Cultural Misappropration

The Hawaiian islands are quite interesting in many respects. Here no single ethnicity has an outright majority. The history behind this makes for fascinating reading. The sugar industry created a need for agricultural labor that was the driving force resulting in the mass importation of several cultures, primarily Chinese, Japanese and Filipino, and to a lesser extent several others. In addition to the original Hawaiian inhabitants and later Americans immigrants the islands became quite culturally mixed.

Navigational Heiau
Upright stones of the navigational heiau north of Mahukona
The largest group now present are those of Asian decent making up 37% of the population. This is while Caucasians make up only 26% of the population and native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders represent 10% in total. The resultant cultural mix is something that many, including myself, enjoy about the islands. Throughout the year you are exposed to cultural ideas, language, the foods and festivals, of half a dozen cultures.

While there are many benefits of several coexisting cultures, there are issues as well. Hawaiʻi is in many ways ahead of much of the world. These cultures have, for the most part, learned to coexist in ways that much of the world is still struggling with. This is not to say that everything is perfect. Controversy has a way of revealing issues that otherwise often avoid exposure, and we have seen a bit of controversy as of late. There are existing issues that have long been present, but are avoided as they are neither simple nor easily resolved. It is no surprise that the issues have stemmed from the clash of cultures that have landed on these islands across the centuries.

It is the first arrivals here, the Hawaiians, that often see themselves as having lost the most with the arrival of so many immigrants from various other nations. The issues surrounding Mauna Kea have given Hawaiian activists a new rallying point and increased visibility that they have taken full advantage of to express their cause.

Continue reading “Cultural Misappropration”


Late in the evening when not ready for sleep, but too tired or relaxed for anything else… What to do? Often my answer is to browse through YouTube or Vimeo watching creative short videos. In these days of excellent video from every camera, powerful CGI and desktop editing software that anyone can afford and master, the limit on creativity in video is limitless, or at least limited only by one’s imagination and willingness to put in the substantial effort required to create the video. Thus creative short story videos abound… Many are just bad, a lot are fairly good, and a few a really quite good. The good ones? They not only feature good technical efforts and perhaps good acting, but ask troubling questions, things that make you think.

My favorite genre is usually science fiction. A good science fiction video (or book for that matter) asks uncomfortable questions about where our society is going, what are the implications of societal trends or technological innovations? How will our world change if current trends continue or some new technology disrupts the current order. Some simply critique current problems in an attempt to educate or change our society, the best look beyond to ask “What if?” You know that the video was good when you find yourself thinking about the video days later

One thing I do note is the abundance of post-apocalyptic videos. There are dozens upon dozens of them to be found, they seem to represent the majority of creative sci-fi shorts on YouTube. The causes of the apocalypse are varied and predictable… War, disease, famine or environmental collapse. Indeed the form of the apocalypse is often unimportant to the story. A ruined world, people struggling to survive with only fragments of technology, violence and brutality ruling the lives of the survivors. Often the message can be powerful in a well written and produced video. Sad stories set in the ruins of an almost recognizable world.

What I wonder about is the reason there are so many such videos? Is it that these videos are easy to produce and have such a wide range of possibilities to explore? The sets and costumes are easy, a ruined factory and a few wrecked automobiles often provide an easy backdrop for the action. Ragged clothing from a surplus store, well within the non-existent budget of an aspiring filmmaker or a film school project.

Or is it that there is a sense of pessimism that pervades today’s society, that when creative filmmakers look to the future they see only bleak possibilities?

It is this last thought that haunts me. So many look to the future and no longer see a limitless universe among the stars. Gone is the optimistic vision that formed the basis of shows like Star Trek or Lost in Space. I suspect that endless controversy and dire predictions over issues such as climate change, genetically modified organisms, and endless middle eastern wars has so taken root in our collective consciousness that it becomes very easy to imagine an apocalyptic future.

Questioning the Dogma

There is a pretty good article published on the Civil Beat website earlier this week. In it author Peter Apo questions many of the basic claims made by those protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The identity of the author is of particular relevance as Mr. Apo is Hawaiian and has served the state and community in various offices. He is currently a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, very much at the center of the controversy. I highly suggest reading the article.

