Monday, November 30, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
I thought I would, today, though, initiate a review of crucial years. I will start with 1939, 70 years ago and two years before I was born.
1939 was a year when the Great Depression was finally being overcome. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped four points for the year to 150. Thanksgiving was moved ahead a week to lengthen the holiday shopping season. The average annual wage was $1730, gasoline cost 10 cents/gallon, a loaf of bread was 8 cents and a new car cost $700. That's a 1939 Ford on the right. Kind of looks like some of the models of today, doesn't it?
There is a general sense that Amelia Earhart flew into the Pacific War. Yes, she did, but Pearl Harbor did not happen until December of 1941, and she was declared dead in 1939. In Bombay, Gandhi began his fast (the prevailing remembrance is that this was initiated after WW2).
Nuclear fission was achieved by Otto Hahn, a German chemist. That's Otto on the left. He certainly looks like someone I know. (Hahn won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944.) In reaction, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, initiating the Manhattan Project (most think this did not begin until WW2 started). Hitler was beginning to conquer the world, with Shell Oil a strong supporter. Yes, Royal Dutch Shell infused considerable funds to support the Nazi Party and, it is reported, saved Hitler.
There was the New York World’s Fair. It has been said that this
was the best Expo of all time, as it portended the Wonderful World of the Future. Siam became Thailand. World War 2 began in Europe. The first jet plane was flown. Nylon stockings were first sold. Sigmund Freud died and Tina Turner was born.
The top three songs were: #1 “Over the Rainbow” (Judy Garland, and this song was recently selected as the most popular tune of all time), #2 “Moonlight Serenade” (Glenn Miller) and #3” God Bless American (Kate Smith)
The state of our society was reflected in the movies being produced that year. The top three grossing films were: #1 Gone With the Wind (which also was the Academy Award winner, with Vivien Leigh as Best Actress), #2 The Wizard of Oz (from which came “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) and #3 Ninotchka (where Greta Garbo starred in her first comedy, and laughed). Victor Fleming was named best director, for he was responsible for #1 and #2.
Those other films in this incredible year were: The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Babes in Arms, Beau Geste, Dark Victory, Dodge City, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Four Feathers, Goodbye Mr. Chips (Robert Donat won Best Actor), Gunga Din, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Intermezzo, Jamaica Inn, Jesse James, Love Affair, Mexicali Rose, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (and if you are disappointed with Congress today, see this 70 year old film), Of Mice and Men, Only Angels Have Wings, The Three Musketeers, The Women, Union Pacific, Wuthering Heights, and Young Mr. Lincoln.
The average cost of a movie was 23 cents and Technicolor was invented. CBS Television began to broadcast, and with the coming war, forever changed the landscape of entertainment.
Why, then, was 1939 so important? This is just a start. 1776 was certainly monumental, and so was 1945, or 1492 or 5 BC (birth of Jesus Christ) or 1439 (Gutenberg press) or 1991 (end of Cold War). 1939 is worthy of a first look because it was transitional and, frankly, I picked it because that was the best year for movies.
Super Typhoon Nida is still a potent 160 MPH, but is moving away from Guam and Japan.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 after Britain left the Persian Gulf. There are seven states (Bahrain and Qatar almost joined, but decided to go independent that same year) and you know of only two, as described below. It’s an Islamic country with hereditary leadership. The population is around 4.5 million, where in the 16-65 age group, there are 2.75 males to each female because 85% of the population are foreigners, mostly laborers. The GDP/capita is $42,275 and is ranked #3 by the CIA Factbook to Luxembourg and Equatorial Guinea (no, you don’t want to go there), but #12 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Abu Dhabi is the capital and one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. The city has a population of 2 million and is actually an island. It is said to be the richest city in the world. Each natural citizen is worth an average of $17 million. In 2008, this emirate announced a $15 billion clean energy and hydrogen program, a breakthrough, being the first major Arab commitment to solar energy. The first paved road came in 1961, but in 2011 will open the $200 million Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry.
Dubai, the other known emirate, has no personal, corporate nor sales tax, and, surprisingly, less than 6% of its revenues comes from oil and natural gas. The 9/11 twin World Trade Center towers had 110 floors, while the tallest current building (in Taiwan) has 101 floors at a height of 1671 feet. The recently competed Burj Dubai, to be occupied within two months, has 206 floors and is 2684 feet tall, more than a thousand feet higher than #2. The Burj was built at a cost of $4.1 billion. (Going back in history, the Great Pyramid of Giza, with a height of 455 feet, had the title for almost 4000 years, until around 1300 when the Lincoln Cathedral was built in England.) Samsung, from South Korea, which constructed the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei 101, handled the construction. To discourage competitors, Al Burj, on the Dubai Waterfront, has been proposed to be nearly 1000 feet taller. Looks like this skyscraper will now only be a memory.
