Archive for March, 2011

Time for you to go to the Science Fair

March 30th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

Wow. The Science Fair this week is better than ever, and just bowls me over. What a crowd, what community and political support, and what incredible kids. If you didn’t get there yet, you missed out. You can go on Wednesday, even though the main speeches were on Tuesday morning.

Bruce Anderson spoke. He’s the president of the Science Fair and its parent the Hawaii Academy of Science (organized in 1925). Governor Neil Abercrombie spoke and so did science entrepreneur Dr. Hank Wu. The incoming president of the HAS, Dr. Neal Atebara, a Science Fair alumnus himself, also spoke. He’s great.

The Science Fair defined Neal Atebara’s life. He won and winning gave him the confidence to know that he was capable of science, competition and excellence, and that opened personal doors for him. He became an opthamologist and has a busy practice in POB I, but he spends tons of time on the Fair.

Go. It’s at the Convention Center, five minutes away from anywhere in the CBD. The parking is only $5, and it’s worth lots more than that. The kids are unbelievable. First, they’re kids who have trained themselves to present their projects. That alone makes it a worthwhile experience. They try so hard and you really need to listen and engage. Ask them lots of questions, and they will answer you.

They are very smart and committed to science. It’s more than just a class or extra-curricular activity. They know it means a lot to win the Science Fair. It could redefine their lives, catapult them. So they really get into it, sometimes in small groups, which are delightful, but mostly alone, focused like lasers.

They’re so creative, and they are still young enough to think in a purely creative form. Some of their experiments are teenage autobiographical, but others are absolutely world class right up there with scientific thinking and discoveries in the best universities, and all in the passion of youth. Yes, it’s true. It’s hard for me to express how impressive some of them are. They talk, you are transfixed.

I met a couple of kids like that. You know they will succeed in ways few people do. They’re prodigies. I met a one young lady who had come from Taiwan. She was into geometry. She loved geometry. The exhibit behind her had incredibly complex geometric forms and huge algebraic expressions.

She wasn’t taking prisoners. She owned this work, and she could explain everything there, in drill down detail, without hesitation. An academic on the mainland knew her work and had named three new geometric shapes for her. She enjoys academic fame even in high school. I asked her where she would go to college, Harvard, Yale, MIT, what? All those seemed appropriate. She said no, she was going back to Taipei for college, then maybe to graduate schools back in the U.S.

Charming isn’t the word. Maybe more like spellbinding. She was one in a million, and also quite modest. The power of her intellect was tangible, and we all know that she will succeed on a global scale. What’s spellbinding about it is that she’s a local product, grown in the nutrition of our islands.

I stumbled into another kid who was working on delivery agents for chemotherapy drugs. Again, the chemistry on her exhibit was mind-boggling, but from looking at it you could tell what kind of special kid this was. When I asked her to present, she started shy but in a few minutes she was rattling off scientific concepts in a fire hydrant of brilliance at me.

I must say I couldn’t understand most of what she was saying, but I was smiling to my core, hearing about her work, no holds barred, being the recipient of her presentation. What a lovely experience. We teach them, but they teach us. Through these kids, we can extend our understanding of the universe, expand our consciousness, improve our society and our lives. Who is the greater beneficiary?

There were so many kids that were memorable. They lined the aisles of the Fair and they turned your head as you walked through, surrounding you with a gauntlet of science and achievement beyond their years. I was taking video of these interactions, and also of the interviews I had with the officials, the Science Fair judges and celebrity judges and friends who came around this morning.

All of us were participating in this special phenomenon, a kind of reunion, bathed joyfully in the light of their ardor, grace and engagement, with so many gifts and surprises. We were all so lucky to be there. And I have the tape to prove it. I’ll make an OC16 program out of it in a week or two. You’ll see.

And that’s what gets to me about lots of these kids. They are the products of Hawaii’s society. Their parents, teachers, mentors and friends help them, uplift them to new levels of personal excellence and life changing self-confidence. So while we criticize the institutions of DOE and all that, remember there are lots of kids here that are downright unbelievable.