An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with Mauna Loa in the background
The article hit home for me as I too have been confused about some of the claims I have heard. They just do not coincide with other information on the history of the mountain that I have studied over the years I have lived here. Since the controversy started I have been reading many of the old records, from the Kumulipo to the laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Yet I have many questions when modern claims seem to conflict with the records. Mr. Apo has obviously had the same questions, but is in a much better position to look hard at some of them and provide some evaluation.

It is in the comment section that the true divide in the community becomes apparent. What is disturbing to see are the truly nasty accusations flung at Mr. Apo in the comments. For questioning some of the anti-TMT movement’s basic claims, for asking valid questions, the abuse he receives is unrelenting.

Peter Apo is a sell out! How dare he question the “Traditions” of his own Kupuna? – Herbert Faima

Fuckin fake Hawaiian! – Ricky Keona Kauanui

Peter Apo the quintessential sellout and all around parasite. – Kama Ki

Fortunately there are as many positive comments, thanking Mr. Apo for publishing the article. Many of those commenting clearly understand that it took a good deal of courage to write the article, undoubtedly knowing what would occur. Seen in these comments is the split revealed in polling data, that even among the Hawaiian community opposition for the telescope is not a complete majority.

Good article, arigato Peter. We, the silent majority, decided to keep quiet as the protesters were getting violent and out of hand. Threats were made to individuals, families and businesses. Many business owners kept quiet so that no one would get hurt. – Russell Arikawa

I have to hand it to you, you’ve got the nads to speak what you feel is the truth. For that, you are to be commended. We should never be afraid of a discussion. I see that this discussion is quite healthy. Mahalo for helping light the fire of dialogue. – Tim Orden

I agree with the necessity to question dogma. In a controversy like this the facts become somewhat malleable. Often exaggeration or complete misinformation slips into the conversation, to be repeated so often that it becomes truth to those inclined to believe. In this I too must congratulate Mr. Apo in looking back to the old records to see what may have been added to the conversation, to get a little closer to the truth.

The Most Reviled of Scientific Instruments

Scientific instruments have a habit of presenting us with uncomfortable truths. Galileo’s telescopes showed that our solar system did not conform to the prevailing teachings of the day. The great particle accelerators show a complexity underlying reality that defies a simple explanation of the universe. Likewise an almost forgotten instrument sitting atop a volcano has shown that humans have altered our world in very damaging ways.

NOAA Mauna Loa Climate Observatory
The NOAA Mauna Loa Climate Lab in the light of dawn
I had driven to the top of Mauna Loa for a session of Geminid meteor watching and photography, joining Steve, a local photographer and friend for a cold, beautiful morning atop the mountain. As we were about to leave another friend drove past. Ben used to work with me at Keck and now tends the solar observatory adjacent to the NOAA climate laboratory. Looking at the sky and the drizzling fog that had rolled in with the dawn he noted that it would be a while before he could open the telescope. Instead he offered us a tour.

It was in the main building that we stopped to look at a little instrument parked rather oddly in the hall. Not much, a simple box with a few aluminum tubes and a bit of circuitry and wiring. It took me a moment to realize I was looking at a piece of scientific history. Here was the Scripps Carbon Dioxide Analyzer that has provided the data that has changed our relationship with our planet.

Continue reading “The Most Reviled of Scientific Instruments”

To Build a Clock

As I teenager I taught myself digital electronics. Working from the classic books of the day, mostly the TTL Cookbook, I built a succession of projects. Among these was my first clock. Unlike other projects, this clock was a kit from Jameco Electronics. It actually had a printed circuit board, a wooden case, and a red acrylic face. Not only did I get to solder a real circuit board for the first time, I learned every gate and flip-flop in the circuit. When I finished I knew how it worked.

A GPS observing clock or a bomb?
I have built a few more clocks over the years, sometimes with classic seven segment LED displays. The latest was a GPS clock built in the 1990’s to provide accurate time on my observing table beside the telescope in the night. To a nerd like me the glowing LED displays are simply cool, something about this red glow contains a quality missing in the slick color LCD display of my modern phone or tablet computer.

