Interview with a Doomsayer

[Dr. Doom, our resident Geology and Geophysics expert and Island raconteur, was kind enough to spend his precious time answering my latest salvo of questions.  Enjoy.]

Bunn Bunn: Dr. Doom, do you believe in The Aloha Spirit? If yes, can you tell us the story of when you realized that you had achieved the requisite “coordination of mind and heart” (and, for extra credit, graphically depict this epiphonous event in a sequence of powerpoint slides)?

Dr.Doom: Yes, I am a big believer in The Aloha Spirit, also known as The Spirit of Aloha. I don’t recall it taking too long for my willing indoctrination into the spirit of the islands. It soon hit me after my arrival here in 1972 as a young, virginal graduate of UC Riverside (aka The Monastery), about to begin my graduate career at the University of Hawaii, Manoa campus. I can tell you with certainty that part of this spirit resides in the land and surrounding ocean waters, and part within the peoples that inhabit them. So, it’s easy to fall in love first with the physical beauty of the place, the fabulous beaches, the even more fabulous sunsets, the surf, the steep, green mountains (in winter-spring) and the clear blue waters (biological desert).


Your indoctrination is complete when you fall in love or, as it were, lust with a beautiful tanned, long dark haired local girl, or wahine. After a few now-in-hindsight hilarious attempts at dating mainland haole girls (err, white chicks), this event happened to me about a year later, on my first weekend-long date, which started with a double date on a Friday night in Waikiki. It sure made a believer out of me. I’m sorry no one took photos.

BB: Is there a place for spirituality as an integral aspect of the scientific method?

DD: Always an interesting topic. I think that the short answer is NO, but having said that, I know of many cases where there are spiritual scientists that seem to keep the logic-based science they conduct separate from their belief systems and spirituality.

BB: If I’m omnipotent, is it possible for me to publish in a peer-reviewed journal?

DD: Impossible as logically, you are without peers. OTOH, being omnipotent, you can do whatever you wish, so yes, your articles and books will be published. After a few tactically-placed lightening bolts, your critics will be silenced.

BB: I don’t understand why Hilo Hattie hasn’t attempted to expand their big and fat retail clothier business to the mainland beyond the few stores in SoCal. I mean there’s plenty of IZ-sized monkeys rolling around outside the shit magnet, especially in the red states. Any thoughts?

DD: Damn, Bunn, I smell money. Perhaps when things settle down a bit, we can discreetly inquire about obtaining the national franchise rights for a string of Hilo Hattie stores. Mall store lease rents should be very affordable, and we can rent the rest of the vacant stores for competitive Hula dance Halaus. Since folks may have additional time upon their hands, it’s a nice cultural way to lose weight, dance the pagan songs of love, make hand-made crafts for the tourists, do festive communal luaus in place of those dreary lines at soup kitchens, and gain plenty bruddas and sistahs for social cohesion and common security. And, if things get really dire, the culture is very amenable to cannibalism.

BB: Okay, let’s talk about the business of providing/proffering an education in the sciences. Have you ever had a research assistant who looked like Ann Margaret? Never mind, don’t answer that. Try this one: What effect has the collapsing economy had on the number of students trying to get into the program(s) that you teach?

DD: I’ve hired my share of pretty female research assistants over the years, but I can say truthfully that it’s always been strictly a business relationship, as I learned early on in my career, as a graduate student, than when you go beyond a platonic relationship with your employee, even if things are going well in the relationship, the work suffers (because you’re having lots of fun), and when things don’t go well anymore, the wheels completely come off the enterprise and it usually ends with the employee quitting, leaving you stuck with all the work that was not done earlier and with, as a bonus for being such an idiot, a broken heart to depress you even moron.

Enrollment and tuitions are up this year, whilst services and infrastructure maintenance are down. I teach to eager students now who, thankfully, are mostly too ignorant to appreciate the dire circumstances that I am telling them they are either now entering, within, or soon will be approaching.

BB: What convinced you to become an educator, and would you rather be tasked with grading an endless stack of student essays in Sisyphean fashion or be Richard Branson for a day?

DD: Thank you. I knew, somewhere deep inside of me, there was indeed a reason why I continue to endure all the endless tasks of an educator and academic, so that I will not have to be subjugated to the humiliation of being that rich dork Richard Brandson for even one day. Honestly, I don’t know how he can stand himself, but I assume he has a close party of advisors that shield him from knowing “the truth”, like our current and soon to be former Presidente.

