, the first commercial computer with a graphical interface launched in 1983. Then he went to Sun Microsystems and launched the SPARC workstation which made obsolete expensive minicomputers, and later he headed the effort to create the Java Web-programming language.
Wayne's interest in Astronomy led him to dedicate two years to his own astronomy projects. He built telescopes and control systems and worked on a project to survey the interstellar medium at an observatory in Chile. A corner reflector that he hand machined was put on the moon by NASA to use in measuring the Moon's orbit more precisely using laser interferometer technology.


Later Wayne joined Google to set up their Engineering department and created a corporate culture that maximized innovation and creativity. Google’s search technology provided better access to the internet for free. He became a multi-millionaire from the stock when the company went public.


Since leaving Google in 2005, Wayne Rosing has been dedicating his time and money to Astronomy. He founded Las Cumbres Observatory and Global Telescope (LCOGT) network.


LCOGT has a vision for education which is to have telescopes available 7x24 and in particular during school days. Their two 2-meter scopes have already provided over 3,500 hours of student contact time and they plan to have 70,000 dark hours per year available for education and science.

LCOGT plans to have access available to learners of all ages for free. Online self-paced “How To’s” will guide learners through the basics and teach them how to use the telescopes and software tools. Observation is via an internet browser to make it easy and accessible. Image analysis and computational tools are web-based. Novices will use the same tools as professional astronomers – nothing is dumbed down. Accounts and logons, collaboration, blogs and sharing are provided via Google Apps.



LCOGT is planning observatories around the world backed by a 140 processor supercomputer with 280 TB of storage. Two 2M telescopes in Hawaii and Australia, the existing Faulkes telescopes that LCOGT purchased, are already available. Twelve to fifteen 1M telescopes in 6 clusters of 2 to 3 scopes will form a research network. And twenty 0.4M telescopes, in clusters of 2 to 4 scopes will form a core educational network and be co-located with 1M scopes.

The plan is for hundreds of science projects and measurement opportunities to be available for learners to pursue and learn about the universe. Go to the web site it you want to sign up and view the heavens from your comfort of your couch.

Thanks to Gary Fujihara, Mr AstroDay, for inviting Wayne Rosing to come to Hilo, Hawaii and talk about his incredible project and vision.

Friday, November 21, 2008

WAITING FOR OUR PS3 IN HILO

We took our broken Xbox 360 to GameStop in Hilo this week to trade it in for PS3 credit. Despite it being broken, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console still had trade-in value.

Playing video games is part of our family fun and so we were discouraged by how quickly our Xbox 360 failed with a ring of light on the front of the box flashing red. This apparently unfixable problem of Microsoft’s caused by overheating and poor manufacturing is known as “the red ring of death”. This was a big change from the sturdy original Xbox that outlasted our interest allowing us to give it to another family. Fortunately our investment in Xbox 360 games and peripherals retained some value making it easier for us to switch to Sony’s new PS3 160Gig console.

GameStop has a deal where if you trade in more than 5 games at a time, you get 30% more in trade-in credit. Luckily they had the specific PS3 games we wanted so we traded credit for games.

Now all we need is the PS3 to arrive from Sony, and for Christmas to come, so we can enjoy the latest in graphics and gaming entertainment.

We use to live in Silicon Valley where new techie toys were the rage and often on sale months before the rest of the country saw them in their stores. Now that we live in Hilo we usually order online from places like BestBuy.com and SonyStyle to get computers, games, and hard to find videos.

We use to be big chess players and have long drawn out Magic card games. The drawback was that only one player won those games and the rest of us lost. Games on the computer can be set to play at our level and if it beats us, it won’t brag about it and if we beat it, it won’t be disappointed. Game consoles have reached the point where it feels more like being in a movie with other actors while traversing incredible scenery. With game consoles we can save the world as a team creating a feeling of camaraderie and a happy shared experience.

It might seem odd that laid-back people working toward sustainability would like computer games and game consoles, but we find that the intellectual stimulation of testing our wits against a computer keeps our minds sharp.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A VOG SEASON IN HILO?

We woke up this morning with burning eyes and runny noses to see Hilo Bay completely obscured by the Vog. At swimming, everyone was complaining about feeling lethargic and struggling with their laps. “Vog” is a term used in Hawai‘i to describe the hazy conditions caused by volcanic gases being emitted into the air and mixing with water vapor and very small particles, primarily sulfur compounds and sulfur dioxide. The main sources are from the Halema‘uma‘u and Pu‘u ‘O‘o vents on Kilauea volcano which are spewing white clouds with glowing red embers.



Kilauea volcano is extremely active right now. The toxic volcanic gas emissions increased significantly after the March 19, 2008 Halema’uma’u explosive event and have resulted in parts of
the island being declared a disaster area due to Big Island famers and flower growers losing their crops. Some towns have become almost uninhabitable for people with respiratory problems and the county has notified island residents that they should not wait for an evacuation order if they feel ill from the volcanic output.


Normally, the trade winds blow the Vog south and west towards Guam. Towns in the district of Ka’u have been dealing with the worst of the vog since the onset of the increased activity, but the trade winds blow some of the Vog around behind Mauna Loa which builds up over the western side of the Big Island on the Kona and Kohala coasts as well. When the trade winds are blowing, the wind off the ocean keeps Hilo and most of the eastern side of the island free of Vog.


The trade winds blow 92% of the time during the summer but start to diminish in the winter when trade wind activity is only 40% of the time in January.


Before this last eruption the last major Vog releases were in the early 1980s and they did not last more than 3 weeks. The current intense Vog emissions have been going on for 9 months.
As we head into a quarter with fewer days of trade winds, we are preparing for a season of intense Vog in Hilo. We have noticed on days that Hilo gets high Vog readings; Kona is usually getting some relief. We get our Vog readings from the EPA air quality site. We also monitor the discharge of volcanic gasses by looking at the USGS real time volcano cameras and the current seismic activity on the Big Island on the USGS recent earthquakes site.



