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Saturday, November 28, 2015


Nearly forty years ago, I spent some time at the NASA Ames Research Center to work on the search for exoplanets (planets outside our solar system).  To quote from one of my Huffington Post articles more than six years ago:

In Chapter 4 of Simple Solutions for Humanity, I relate my experiences in this field, starting with Project Cyclops, and also Orion, a short stint I had at NASA's Ames Research Center. The question then was, are the planets in our solar system the only ones in the universe? I interacted then with Barney Oliver, Jack Billingham and Carl Sagan, and actually proposed a project to detect earth-sized planets. The concept rested on the principle that for life to occur, there needs to be an atmosphere, and starlight (sunlight) causes population inversion (a condition which induces lasing), meaning that spikes of monochromatic light can be detected, both proving that a planet exists and providing the gas composition. I took cues from Charles Townes, who had just moved from MIT to Cal-Berkeley and wrote on this subject in Science. NASA tossed my proposal aside and remarked that the Hubble Telescope would soon fly and will then accomplish this task. Well, earth-sized extrasolar planets are beyond the capability of Hubble.

So four decades later, where are we with respect to extrasolar planets (same as exoplanets)?  
  • Scientists have now found 2001 planets in 1267 star systems.
  • However, the Hubble (that's astronomer Edwin Hubble) Telescope finally was able to detect one almost a quarter century after I left NASA.  The first truly reliable observation came two decades after my proposal, although there is some growing support for the very first coming in 1988, an effort that did not use any Hubble data.
  • The Kepler (Johannes Kepler to the right) Space Observatory, launched around the time I published that HuffPo mentioned above, has found more than half of these planets.  However, the method used depends on planets diminishing the brilliance of the star during transit, so the concept is incredibly crude and works only because there are so many stars out there.
  • As starlight can be billions of times more brilliant than planetlight, only supermassive planets (larger than Jupiter) can be detected with current direct measurement techniques.
  • There is an assortment of techniques, but the transiting method of Kepler and the indirect analysis coming from star wobbles (that is, if a planet is revolving around a star, the shift in position of the star is mathematically modeled to predict that there must be a planet or two or more involved) are most favored.
Is space exploration a waste of money compared to our need for global climate change remediation, migrant support, war, education and so on?  Well, here are two analyses:

GDP in 2004Percent spent on space
USA11.8 trillion0.14%
Europe11.7 trillion0.03% (not inc. individual agencies)
Japan3.7 trillion0.05%
China7.3 trillion0.02%
Russia1.4 trillion0.06%
India3.3 trillion0.03%

It's also interesting to work out how much is spent per person:
PopulationSpace spending per person in 2005
USA0.3 billion$54
Europe0.6 billion$5.80 (not inc. indiv agencies)
Japan0.1 billion$18
China1.3 billion92c
Russia0.1 billion$9
India1.1 billion82c

In any progressive society, some small sum should be set aside for activities supporting art, basic science and a range of exploratory endeavors.  Looking at the larger picture, the world spends one-hundredth of 5 percent, or 0.05%, of the global domestic product on space exploration.  However, this includes Mars-related expenditures, which, to me, are grossly unnecessary, for there is no reason at this time to go to the Red Planet.  A millennium from now, or later, maybe, but not now.  Worse, in the USA, Congress about a quarter century ago passed some legislation that PROHIBITS the expenditure of the Federal budget on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was somewhat relaxed in 2003.  

In any case, while I continue to harbor a sour grapes attitude that NASA ignored my proposal to track extrasolar planet orbits utilizing the simple fact that planetary atmospheres emanate very fine wavelengths (that is, they lase) representing the gaseous composition--which would have accomplished this task sooner and cheaper, plus with the knowledge of the atmospheric composition--times have changed, for now know there are exoplanets, so the focus should shift to actually SEARCHING FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE.  

Until only around two decades ago, we thought there were only nine (and actually 8, for Pluto is now a plotoid) planets.  Now that we know, by extrapolation, there are probably a septillion or quadrillion (they both can be used for 10 to the 24th power) planets in our Universe, let us proceed towards something like what Carl Sagan and Jodie Foster produced in CONTACT:

Are the clues for eternal peace, fusion power and the Encyclopedia Galactica streaming in from civilizations billions of year ahead of us?