BB: Do you think that we will see an alt-energy bubble (or surge in investment) here or anywhere in the world? If yes, how and in what primary areas (e.g., wind, wave power, etc.) do you think it will play out?

DD: Oh yes, you can gamble money on it. The alternative energy bubble will be big in the US and in various parts of the developed and perhaps even developing countries of the world. All types of energy schemes will be tried, some with legitimate promotions as true alternatives to fossil fuels and, of course, since we haven’t yet imprisoned or killed too many of them (yet), many schemes with illegitimate promotions from the legions of scammers running about.

I think Scott over at CFN said it best today (Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008) in response to one of my earlier comments there, “As long as we can profit now, who cares what happens later, especially if later is not in our lifetime. It is easy to extrapolate the status quo past our lifetime as long as we are willing accomplices.”

Wind, tidal energy will be big, and perhaps algae biofuels. I think land plant ethanol is topped out already, thankfully, as it is having negative impacts upon food production and ecosystems. I don’t foresee solar energy as photovoltaic taking off “at scale”, but perhaps something big as simpler solar concentrators or boilers spread across the US southwest and northern Mexico. Nuclear fission seems to be too late and half a trillion short, at least in the US. Hydro-power is tapped out, as is coal, so coal-to-liquids is a non-starter, as are ramped-up oil sands and oil shales (aka the rocks that burn). OTEC seems as far away as nuclear fusion and solar microwave power beams from geostationary (we gotta hope) satellites in Earth orbit. Nice dreams, though, like having human space colonies on the Moon and Mars. Maybe.

BB: If you were asked by the incoming Obama administration to provide three recommendations on how America (at this late stage in the game) might best attempt to address environmental and/or resource depletion issues, what would you tell them?

DD: First, promote conservation and lifestyle changes. They’re going to happen anyway, but people like to think they are taking charge of events, and not vice versa. This is where presidential leadership will be most effective. It’s also going to be much more effective than all the alternative energy schemes.

Second, keep a wary eye upon maintenance of and improvements to interstate commerce infrastructure and the country’s power grids. This could include the implementation of Jim Kunstler’s favorite topic of expanding, improving and electrifying the railroads and what waterways we already have, plus doing such crazy things as burying power cables within the roadways that would both benefit electrical transmission by protecting the lines from storms and provide a source of electricity for trams, trolleys, all-electric cars and PHEVs in the near future.

Thirdly but not lastly, clean coal. And I mean CO2-clean, not just soot particle, mercury and sulfur clean like the coal industry likes to promote that they’re doing (BFD). We have to reduce our atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, and CO2 is number one in sheer quantity. It’s disgraceful and immoral what we have done and continue to do now with coal in this country. The US should and can lead by example for China, India and the rest of the world to follow.

BB: If you and your family had to leave Hawaii, would you consider living in a country (California, for example) where most of the people don’t speak English?

DD: Having taken Spanish in high school, and listening to literally hundreds of hours of bilingual used car salesmen on LA TV whilst watching old movies (mostly westerns) in my formative years there, I think I can speak the lingo, or at least fake it effectively. It’s somewhere beyond my survival French and German, so yes, I could probably make the move. Seriously, we have about a million people living on an island of about 600 square miles, with under 8 percent of that limited area used for farming. I think about moving off this island about every other day.

BB: Other than the draw of multigenerational participation in male initiation rituals and such, has the allure of living in Papua New Guinea faded any for you (now that the proverbial Asmat shit is hitting the fan)?

DD: Papua New Guinea is the New York City of wilderness survival. If you can make it there, you can probably make it anywhere. Not only are there steep mountainous terrains, with dense rain forests and swamps full of poisonous snakes, leaches and other nasty crawly creatures, one has to manage Dale Carnegie-like social skills just to avoid having a neighbor hand your head to you. As it is a type locality for giant fruit bats, and malaria and dinge fever-carrying mosquitoes, many locals live along the breezy coasts where the fishing is also good, but are all too often hit by deadly tsunamis in the middle of the night with no warning. So all-in-all, there’s a reason PNG still belongs to its natives, and Club Meds have not developed there. I’d rather take my chances with the more civilized Fijians, which BTW Captain Bligh would not do.

