Friday, February 27, 2009


Rumors of the Big Island ’s slow tourist season are rampant. The press is reporting a 26% drop in tourist arrivals to the Big Island in January compared to last January. We have heard that hotels in Waikoloa are at 20% capacity and cruise ships are arriving with very few passengers. On Tuesday night, as the NCL cruise ship left Hilo harbor, we counted only 37 lights of the 150 cabins that were visible; it was a very dark ship for this time of year which is normally high season.

A strange side effect of this year’s dismal tourist season is that it will have a positive impact on the Big Island ’s energy independence. HELCO has reported in years past that about 40% of all power consumption on the island is due to air conditioning in hotel rooms. Over the past year, the Big Island has had an influx of new solar power being generated from huge systems installed on the roofs of hotels, businesses, and schools. The combination of ACs turned off in hotel rooms and the added solar generated power on the grid makes it likely that the Big Island is setting a record for the percentage of renewable energy production. Every barrel of diesel fuel saved is good for the Big Island's economy as it means less money flowing off the island. HELCO does not release electric grid usage daily so it will be a while before we see the numbers.

An abundance of renewable energy added to the Big Island's power grid creates a more sustainable local economy and increases the opportunity for attracting new businesses. Data centers, for example, are prohibitively expensive if diesel fuel is used to generate the power. Abundant energy could bring clean industries interested in the island's unique location between the American and Asian continents. The Big Island has the potential of becoming a net exporter of energy to the more populated islands, like Oahu. Ultimately it may give the Big Island a way to build a sustainable economy and create jobs at a time when many of the world's economies are in jeopardy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In 2007 we decided to take a year off from the rat race in Silicon Valley. We had always dreamed of living in Hawaii to experience the laid back lifestyle, the warm days all year long, and have abundant fresh fish. We found a place to rent in Hilo that was perfect for relaxing without being too expensive.

One year has gone by and now it is time for us to get back to work. We have been reviewing our past year and here is our summary of what we learned:

* Not having a "job" was a lot more fun than we ever imagined. We woke up when we wanted, took daily swims, and had long naps on the couch. The feeling of no pressure to do anything, for the first time in our lives, was wonderful.

* Even though it is 2000 miles away, we were never able to completely cut ourselves off from mainland news. We were, and continue to be, bothered by the stock market crashing, the massive number of layoffs, and the global economy falling apart. This past year we watched our stock portfolio drop 70% and had to wait for the FDIC to cover some of our savings in banks that went broke. On the other hand, being in Hilo did make the news feel a long way away and kept us from being overly upset or getting depressed about the situation.

* We have found it to be a huge challenge to cut back on spending. Though we had carefully created a budget to minimize our spending and conserve our savings, some of our cut backs were unrealistic and we continue to find hidden expenses that surprise us. Downsizing spending is more of a process than a switch that can be just flipped. We have had to constantly rethink our views on what we need versus want and continue to find ways to cut back and reset our expectations.

* We are relieved that we didn't arrive in Hawaii and immediately buy or build a house. After renting in Hilo for 13 months we have learned about how expensive and time consuming it can be to maintain a house in the Hawaiian climate. And we have come to the conclusion that we can't afford as much house as we had originally planned.

* It has been hard to grapple with the reality of our future job prospects and our silicon-valley-tech career ending. But we feel rested and ready to reinvent ourselves. We wonder what we will end up doing as we consider our next adventure.

Most of all, we are very thankful to be settled in Hawaii and excited about our future in Hilo.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The age of high value engineering and manufacturing (where a group of engineers designed a high-tech product and multiplied the value with each product manufactured) that created high income jobs for engineers and operations in the US, is over. Manufacturing moved overseas where labor was plentiful and cheap. And that was so beneficial at cutting costs that engineering was moved overseas as well. The global financial crash has ended the demand for a new generation of high tech products, further eroding the demand for design jobs in the US. The days of high paying engineering jobs in the US appear to be ending.

We hear that the US is now in the information age and internet skills are highly valued. We know that some people have made a lot of money from the internet and “digital products.” But how many of these people are there really? Over the past 20 years, we've met hundreds of people wealthy from their engineering skills. We have yet to meet many people wealthy from the information age. All the social networks and information sites we use are free and it is unclear how these services will be profitable in the long run. We do however, still pay handsomely for our high tech products being manufactured in Asia.

So far, the information age economy doesn't look like it is going to replace the high paying engineering jobs the US has lost. We hope we are wrong, but we think that the jobs (with big salaries, stock options, and bonuses), that we enjoyed over the past decades, will be staying in Asia . Those high income jobs that moved overseas are now creating a critical mass of tech-savvy, entrepreneurial engineers in Asia that are likely to become the global technology leaders of the future. After our review of the products that are widely used in Japan today we could easily argue they are already ahead.

As we contemplate our future, we wonder what value old engineers like us, have in this post-US-tech economy. Our conclusion is that we need to learn new skills and new languages. Instead of FORTRAN, PL1, C++, and Java, we need to know how to converse in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Bahasa Malaysia . That way at least we can keep up with the new technologies being developed in Asia and have the potential to provide services. At a minimum having Asian language skills might get us a job in the tourist industry serving the growing number of wealthy Asians vacationing in the US. We are using our fear about this global economic crisis to motivate us to push through our substantial discomfort of learning new languages and growing new skills for an age where the US is no longer the global technology leader.