A Phone Book… Really?

A phonebook? Really?
The 2013 Hawaiian Telecom phonebook.
A phone book? Really? It was deposited on the lanai this weekend. It sat there for a while before we even deigned to pick it up. In this day of websites and smart phones why does a phone book still get printed. How many people actually make any use of a phone book? Can the huge amount of energy and paper used to print and distribute a phone book actually be justified? Do the advertisers who pay for the publication reasonably expect a payback?

I am old enough to remember when a phone book was actually useful. It was the way to locate businesses and the phone numbers of friends. That was a long time ago. At this point I can not remember when I last opened a phone book to accomplish anything useful, an internet search is faster and more informative. A search provides so much more than a phone number…. Business hours, a map to the location with directions if needed, reviews and more. Not to mention that the information is up to date, not printed once a year, a business can update their website as details change. Need to see tonight’s menu?

Phone books are an anachronism from another time, one that belongs in the past. As with any business there is a certain inertia, they will not die quickly. While it does appear that the white pages have properly died, someone needs to put a stake into the yellow pages.

For this household? It is straight into the recycle bin with the book. Unused, unlamented, existing only long enough to inspire a rant.

Creationist Astronomy

Astronomy is a science where human timescales become insignificant. It seems like everything we are watching takes millions or even billions of years to occur. To be sure, there are a few things that happen quickly, like supernovae, but those events are the exceptions. Everywhere we look we see the stately dance of stars and galaxies, the formation of worlds. The dance is spread across distances and times so vast that even those who study the universe have difficulty comprehending the sheer immensity involved. Stars and planets take hundreds of thousands of years to form, a galaxy collision may go on for millions of years.

M6 The Butterfly Cluster
M6, the Butterfly Cluster
And yet there is a significant portion of our fellow citizens who insist that the universe is only a few thousand years old. I encounter this belief all too often, a dogged insistence that everything was created just a few thousand years ago. There are variations on the theme, with differing numbers, but these beliefs generally accept that our universe and the Earth were formed within the last ten thousand years. Never mind we have literally mountains of evidence to the contrary, when that evidence clashes with worldviews instilled since birth by a religion and parents, a discouraging number of people ignore reality and cling to what they were taught. To admit otherwise would open up too many other dearly held beliefs to questioning, a truly uncomfortable challenge.

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Astronomy and Mauna Kea

A nice opinion piece by Chad Kalepa Baybayan in the local paper yesterday. He addresses the use of the summit of Mauna Kea for astronomy. There are some in the local community that object to the telescopes. While those very vocal opponents often grab the attention, they are by no means representative of the whole community. It is more complex than that, there are those in the Hawaiian community that support astronomy, and those opposed, and probably quite a few who are somewhere between those two positions.

Using the resources on Mauna Kea as a tool to serve and benefit the community through astronomy is consistent with the example of the adze quarry. To value astronomy and its work on Mauna Kea, you have to value the importance of “Ike,” knowledge, and its quest for a greater understanding of the universe we live in. – Chad Kalepa Baybayan, West Hawaii Today, April 19th, 2013

Give it a read!

Blogging for Effect

Can a “mere” blogger have a positive effect on their community? Many figures in authority or traditional media often denigrate the effort of bloggers and the new media. To be certain, in the constant noise of network traffic there is a great deal of trash and misinformation. But quality still rises above the chaff, a good effort can have an effect.

My case in point is Kauai blogger Joan Conrow and her blog KauaiEclectic. I have had Eclectic on my personal reading list for years, her Musings article series are great commentary of life and current issues, both local and global. She tells of morning walks in the rain, swimming with sea turtles, GMO’s and pesticide use, dying bees, the abuses of immigrant labor, and killing endangered species.

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TMT Receives Final Approval

By now you should have heard… The approval made national and international news. The Hawai’i state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) has granted final approval to the Conservation District Use Permit. This marks the end of the contested case hearing, essentially the final legal hurdle for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Rendering
An overhead view of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, credit TMT Observatory Corporation
This occurs after years of moving through the approval process including dozens of hearings, public meetings, lawsuits, and more. This should be the last major legal challenge that the project will face. If everything goes to plan construction should break ground about this time next year. In the meantime a number of other processes may start, including geotechnical work and local staffing.