BB: If you could travel back in time to hang with anyone on this list, whom would it be and why?
(a) Captain Cooke
(b) Charles Darwin
(c) R. A. F. Penrose, Jr.
(d) Winston Churchill
(e) John F. Kennedy, the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States
(f) M. King Hubbert

DD: Whoa, I see you saved the hardest question for last. I have to pick only one? I guess if the key word is hanging, I’d have to pick Capt. James Cook. First, since we’d be at sea for months, I’d get a chance to really chat with the guy. And, he was a man of action, science, technology and adventure–you know his crew loved and respected him, like a father figure, I’m informed.

I’ve always suspected Gene Rodenberry used Cook’s Pacific discovery voyages as a template or model for his “Star Trek” TV shows and movies, with Capt. James Kirk as the futuristic version of Cook. Both eagerly engaged the exotic peoples they encountered, with some danger involved and luck, I may add. Did you know, for example, that on his third voyage, whilst in Tonga, the Tongan chiefs had decided to kill him at one of their feasts, but they took too long to decide amongst themselves who would kill him, so meanwhile Cook finished his meal and went back to his ship for the evening? A true story. That man was living on borrowed time.

Whilst in port somewhere, I would attempt to alter history by secretly teaching the good captain how to swim, so in the end at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, he would not have to stand on that shallow lava ledge and risk getting hit by a rock or stabbed in the back with one of his own iron knife presents to the Hawaiians. I’ve been to that spot (now under a few feet of water, the island is sinking fast). The bay has a certain quality to it like no other in the islands.

BB: Thank you.


Typical Hawaiian Sunset as seen from our house in Hawaii Kai, east Oahu. Leahi (Diamond Head) crater in background.


View to south toward Lanai from Hotel Molokai, at sunrise. The chairs in the restaurant-bar stay empty most of the time these days, as island tourism wains.


Wind farm at South Point, Hawaii island. This pioneering company is now defunct because of turbine corrosion (salt) problems. It was an eyesore.


Wind map of the SE Hawaiian islands showing relative velocities in color. The sea channels between the islands are windiest (blue colors).


Prawn farms on NE Oahu, near Kahuku. The days of vast sugar cane and pineapple plantations in the islands are mostly over now.


Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii island. Capt. Cook met his end on Feb. 14, 1779 on the low peninsula in the far background. He was asking for it that day, and the Hawaiians obliged him.

(All images and their descriptions provided by Dr. Doom)

30 Replies to “Interview with a Doomsayer”

  1. That’s right Uncle, he and his crew were part of a British Navy study of scurvy where they experimented with potential cures. Oranges will work, as just about all citrus (and potatoes, BTW) but they’re still stuck with Limey from all the limes they took on board.

    It’s also used in a derogatory sense as “bloody limey bastards” for example, best spoken with an Irish or Aussie accent.

  2. many years ago i hooked up with a girl who had a suite at some giant pink hotel on wiakiki. the name of both the hotel and the girl escape me at the moment.

    i also got engaged to my first wife in honolulu. a sordid tale at best. kinda like going to vegas to get married and divorecd over the course of the same weekend.

    hawaii, a beutiful land of mixed blessings.

  3. well, doom… kinda feels like playing a ukulele in outer space. Either that, or we’re burnin the place up like a supernova, blazing so bright that no one can even look at the shit for more than a few seconds at a time. Couldn’t be any other possible explanation. Nope. Not possible. Bunn Bunn, you would never (unless asked to) betray your better instincts.

    no matter, it’s all the same… I could use a break and was gonna take one anyway: extra grooming and sleeping time to prepare myself for the holidays. We’ll call it a hat trick and leave it at that. Take it away, nudgy.

  4. Hi Nomouth .. and thanks for the link about Ragged Chutes. Cool stuff. If I read the diagram correctly, that air plant uses some clever properties of mixed moving air & water, utilizing the energy of a net drop of 17m vertical distance, to provide compressed air. This is what an engineer would call an elegant solution to the problem of needing compressed air.

    An almost certainly less efficient (and definitely more complicated) way to do the same thing with the same natural resources would be to use a 17m elevation drop (for a certain volume of water) to spin a turbine that generates electricity that runs an air compressor. However, this approach is worse in many ways due to its complexity, the number of specialized machine parts & windings needed, and the potential for failure in multiple places. The Ragged Chute scheme is simpler and less failure-prone.

    Err, what’s the question? This is cool, but its utility is limited.