Maybe it’s the water or the air in Hawaii but more likely the special social island diversity thing we have. It’s the same thing that made Barack Obama a global citizen. It’s something specially Hawaii and precious. Whatever it is, we have it still. Now we have to bottle it and make it work on a larger scale.

We have to have more kids reach these levels. We know they can. They Science Fair shows us all things, great things, are possible for Hawaii. Some 650 kids from every corner of the state presented the results of their scientific efforts, but why not every kid in every school? Science can be, should be, for everyone, as in China. It would help them, and us, and Hawaii. A great state is built on great science.

It’s always a surprise to go to the Science Fair and see these excellent kids and this process. Let’s make the Science Fair bigger. Let’s have it permeate the system and the community. We need to fund it again, like we did until we suddenly stopped in 2010. It’s a great collaboration between the schools, the parents and academia. We should expand it to every school and kid, to let them see and reach their true potential.

You should go, Wednesday maybe, and see what I mean. You’ll have shock and awe. You’ll feel the power. The awards will be given on Wednesday evening. You’ll be delighted and surprised and you’ll want every single kid to succeed and do it more. You’ll find appreciation for those who help them, and you’ll feel good about their parents. You’ll find new faith in Hawaii, and about our lives together in these islands. They are us and we are them. Go, partake in the phenomenon - it's medicinal.

I so look forward to the end of all this recession and austerity, since then, hopefully, the legislature will remember its duty to provide funding for this magnificent organization with such a big heart. Its future is their future and that of course is our future.

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The undersea cable bill should pass. Period.

March 21st, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

SB367 is necessary to build the undersea cable. Without it, the reality is that the cable won’t get done. It’s only too bad that the cable wasn’t built three years ago, when Castle & Cooke was prepared to build the cable by itself.

I wrote a piece supporting the undersea cable last year. For reasons not clear, the Friends of Lanai have since put me on the mailing list for their “newsletter.” The newsletter, if I may say so, is very polished. It makes you wonder who’s really writing and behind it, and perhaps more important, who’s reading it.

The bill cleared the Senate and crossed over to the House. It proposes to set up a regulatory mechanism for HECO to issue an RFP for an interisland cable developer. The developer would be selected by HECO with input from DBEDT.

That developer would need to obtain approvals (a Certificate of Convenience and Public Necessity) from the PUC, for which the PUC would have to consider, among other things, whether a power purchase agreement is in place between HECO and the wind developers from Lanai and possibly Molokai. If the PUC approves, the developer would become a public utility, and ratepayers would pay for the cable through capacity payments to that developer.

It’s a well-thought out bill, since it removes DBEDT as the lead organization (DBEDT was probably not a good choice in the first place), sets up a method to finance the cable, and removes uncertainty and therefore investor risk for the project. In short, the bill makes it possible for the undersea cable to be built.

On March 11th, the newsletter happily advised us that “Almost sixty individuals and/or organizations submitted testimony on SB367 -- HECO’s premature push to pass on recovery of all costs of the proposed undersea cable to ratepayers. All but three, (HECO, DBEDT, and the State’s Consumer “Advocate”) opposed the bill!” If true, what does that tell us?

It tells us only that the Friends of Lanai got 60 people to sign form letters. Do you think they know the technology of the grid or the cable? No. This is only an expression of long-range NIMBY, that is, I don’t want anything in my back yard that benefits anyone who is not in my back yard, even if it also benefits me – a concept diametrically opposed to any sense of aloha or collaboration.

The Friends of Lanai complain that under the bill the ratepayers will have to pay for the cable. That argument is specious. Of course, one way or the other the ratepayers will have to pay those costs, including updates to the grid and the cable. Who do they think will pay for those things – the man in the moon?

Assuming the newsletter comment is true, you may ask why is it that only HECO, DBEDT and the Consumer Advocate testify in favor of the bill. Where are the people who want a statewide grid? Where are the wind companies? Where are the construction workers? Where is the public who won’t have to send $7 billion offshore? Where are Oahu people who will benefit? Where are the other 3,000 Lanai people? Does this mean they don’t want the cable? No.

