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Sunday, January 25, 2015

SOME GOOD NEWS THIS SUNDAY

I've noticed that a title with good news almost always draws fewer viewers.  On the other hand, natural disasters attract the most readers.  However, a curious thing  happened exactly a week ago, for my Sunday posting on The Merry Widow drew more than 5,000 pings, the first time this has happened, ever.  Not sure why.

Anyway:

  • The town of Pahoa still exists!  In fact, businesses are beginning to return.  It was three months ago that I published:  IS THIS THE END OF PAHOA?  A finger of lava was approaching the town, and extinction was imminent.  Amazingly enough, the flow continues to remain about half a mile from Highway 130.  What has happened is that lava cools and then hardens.  Thus, the front blocks up and tributaries break through upstream.  This can go on for a long to come.  There are two channels on Oceanic-Honolulu, 1128 and 128 that show two scenes of Pahoa 24/7, with continuous New Age music.  Quoting the USGS:  KÄ«lauea Volcano continues to erupt at its summit and within its East Rift Zone. Hawaii County Civil Defense this morning notes that the north-northeast advancing lobe of the June 27th lava flow remains active but still roughly 600 m (0.4 mi) from Highway 130 the area of the Pahoa Fire and Police Stations, with little significant advancement in recent days.  
          Here are two spectacular shots by Sean King, who lives in Pahoa, 
          and he says that's a moonbow below:

  • It was also just about three months ago when I posted on:  WHY ARE PEOPLE FREAKING OUT ABOUT EBOLA?  Nearly six years ago one of my Huffington Post articles was entitled: A PANDEMIC WORSE THAN THE SWINE FLU.  Basically, I both times felt that the pandemic was not the ailment itself, but the overreaction of the media.  The latest news of Ebola from the United Nations is that new cases in the three West African countries worst affected by the outbreak are declining.  There have been 21,296 cases thus far, with 8,429 deaths.  Schools are reopening and lifestyles are returning to normal.  While the UN and all its partners can take credit for checking this dangerous virus, the fact of the matter is that during the past year of this Ebola epidemic, from 250,000 to 500,000 died from the "simple" flu.
  • THEWEEDBLOG reports that recreational marijuana prices have dropped 40% in Washington. from a high of $40/gram in July of last year to $15/gram now.  This is still not cheap because you can only make two or three joints for each gram of pot, but you don't have to smoke the whole thing, which means you can get up to 6 highs for $15.  You might have heard as many as 100 MJ cigarettes, but that is from one ounce.  The price of weed in Colorado is all over the map, but a high quality cannabis averages less than $10/gram.  If you were planning to buy a few ounces and take it back with you home...don't.   In Amsterdam, a joint in a coffee shop costs $5, and you can ask for whatever strength you want. Search this blog site for my various experiences, but here is one from more than five years ago.  Scared the heck out of me, but magic truffles are an entirely different experience.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

CHAMPAGNE AND CAVIAR


CHAMPAGNE AND CAVIAR was the theme of the Chaine des Rotisseurs gathering last night at the Pacific Club in Honolulu.  Bear with me with these titles, but heading this effort were  Kathryn Nicholson, Bailli and Consul Societe, and Eric Leterc, Vice Conseiller Culinaire.  Eric is also the head chef at the Pacific Club, although no doubt there is a fancier title.  To preserve a modicum of privacy, I'll henceforth only use first names, but sitting next to me were Qi and John Michael...and mom Kiana and daughter Angel, pronounced "ahn-jell":


Note the ribbons and decorations, all representing some level of accomplishment and experience.  Many women, though, are adorned with a demure necklace, which is a lot lighter.  You can get no lower than a Chevalier with purple ribbons, and that would be me if I ever remembered to wear them.  I actually walked from 15 Craigside to the Pacific Club, only taking 20 minutes. but it was all downhill.  The Bus #4, which takes me to my center, has a stop across the street from this club, but it is kind of dark and, maybe, dangerous, so Angel dropped me off at the end in her BMW, earning three of my books.

We were served six kinds of Billecart-Salmon (BS) Champagne, going up to $106/bottle for the Blanc de Blanc Cru.  The company was founded in 1818 with the marriage of Nicholas Francois Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon.  In 1999 one of their champagnes won first place in the Champagne of the Millennium of 20th century champagnes, beating out 150 other houses.  A magnum of this Cuvee Nicholas-Francois Billecart 1959 sells for nearly $5,000.