As it remains useful to pinpoint planets ideal for potential intelligent life, for "listening" would thus be more efficient, we have an opportunity to learn about the state-of-the-science through a public presentation:

At 7:30PM on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus Art Auditorium, you can interact with four of the top scholars in exoplanets:
  • Andrew Howard:  Institute for Astonomy, University of Hawaii
  • Nader Haghighipour:  Instute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii
  • Paul Kalas:  Adjunct Professor of Astronomy, University of California at Berkeley
  • Josh Winn:  Associate Professor of Physics, MIT

All the above is free if you come by bus or avoid parking on campus, for you will then be charged $6.


Friday, November 27, 2015


Jules Verne published Around the World in 80 Days in 1873.  You can purchase the Kindle edition for less than a dollar, the audio version for less than $2 and the original paperback for $3.60.

Mind you, Greek Pausanias in 100 AD had already written Around the World, and a friend, Jacques Arago in 1853 wrote something about going round the world.  Edmond Planchut released Around the World in a Hundred and Twenty Days in 1871 and William Perry Fogg (right) described in The Cleveland Leader his global journey, Round the World in 1872.  

It is also quite possible that Verne borrowed too liberally from American George Francis Train, who in 1870 did travel around the world, an expedition well covered by various newspapers.  He was unhappy that Verne stole his story, thereby becoming rich, purchasing a yacht and finding a mistress.  Verne brought it all together, and, apparently, legally.

In 1872 Train ran fot president of the USA.  He went on to organize a clipper ship line and formed the Union Pacific Railroad.  In 1990 Train began and ended his third around the world journey in 67 days from Tacoma, Washington.  He was accompanied by his cousin, George Pickering Bemis, who went on to become mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

In the early 1870's Verne (right) was in the military in a difficult war for France.  He was already writing, but was unsuccessful.  However, he read of the First Transcontinental Railroad in American and opening of the Suez Canal, both in 1869, among various other technological developments.  Thus began a career where Jules Verne is today considered to be the Father of Science Fiction, although 80 Days only dealt with the present.

Historically, in 1519 Ferdinand Magellan began his journey with five ships and 200 men, where his surviving crew (he died in the Philippines of a poisoned arrow) of only 18, took three years to become the first to circumnavigate our planet.

In 1889 Nellie Bly went around the world, met Verne along the way, and wrote a best seller, Around the World in 72 Days, with the Kindle version available for 99 cents.  Also:
  • James Willis Sayre of Seattle in 1903 used only public transportation to accomplish this task in a bit more than 54 days.
  • A few weeks before the stock market crash of 1929 the first Graf Zeppelin, 776 feet long (Boeing 747 is 250 feet in length) and hydrogen powered, took 21 days, 12 hours and 13 minutes (including stop times) beginning from Lakehurst Naval Air Station (where the Hindenburg crashed and burned in 1937) in New Jersey, returning on August 29, backed by William Randolph Hearst, where Hearst correspondent Lady Grace Drummond-Hay became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air.
  • Michael Palin of Monty Python in 1989 mimicked Vernes' book, beginning at the same Reform Club in London, getting to Victoria Station to board the Orient Express, using only technology available in 1873, for a television travelogue series.  It was not easy, running into an Italian railway strike (I've been caught in two of them), diarrhea and assorted other tribulations,  In Bombay he was a week behind Phileas Fogg, worsening to eleven days in Madras.  His traveling movie crew of five was collectively named Passepartout.  He did complete the journey in 79 days and 7 hours.
  • In 1999 Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones made the first non-stop balloon (right) trip in 19 days, 1 hour and 49 minutes, covering 26,600 miles.  Unfortunately, Piccard and his co-pilot, Andres Borschberg, on the Solar Impulse 2, which in March of this year left Abu Dhabi, is now stuck in Hawaii until April, and will not be breaking any speed records.
  • Four years ago a Boeing Dreamliner flew around the world through Dhaka, Pakistan (where it  remained for 2 hours for refueling) in 42 hours and 27 minutes.  But the total flight only went around 20,000 miles--the diameter of Earth is 24,901 miles.
  • A little more than three years ago, a trimaran, the Banque Populaire V (right above), took 45 days 43 minutes to earn the Jules Verne Trophy for sailing around the world, but the distance was only 24,857 miles.
  • Last year Muamer Yilmaz and Milan Bihlmann completed the challenge with no money as a charity campaign for education in Haiti, finishing in 79 days.
In 1961 Yuri Gargarin took one hour and 48 minutes to make one orbit around the planet, from blastoff to landing.  In low earth orbit, a spacenaut takes one hour and 28 minutes to circle the globe.  The International Space Station needs one hour and 33 minutes for a cycle.  The upshot of this all is that circumnavigation is now commonplace, and click on this to see who holds the world records for how.