It is in reading the decision that you can learn much about the process. The news articles rarely cover anything beyond superficial details. The legal documents cover the arguments against building TMT atop Mauna Kea in great detail. The decision just published includes a legal response to all of the issues raised including references to each applicable statute and precedents.

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TMT Permit Approved

The Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) for the Thirty Meter Telescope has been granted. The Hearing Officer’s report is published and available for reading. And it is interesting reading! Quite oddly I do enjoy reading these legal documents, I have learned much about the summit through the various documents like this.

TMT Rendering
An overhead view of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, credit TMT Observatory Corporation
The takeaway is that the petitioners in the contested case failed to prove their claims. Indeed, much of the report is quite critical to a number of claims made by the petitioners.

There are numerous claims that seem quite odd to anyone familiar with the summit, claims that were easily disproved during the investigative process. An “extensive fencing network”? What fences? Anyone who has visited the summit knows that there are no fences around the observatories at the summit. There are some small enclosures necessary to keep people safe around storage tanks and such. Well below the summit the VLBA antenna is enclosed for safety reasons, as is an electrical substation at Hale Pohaku.

49. Petitioners contend that a purported “subdivision” of land among the various existing observatories is evidenced by an “extensive fencing network.” Exhibit A-202 at 22. As was plain during the site visit, there is no “fencing network,” much less an “extensive” one, in the summit region of Mauna Kea.

Claims that the TMT would negatively impact the waters of Lake Waiau? The TMT is not located anywhere near the lake’s watershed. The petitioners engaged in legal mudslinging, throwing as many claims as possible at the case to see what would stick, a legal tactic I dislike immensely. Making such unfounded claims merely serves to discredit the petitioners, distracting the conversation away from the real issues involved in sharing the summit region.

466. Considering all of the evidence, including but not limited to the testimonies of Drs. Liu and Kauanui, and giving such evidence due weight, Petitioners have not offered reliable, probative, substantial, or credible evidence, scientific or otherwise, to suggest that the Project will be harmful to the health, safety, and welfare of native Hawaiians or anyone else.

There are reasonable cultural objections to the use of the mountain for astronomy. These are what must be addressed in this process. Can use of the summit be shared among the various parties? The report clearly comes to the conclusion that we can share the summit and that the presence of the new telescope can be minimized through proper measures.

101. Petitioners did not offer reliable, probative, substantial, and credible evidence, whether from expert or lay witnesses, that would support the conclusion that the TMT Project would cause substantial adverse impact to plants, aquatic life and wildlife, cultural, historic, and archaeological sites, minerals, recreational sites, geologic sites, scenic areas, ecologically significant areas, or watersheds.

There is a list of conditions, which seem quite reasonable… The staff must receive cultural and environmental education on the special nature of the summit of Mauna Kea. We do this at Keck, something I usually find quite interesting. They must use a completely enclosed waste water system. There must be an invasive species plan. Conditions around the construction site must be monitored, including arthropod populations, during construction and for two years afterwards. There is an extensive list that goes on from here…

e. The proposed land use, including buildings, structures, and
facilities, will be compatible with the locality and surrounding areas, appropriate
to the physical conditions and capabilities of the specific parcel or parcels

Will this be the end of the legal process? No. There is an additional hearing for the petitioners to take place before the Hearings Officer so that both sides may review the findings. It is also likely that at least one lawsuit will be filed in reaction to issuance of the CDUP. Unless there is some new legal issue these are unlikely to progress very far. The process so far has been quite exhaustive, any further legal action would simply be a rehashing of what we have already heard.

UFO over Mauna Kea? Not!

There is a battery of webcams atop Mauna Kea, a few of which feature good sensitivity and are useful after dark. The telescope operators depend on these cameras to evaluate conditions around the telescopes during observation. From the warm control rooms, they can see clouds overhead, or even fog blowing over the summit.

The imagery from the Mauna Kea cameras is publicly available, a very useful feature to those of us who live and work around the mountain. But there are others use this video, looking for things that those who install and operate the cameras did not intend.

