Archive for July, 2011

Helping hands for the developing world

July 25th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

There are a million people, mostly in the developing world, who are missing their hands. They have been injured in land mine explosions, fishing with dynamite, machete amputations in war, and the like. And in the developing world it’s hard to get the expensive, high tech hands you can buy for big money in the first world. They’re not only expensive they’re not all that helpful in the rural environment and in a life of farming or manual labor in the developing world.

Art Fine is an attorney practicing in Los Angeles. His wife Margie is a surgeon. They’re both altruists and philanthropists. Art got involved with a nonprofit that distributes prosthetic hands. They're plastic and cost less than $50, parts and labor included, and perfect for the developing world. They’re secured on the remainder of the amputated arm with Velcro straps to allow the amputee to groom himself, perform household tasks and do work. He can clamp the fingers together and then release them by pulling at the wrist. The hand gives the amputee a new life.

Brad Wong is a retired local super surgeon who runs Aloha Medical Mission. He is completely dedicated to this work, every day 24 by 7. Last fall, Margie joined Brad and a number of others on an AMM mission to do surgery for a couple of hundred patients in Dhankuta, Nepal. Margie also brought some of Art's artificial hands, and they were distributed in Dhankuta. This was an important collaboration, and it added a new element to the work of AMM.

This past February, Art attended AMM’s trip to the Philippines. And two weeks ago, he came to Hawaii to teach members of the Aloha Medical Mission how to introduce and distribute the hand on their trips to developing countries. He will participate in more of those trips going forward.

Art and the foundation that distributes the hands have already distributed some 7,500 of them, but there are many more to come and a long way to go. Not only are there a million people out there who don't have hands but in fact that number is growing faster than Art can reduce it.

The story of Geraldine, an 8 year-old girl in the Philippines, is memorable. She had lost a good bit of her left arm and was brought in for a fitting for one of Art’s hands during the AMM trip last February. But she didn’t have enough left of her arm to use the hand, and Art couldn't help her. The video showing her reaction (in quiet communion with her Teddy Bear) when she was told she could not have a hand is unforgettable.

Art was determined to help Geraldine. He went back to California and found a manufacturer who could redesign the hand to work for Geraldine. They made a hand that would fit on her shorter arm, and had it delivered to her in the Philippines. Now she's happily wearing her new prosthetic hand, and enjoying happier times with her Teddy Bear. The story of Geraldine is compelling.

What makes Art Fine run is pretty much the same as what makes Brad Wong run. Both are dedicated to helping people with the highest leverage possible. Just as Brad can change or save someone's life during his surgical missions, Art can recover a life in a few minutes by fitting a hand. They are brothers in kindness, and their collaboration, synergy and good work is a lesson for us all.

If you want to hear Brad and Art talk about these things, check out our latest video, starring the two them together on It will touch you, not only for the gifts they are giving to so many people, but also for the gifts they are also giving each other.

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The New Public Utilities Commission - what happens now?

July 19th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

This is the year of renewable energy. There’s a new wind farm in Kahuku, they’ll be another in Kawailoa on the North Shore. Another one is planned for Maui. The ones contemplated on Lanai and Molokai are in controversy. DBEDT is working hard to lay a cable from there to Oahu. Mililani Trask is proposing a geothermal public-private partnership with the state. The newspapers are bristling with stories and comment about energy process, progress and problems. Even APEC’s theme is renewable energy.

We could go on. Suffice it to stay that the energy story, at least for Hawaii, is at full throttle. But do we know how it will play out? It’s a high stakes, big money game, and will ultimately replace $7 billion of imported oil. Do we know what sources and companies will prevail in that game, and when? Not yet, but as we go forward, the outline emerges, changing our state, our economy and our lives.

This is a daily story which will affect every one of us and which we all need to follow. And to know what’s going on, we all need to know about the Public Utilities Commission, a quasi-judicial state agency which comes to us from another earlier time but which now finds itself in the center of a controversial stage on which critical issues about our transformation to renewable energy will be argued, analyzed and decided.