The Jules Verne story begins in London at 8:45PM on Wednesday, 2 October 1972, which means the main character, Phileas Fogg (clearly, this must have been a salute to William Perry), had to be back 80 days later, or Saturday, 21 December 1872.  The wager was for an equivalent today of $12 million (Wikipedia says $1.6 million pounds, but that is wrong).  The shocker at the end is that Fogg miscalculated, and forgot that, when you go east around the world, you gain a day, so, in reality, he still had another 24 hours when he thought he had missed the 80-day deadline.  The following year there was already a play, which added more characters and new experiences. 

Then, of course, the Michael Todd 1954 production of Around the World in 80 Days, which only got 74% reviewers' rating and 59% from the audience.  At least that was better than the 31%/34% Rotten Tomatoes ratings of the 2004 version with Jackie Chan.  Add the three part 1989 TV miniseries (right) with Pierce Brosnan as Fogg.

The charm of these productions was the list of cameos:
  • 1954:  Robert Morley, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Charles Boyer, Evelyn Keyes, Jose Greco, Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Alan Mowbray, Cedric Hardwicke, Ronald Coleman, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, George Raft, Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich, John Carradine, Frank Sinatry, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, Andy Devine, Victor McLaglen, Glynis Johns, Hermione Gingold, Edward R. Murrow, etc.
  • 2004:  Arnold Schwarzenegger (just before he became governor of California), Kathy Bates, Owen and Luke Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Richard Branson, Will Forte, etc.
  • 1989:  Roddy McDdowell, Darren McGavin, Robert Morley, Lee Rremich, Jill St. John, Robert Wagner, Henry Gibson, Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee, John Mills, Pernell Roberts, James Sikking, John Carlin, etc.

In many ways, I would equate the 1956 movie with My Ultimate Global Adventure (MUGA) of 2013 and the 2004 film with my Global Around the World Adventure (GAWA) of 2015.  MUGA was a more enjoyable trip with no downsides.  Plus, it was all first class travel.  GAWA was business class and I went through an assortment of woes:  lost my wallet (which was found in half and hour, intact), lost a tooth, got food poisoning, lost two canes, faced cold temperatures and felt the best part of the journey was that I survived, returning to my cocoon, also known as 15 Craigside, reasonably well and relieved.

After a dozen around the world adventures (well, maybe only ten, for I'll need to verify how many someday), I might  have one more left, but this one on a ship.  Consult CRUISE CRITIC for details.

Crystal has no around the world itinerary, and would be too expensive anyway.  Cunard has three 120-night versions on the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2, starting from Southhampton, beginning at $20,000, all beginning the first week of January 2017.  Princess has two global cruises which start at $20,000, starting from Fort Lauderdale on January 3 and 20 of 2017, and stopping in Honolulu.  If I had a lot of money, the Regent Seven Seas leaves Miami on January 5, stops through Honolulu, but begins at $55,000.

All things considered, at this time, Holland America has the most convenient, beginning on 4 January 2017, taking 111 days from Fort Lauderdale, and has an inside cabin for $17,000/person.  An unobstructed ocean view starts at $25,000, which probably would be the desirable price.  However, you need two people.  So I'm now officially looking for an appropriate female who will pay her own way and share our room.  This ship stops through Hawaii, so it might be desirable to just board here, for an almost around the world cruise of 98 days.  More to come.


Thursday, November 26, 2015


Well, my photographic summary of my GAWA is completed today.  Two and a half years ago, when I reviewed My Ultimate Global Adventure, I related the experience to the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days.  Tomorrow I compare with the 2004 Jackie Chan film  Then, over the weekend, I'll bring you up to date on extrasolar planets, for a few interesting developments have occurred.  Four decades ago I worked at the NASA Ames Research Center on this subject.