On Monday this week a teenage high school student was arrested and interrogated by police for bringing a digital clock of his own construction to school. Like any young budding engineer Ahmed Mohamed wanted to show off his creation. Unfortunately the closed minds of MacArthur High School in Irvine Texas only saw a Muslim student with a possible bomb. It is clear someone has been watching way too much Fox News.

The most poignant part to me is Ahmed being led out of the school in handcuffs wearing a NASA t-shirt. In those photos I saw myself, a nerd in High School, doing the same things, starting on a road that would eventually lead me to an engineering job on the world’s most powerful telescopes.

Digital Clock
A digital clock built by Ahmed Mohamed, photo released by the Irvine Texas police department
Fortunately the nationwide condemnation of the school administration and local police force has been swift and unforgiving. Social media has seized on this incident, the school’s Facebook page roiling with sharp criticism. Nationwide press articles have been equally unforgiving. Tech industry celebrities like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have shown their support. Ahmed has even received a tweet and an invitation from the president…

Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great. – Tweet by President Barack Obama

It is gratifying to see that the message of many of these comments is that a young person building an electronic project is something to be celebrated, not feared. We should be encouraging students to experiment, to build, to learn. True engineers start this way, exploring technology for themselves, the experience gained can not be taught in a classroom. In my career I have met and worked closely with dozens of engineers, I can tell which ones were tinkerers and makers before they started college, who build and create for the sheer joy of it.

Ahmed is not sure if he will return to school immediately and the family is consulting with attorneys. Police are currently holding the clock as evidence. Thirty years later I still have my first clock.

Absurd Inefficiency

A small box with my name upon it, sitting on the shelf in our shipping department for me to pick up. The procedure is simple… Grab the box and note your receipt on the clipboard hanging at the end of the shelf.

A ribbon cable, one of three in a shipment.
I have been awaiting this shipment for a while now, hoping to continue a project to build a new test fixture. But the shipment is not complete. The latest box contains three little bags, not what I am really hoping for.

What is it this time? I open the box, open one bag, take out the anitstatic bag within that and find… A ribbon cable.

I just have to sit back and stare at this in sheer disbelief.

The disbelief has been building for a week now as the boxes have appeared in our shipping department one by one. A single order, a pair of A/D units and accessories. I have now received four separate boxes, all delivered FedEx, and not received the actual A/D systems themselves, only the various accessories.

One box with three double bagged ribbon cables that weigh all of a few ounces each and are ten inches long. All of the accessories I have received in the four boxes could easily have fit in one box. The anti-static bag is even more unbelievable. These metallized mylar bags are not cheap. Why would you put one around a component that is totally immune to static damage? A ribbon cable with connectors at each end? To be static sensitive it would have to at least contain a semiconductor component of some sort. One transistor? Then you seal a poly bag around that? At least it was brown paper and not foam peanuts used to fill the rest of the box.

With this order National Instruments has by far topped the worst overpackaging I have seen to date. Quite something in the electronics industry where overpackaging is the norm. It used to be Digikey was the worst I had ever seen, but they have gotten much better over the last few years, shifting to all brown paper packaging aside from the plastic bag around the parts themselves.

How is it even possible to receive a small order in four separate FedEx shipments and not even get the primary thing you ordered? To Hawaiʻi? How can you construct a shipping system that inefficient and make any profit after paying the shipping bills? It is not like any of the accessories do me any good without the main units, no need to rush them. One box with everything would be quite acceptable.

Still waiting for the A/D units. Maybe tomorrow?

​The Future of Maunakea Rests in the Hands of Hawaii’s People

By Doug Simons and Hilton Lewis

Mauna Kea Summit
The summit of Mauna Kea, credit Ric Noyle
The international astronomical community has converged in Honolulu. The timing—in the midst of the controversy surrounding the construction of TMT on Maunakea—has motivated some who oppose TMT to engage these distinguished guests, hoping they will take a stand. Though well intended and keen to see a lasting, peaceful resolution, these visiting astronomers are not the solution to Hawaii’s longstanding issues. They will leave just a few short days from now, returning to distant countries, yet our challenges will persist. It is our responsibility—those of us who call Hawai‘i home and care deeply about the future of Maunakea—to come together, listen to each other, and find a new path forward.