I’m concerned that the cognizant committees might take their absence as indicative of a lack of support, which not the case at all. The people who don’t come to these hearings are the silent majority. They are busy working at their jobs. They don’t know and aren’t thinking about what this project will do for them – they leave that to government. Where Friends of Lanai is an activist organization working hard to oppose this project, there is no countervailing group working hard to oppose the activists, unless you count the Consumer Advocate, who is in fact supposed to represent the public in such matters.

Unfortunately, there is no “Friends of HECO” or “Friends of DBEDT” or even “Friends of the Consumer Advocate.” None of these organizations are sending countervailing newsletter to oppose the newsletters from the Friends of Lanai. In fact, there are a lot of us who support the cable and want to see the bill passed so we can get on with state-wide clean energy. We don’t want that initiative get stuck in the mud because of this campaign by the Friends.

If the cost of fuel were to increase (and it is) and an increase in utility rates were put to the public for a vote, many people would vociferously vote against the increase. But that’s not dispositive. They would be driven by self-interest, and the fact remains that to pay the increased costs we need to increase the rates, and if we don’t do that soon enough our state won’t have any power.

This is not the kind of issue you put to a popular vote. To avoid a collapse of the system, you leave such decisions to the government agencies that regulate the utility companies. If they collectively think an increase is appropriate, then so be it. Many people, if they had a chance, would always oppose any increase. The appearance of the 60 Lanaians against a cable that will serve the rest of the state is not probative. If the state needs the cable, we all need it, and that’s that. The welfare of the state cannot be held hostage by an activist minority.

I can forgive people for not wanting increases, since developing a renewables grid is more complex than most of us can understand. That’s what we have government for. In any island state, we should not permit NIMBY to determine “environment v. progress” issues. We can’t let a few self-interested individuals ruin it for the majority. Their views should be disregarded. We need electricity to run our society, and we need wind and a statewide grid to generate that electricity, so let’s stop acting like crabs and let the authorities do their job.

Anyone have a better idea? Like candles, maybe?

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We should give thanks for the pass on the Tsunami

March 13th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

There is nothing much good about the tsunami. It’s a continuing tragedy and a long way to the bright side. What's happened in Japan is terrible news. Of course, it will teach us about tsunamis and Japan and the strength of the Japanese people. But it should teach us about other things, too.

For most, it was the Tsunami Show 24 by 7. We watch it and get blown away, ultimately becoming desensitized as the images emboss themselves onto our memories like the Twin Towers, making us all experts in disaster and the irony of meltdown, in Japan of all places.

I saw a CNN piece with an Italian commentator on video from NHK and an overlay in Mandarin. In times of disaster, the media goes global. That kind of coming together is a story in itself. But while the media and its devotees sympathize with the victims, most people are remote and go on just as before.

Yes, we are finding that we did have damage in Hawaii - less than our hurricanes but more than any tsunami since Hilo. Last Thursday night, we found a new fear, a realization that if we ever took a significant wave on the south side of Oahu it would wreck the state in a few seconds. Remember too that Hawaii, not unlike Japan, is in an area that does have regular earthquakes.

To their credit, the Japanese have been relatively prepared. Are we? Everything we need as a community, including utilities, water, communications, shopping, transportation, food, is near the ocean. We’d be busted and stay busted for months until someone, not sure who, could get things going again. Filing the bathtub and running down for gas and toilet paper won’t help at all.

Although it’s clear that need to do something to protect our state from disasters like this, there are other disasters happening more gradually. We’re already in climate change and sea level rise. As an island state, we can’t afford to ignore that and we should be doing something about it. Some tsunamis are the slow kind, like a frog boiling in the pot, but no less destructive. Hawaii is in the midst of a number of gradual sea change crises, starting with the economy. The message is clear – we could be boiled too, so mind the future, Hawaii.

The Japanese won’t be back for carefree vacations any time soon. They have their work to do at home. Our hearts go out to them, but our beaches will be bare. The lesson is that a disaster like this, anywhere, could affect our tourism mono-economy any time. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to avoid that sharp stick and diversify our economy already? Next time it could be much worse.

Actually, we may not have seen the worst of it. The Japan tourists will slow down right away and we’ll feel that. But the destruction in Japan also suggests that its economy will go off the side. If that happens, there will be economic implications all over Asia and the world. This could trigger another global slowdown. How do you think that would work on our beaches?