We are preparing in advance for Hilo’s Vog season. We have our SO2 detector nearby and our stash of gas masks and our predetermined route out of town if the detector goes off. We have a HEPA air filter to help with headaches and lots of green tea to help our sore throats. We are making a list of things we want to do on the western side of the Big Island since we have been avoiding it since last February due to their Vog problems. Kona has awesome snorkeling and we have been eager to check out some hiking trails in Kohala.


We may be completely wrong on our prediction of Hilo’s Vog Season as we are not Volcanologists. The county has limited resources for dealing with the impact of the volcanic gasses and lava flowing into the ocean and rarely updates their Civil Defense web site. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has daily updates, photos and videos of the volcanic activity but does not address the activity or health impacts outside the National park.
So this is just our best guess in the spirit of being proactively prepared while living so close to an erupting volcano.

Friday, November 7, 2008

THE SHAME OF DOWNSIZING

Since moving to Hilo, Hawaii we have had a lot of visitors from the mainland. This summer, when we proudly showed off our little rental in Hilo with its marvelous view and our new laid back life, we couldn’t understand the expressions on many of our visitors’ faces. It was definitely not envy; it seemed more like surprise, but not in a good way. We couldn’t figure it out.

It wasn’t until we recently read an
article about how stressful it is for people to downsize, particularly those under 55 years of age. The older set have social acceptance for downsizing as a part of preparing for or actually retiring. But for those under 55, downsizing has the stigma of career or financial failure.

It was then that we realized our visitors were reacting to how tiny our Hilo house is in comparison to the house we owned in California and they felt embarrassment for us. We realize now we were experiencing the effect of the “shame of downsizing”.

When we meet new people, many ask within the first moments of the conversation, “When are you going to buy a house?” The persistence and tone of the questioning makes it seem a lot like “renters” are in different and lower social class than house owners. After owning houses for over 25 years, it is a huge relief to not spend countless hours and money maintaining a house. We knew that owning a house improved your credit score but we hadn’t realized that house ownership was such a status symbol.

In our case, we are choosing to downsize our life by getting rid of our house and most of our stuff. This choice has allowed us to fulfill our dream of living in Hawaii .

But a lot of people right now are being forced to downsize by having their stuff repossessed and their houses taken away. Instead of a gradual and controlled downsizing, families are finding themselves living in cars and tents a few weeks after living in a large house in suburbia. We can’t even imagine how stressful, upsetting and terrifying that experience must be on families in that unfortunate situation. In our case, we can chuckle about people’s reaction to our downsizing. But we feel sorry that those enduring forced downsizing and having to adjust to a harsh new lifestyle must also bear this extra social stigma.

Since the world financial system started collapsing in October, we have had follow up conversations with folks on the mainland that are now beginning to see the merits of early downsizing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

FOLLOWUP TO: A LETTER FROM HILO HAWAII TO THE INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMY COMMUNITY

Dr James disagreed with our summary of his presentation and discussion afterward in our previous blog. Here is his comment:

My name is David James, and I am the Director of the Hoku Ke`a telescope, and it was I that gave that AstroTalk a few weeks ago.

I am so sorry that you mis-understood what I said concerning both the size of the building and the relationship of the new telescope to the local community.

What I actually said, was that the building footprint was **not** changed or increased because it was against the law for one, and the Office of Mauna Kea Management and the University of Hawai`i at Hilo's planning offices had informed us that we were **not allowed** to change the footprint of the Observatory by one single millimeter -- which we did not !!
The mountain rangers, and Mr Ed Stevens, stopped by the construction site regularly to make sure that we were adhering to the regulations and laws, which I am happy to say, that we did.

The new building is EXACTLY the same size as the old one (which house the 24-inch AirForce telescope). If you want independent verification of this, you may contact the local contractor, Mr Gerald Yamada, or the project manager Mr Dan Kaniho (kanihod@hawaii.edu).
Second, I did **not** say that there were not PhD graduates among the locals, nor did I imply any disdain for the locals whatsoever.

What I did say, was that in astronomy in particular, and in the physics sciences, people of Hawaiian descent are very under-represented, and I wanted that position to change. I did however report that there was not one single PhD-level astronomer or Professor of Hawaiian heritage in any US college or University, which unfortunately is true.

In fact, I specifically came to the UHH to help provide an educational resource to our local students, with the direct goal of getting more local students into jobs which demanded strength in physics and mathematics. I am also applying for National Science Foundation money to provide stipend-support for internships specifically designed for people of Hawaiian descent, so that we can work together to provide more science/mathematics education to our local kids. I want the UHH to be able to boast the claim of the first professional astronomer/professor at the PhD-level, of Hawaiian heritage, in an American college or University.

If anyone would like to discuss these issues with me further, please contact me, and I will gladly listen to your opinions and thoughts,
david.james@hawaii.edu

Aloha
David

Dr. James's claim that "there was not one single PhD-level astronomer or Professor of Hawaiian heritage in any US college or University, which unfortunately is true." was quickly disputed by Lizard King. Apparently, unknown to Dr. James, he has at least one colleague that is Hawaiian and has a PhD at the UH Institute of Astronomy. Dr. Paul Coleman is a published Astronomer teaching at the University.

Here are the details from Lizard_King:

In response to David James comments about Hawaiian Ph.D.s in Astronomy, this announcement from UH Institute for Astronomy:
Dr. Paul Coleman (Institute for Astronomy) "Kanaka Maoli Astronomy: Then and Now" Bishop Museum, Wednesday, April 21, 2004, 7 p.m., Atherton Halau


The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) is pleased to announce that they are co-sponsoring, together with the Bishop Museum, a public talk entitled "KANAKA MAOLI ASTRONOMY: THEN AND NOW". The talk, which is about Hawaiian Astronomy, will be given by IfA faculty member Dr. Paul Coleman. It is one of several special events that have been planned to celebrate "Astronomy Week in Hawaii" which began on Sunday April 18 with an Open House at the Institute for Astronomy and ends on Saturday April 24 at AstroDay 2K4 at the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo.

The talk will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday April 21, 2004 in the Atherton Halau at the Bishop Museum. Prior to the talk the Bishop Museum will run Planetarium shows beginning at 5:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served after the talk.