  5. A headline from the online verson of the big paper of the islands

    Milk thief deemed drunk and thirsty

    Now that says local flavor to me

  6. That’s pretty nifty, nomouth. Agree with Nudge that it has limited application because of the special geological circumstances, but is/was perfect for the mining area it lies within. If the mines no longer wish to buy their compressed air at Ragged Chute, then they could always sell it to a local Tata compressed car fleet*.

    Sounds like low overhead, but I guess the capital costs for retrofit and plant upgrades are very high. Too bad, and I see this situation as a metaphor for lots of alt energy schemes in our future.

    * Link here:

  7. We also pride ourselves in the quality of our number one economic agricultural export (pakalolo). Unfortunately for state and local municipal tax revenues, this product is illegal except for certain medicinal applications (glaucoma).

  8. And, dear lord, after getting a few sticks from a pilot in Hawaii, I flew back, drove to see the girl I met, and stumbled around a camp ground in New York after one hit! God, was that good stuff. The doctors, lawyers, and traders I know would pay ungodly amounts…

  9. I do not believe trompes to be limited to special geological circumstances.

    A natural spring/stream/waterfall would be nice. As would a significant drop in elevation. However, with permaculture and some earth moving it can be accomplished in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

    We happen to have a ravine with a 200m drop. The trickle of polluted water running through is not sufficient in volume or speed to power a trompe. (Also, messing with ‘natural’ waterways will definitely get you in trouble with municipal planners) However, with permaculture we are creating swales (trenches on contour) that will act to absorb water over the next couple of years. Once the soil has saturated enough, a strategically placed dam will brim with water. Situated next to a suitable drop off point at the ravines lip, we have an ideal site for a trompe.

    For an idea of the potential:

    Check out Compressed Air Magazine for their archives (1899-2000). A wealth of info/curiosities and formulas.

  10. Doom,

    Your interview is more nuanced as you are, how you say in American, more accessible than SB or EE, generally speaking.

    One does not gush over nuance.

    “Wind farm at South Point, Hawaii island. This pioneering company is now defunct because of turbine corrosion (salt) problems.”

    Well duh. Even a cursory glance at local building practices would have revealed a higher than normal use of PVC (or similar) for above-grade exposed electrical work. Given the cost differential, particularly of the UV resistant Schedule 80, one might want to enquire as to why.

  11. Ya, UR, one wonders what they were thinking. Apparently, some of the big rotor blades flew off! Oops! Salt corrosion on a windy island cannot be overstated. One learns as a homeowner about Galvanic corrosion from contacting dissimilar metals, and can observe gaping holes in aluminum window frames from being eaten by the sea salt. Galvanized anything lasts for about a year outdoors before rusting. Only atolls and boats are worse off.

    I suspect they were short on cash and economized on the materials, which ultimately proved their undoing.

  12. Nicholas .. that was you at the campground in NY?? Ahh, I always wondered ;)

    Doom, the other 50th state, Alaska, has a similar agricultural export. I believe they call it Matanuska Thunderf*ck. Hard to get. Had some there decades ago. Similar to what Nicholas said about pakalolo.

    About the corrosion .. duh, sounds like someone forgot to do some of the most elemental aspects of good planning. No doubt it would have cost more to make the necessary metal parts out of stainless steel (or noncorroding composites) instead of aluminum. I have relatives who live very close to the sea in SoCal, and they speak openly about the damage to their cars from the seawater-infused moving air.

    Doom, the air car blurb sez it carries 90 cubic meters. Let’s figure out the charging capacity of the Ragged Chute. Now there’s a taxi fleet charging station if ever I heard of one. Eh, too bad the Chute is located near nowheresville and there’s not much need for taxi service.

    Oh, and some of the comments are funny.

  13. Tim McIntyre Jun 24, 2008 12:26 AM GMT

    I have followed this story for some time now. The technology is sound. If they perfect the on-board compressor it will be the closest thing to perpetual motion in history. The down side is… it won’t save us any money. If everyone drove one of these and the taxes collected from gasoline sale plummeted, the government would simply make up the difference in the Ad velorum Taxes from car registrations. So, instead of your car costing say $125.00 per year to register, it will now cost you about $970.00 to register your vehicle. The Bas—-s get us either way!

    Jerry Jun 26, 2008 1:42 AM GMT

    How can the cost of electricity to compress the air be less than the energy recovery to expand the air back to atmospheric pressure. If we can do this, why don’t we just use the engines to turn generators and produce more electricity than we use.