This again points out the extraordinary risks in a mono-economy. How can Hawaii, which thinks of itself as a modern state, continue with only one industry? How many cities on the mainland have only tourism? Just as we’ve relegated ourselves to oil as a single source fuel we've somehow relegated ourselves to tourism as a single source economy. That’s crazy.

If it wasn't clear before it should be now - we can’t afford to continue with our heads in the sand. We had a pass this time, and thank goodness for that. Next time we may not have a pass, and our infrastructure, economy and way of life, even our lives, could be lost. We could relive the fate of Japan or New Orleans. Are we to sit blinded in the headlights waiting for this to happen?

That the waves came light on our shores last week is no guarantee they won’t be back with a vengeance next week. The biggest lesson of all is that complacency is a really bad plan.

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Radio is alive and well at KGU

March 8th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

Salem Media is a national radio broadcasting company, with a branch in Hawaii. The Hawaii branch broadcasts seven radio stations. Jeff Coelho, former City Managing Director, runs it. He’s been in radio for more than 40 years. He’s a pro who lives and breathes radio and radio in and for our community.

Salem recently acquired KGU 760AM to include in its array of stations. Good move. KGU is the only three letter call sign left in the state. It goes back to 1922, and has a rich history. Remember that the Japanese fighter planes that attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 used the KGU signal to home in on Oahu.

KGU has now been deployed to do business talk shows Monday through Friday drive time 5-6 p.m. What a great idea, Salem. With one print newspaper and logjam traffic, you can bet there are lots of people who will be locked on talk radio going home. And KGU will be offering some great talk radio.

They approached Jeff Davis, the Solar Guy, who had a show on Saturday morning with 1080AM, and they asked him to take all five weekday drive times on KGU. He did, and set up a daily series called Hawaii’s Tomorrow. This includes Hawaii’s Energy Tomorrow on Mondays and Fridays Norm Baker of the Aloha United Way on Tuesdays, ThinkTech on Wednesdays and Sean Costello on Thursdays.

Davis is a feisty and fearless radio host with a huge rolodex and impressive ability to get guests at all levels of the food chain. Radio is a calling for him. He has never been happier or more challenged. This builds his audience and credibility as a renewables guru and gives him an opportunity to cross promote with the other shows. Something every drive time for the discerning talk show listener stuck in traffic.

Tuesday’s Baker is a very good host. He’s a truly nice man with an enormous interest and empathy for Hawaii’s social safety net. Through life at Aloha United Way, he’s also got a huge rolodex for people and memorable stories. He’s not experienced in radio, but he’s a natural. We have great expectations for him on Hawaii’s Tomorrow. He covers a special slice of life in the Islands, one we need to know about.

Wednesday is ThinkTech day. ThinkTech has created a four week rotation of shows, from Hawaii Business Talk hosted by Keith Agena to TV and video producer Jason Suapaia to marketing consultant David Ciano to community activist Alan Okami to Asia in Review hosted by old Asia hand David Day. All are committed to being timely, topical and creative. All the hosts are dedicated to close engagements with their guests, and all striving to come up with ideas fresh on the air that you’ve never heard before.

The support staff at Salem is a picture of energy, competence and good nature, from general manager Jeff Coelho to operations manager Jack Waters to creative consultant Wendell Yamada to studio ops and audio engineer Rolly Abarca. What a great team, and great to work with.

Hawaii’s Tomorrow is a month old and a work in progress, where everyone involved is excited and optimistic on what will happen. They all want to give their listeners an unforgettable radio experience, to entertain and educate everyone in earshot, to answer any question and improve the QOL of everyone in the room. Although it’s commercial radio, no question that it’s also dedicated to the greater good.

This is such a trip that we made a movie about it. You can check the movie out this Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on ThinkTech on OC16. It’ll play on OC16 several times in the week to follow. Check to find the dates and times. We’ll also take video of some of the shows and post them on

And, of course, you can listen to Hawaii’s Tomorrow on 760AM KGU, any Monday through Friday from 5-6 p.m. You can also catch Hawaii’s Tomorrow on, where it’s streamed live.