Dr. Coleman, will speak about the ancient, as well as modern, Hawaiian traditions concerning astronomy in Hawaii. He will also talk about the history of European astronomy in Hawaii beginning with Captain James Cook, who visited our islands to observe the transit of Venus.
Dr. Coleman, who is a native Hawaiian, was born on Oahu and is a graduate of St. Louis High School. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pittsburgh, while working for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. "

Let us hope his Ph.D. thesis was better researched than his ad hoc remarks about native Hawaiian scholarly achievements. Or maybe he just assumed Hawaiians were too dumb to get a Ph.D. in Physics. Geez, they both work for the same organization, how can somebody be so obtuse?


For us “locals” in Hilo it is hard to understand how a PhD scientist could make an “unfortunately it is true” statement about Hawaiians. Did he research it? When a scientist makes a claim about something being “true” it has extreme credibility as we trust that the scientist researched the facts before making a strong claim, even a ridiculous one such as this.



We remain supporters of Astronomy and the University in Hilo. We think the AstroTalk series and AstroDay are awesome and greatly contribute to the community and understanding of Astronomy. Our request continues to be that the new and visiting Astronomers respect the residents of the island and follow the laws that protect our environment and precious mountain.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A LETTER FROM HILO HAWAII TO THE INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMY COMMUNITY

The site selection process for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has stirred up great controversy in Hawaii County. The process of an international group of scientists “deciding” where in the world to put their massive telescope, as though they have the power to put it anywhere they choose, has turned the TMT project into one of the key issues in the local election for the Mayor of Hawaii. Billy Kenoi is for the project and Angel Pilago is against it. The public dialog that has resulted from the TMT has left many of the supporters of astronomy in Hawaii wondering if their continued support is wise.

We applaud the amazing discoveries that the international astronomy community has made from their Mauna Kea telescopes and have considered ourselves one of the supporters of the many observatories in Hilo.

Last week we were at an “Astrotalk” at the University of Hawaii in Hilo to hear about the progress of the refurbishment of UHH’s Hoku Ke`a telescope atop Mauna Kea. The new director of the scope “entertained” us with the story of how he was able to get the base of the telescope building expanded beyond its current footprint against the advice of the engineers involved. The purpose of the story may have been to impress us with his will power and commitment. These traits would be important in the achievement of one of his goals which is the amazing feat of supporting a “local” in getting a PhD!

After the talk we felt compelled to express our distaste for his very low opinion of locals and inform him that there were already many “locals” with PhDs. We also explained that our understanding was that it was not legal for any refurbishment project on Mauna Kea to expand the footprint of the existing buildings by even one centimeter and that we expected him to learn about and follow the laws while director of the University Telescope. Another official of the University interrupted stating that it was irrelevant to insist that the laws be followed as “the people of Hilo would starve to death” if it were not for the “trickle down” economics coming from astronomy money spent in Hilo. This individual said he had been doing community outreach for the University for the last 20 years.

We left that meeting wondering what the benefit the town of Hilo was getting from having hundreds of astronomers living here and getting paid four times the average local salary. Are we really going to starve to death if all the telescopes on Mauna Kea are shut down?

We have come to think that the University of Hawaii community outreach person has it backwards. It is the astronomers that make the big salaries and gain international acclaim because of the sacrifices the people of this island of Hawaii are making to keep the sky dark at night for their telescopes.

It is the astronomers who will be unemployed and looking for work and food if these telescopes are shut down, not the “locals”.

Since moving to Hawaii we have been obsessive about making sure we help keep our light pollution down to support the astronomy efforts on Mauna Kea so it is a shock to discover how poorly we are thought of by the astronomy community and that they think they are doing our community of Hilo a favor rather than the other way around.

As the Thirty Meter Telescope issue rages on, those of us in Hilo that once sat on the fence about adding yet another telescope upon the fragile summit of Mauna Kea are wondering if it might be time to turn the porch lights up on high so the astronomers can get a better view of what the locals have been doing to support them and their income and acclaim over the last 20 years.

Here are some links to additional information:
http://tmt-hawaiieis.org/
http://kahea.wordpress.com/
http://www.thehawaiiindependent.com/featured/2008/09/29/first-light-far-off-if-ever/

Friday, October 24, 2008

WORLD FINANCIAL CRISIS: A VIEW FROM HAWAII

From where we are living in Hilo Hawaii the current world financial crisis is as confusing to us as the California housing boom was in 2005. When the world around us makes no sense, we find ourselves compelled to adjust our life so that at least our financial situation makes sense to us. In 2005, while living in Silicon Valley we had a list of the things in the world that made no financial sense to us and we made dramatic personal changes in response. Now we find ourselves creating a new list of what makes no sense in this current worldwide financial bust and what we are going to do about it.

Here is our list from 2005 and 2006 in Silicon Valley:

· It made no sense to us that our house in California had doubled in value in 24 months for no apparent reason. Our income had not gone up for six years and the dramatic increase in the price of the house meant we no longer could qualify to buy our own house. There was no way to protect the equity in the house because our insurance company refused to insure it for more than we paid for it, so if it burned down, we couldn’t replace it. We came to the conclusion that the only way we could protect our equity was to sell the house and we did.

· It made no sense that everything was getting so expensive. Food, gas, electric, medical, and services of every kind were inflating at a rapid pace at a time when the local economy seemed to be shrinking. There were acres of deserted office buildings in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, grocery stores were shutting down all around us, jobs were moving overseas, and income and benefits were going down. In response we cut our expenses to conserve our cash so that we could survive what seemed to be localized inflation.