    Bradley Aug 25, 2008 10:04 PM GMT

    Ugh. This is exactly why we need to strengthen the science curriculum in the US. You’ll find that the engine is rated at 25hp. The one liter engine in the Smart car is rated at over 70hp. Take a guess at how well this thing would move if you loaded it up with a couple of people. And while we’re at it, I want you to think about something: a balloon is also compressed air. Have you ever noticed the difference in output of a balloon between when you first let it go vs. when it’s mostly empty? It drops off considerably, yeah? And for those of you more willing to believe in dreams than data, some further poking around points out that this company has been making claims of “going to production” for over five years now. They’ve been hocking this garbage since 2000. Do you honestly believe that it’s some great American business conspiracy that is keeping this down? Because no one in the world has been able to produce it, and I assure you there are plenty of countries out there who would LOVE to get this into production if it would hurt the US. Shame on Businessweek for not doing it’s homework!

  14. dave, it’s true, so i try to be as humorous as i can, considering.

    being funny is harder than it looks sometimes. but you’re doing fine.

  15. Did you have a link in your post nomouth?

    Often the spam filter kicks in when you least expect it.

    Pain in the butt sometimes

    I also blame Dave for my bloody nose

  16. “Eh, too bad the Chute is located near nowheresville ”

    I am so glad you said this yourself Nudge. I think Doom is nodding in agreement, so to say in terms of utility.

    Trompes are NOT limited to special geological circumstances.

    Anwhere you can have a ram pump, you could build a trompe. (ie. streams/springs and a ~ one m drop) Has the utility vastly increased yet?

    A water course is nice, as is a natural change in elevation. However, with permaculture and some earth moving you can create a trompe in say Eztikom, Alberta.

    We happen to have a ravine with a 200 m drop. With swales (trenches dug on contour) we can begin to harvest precipitation and surface runoff. In a matter of years the ground will saturate with water. A strategically placed dam next to the lip of the ravine would be an ideal spot for a trompe. For a better visual of the potential I will try to post the link below.

    Compressed Air Magazine has a slew of information on compressed air technologies. They are archived online from 1899-2000.

  17. Compressed Air Magazine has a slew of information on compressed air technologies. They are archived online from 1899-2000.

    From 1899? Wow

    That is pretty damn cool!

  18. nomouth, you win, a compressed air trompe at every waterfall! It’s yet another way to extract water’s potential gravity energy besides standard hydroelectric. Ultimately, it’s a form of solar energy.

  19. Nice piece. Thanks Doom and Bunn. I have never been to Hawaii. Perhaps I will never see it. I still think someday big tall ships will be seen once again in the harbor. Maybe it will be a military port garrison and transfer station for Pacific basin trade.

    I think wind turbines in the marine environment are more composite materials these days. Turbines have a come a long way in the last five years.

    Tromp le monde! I read it in Popular Pneumatics. Just kidding. I will definitiely cruise some of those back issues of CAM. I want to make a compressed air cannon. Or a big-inch mortar. Needs to be loud (“thunk!”). Strictly perimiter defense though.

  20. Thanks, Bif.

    Ya Doom, another paradox of omnipotence is that you can say things like “I’m not above talking to myself” and still be right.

  21. Hi!
    My name is Megan and I’m a senior in HS who lives in NJ. I sent an app. to UHM but i’m really lost. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the school. The campus, the dorms, the food, the people, anything!! I’m really interested in their rugby club but it doesn’t say anything about it on their athletics page. Thank you soooo much!

  22. Good grief, I’m going to assume this is a legit request. OK, Megan, first try, where you should find plenty of information on stuff like the dorms, the food, the people, anything. That’s why they made the site, for prospective students. Sorry, but I haven’t been a UH student for many moons now.

    I don’t know about rugby as I’m a typical American that thinks we invented football. I’ve watched it played by SW Pacific islanders, and it appears much rougher than any football we play, at least there’s more blood as cleats on wool jerseys and bare legs, heads with 300+ pound players means trouble for somebody, usually the guy or gal with the ball.

    Not to pick on you, but this is a rather adult content site for a high school student. If I found my son reading here, I’d be pretty unhappy about it. It’s all dave’s fault, of course, and that JR not enforcing the ZK PG-13 rules.

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