The PUC is certainly where the action is, and will be. Telephone, truck, water and taxicab regulation notwithstanding, the action is in energy. Although its funding has hardly kept up, the demands made on the PUC have never been greater. Nor has the effect and leverage of its decisions been more profound. It is in the center of the channel and will stay there as long as it takes us to reach our clean energy goals, and beyond.

When Neil Abercrombie took office, he wanted to speed up the transformation of the agency. After he found that the creation of an Energy Authority might be problematic, he proceeded instead to appoint former state legislator Mina Morita as chair of the PUC. In these days, the work of the PUC includes meeting Hawaii's challenge to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and it’s a daunting job.

To stay in touch with that process, check out the program to be presented by ThinkTech and the Hawaii Venture Capital Association on Thursday, July 28th. It’s a study of the remarkable changes going on in our PUC. The program includes a blue-ribbon panel of PUC officials, namely Chair Mina Morita, Chief Counsel Cat Awakuni, Chief Researcher Josh Strickler and also Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono.

It’s great that these PUC VIPs are willing to come and talk to us, the business community and the public. It’s an opportunity which is sure to clarify if not telegraph the shape of what’s to come, and it’s one which we shouldn’t miss. The faces of the PUC, and the words of these speakers, are a window to our future.

Like it or not, we live in changing times. The discussion will cover the new importance of the PUC in the transition to renewable energy, and how it is likely to affect the state going forward. We will hear about the kinds of policy questions, cases and issues the PUC is handling these days, many unprecedented, and how its role and the role of the Consumer Advocate are being dramatically changed in the process.

The program is at the Plaza Club. For further information and registration, see and It’s moderated by Carl Freedman. It’s sponsored by Hawaii Business Magazine, which follows energy closely, and the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum, which is the leading independent energy think tank in the state, a further indication that this program will cover the issues that need to be discussed.

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POVs will be increasingly important to police work

July 12th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

I once knew a guy who had a fisheye camera and he would strap it to his solar plexus. He had a shutter cable wired to his pocket and could trip the shutter surreptitiously. He would stand there talking to people and take pictures of them. They didn’t realize he was taking their picture.

The technology has gone far beyond that. In the paper on Sunday there was an article about police "body" cameras, POVs. They’re small and cost $125.00 and strap on with a chest harness. They take video of anything the policeman can see. He can document things, and get evidence. All parties are protected, and that's great.

According to the article, the police are not supposed to edit the video and must turn it in within 24 hours to protect the chain of custody. The videos are kept for five years. It's fair witness to whatever happened. There’s nothing so persuasive as a video showing a judge or jury exactly what happened, and this can be dispositive in court. Police departments must be delighted.

So for $125.00 a policeman can be equipped with the power of admissible video clips, and it wouldn’t just be his word against the perpetrator or street corner witness. Viva la tech, tech power, viva credible and admissible evidence, critical to a prosecution, at little or no expense.

But why stop at policemen? There are a million security guards out there, most relying on cellphones. They and others similarly situated could use this very same POV technology and could have the power to gain admissible evidence in the same way. Think store shopper.

We are increasingly able to send the video back by wireless, and that’s a whole new kettle of fish. We can track where the policeman or security guard is going and what he is seeing, and we can record the evidence real time without worrying about losing the camera or the video if the POV becomes lost or damaged. Think riot control.

Wireless body cameras take the usefulness of this technology beyond police work. It means that anyone who is going to a situation, dangerous or just interesting, can send the video of what he sees back to a smart base wireless unit with a minimum of risk and expense. Think firemen. And journalists, citizen or professional!

I would say think military too, but I suspect the military already has these devices working in the field. And maybe their experience with POVs will reveal new technologies and techniques that can be used back home in civilian circumstances, and so it gets better and better.