· It made no sense to us that everyone in our neighborhood seemed so rich and spent money so lavishly. There were new BMWs and Land Rovers in every driveway and delivery trucks were arriving regularly with new furniture, garden gazebos, and hot tubs. We assumed that our income was just not keeping up in the Valley and that our neighbors must have been getting huge salary increases and stock option packages that were paying for their extravagances. At the time it never occurred to us that our neighbors were funding their purchases with second and third mortgages on their houses. We hunted for other jobs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the US in hopes of a salary increase or lower cost of living relative to our income, without luck. On interviews to Colorado and North Carolina, we were surprised to see other communities with shuttered malls and acres of empty office space. It looked to us like the US economy was doing poorly in 2005 and 2006 and yet that contradicted the view of growing affluence visible from our front porch. We decided that instead of buying another house, we needed to downsize our life tremendously and accept the embarrassment and reality of our shrinking personal affluence. We sold off many of our possessions and moved to a small apartment in Sunnyvale to downsize as much as we could.

· It made no sense to us that jobs in Silicon Valley had become so stressful at the same time that the seemingly high pay was so low relative to the cost of living. The days of big bonuses, profitable stock options, and promotions were long gone. Even with our downsizing efforts, the cost of rent, food, commuting, phone, computers, combined with the growing cost of medical coverage, and taxes in Silicon Valley resulted in us spending more each month than we earned. Every month our quality of life became lower, and we dealt with it by going to Hawaii as much as possible for as long as possible. After being fired in 2007, the only thing that made sense to us was to move to Hawaii, where in Hilo we were able to significantly downsize our expenses from our apartment dwelling situation in Silicon Valley while at the same time increasing the quality of our life.



Though we were wrong about the source of the apparent affluence in Silicon Valley, our actions to deal with what made no sense, led us to a wonderful new life in Hawaii. Now in 2008, with our new Hilo perspective, there are many aspects of the world's current financial crisis that make no sense to us. Though we are sure there are major aspects to this financial crisis that we are totally missing like we did in 2005, here is our current list and actions we are taking to make sense of it all.

· Even today, house prices remain much higher than they were in 2003 when the economy was in far better shape. The growing number of foreclosures and unsold inventory seems to be having little effect on prices. In one small area of the Big Island there are over 550 houses and condos for sale, probably representing about 20 to 30% of all the homes in the area; but the prices remain vastly higher than in 2003. The prices are way beyond what a working resident could qualify for at a time when the State of Hawaii is getting hit hard by a slowdown in tourism and unemployment is on the rise. We think renting makes sense until house prices go down or the employment situation gets much better.


· The Stock markets worldwide are dropping fast. It makes no sense to us that the market value of the companies in our personal micro mutual fund with high earnings and excellent prospects are crashing so low. If the stock market is a leading indicator, like the experts claim, the severity of this market crash predicts a future global economic depression that could last a decade. We think high paid corporate technology and management jobs will be scare. We are working on learning new skills that will allow us to make an income, or at least feed ourselves, in the coming decade. Perhaps our experience with bananas will allow us to work as local plantation laborers. We have already had an offer to live in a tent on a friend’s property in return for harvesting her macadamia nuts.

· The Chairman of the Federal Reserve says we are having a global liquidity crisis and yet we can’t get enough interest on our savings to come close to covering current inflation which is estimated to be 5.8% in 2008. The best FDIC insured rates that we can find are 2.6%. It makes no sense to us that we can’t get higher interest for our cash if there really is a shortage of cash worldwide. We think there is actually huge deflation in the world as the easy credit that caused the surge in prices abruptly disappeared ending the high demand for products and services and draining cash from investments and retirement funds to pay for debt. We think the Federal Reserve is flooding the economy with low interest cash to avoid the economic contraction that comes with staggering deflation. As deflation accelerates over the next year, we think that interest rates will go up for the cash remaining in the soon to be smaller world economy. We are preserving as much cash as possible in FDIC insured accounts as we are not sure which banks will survive the current financial crisis.


· It makes no sense to us that there has not been more public outrage over the poison in our children’s toys and our food supply. Food poisoning has grown to be a worldwide disaster with no solution. Processed foods consist of ingredients from so many sources that the world’s governments seem unable or unwilling to ensure its safety. We are lucky to live in Hawaii where the growing season is 12 months long and we can buy most of our food directly from the farmers and fishermen. We believe that in the coming decades living in a place with access to fresh food, clean water, sunshine, and fresh
air will be prized for the health and wellness it brings.

Friday, October 17, 2008

THE BANANA DIET AND THE HAZARDS OF HARVESTING BANANAS


Bananas, always popular in Japan, are the rage right now as people claim they are losing fat by being on a Banana diet. The demand for bananas in Japan has resulted in a national shortage of the fruit in Japan.
The claim is that if you eat one banana with room temperature water in the morning it will boost your metabolism and curb your appetite all day.






Japan has created specialized holders to carry their precious bananas. Here is a “Hello Kitty” Banana holder.





In Hilo, Hawaii our rental house came with a back yard full of mature banana trees. Until we started living with them, we didn’t realize how little we knew about bananas.

Bananas aren’t trees; they are a type of grass and the trunk is a pseudo-stem or fake stem that grows upright as tall as 25 feet.

After the “tree” reaches full growth, a flower comes from the trunk on a drooping stem.




The flower sets fruit and then drops its purple petals one by one leaving behind a bunch of bananas. When the first banana in the bunch turns yellow, it is time to harvest them, though many growers harvest them while they are green. The banana tree dies after the bananas ripen. New baby banana trees or suckers sprout and replace the dead trees.






We discovered the hard way that unlike other fruit, one doesn’t just “pick” a bunch of bananas.



Our first banana harvesting experience began when our neighbor came over to tell us that one of our bunches was ready. Until that time we had no idea when we should pick the bananas and several bunches had clearly been left too long. Since the bananas she pointed out were dangling from one of the taller trees, the best approach seemed to be to use our new aluminum ladder tree to get high enough to cut down the fruit.

Standing on the highest step to get a grip on the bunch, I cut away at the cord with a sharp saw. In no time the thick cord was cut putting the full weight of the bananas on top of me and crushing the ladder underneath. I ended up in a heap on the ground next to the flattened ladder and the bananas landed on the other side of the wall landing with a thump into my neighbor’s back yard.




We didn’t know that a bunch of bananas can weigh 50-110 pounds, far exceeding the weight the little ladder could bear. Luckily landing on my butt, I had no injury from the fall.