The first course with a B-S Brut Reserve was a simple scrambled eggs and smoked trout roe:


But cuisine is not "simple" here.  That scrambled hen's egg was a gastronomical marvel, maybe the best taste of the night.  Next with a B-S Extra Brut, three types of oysters from the Pacific Northwest:  Steller Bay, Kumamoto and Fanny Bay:


This was spartanic, for the only accompaniment was a wedge of some citrus, as we were supposed to savor the delicate differences.  However, I frankly just don't like that foul fishy tang, not to speak of some guts, so I normally drown the oyster in some concoction of horse radish, catsup and hot sauce (shown to the left), not made available here.

Following, the highlight of the evening, Sturia Caviar:  Classic, Grand Chef and Oscietra


Sturia caviar comes from France.  Like wines, the terroir provides a distinctive flavor, and the color is lighter (the right spoon is the Oscietra).  Keep in mind that sturgeon have been around from 250 million years and has long outlasted the dinosaurs.  One ounce (also same as 30 grams) of Sturia Classic Oscietre costs around $80, but Amazon does not carry it. 

Also spelled Ossetra, this particular caviar is said to be second to Beluga in cost and now also comes from Israel.  Caviars from Amazon.com:
 The Beluga sturgeon is above, with the smaller Ossetra below:


Caviars are like wine or champagne.  I can't really tell which one is cheaper or more expensive.  I'd probably be perfectly satisfied with lumpfish caviar and salmon roe (both are a small fraction the cost of the standard caviar) if I had the usual garnishments (as to the right):  chopped onions and hardboiled egg, sour cream, capers and some sort of blini or cracker.  The biggest problem is, then, the high sodium content, for salt is used to preserve the roe.  To my surprise, though, my blood pressure the following morning was not high at all.

So on to our dinner, which was next served with a B-S Sous Bois, to quote, "a delicious rich and creamy fish, simply prepared with champagne and orange miso-melted leeks"


This Glacier "51" Patagonian Toothfish was spectacular, sitting on a truly yummy leek masterpiece, perhaps, again, the best item tonight.  If you've never before seen one of these, here is a Patagonian toothfish, which is found in deep waters throughout much of the world, and sometimes called a Chilean seabass.

You would have thought that was the highlight, but, no, then came surf and turf, a mini sterling silver terderoloin and King Crab Meru's cut (jumbo chunk from the largest section in each leg) with Bernaise (said to be the child of Hollandaise) sauce, plus B-S cuvee Elizabeth 2002:


The dessert, with a B-S Demi-Sec, was Dragon Fruit chardonnay, Lychee basil and Chocolate mint ice creams in a bowl of an edible crispy something:


This was also a work of art.

Another truly great Chaine experience.  Thank you Kathryn and Eric and Angel.

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Today, 15 Craigside had a beautiful Mauka rainbow:


Friday, January 23, 2015

MACK THE KNIFE

My favorite program on TV could well be Classic Arts Showcase (Channel 53 from 6-8AM in Honolulu.)  This morning I awoke to Lotte Lenya from Die Dreigroschenoper, or, Three Penny Opera (TPO, here is the complete 1 hour 57 minute 1931 film).

Of course I know the name and the musical show, but had no idea how she looked and sang, or about the play, which was composed by Kurt Weill, who married, divorced and remarried Lotte Lenya.  He also wrote September Song, from the 1938 Knickerbocker Holiday. here sung by Walter Huston.

The whole atmosphere of TPO is depressing, for it is based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, (full 1 hour 34 minute BBC 1963 performance), and opens with a street musician--Bertolt Brecht, who wrote the lyrics--singing Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (DMVMV, more popularly know these days as Mack the Knife, here by Bobby Darin).  That opening prologue is a ballad on murder, rape and more.  The Darin rendition, which even Frank Sinatra indicated was the definitive version, used a 1933 American re-write (although other sources say 1976):



Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight.