A video showed up recently, purported to show a UFO maneuvering over Mauna Kea. The camera is again the CFHT Cloudcam, a very nice camera installed to give CFHT operators a good look at approaching weather. The high quality images of this camera have occasionally shown odd events in the sky. Back in June the camera recorded a strange expanding halo of light that was eventually linked to the launch of a Minuteman Missile from Vandenburg AFB.

Purported UFO video from the CFHT Cloudcam
I have embedded the latest video to the right…

OK, just a dot of light that appears then fades, not very impressive. Particularly interesting is that the dot of light does not move with respect to the camera. To me this suggests some nearby fixed source of light that entered the camera from another angle. Another reasonable possibility is a geostationary satellite glinting in the sun. Making this out to be a UFO is a stretch by any measure.

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Some Political Observations

Linda Lingle
Former governor and current US Senate candidate Linda Lingle address a crowd at the 2012 Waimea Candidate Forum
I attended the Waimea Candidate Forum yesterday, listening to candidates for local and national offices. A good event, getting to meet and hear what they had to say.

Present were US senate candidate Linda Lingle, state senate candidates Robert Greenwell and Malama Solomon, mayoral candidates Billy Kenoi and Harry Kim, as well as county council candidates Sonny Shimaoka and Margaret Wille.

I did put together a fairly lengthy writeup, but it does not really fit here on Darker View. You can find it posted over at Big Island Chronicle.

Meeting Sean Faircloth and Richard Dawkins

There is one thing about working at Keck, everyone seems to come here.

I have met a few interesting folks working on the mountain… Famous astronomers like Alex Filippenko and Andrea Ghez, one of my favorite SciFi authors David Brin. Politicians of all levels, county through federal, routinely visit the facility. Just wait a bit, they will come.

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins nice enough to pose with me for a quick photo despite the effects of jetlag and altitude.
This proved true again this week with visits from a pair of famous, infamous to some, visitors. Richard Dawkins is a British author and campaigner for science and reason in the public sphere. Sean Faircloth is an ex-politician, lawyer and eloquent speaker who has likewise taken up that torch. Knowing who was coming I had overstayed my usual shift on the summit to be around for an evening tour.

Unfortunately Richard was not in best form, his legendary wit and charm in short supply. I suspect a little too much travel combined with 13,600ft altitude was taking its toll, he was tired, but seemed to make the best of the tour. Sean on the other hand, was in fine form. The party was rounded out by Christopher Amos, Robin Cornwell, executive director for RDF and IfA astronomer Roy Gal. Our guests were full of questions about the facility and the work we were doing.

We toured the telescopes while the operators and astronomers were preparing for the night. It should have been no surprise that there were quite a few fans in this science centered place, even the visiting astronomers were fans, happy to pause and answer a few questions.

Dawkins Tour
Posing in front of Keck 2 are (right to left) Christopher Amos, Robin Cornwell, Roy Gal, Richard Dawkins and Sean Faircloth
Observing this night included the use of the Keck 1 AO laser and everyone was able to see the beam against a beautiful starry sky. I introduced Sniffen, one of our night attendants and laser spotters. Not that they could see his face, Sniffen was bundled to the eyes, comfortable in the spotter’s chair outside in the cold. The fact that we are mandated to use people to watch the sky for aircraft around the laser was an interesting subject of conversation.

It is always a bit odd meeting someone in person that you have known for years through electronic media. Having read their writings, seen the videos, you form a mental image of a person that may, or may not match who you meet. Personal interaction offers a chance to reconcile that mental image.

It was a pleasure to host a tour of Keck for guests such as these. People who tirelessly push back against the efforts of religious demagogues and extremists to control the path of our society.

Flying to the Islands

With a few flights back and forth to the mainland this month a few obsrvations have come to mind. One… I relly prefer to fly Alaskan Airlines to and from Hawaii.

A few reasons for this… There seems to be just a bit more room in the seats, my knees do not jam into the seat infront of me. The snacks are notably better, even if you have to pay a few bucks for them. The 737’s Alaska flys have bigger overhead bins and with fewer passengers on the smaller aircraft, they load and debark a lot faster.

The overall experience of flying on Alaska just comes off better. The prices are about the same. Allt things considered Alaska will be my choice flying to and from the islands, if I have a choice.