Our neighbor graciously cut the bunch up into “hands” and distributed the bounty in the neighborhood.


Our second banana harvesting experience I felt more confident since we had asked around and found that the way to get the bunch of bananas off the tree was to lean it down rather than climbing up to the bananas. The second bunch was on a smaller tree so the method was tried as I misunderstood it. I cut the cord slowly so that the bunch leaned down to where I could get a good hold of it, but after a few cuts the banana bunch broke free and fell to the ground since they were way too heavy for me hold on to with one hand while cutting with the other. The saw, which was stuck in the cord, was sent hurtling into the air with a loud twang as the tree sprang back up when the bunch broke off. I dodged out of the way as the saw came crashing back to earth; fortunately the saw didn’t hit me or anyone else.

For the third attempt, I convinced a local farmer friend to assist me and show me how to harvest a bunch of bananas. He had already shown us how to maintain the bananas, cutting down the dead trunks and pulling off the dead leaves. The trunks are mostly water and incredibly heavy to move and cutting the trunks squirts a thick juice every direction covering anyone nearby. I learned from him that harvesting bananas is notoriously risky, even if you know what you are doing. Lots of things can go wrong when you are dealing with a forest of trees with 100 pounds of dead weight dangling from above. Farmers harvesting a bunch from one tree can have a bunch fall on them from another tree. He showed me how to harvest the bananas as a team; banana harvesting is a two person job. He showed me how cut notches on the banana tree trunk (at about chest height) each a little deeper than the next so that the whole tree slowly bends down horizontally allowing one person to hold onto the bunch as the other cuts the cord so it can be pulled off the tree.

There is an urban legend of weight loss that occurs just by living in Hawaii. We wonder if some of the weight loss is due to the effects of eating so many bananas. The fresh and plentiful bananas in Hawaii taste more like cream to us than fruit so we didn’t think of them as a diet food. We hope the Japanese are right that bananas actually help you lose weight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

MICRO SOLAR SYSTEM IN HAWAII


We designed a portable micro solar system to provide emergency backup electrical power if the local power system goes down. In Silicon Valley we had a small Honda gas-powered generator used for emergency backup power for our computers and refrigerator. Power outages in the Bay Area were common and we used the generator many times a year. Since we live in sunny Hawaii, instead of the foggy Bay area, and the cost of gas and electricity is substantially higher here, we decided to make a portable micro solar system to use as our back up power supply and get the added benefit of reducing our electric bills by using it to generate power for everyday use like fans and other appliances.

About 15 years ago we had a small solar system at a mountain cabin in Colorado that was similar in scale to our design, with one solar panel and two batteries. We used it to power compact florescent bulbs for light at night and it did a fine job. Although the costs have remained about the same, our newly designed system has about 300% more battery storage and the electric controls are vastly better. Battery and solar panel technology have made a quantum leap in the last 15 years!

One of the challenges we ran into while cobbling together the system was finding all the parts and figuring out how to assemble them. After collecting parts for over 6 months, we wondered if wiring them together would cause the batteries to explode or get us electrocuted in the process. We convinced our favorite brilliant mechanic friend to come over and show us how to hook the system up without getting killed and thanks to him, the system is now up and running.

With the current state of solar products, a person with a simple understanding of electricity cannot easily or safely build a solar system on their own and the design we are describing is experimental. Hopefully, a venture capitalist or company will fund the manufacturing of affordable, portable solar power systems vastly better than this one. We want a light weight portable solar system completely assembled and ready to go (as are gas and diesel home power systems today) so we can pick one up at Home Depot, take it out of the box, and get power from it immediately.

We strongly advise that you do not assemble a solar system without help from a licensed electrician. The improvements in batteries and solar panels mean there is much more electrical power in the system and a corresponding higher risk for injury.



The Micro Solar System

Here are the components of the system, their cost, and where we bought them.

At Hilo Propane and Gas we bought a Mitsubishi solar panel for $792;






a Morningstar Prostar-50 Solar Charge Controller for $260;








and two Trojan T-650 deep cycle 6 Volt batteries and a Series cable for $300.
The batteries are sitting on a water hose cart we bought for $65 at Home Depot in Hilo. Home Depot cut plywood to size for the batteries to sit on for $9.
The blue wire was also purchased there for $23.







At Solar Works in Ocean View we bought a Coleman 800 Watt Power Inverter for $135.




At Ace Hardware in Hilo we bought plastic wire connectors for $5.




It isn’t pretty, but the system works and the cost for everything was about $1500 including the cart to make the heavy batteries transportable.



Here is a wiring chart of the experimental system.
In this design, we have not solved how to ground the solar panel or power inverter (in case of a lighting strike). Grounds typically involve pounding a long copper rod into the ground to hook the grounding wire. That implementation would defeat the portability of the system and since we are on solid lava rock, it is not possible to pound a rod into the ground. The solar panel is large and heavy to move in and out each day and though the batteries are on a cart, they are so heavy it is difficult to push. And the connectors to the controller are difficult to work with as the solar power wire is spun so that it is a challenge to attach it to the controller.

We are interested in making improvements to the system like utilizing new battery types that are lighter making the system more portable. There are new types of solar panels available that are adaptable in size and shape. We are eager to hear about portable solar systems that others are working on.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ECONOMIC CRISIS IN HILO HAWAII

In Hilo, Hawaii, some people stayed up all weekend watching the never ending media coverage of the Wall Street bailout package. Those living on military retirement or other government pensions in Hilo don’t seem worried but people depending on self managed IRA retirements are becoming extremely upset as they watch their portfolio values endlessly drop.

Since Bush's declaraion of a global economic disaster last week, gasoline prices in Hilo have dropped and the cost of fruits and vegetables at Hilo’s farmer’s market have gone down. At Hilo’s fish market there is a surge in the supply high grade tuna, salmon and there seems to be a lot more fish.

The interest rates paid on CDs at the local banks in Hawaii have gone up and there has been no run on the banks here in Hilo. Unlike the people on the mainland impacted by their Washington Mutual credit cards no longer being accepted, in Hilo the economy is mostly cash based.