The cultural, spiritual, historical, scientific, and political perspectives being discussed in our community today are the building blocks of resolution. Maunakea is a critically important site of tremendous tradition and strength for the people of Hawai‘i. One of those strengths is the fact that Maunakea is the foremost site for astronomical observation in the world, providing a significant fraction of the new knowledge of the universe available to all of humanity. The challenge before us, the people of Hawaii, is to come together to create a lasting, inclusive, and beautiful union of all of our strengths. We must find a holistic vision for Maunakea, as the pinnacle of our past and the beacon of hope for our future. The voices opposing TMT have given all of us the opportunity to create the next chapter in Hawaii’s history with Maunakea at its heart. Let us seize this moment and do this together.

Continue reading “​The Future of Maunakea Rests in the Hands of Hawaii’s People”

Three Facets of the Sacred

Regular readers may have noted that I have recently published three articles exploring the subject of the sacred mountain. Each article may have had a different subject, but all overlapped and intertwined. All three articles end with the same paragraph.

Ancient and Modern
A radio telescope of the Very Long Baseline Array stands in the background of an ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
All were started at the same time, I just kept having different lines of though while exploring the subject. I could not weave the result into a single article. In the end I separated the three posts into a trilogy…

Respecting the Sacred
Conflict of the Sacred
Using the Sacred

Mauna Kea is sacred to some, who believe that this place is pivotal, the piko of creation. Others believe that the telescopes are sacred, a testament to the finest aspirations of mankind, to learn and explore, to answer the great questions. It is a mistake, made by many in this controversy, to deny either of these views.

Using the Sacred

Much of the controversy that surrounds our mountain revolves around a few simple questions… Who defines what sacred means? What sacred means to me and what sacred means to you is often very different. Even within a group of adherents to a single faith the answer will often vary greatly. What can you and can you not do on a sacred site? Some believe that a sacred site should not be touched, or even entered. Others build great temples or shines over the site to which thousands or millions of people make a pilgrimage to visit.

Ancient and Modern
A radio telescope of the Very Long Baseline Array stands in the background of an ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
In this controversy many have insisted that the mountain is sacred, thus any use is desecration. Yet the ancient Hawaiians did use this place. They built ahu, they mined for the hard stone prized for making adzes, tools that built the great ocean going waʻa. Is the top five hundred feet of the mountain sacred, or all of it? Are all of the homes and farms that dot the flanks of Mauna Kea a desecration? There is no simple answer here. Anyone who claims otherwise is not being truthful.

The Temple of Mauna Kea differs from other temples because it was not created by man. Akua built it for man, to bring the heavens to man. – Kealoha Pisciotta

“To bring the heavens to man”, is this not what the great telescopes do? Are these great instruments of science an appropriate use for this place? This would not be a question if there were other places where the view of the universe as clear as Mauna Kea. But such places are rare, and none quite so good as this mountain. This one place is unique, particularly suited for studying the heavens. Thus the clash of culture and science has been defined upon this mountain.

Yes, Mauna Kea is sacred. It is sacred for the honor and opportunity it provides us. Yes, Mauna Kea warrants the highest level of cultural sensitivity, but it should be a cultural sensitivity that respects and celebrates exploration of the universe and that is totally consistent with the historical record of Hawaiians and their search for knowledge. – Peter Apo

Continue reading “Using the Sacred”

TMT Controversy Article Roundup

I have been writing quite a bit about the TMT controversy lately. This has had several effects… I have had many kind comments from people across the island and even the globe. I am grateful that some have found my writings useful. My website traffic has multiplied, with daily traffic up about five times normal. This and the large number of Facebook shares I have seen on some posts lets me know that I am not writing for the void, somebody is actually reading what I write. That is a little gratifying.

Summit and Winter Milky Way
The winter Milky Way over the summit of Mauna Kea
Why am I writing? People have asked me this and as I have realized, there is a good reason. Writing has become my way of thinking things through. In the process of composing a post I have to organize my thoughts, find references to back up my often faulty memory, find the words to express my feelings on the matter at hand. In the process of doing this I often find myself changing my own views on the subject. The skills of good writing, or in captivating oration, are the most challenging use of our language, and this language is the key to rational thought.

There is an art to composing a subject into a readable post, an art I am still a novice at. Maybe someday I will get better at it. Let me know if you have any suggestions on this.


Recent TMT posts…