It was a quarter century ago that I landed in Dubai, or was it Abu Dhabi, when Pan Am had aworld route. I did not see anything of consequence then, but, certainly, times have changed the landscape, and I look forward to returning to the United Arab Emirates in the Fall of 2010 and stay at the Burg Al Arab, while also venturing forth to Abu Dhabi to discuss plans for Masdar City, the presumed greenest city in the world to be readied for operation in about a decade. Now, who knows about even this adventure.
Dubai is not an independent country, chances are that the King or some organization in the UAE will bail them out. Dubai's debt to GDP ratio is 1.48, while that of the UAE is only 0.22. (Remember that the U.S.'s is about 1.0 and Japan is at 1.7.) With specific banking exceptions (Japan and the United Kingdom, plus, Citigroup of the U.S.), the world should weather this debt default problem.
Tropical Cyclone Nida is still at 150 MPH, but weakening and will move away from Japan.
The 126th nation just visit this site:
GABON POPULATION: 1,485,832
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|Only two autocratic presidents have ruled Gabon since independence from France in 1960. The current president of Gabon, El Hadj Omar BONGO Ondimba - one of the longest-serving heads of state in the world - has dominated the country's political scene for four decades. President BONGO introduced a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. However, allegations of electoral fraud during local elections in 2002-03 and the presidential elections in 2005 have exposed the weaknesses of formal political structures in Gabon. Gabon's political opposition remains weak, divided, and financially dependent on the current regime. Despite political conditions, a small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous and stable African countries.|
Remember how I indicated that China could run into problems attempting to exploit resources in Africa? Add Gabon to that list.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
In 1971, Bernard Oliver of Hewlett-Packard and John Billingham of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center (ARC) conducted a summer workshop, and the group picked 1.42 GHz, the spectral line caused by interstellar hydrogen, and 1.66 GHz, caused by hydroxyl ions, called the “Water Hole,” as the ideal portion of space to conduct the search. For one, water symbolized life, and two, that band was relatively quiet. There is now that transitional link, for Book 1 featured a chapter reporting on hydrogen. Maybe there is something about hydrogen that goes beyond mere future sustainable utility.
In 1972, Oliver and Billingham authored a NASA study proposing an array of one thousand 100-meter telescopic dishes to pick up television and radio signals from neighboring stars. Project Cyclops was projected to cost $10 billion (which is $50 billion in 2009 dollars), but was never seriously considered. At this point in history, the U.S. Congress was not aware, or cared, that NASA was doing SETI work.
As an assistant professor of engineering, I then teamed with the resident futurist at the University of Hawaii, James Dator, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, on “Earth 2020: Visions for Our Children’s Children,” where in the summer of ‘74 we brought to Hawaii noted lecturers of national stature in topics related to Planet Earth, the environment and space, and weekly filled a two thousand seat auditorium. We also conducted a workshop for forty or so secondary and university faculty.
Having been thusly enlightened with this course, many of them went on to become principals, a university president, a provost, and elected public officials. Professor Dator later gained fame as Secretary General, then President, of the World Futures Study Federation. Identical summer workshops were held at San Jose State University and San Diego State University, with the advanced planning final report prepared by faculty from all three workshops. There was also a lot of cross-fertilization with the leaders of Project Cyclops. The information and curricula we generated became the standard instructional tools for a large number of teachers in Hawaii and California in the growing field of environmental consciousness. Remember, this was more than a third of a century ago.
Having thus been exposed to the SETI field, in 1976 I joined 19 other university faculty members from across the nation at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, on Project Orion, to detect an extrasolar planet (or exoplanet, used interchangeably), that is, a planet revolving around another star, spearheaded, of course, by Oliver and Billingham. The first question asked of Cornell Professor Frank Drake was: “Extraterrestrial intelligence? How do you know there are even other planets outside our solar system?” So the faculty group was tasked to design a system to accomplish this feat. Why me? Well, I had an idea on how to do this, plus I long harbored visions that the cure for cancer and the solution to world peace might be beaming unto Planet Earth from advanced civilizations.
Originally, in the mid 1800’s, stars were classified by hotness (Class I for white and blue, down to Class IV for red and Class V). Early in the 1900’s, the Harvard classification was adopted, ranking stars by luminosity—O, B, A, F, G, K, and M—Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me.
F and G type suns seem best suited for planets. Our Sun is in the latter category, and the guess is that there is a 7% chance for a solar system, while the former is 1.3 to 1.5 solar masses, with a 10% chance of planets. Planets do not form in binary star systems, and have a higher probability of creation in galactic arms where heavy elements are located. There is a 20-30% chance towards the external portion of a galaxy, where we are located.