In the last three months tourism has dropped sharply across Hawaii. Figures being published for hotel occupancy rates across the State show drops of 26% to 40%. On the Big Island tourism brought in $11 billion last year so if this downturn continues it will mean $2.8 billion to $4.4 billion less income to Hawaii County or $19,000 to $30,000 per resident. A drop of this magnitude will result in dramatic changes to the local economy.

What is unclear is what the changes will be. We know of some changes already, such as less power consumption on the island. In a discussion with local electric company employees this past weekend they said power consumption is down due to less tourists using AC in their hotel rooms. The Hawaii tourism board supports hundreds of projects and groups to entertain tourists and we suspect the funding for these will be reduced.

As hotel and tourist related jobs disappear perhaps agriculture will again gain importance on the Big Island and employ those that will be laid off by this downturn in tourism. We’ve said before that the tourism business on the Big Island profits mainland hotel and power companies more than the local economy. Perhaps we are overly optimistic, but we think that as the people of Hawaii reinvent the local economy, even if the resulting economy is smaller, it could be more beneficial and offer a higher quality of life to the people that live here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

CONTINENT OF HAWAII


On US maps, North America is in the center of the world and Hawaii is shown as a small inset. Living in Hawaii, has put Hawaii in the center of our world and the Pacific Ocean in the center of our map.





The cover of a Japanese High school geography book depicts a map of the world from the Japanese perspective. The map centers on Japan and the Pacific Ocean and shows Hawaii as an equal to the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and America.
This map got us wondering about the physical size of Hawaii and why the Japanese would see it as so important.


Here are different ways of viewing Hawaii:

Hawaiian Surface Area

The land area (above water) of all the Hawaiian Islands put together is 6400 square miles (16,576 square km) making it the 47th US State in size. If the water within the Hawaiian Islands is included in the calculation, then Hawaii is the 43rd largest US State in size, larger than Massachusetts but smaller than Maryland. If you include the entire Hawaiian Ridge, which consists of the islands of Hawaii and the US Marine reserve that extends northwest to the Kure Atoll, then Hawaii consists of 140,000 square miles (362,598 square km) and would be the 4th largest US State behind California, but ahead of Montana.


Hawaiian Geological Formations

Hawaii is a part of a bigger entity known as the Hawaiian-Emperor seamo
unt chain which includes the Hawaiian Ridge and the Emperor Seamounts, a vast underwater mountain range containing over 80 identifiable volcanoes. It stretches over 3600 miles (5793.6 km) from the Aleutian Trench in the far northwest Pacific Ocean to the youngest volcano in the chain, Lo’ihi seamount which lies about 22 miles (35.4 km) from the Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii consists of a huge mountain range that spans the northern Pacific Ocean with 8 small islands representing the visible portion of the mountains. The Mejii seamount portion of the Emperor mountain range is the oldest in the range with an estimated age of 83 million years and here on the Big Island, at the other side of the chain, formation is still happening from the continuous lava flows.

Hawaii consists of the tallest and most massive mountains in the world. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth measured from base to summit with a total height of 33,475 feet (10,203 meters). The base of Mauna Kea on the floor of the Pacific Ocean is 19,678.5 feet (5,998 meters) below sea level and its summit is 13,796 feet (4,205 meters) above sea level. Mauna Loa, only 115 feet (35 meters) lower than Mauna Kea, is the most massive mountain on Earth spanning an area of 2,035 square miles (5,271 km2) with a volume of 19,000 cubic miles (80,000 cubic kilometers).



Hawaiian Global Weather Impact

Though ancient glaciers
no longer cover Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, snow still covers them in the winter. And despite Hawaii looking like tiny specks of land within a vast ocean, it impacts the ocean currents and wind patterns over much of the northern Pacific Ocean. The trade winds blow from the NE t
o the SW, from the Americas toward Asia, but the mountains on Hawaii create a wind block that splits the trade winds creating a zone of weak winds on the leeward side of the islands. This “wind wake” caused by Hawaii extends 1860 miles (3,000 km), the longest identified wind wake on earth. The unique ”wind wake” is considered the cause of an eastward “counter current” that brings warm water 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from the Asian coast to Hawaii. This warm water causes changes in the wind, weather, and marine life extending the Hawaii effect far into the western Pacific regions. In addition, current volcanic activity in Hawaii is affecting the ocean temperature and global weather.




Hawaiian Culture

Hawaii is the only US State not on the continent of North America and it has a different cultural history than the Americas. It is the only US State with its own language, a non-European language that is used widely in the State and its schools, businesses, and government. The language and culture are perpetuated through dance and ceremony and a way of life that is uniquely Hawaiian. Hawaii is the only State with a historic local monarchy and an official royal palace.

To those living on the American continent, these may seem quaint differences, but in the Polynesian and Asian cultures, these things are considered to be of great significance. From an Asian perspective, America is a far distance from Hawaii and people living in Hawaii are not considered to be Americans. The Japanese word for Americans is “Amerikajin”, but those that live in Hawaii, regardless of their race or nationality, are “Hawaiijin”.



The massive area, ancient and active geology, remote location, climatic impact, and culture make Hawaii feel more like a continent than a set of small islands. As newcomers we are just beginning to understand how the world views Hawaii and the people that live here and we have come to discover that it is a view far different than the mainland US.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HAWAII HOUSE KITS

House kits are a popular way to build houses in Hawaii as they solve many of the construction issues unique to Hawaii.

One of the problems when building a house in Hawaii is that key structural components and hardware shipped in from the mainland are hard to replace if they get broken or were missing from the primary shipping container. We met an owner builder who had a house kit shipped from Seattle in a Matson box. He calculated that it would save him $8000 over a kit bought in Hawaii. During construction, a key roof truss was damaged. The house construction was delayed 6 weeks while a replacement component was trucked from a lumber mill in Seattle, put into a container (all by itself), then shipped to Hawaii. That was not his only problem. When it was time to put the roof on, it turns out that the specialized nails were not included in the kit and were not available locally. He had to have them air freighted over from the mainland. He was really sorry he did not buy a kit locally. Hawaii house kits resolve the problem of long delays for parts from the mainland by having the parts and replacement parts stored locally. Broken or defective parts can be replaced quickly from local stocks.