Here is Lotte Lenya singing DMVMV.  She sort of looks like Carol Burnett, and kind of sings like her, too.  Lenya won a Tony in 1956 for her same role as Jenny in an Off-Broadway version for  The Threepenny Opera, the only time a non-Broadway show won such an award.  The cast included Bea Arthur and John Astin.  Six years later she was nominated for an Academy Award in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).  If you are fans of Vivien Leigh, a young Warren Beatty and Cleo Laine, this is a nice clip.

So back to Mack the Knife, I close with some odd offerings:

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS FOR HUMANITY'S MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEMS: #2 Peace

My SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity begins in Chapter 1 with Ending Crime and War Forever.  I never quite provided a simple solution for war, but my very first Huffington Post article suggested a mechanism:


This was a period when he was still contending with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.  I followed with several more HuffPos on this general subject, one which deserves your click:



A little more than three years ago U.S. News and World Report's Debate Club featured nine specialists on Peace and War, eminent people like Congressman Ron Paul (left), who was a candidate for President at that time, and Congressman J. Randy Forbes (right), Chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Committee.    To quote the introduction:

About Debate Club

A meeting of the sharpest minds on the day's most important topics, Debate Club brings in the best arguments and lets readers decide which is the most persuasive. Read the arguments, then vote.
Paul's entry was voted #1, I came in second, with Forbes way down at #8.  

I'll keep this posting short and sweet and totally ignore the encyclopedic offerings of greater minds over the past few millennia on how to attain peace.  Let me instead merely quote from my debate offering:

In my original HuffPo piece, "Well, Barack, We Have a Problem..., "I suggested that President Barack Obama go to the next G8 summit and pronounce a Gorbachev-like bombshell: America will reduce defense spending by 10 percent this coming year, and will continue to slice 10 percent every year if you all do the same. In just a very few years, military spending will be minimal and the world will be at a higher level of peace forever.

This is the 10 percent simple solution to peace. Before you make any inane comments, click on my various postings to appreciate that Russia is getting feeble, and China will also become old before it gets rich. The United States will be supreme for a long time to come, and those war funds can better be applied to help our country, cure planet earth, and enhance the fate of humanity.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

FUTURE PATHWAYS FOR BATTERIES AND BIOFUELS

The state of commercial technology seems to be fermentation of biomass into ethanol and the lithium-ion battery.  Today, I will report on two possible future breakthroughs showing potential for significantly improving the application of biofuels and batteries.

First, a buzz about a microbe that is 14 times better than anything else.  This enzyme was announced in 2013, but not with so much fanfare.  Further, enzyme CelA might not actually be 14 times better.  Isolated from the left bacterium Caldicellosiruptor bescii, it is thermophilic (high temperature) and was in 1990 originally found in a geothermal heated pool in Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia.  But it is true that CelA is "much" more effective than the current workhorse, Cel7A.  Another plus is that the operation occurs at rather high fermentation temperatures, up to 197 F, thus placing the mixture closer to boiling point to separate the produced biofuel.  More so, there are signs that pre-treatment can be simplified with this particular enzyme.

It should be noted that this "discovery" is yet in the early research stage, and commercialization could well be a decade or more in the future.  And, finally, there is the matter of cost.  Methanol, for example, is cheapest when produced from natural gas.  To remove fossil fuels from the equation, methanol from gasification of biomass and catalysis is much quicker and cheaper than any fermentation technology.  Yet, if an enzyme can hasten the conversion ten times faster, that could be a game-changer.

Biofuels Digest had another article entitled, The 41 Weirdest Things Ever Used to Make Biofuels.    I won't go into vivid detail, you can click on that link and read the posting, but here are just a few feedstocks mentioned:  Prince Charles' leftover wine, liposuction fat, bunnies....  I might add that Caldicellulosinuptor bescii made this list.

I've been intrigued with a concept called the flow battery, which is similar to a fuel cell, where the electrolyte (ionic material) is not a solid, but a liquid, and stored outside the device.  Charging is rapid and the system is known for long lifetimes.  This concept seems ideal for utility applications, that is, storage and peaking. The negatives include the need for pumps, sensors and secondary vessels.  The energy densities also tend to be low.

Renewable Energy World reported on the use of Imergy's vanadium-flow battery storage system at a Slovenian Alps restaurant renowned for its donuts.  The return on investment seems attractive, so commercialization for specific applications might well already be here.  In fact, hundreds of these packages are already being used in  India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and, even Hawaii.


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