Video surveillance is sweeping the world. It’ not news anymore, but every major city, and lots of minor ones, has video on the lamp posts and can track the traffic, both vehicles and people. Thousands of cameras, everywhere, going day and night, seeing and recording everything.

A quick check of the web shows how many personal video cameras are available to the public, smaller all the time, with more wireless models all the time. You don’t have to put them on your chest, now you can wear them in your button hole. And it still costs little more than $125.

Is this trend a one way street? Probably, but the possibility remains that the hackers people will find out how to intercept or jam the wireless signal or corrupt the video file at distance, or do a convincing Photoshop on it. Then we’ll need new technologies to get the jump on that too.

In the meantime, POVs will get more sophisticated, just as video itself is getting more sophisticated, with miniaturization, automation, and super smart software. The only question is whether the prevailing device will be the POV or maybe just a cell phone, or how about both?

How about a cell phone that takes video, sends it by wireless, and straps on your body? The perfect confluence. Coming soon? Maybe it's already here.

These cameras protect both sides of the legal equation. Even if they further impinge on our privacy they also help protect our security, and a balance is therefore in some sense preserved.

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Midnight in Paris is for those who want to go back

July 11th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

Woody Allen was never better. You don't realize it's classic Allen comedy right away, but little by little he emerges, his special blend of humor and fun, expressed through Owen Wilson, in the Midnight in Paris movie now playing in Honolulu.

Wilson is perfect, a kind of everyman, and there he is with his high-nose, two-timing, empty-headed fiancée and her right wing parents in Paris. She’s insufferable, and Wilson breaks away from her by taking midnight walks. The walks turn into trips into the past.

The adventures are charming. Wilson’s character, a Hollywood writer trying to find himself, is writing a novel about a “nostalgia store,” but we find that he's living in his own self-made nostalgia store, which as the movie demonstrates is a comfortable part of Woody Allen’s world.

We envy Wilson’s experience. A 1920’s car picks up Wilson’s character on a certain quiet street every night at midnight and off he goes into the excitement of Paris gone by, following along to the parties, the intellectuals, the jazz and the women. A dream, for him, and for us, comes true.

Paris in the 20s was splendid, especially to a nostalgia buff. Wilson’s character meets every great figure who lived there at the time. Cole Porter and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Elliot, Salvador Dali, and many more, all looking their parts and all played brilliantly in cameo appearances.

He touches them all and gets to know them all, the best of the generation. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) reads his manuscript. It’s a light-touch fantasy, and you’re not sure how much Allen is pulling your leg. After Wilson’s third midnight, the time travel begins to sound routine.

Wilson’s character is drawn to Adriana, a strikingly beautiful example of the period who is mistress to Picasso and Hemmingway in turn, and could have been worth staying there for, but she gets lost in a further time trip to Maxim’s in the Belle Epoque of the 1890s, and proposes to stay there, and Wilson realizes they have no antibiotics, and that’s the end of that romance.

Returning to the present, Wilson’s character finds the strength to leave his insufferable fiancée and strike up a relationship with a wide-eyed Parisienne who, curiously enough, sells old books, records and other nostalgia in a Paris bookstore, not unlike the store in Wilson’s novel. We are not surprised when we notice that she looks a lot like Mia Farrow.

The movie is 100 minutes long but you don’t feel it’s long at all. The cinematography of Paris is eye-popping and scenes of the good life in olden days are really something to enjoy. Of course, you walk out wanting to make the trip, and revel in the beauties of the past, antibiotics or not.

I'd watch this movie again because I think a lot of the detail gets away from you. Yes, you know some of the fabulous people Wilson’s character meets, but you realize that that there are more of them and that if you were careful you’d find them there too. As usual, Allen carefully attends to detail.