Another challenge of building in Hawaii is getting skilled construction workers. Construction companies here can’t get labor from neighboring states (or countries) as they do on the mainland for residential construction projects. Highly skilled construction people are in short supply, as Hawaii is one of the favorite places for heads of major companies and wealthy movie producers from around the world to build vacation getaways. Whenever we find someone new to town with construction skills, it is not long before they are working full time on some multimillion dollar home project, making much more money than we could pay. Though many of the house kits require significant skills to construct, the crews on the island have built them many times before so they go up quickly without many unexpected problems or shortages of critical materials.

Security is a serious issue when building a house in Hawaii as theft of construction materials is very common. There is even a term for houses built with stolen materials; it is called a “found house” meaning “I found a little of it here and a little of it there”. This is a particularly difficult challenge if the house is being built in a remote area. Our building project in Ocean View ended when we were advised by several builders that before they would consider making an offer to build, a plan for the security of the materials would have to be worked out. Several ideas were proposed to resolve the issue. One idea was to get a trailer or camper so we could live there for the duration of construction. Another suggestion was to first build an Ohana, a small one bedroom house at the front of the property so it would be available for someone to live there to provide the needed security for the house when we were not there and to provide a place for us or workers to live during the construction. Kits help alleviate the security costs by reducing the construction time requiring less time and expense on providing security.

Reducing the construction time can also save you the cost of alternative housing during construction and the cost of gas if the crew is commuting from another area. Local contractors have a very high level of skill in building the popular house kit models and they can offer valuable ideas about how to configure a model to best meet your needs. For example, the model could be built with higher interior walls (9 foot ceilings instead of 8 foot ceilings) to get more air flow, the master bathroom could be expanded into the space of one of the bedrooms, and decking for the porch could be upgraded . The county building permits process, which can take a while, may go faster with a well known kit model since the county has seen and approved the same blueprints repeatedly. Some people with building skills build the kits themselves. A family from Alaska built an HPM kit house in about 90 days, during their normal winter stay away from Alaska. It is an exceptionally well built house even though they were not professionals in construction.

Locally designed house kits are often architected for Hawaii and its special climate and insect issues. The houses usually have long overhangs, large lanais, and good air flow.

Though we received a permit for an HPM house kit, the security issue convinced us that the time was not right for us to build. Building in a remote area of Hawaii means you have to be ready to spend the majority of your time there or have another person that is willing to be there. Though we feel the draw of being on acreage in Hawaii, we’ve lived on a remote on acreage in Texas in the past and after six months found ourselves constantly driving to town for food, friendships and entertainment. We are looking at areas to build in the Hilo area so someday we can have the best of living in Hilo and our own place. So far, renting is working out really well and keeping us from considering a move.

If you decide to build, then finding a great contractor is critical. Our advice is to find the company you’re going to use for your construction loan. They have contractors that they have worked with in the past and are usually happy to recommend the good ones. A construction loan requires regular inspections before each milestone payment is made which gives loan companies a great view of the better builders. Asking several mortgage companies for their contractor recommendations for a given area and project provides a way to find out who is highly thought of by lenders. We have worked with Tim Delozier at Amera Mortgage on building loans. We have found Tim and his staff very helpful and supportive through our challenges of building versus buying or in our case not-building in Hawaii .

Here are some House Kit links for Hawaii

Multi-facetted home kits are made in Oregon from cedar and shipped over in crates. We have been out to see these models in Puna and were very impressed with how they look and the people that we met that sell them. The house plans look even better to us after living here10 months because they are very open and airy. They are a round design which is easy to add a large porch.

Trojan Lumber in Hilo has added many new house model designs. Their Polynesian Series King model prices look very competitive. We have not met anyone who has built one of these so we are not sure how easy they are to build.

Kavana homes are very popular on the island because they will give you a price to build the house on your lot and you don’t have to have a contractor. We have seen these being built on many lots and the company has a model home near Hilo airport. But we have not met any one who has built one or had one built. The price looks very attractive but they are not our favorite designs because they look very “mainland”. The roof lines are short without large shaded porches and the windows are small. But the kits have price and convenience appeal.

HPM Hawaii house designs have been our favorite as they have a lot of Hawaii friendly designs and the price for materials is very reasonable. HPM keeps all the kit parts in stock; we haven’t heard of anyone having supply issues with their kits. The Lahula model is our favorite design as it has a great porch and an airy interior. We have seen these house plans finished, met people who have built them, and watched them being built. So far all reviews have been very good. Many contractors have extensive experience building this model which can speed up the project significantly.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

GETTING BACK INTO SHAPE AT 51

It seemed like an easy task; we would take a year to concentrate on getting fit. All we had to do was work out every day, eat the healthiest foods available, and restrict our calories to encourage weight loss.

When we started, I assumed that I would be at my ideal weight and totally fit within four months. I could have easily done it in that time when I was 40. But it is going much slower. The pounds are peeling off at rate of more like 2 pounds a month than my expected loss of 2 pounds a week. Though I am doing much easier work outs than I did in my early 40’s, I feel more worn out by them. For the first months I was so exhausted I couldn’t do much else during the day. I am much more sore from work outs than I ever remember being. (My internet research says exhaustion and pain are the primary reasons that most people in their 50s give up on their workouts before getting into shape.)

My first workouts this year, which mostly consisted of walking, met with severe pain from bunions on my feet. This inherited malady results in terrible foot pain and swelling from walking or standing too much at one time. My foot pain lead us to our daily routine of lap swimming and water aerobics. (Studies show that water aerobics is one of the best ways to get into shape and burn calories without impacting your joints or getting injuries.) Water aerobics is giving me a great upper body, abdominal, and leg workout all at the same time.

And not only that, one of the other people in the class is a retired mechanic, a brilliant mechanic. He has answered dozens of questions I have had for years about engines and carburetors.

We are in our own world as we talk about cars and motors and solar energy which makes the time pass quickly so that I hardly notice the work out. I have learned so much about engines and solar energy! We can work out even in the rain and being in the pool for an hour in the morning somehow keeps us cooler on the hot days.

After six months of concerted effort, we are seeing progress. Our goal is to not be overweight (BMI of 25 or less) and have healthy waist sizes (based on Drs Roizen and Oz waist size measurements in their book “You on a Diet”). We weigh in and measure our waist size weekly. Our weight and waists are very slowly, but steadily, shrinking.

Some of the progress I notice indirectly. For example, our lawn is on a fairly steep hill and mowing wore me out so much that I had to break it into 4 sections and mow them each on different days. Now I can mow it easily in 2 sections (maybe not that easily). A couple of weeks ago, we went to Kona and snorkeled at our favorite spot at Kahalu’u Beach park. After 30 minutes I am usually so tired that I am out of breath and have to sit on the beach a while to rest before going to the car. Last month we snorkeled for over an hour and we were not out of breath or tired after getting out. These are small victories that keep us motivated to continue as the year progresses.

I ask myself, “Is it worth it?” Half way through the year, my answer is, “More than I could have ever guessed”. During my 40’s extra pounds crept on and every year I felt heavier and less energy. My previous strategies for getting off the pounds no longer worked. These days it seems like everyone is over weight including young people. Now, as the pounds come off and my muscles get bigger, I notice that I am getting better service and more attention from people then before. It seems to be rare and more notable to be fit at 51 than fit at 40.

It suddenly feels really important as well. (I have read on the internet that the more muscle you have on your body the healthier that it makes your heart and that it enables older people to live longer without assistance.)

It is different getting fit and losing weight in Hawaii than it was back on the mainland. On the mainland it felt like I was just losing fat off my body and adding muscle, I would get thinner and stronger. In Hawaii it feels like the sun and diet of fresh fish and fruit is creating a new body, not just changing the body I have. When I look down at my tan legs, the skin looks and feels different, as does the skin on my arms and face.

The only thing I can think of is that it is the weather. Hilo weather is hot and yet not so hot that you have to sit in an air conditioned room. The lawn needs to be mowed 12 months of the year; the trees continually produce fruit; it is always growing season; the days never get shorter; it is always warm enough to swim and snorkel and take walks and long afternoon naps. It feels like my body is anew from a life of perpetually perfect summer days and eating fresh food without hydrogenated oils, dyes, hormones, and preservatives.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

SOLAR OVEN COOKING

We found a solar oven from Sun Ovens International that we hoped would be perfect for cooking in our tropical weather in Hilo, Hawaii.

Our hope was that a solar oven would allow us to cook most of our meals without electricity or propane, in other words, free cooking using the sun.

Global Sun Ovens are hard to get since the company is backlogged manufacturing them for African countries with the goal of saving trees and providing a solar method to pasteurize water.


We found one online at a lawn and pool supply shop in Virginia and convinced them to mail it to Hawaii. We paid $209.99 for the solar oven and $66.25 for postage.


Setting up the oven was easy. It popped out of the box and was quickly ready for use on our porch. The four reflective flaps can be pointed to the sun. The interior chamber is painted black to maximize the heat and covered by a glass door. A thermometer is easily visible through the glass cover to monitor the temperature inside.


We left the oven outside to cure the paint for a couple of days. We brought it in at night and when it looked like it might rain. The stove is very portable, folding into an easy to carry cube.

Figuring out how to actually cook something in the solar oven was another matter all together. The oven comes with no instructions and no web site recipe support. You are on your own to figure out how to harness the sun and convert digital temperature controlled recipes into recipes using analog temperatures that vary based on the time of day, clouds and wind.

The oven usually attains temperatures lower than standard cooking settings for most recipes in a regular oven (350 oF). Between 11AM and 2PM the air temperature in the solar oven chamber is about 270 oF and the temperature of the food and water (measured using an electronic cooking thermometer) was about 175 oF. We did notice that after using the oven many times, the temperature in the chamber seemed to get hotter. It is possible the days were just sunnier than the days during our initial cooking attempts.


Our first successful cooking project was an egg. After some searching we found a suitable pot that was non-reflective and dark colored.

After waiting for the oven to heat up, we put an egg into the pot which had been previously spayed with oil. We covered the pot and timed the cooking, checking after 3 minutes and again after 6 minutes.



After 6 minutes, the egg was very well cooked. It looked different than an egg cooked in water (poached) or fried. It was completely dry and white.


We had good luck cooking baked potatoes and rice. They don’t seem to mind how long they are in the oven. So if a cloud passes by and reduces the temperature, the potato and rice are not impacted other than taking longer.

We had no luck cooking pasta; it remained hard and then turned to mush. It is a challenge to cook food items that require boiling water for short cook times. We tried drying foods and as of yet haven’t figured out how to keep them from turning into inedible leather.

We used a non-reflective tea pot to cook water for tea. The maximum temperature we could get the water was 174 oF. This temperature pasteurizes water, but is not our usual method of using boiling water to make tea.
When the temperature refused to go higher, we poured it in a cup and made a great cup of tea using a tea bag. Not having boiling water didn’t seem to impact the flavor.


The success of the cooked egg and tea, gave us the confidence to try something a little grander. We mixed up some biscuit dough and popped it into the pot for 20 minutes. The results worked out well – though there was no browning, so we had to cut into it to determine if it was cooked. We then tried cooking a biscuit on an uncovered dish, and we were rewarded with a dryer version of the cooked biscuit.

We have found some challenges with the oven, like needing sun glasses when around it to keep from being blinded by glints of lights from the reflectors. And we need serious heat resistant gloves to keep from being burned while moving and shifting pots in the oven. We rely on testing and sticking a portable food thermometer into the food to determine if it is done. The food doesn’t always look the same as it does when done in an electric oven or stovetop.

We have many other food projects planned for our solar oven like peanut butter cookies, muffins, and bread. It is exciting to be able to cook these things during the heat of the day, without heating up the kitchen from the oven. Not to mention it is completely free!