How does a planet form? Well, more and more, astronomers are seeing disks surrounding stars. Very simply, the dust agglomerates into planets. Thus, first find a planet, any planet. Then, find planets where life is possible. These sites should be:
o older than 3 billion years;
o with a star smaller than 1.5 times our Sun mass;
o having a stable location between galaxy spiral arms; and
o in a solar system which is singular, that is, without a binary star.
While most of the team went on to design an interferometric system to indirectly do the job, a few of us were allowed to pursue other directions. Indirect means to measure something else. That is, as you can’t see that extrasolar planet, the starlight being so intense relative to the reflection from the planet, measure the orbit wobble of the star, with the pattern mathematically being fitted for possible planets. Direct means somehow block out the starlight and see that extrasolar planet, or, better yet, actually measure and track something, anything, from the planet itself. I was the only one to take this latter option, for I like to see what I’m doing, and the optical spectrum was my choice.
That same previously mentioned (in Chapter 2) Charles Townes, who had won the Nobel Prize for the laser, and who will later be mentioned in Chapter 10 for being awarded the 2005 Templeton Prize (generally given to a noted scientist who has religious predilections), happened to just arrive at the University of California Berkeley from the Massachusetts Institute Technology in 1976, and had published a paper speculating that planetary atmospheres lased (that is, flashed a well-defined color like in a typical laser, representing the gaseous molecule undergoing this phenomenon).
As an aside, there is something karmic coupling the afterlife with SETI, as Science Digest, in its October 1985 issue on “The 20 Greatest Unanswered Questions of Science,” featured on its front cover, English-born and Princeton professor Freeman Dyson, the 2002 Templeton Prize awardee. Dyson was asked the question, “Are We Alone in the Universe?” He responded, “engaging in mathematical calculations on the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is not a worthwhile exercise. The universe may be crawling with life. The answer is: Wait and see.” Dyson had previously worked on a different Orion Project, but that was around 1960, and it had to do with using nuclear pulse propulsion for space-flight.
Anyway, returning to the discussion, a Jupiter-size planet cannot be seen revolving around a typical Sun-size star tens of light years away because the starlight is so much brighter by 5 to 10 orders of magnitude (meaning 10 to that power, or in the inverse, the light from an extrasolar planet is from 1/100,000 to 1/10,000,000,000, or one ten billionth that of the star). However, if the planetary atmosphere lased, then these spiked discrete frequencies, first, might well be detectable because you would know exactly which monochromatic colors to check (the lasing frequency of those gases that would be found in planetary atmospheres), thus, also, this would accordingly give the atmospheric composition. Conversely, if no lasing is detected, then that planet has no atmosphere, and can summarily be deleted from future consideration regarding the potential for harboring life. My PhD dissertation experience, which included building a tunable laser before you could purchase one, provided this spark of imagination. I went to see Professor Townes, and he graciously provided encouragement.
My final report to NASA was called “To See the Impossible Dream: the Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer (note the acronym, PAT),” with a Man from La Mancha symbol on the cover. I of course quoted Miguel de Cervantes:
To Man, the Don Quixote of the universe
May he succeed in his impossible dream.
At first I thought David Black, the NASA coordinator, reacted to my paper as being some kind of joke, but I now understand that optical searches were not company policy. That is, as it makes a lot more technical sense to measure the microwave spectrum for actual alien signals, NASA seemed wedded to focusing only on that particular technology, even for detecting extrasolar planets. Why microwave? These signals can travel further in space (less degradation) than optical ones.
Anyway, Black surmised that the Hubble Telescope would be soon to fly and find such exoplanets. Hubble was actually deployed 14 years later, and only in 2008 (32 years later) detected a planet orbiting a star. This telescope was serviced one final time later in 2009 for operation until 2013, when the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to be launched. Without an orbit reboost, the Hubble could plunge to Earth sometime soon after 2019. In any case, the prevailing convention then, as now, was to explore and receive the microwave band, so anything resembling optical searches did not meet the accepted requirements.
Either way, there is a timing concern, as, more and more, new commercial communications satellites will cloud the radio spectrum, especially in the range of the most promising detection channels. Thus, SETI will soon need to move into outer space if the focus is to continue traditional interferometry measurement techniques on Earth.
Two final bits about the ‘70’s, in 1975, the U.S. Congress published “The Possibility of Intelligent Life Elsewhere in the Universe.” In 1978, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) selected NASA’s SETI program for one of his famous Golden Fleece Awards. The following year found me in Washington, D.C. as U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga’s Special Assistant on Energy. Little did I know that while helping to solve our second energy crisis, one of my more interesting tasks would be related to SETI.
MOLDOVA POPULATION: 4,324,450
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|Formerly part of Romania, Moldova was incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Dniester River supporting the Slavic majority population, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, who have proclaimed a "Transnistria" republic. One of the poorest nations in Europe, Moldova became the first former Soviet state to elect a Communist as its president in 2001.|