The movie is a seductive statement of Paris in the early 20th century and some of the 19th, the best of it all, and it throws you back into times when life was good, a special age. It happened long before most of us were born, and in the simplicity that went before the complexity of more modern times, but it seems recent because of the effect these people had on the world to follow.

It was great for Wilson’s character to meet them, and for us to look over his shoulder and meet them too, and hear them talk about their music, art, literature, courage and love, and the joy of being an American in Paris at a time when the expatriates had it all.

The theatre was very nearly empty, even on a Sunday night, but that didn’t stop us from waiting until the last old song and closing title. I’m not so sure Midnight in Paris will be a hit in Hawaii. Maybe Woody Allen is fading from pop culture, and that’s really too bad. He’s been giving us these wonderful whimsical movies for such a long time, and for me this was among the best.

I remember a scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen was having an intellectual argument with a pedantic snob outside a movie theater. They were arguing about what Marshall McLuhan meant when he said “the medium is the message.” To prove his point, Woody Allen suddenly produced McLuhan from behind a sandwich sign.

Paris is a parallel. Allen produces these 1920s characters out of nowhere, to amuse and charm us, and to prove his point that they are important and pleasing objects of the past and that they can enrich our lives even in nostalgia. He hasn't lost his touch and, in this one, his touch is like fine wine, sweet and sentimental.

It won't be here much longer. Go soon.

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We should clean up the public bathrooms in time for APEC

July 5th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

APEC is coming in 120 days. What will all those VIPs think of our city and, more to the point, what will they see our public bathrooms? They live well and will certainly know the difference. Most large cities you can think of do better in public bathrooms we do. As hard as we hope for a cleanup, chances are they’ll remain the way they are through APEC and beyond.

It's quite amazing when you think how much money we raise from the tourists, yet we don't offer them even arguably decent facilities for public necessity. Remarkable, since we’re supposed to be a tourist destination, drawing tourists from everywhere to come to see our beautiful islands. But some parts of our beautiful islands simply aren’t.

My old friends are also coming this fall. They wre disappointed to hear there was no ferry, but wait ‘til they find out about the public bathrooms. Then they’ll know true disappointment. They like parks and beaches, but they’ll be in for a shock. Most of us don’t think about it anymore, but my friends will be aghast when they find how much ground we’ve lost against other places.

Sure it’s the maintenance by city and state workers and contractors, but it’s also our own complacency. We should be raising a stink about the stink. If people would just clean up, things would be better. But don’t hold your breath. On second thought, maybe you should.

Maybe we need an Apple App to tell us where the bathrooms are, that would be helpful not only for the tourists but for you and me. But it would be a problem to build that app – where could you get the data? The list would be embarrassingly short. Some establishments could be on the list but they just say “no public restroom.” I remember when all the gas stations had them, but not so anymore. Nobody wants to clean up for the public, even if that means building good will.

We can rant about the public bathrooms in the parks, beaches and public places, tourist spots all, but what about the bathrooms they should have built but never did, and the one they took down in Kakaako and never replaced. The blame goes wide. It’s not just the counties. Ever see the bathrooms in Aiea State Park? Aren’t public bathrooms part of the environment and our often touted QOL – where are the environmentalists when we need them?

So the poor guy who has to go, can’t. He's got to hold his nose, not touch anything and be careful where he walks. It’s unlikely he’ll find a towel or toilet paper, and he’ll leave feeling unclean and wondering if it was worth it. And what about the bathrooms inhabited by the homeless. These days they have a kind of de facto priority, but that doesn’t help you when you’re in need.

Someone is responsible. And his supervisor is too. That can go pretty high, but no one does anything about it. Maybe it’s because we have no money. Billions for rail, but we can’t afford toilet paper. What’s wrong with this picture? There is no reason on the face of the earth that justifies the continuing disgrace of our public bathrooms. Maybe those responsible will clean things up by the time the VIPs come in November, but that’s not likely at all.

So for now, we’ll have to grit our teeth and hope they won’t need to go in public places.

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