Yes, radio is alive and well in Hawaii, and it’s a great medium to educate and excite people about events and issues in Hawaii. Radio is there when you can’t watch TV and even when you can. It’s an intimate medium, a friend that speaks to you directly, personally. You can hear the breathing, and it helps you understand. You can feel it, touch it, and even somehow see it. You don’t get that on any other media.

Try it and you’ll see what I mean. Hawaii’s Tomorrow. It’s real and it’s promising, just like its name.

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Housing in Hawaii: What's holding it up?

March 1st, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

On the heels of a very successful program on “APEC Means Business for Hawaii” last week, ThinkTech and the Hawaii Venture Capital Association will again collaborate to present “Housing in Hawaii: What’s holding it up” on March 23rd at the Plaza Club. This is another one you can’t afford to miss.

After Statehood, Hawaii built housing like it was going out of style. People like Herbert Horita were heroes for bringing the American dream to our people. But somewhere along the line, the quality and availability of housing turned south.

Case in point - young couples who spend their lives living their parents, never able to afford their own home. Case in point – shamelessly overcrowded tenement quality firetrap rentals that show up on the front page, time after time, with tragic deaths that should never have happened. Shades of the immigrant ghettos of the 19th century, certainly not of modern day Hawaii.

Housing has become one of the Hawaii’s toughest problems. To build a better economy, our workforce needs to have decent housing at decent prices. From shocking homelessness to the lack of meaningful neighborhoods, housing in Hawaii is in trouble, and getting worse, revealing perhaps other strictures in our society. We need to get together and drill down on impediments to planning and construction, and the complexities associated with land use and regulation, traffic and rail, engineering, energy, architecture, sociology, pricing, marketing and financing, if we are to provide better housing for our people.

Although to some these problems may seem like a brick wall or an immutable reality, there are those who firmly believe that with appropriate planning they can and will be resolved, leading us to better times and quality of island life.

Why is this discussion so important to entrepreneurs, investors and service providers? Because to build a tech economy, our workforce needs to have quality affordable housing, located near good schools and transportation. No question about it. But right now we don’t have enough of that kind of housing, either to keep our graduates here or to recruit tech workers from elsewhere. The result: We can’t keep or get the best people to build our tech industry.

Our panelists for this discussion will include many of the individuals involved in what has been happening: the land owners, planners, environmentalists, engineers, attorneys, developers, builders, legislators, analysts, realtors, policy makers and civic leaders. These panelists will tackle some tough questions:

• Is housing on a decline or just flatlined?
• What are the constraints?
• Is it time to 'drain the swamp'?
• How do we shape the 'hood'?
• Will our community be defined by the free market or neighborhood planning?
• What if we do nothing at all?

Housing in Hawaii may be one our most ambitious ThinkTech-HVCA programs in a long time. Here are some of the participating panelists and speakers:

• Marc Alexander (Governor’s Housing Coordinator)
• Ann Bouslog (Mikiko Corporation)
• Christine Camp (Avalon Development)
• Stanford Carr (Stanford Carr Development)
• David Callies (William S. Richardson School of Law)
• Rida Cabanilla (State House of Representative)
• Jenn Darrah (Harvard University)
• Donovan Dela Cruz (State Senate)
• Robert Harris (Sierra Club)
• Micah Kane (Kamehameha Schools)
• Billy Kanoi (Big Island Mayor)
• Ben Kudo (Land Use Attorney)
• Emilia Noordhoek (Sustainable Molokai)
• Panos Prevedouros (UH Engineering School)
• Peter Savio (Savio Realty)
• Lee Sichter (Belt Collins Hawaii)
• Michael Sklarz (Collateral Analytics)
• Cheryl Soon (SSFM International)
• John Wallenstrom (Forest City Hawaii)
• Henry Mochida (Henhaus Productions)

Filling out our star-studded cast, our moderators include well-known local journalists Steve Petranik (Hawaii Business Magazine), Howard Dicus (Hawaii News Now) and Alan Yonan (Honolulu StarAdvertiser). What a lineup!

For more information and registration for this program, visit or

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