GAWA 55:  I was picked up at Newark Liberty International Airport by Dr. Eric Takahashi, a medical doctor, my nephew.  I stayed with his family for two days.  Here, Matteo, Sofia Pearl, Marisol and Eric at their front porch:

GAWA 56:  We went to lunch at Vu, here Sofia with the now occupied One World Trade Center in the background.

GAWA 57:  On to Chicago and The Bean.

GAWA 58:  Chicago is known for steaks, and Morton's began here, so I had steak for lunch at Morton's.

GAWA 59.  There is something about the walk from one terminal to another at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.  For one, you will now and then notice the odor of barf at the end of the moving walkways.  Why there?  Well, as that's where it collects.

GAWA 60:  I then flew to Las Vegas, where I had dinner with Eric's parents and their #2 son, Wendell, here with KC.

GAWA 61:  Here the "new" Tropicana, with Excalibur across the street,

GAWA 62:  My brother Dan and I had dinner at Emeril's and went to see Raiding the Rock Vault.

GAWA 63:  My final stop was San Francisco, and here is the Transamerica building.

GAWA 64:  I spent my final day on the Stanford campus.  The bookstore had a special day, offering to alumni 25% off, so I bought a few articles of clothing.  Hoover Tower (below), named for President Herbert Hoover, known as a poor communicator who fueled trade wars and exacerbated the Depression.  Part of the Hoover Institution is housed in this structure.  This organization, actually, was created before Hoover became president.  In 1895 he was in the first graduating class with a degree in geology.  No matter what they say, the Hoover Institution is politically conservative and Republican in philosophy.  

Interestingly enough, though, the student body:
  • is mostly liberal
  • but has a Republican pocket funded by the Hoover Institution
  • 36% White
  • 18% Asian
  • 15% Hispanic
  •   6% African American

GAWA 65:  Finally, finally, my final day.  On my way to Honolulu, goodbye San Francisco.

Hurricane Sandra is now up to 130 MPH, but should weaken into a tropical storm by the time she makes landfall between Culiacan and Mazatlan:


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Two more parts to go:  Tauck European River Cruise and Back in the USA.  GAWA 39:  I boarded Tauck's MS Espirit, where we had dinner and then a short river cruise to see Budapest at night.  It was very chilly, but the view was phantasmagoric, magical.

GAWA 40:  We had a lecture and tour of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, a city smaller than Honolulu, but with a progressive high tech economy that was like a mini Silicon Valley.  Here some Fall colors:

GAWA 41:  Then on to Vienna, where I shared a Wienerschnitzel with some friends I made on this trip.

GAWA 42:  Sunset at Melk Abbey in Austria.

GAWA 43:  Lunch scene on the Blue Danube.

GAWA 44:  Sunset on the sun deck of the MS Espirit.

GAWA 45:  A view from my room of the banks of the Blue Danube River (actually, the river is just known as the Danube, and is the second longest in Europe to the Volga River).

GAWA 46:  My photo of the 1945 and 2015 courtroom at Nuremberg, where Nazi war criminals were judged.

GAWA 47:  The Face of Bamberg.

GAWA 48:  My Blue Bar Pigeon at the Christmas Market in Rothenburg.

GAWA 49:  Cablecar view of Rudisheim.

GAWA 50:  My Blue Bar giving a lecture in Cologne.

GAWA 51:  At the Romisch=Germanisches Museum, I noticed a tombstone from around the time of Jesus Christ.  I found it amazing that the alphabet we use today is exactly the same as Latin letters 2000 years ago.

GAWA 52:  You need to look very closely, but visible are five bridges over this Amsterdam canal.

GAWA #53:  At the final dinner on board the MS Espirit, Lareen and Lesley with Charlotte's leis.

GAWA 53:  Goodbye Amsterdam.

GAWA 54:  But first, my final meal on the MS Espirit, courtesy of Chef Siegfred, a saffron truffles risotto with foie gras:

Tomorrow, the final part of my Grand Around the World Adventure in pictures:  Back to the USA.

Tropical Storm Sandra, meandering westward, south of Mexico, has suddenly strengthened to 115 MPH, but should weaken back to tropical storm status on a path now projected to just miss Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja, and make landfall at Culiacan: