Tuesday, November 25, 2008


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


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


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


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


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,


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.