Monday, May 15, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again

I'm back home after a week working on The Big Island of Hawaii, about which more later. While I was gone, I missed a great review of Mom's Cancer by Laurel Maury in the Los Angeles Times. Fortunately, my sisters caught it. Two excerpts, the first and last passages of the review:

In Mom's Cancer, Eisner-Award winning artist Brian Fies does a simple reality face-off with his mother's illness. Fies' excellent graphic novel, which started as a weekly Web comic, describes his mother's cancer treatment with neither sentiment nor hysterics, and the effect is quietly devastating....

What may earn this book a spot in oncology offices, self-help groups and, probably, medical school curricula, is how carefully Fies tells the truth about what happens to people. Mom's Cancer doesn't soften any blows. It gives us a woman getting through the most horrible episode in her life. She could easily be one of us.

Wow. This is probably the most thoughtful, thorough review my book has received, and I'm tremendously appreciative that it appeared in one of the largest newspapers in the United States. I'm always a little uneasy posting news of good reviews in this blog--it veers toward self-congratulatory hucksterism--but if I don't mention them, who will? One of the reasons I started the blog was to share what it's like to get a first book published; at this stage, a couple of months after release, reviews are a big part of that. The best I can do is promise to report the bad with the good ... and when anything bad comes up I'll try to be honest about it. So far, it's all pretty good.

Aloha? Oy.
My week in Hawaii was less fun that you probably imagine. I'm not complaining, it was still pretty paradisical (look, I invented a word!), but most of my time was spent sitting in convention center meeting rooms that could have been anywhere.

I attended the 2006 IEEE Fourth World Conference on Photovoltaic Energy Conversion, where my task was to gather the latest and greatest information on solar power for a government paper I'm helping write. These were a thousand of the brightest Ph.D. researchers from around the world pushing the boundaries of physics, chemistry and sophisticated manufacturing processes to eke every percentage point of efficiency possible from solar cells. They were some of the brightest people I've ever met, without a dippy hippy in sight (with all due respect to the dippy hippies, who are often the earliest adopters of the stuff these scientists and engineers invent).

It was a pretty heady experience. I met people who have Equations and Effects named after them--not only met them, but met their spouses and sat next to them at lunch and held up my end of intelligent conversations with them. Most seemed pretty low-key. After all, there's not a lot of glamour, prestige or money in solar power. Yet.

I'm an advocate of solar power and renewable energy resources in general. After several years of learning and writing about these technologies, and getting to know the people developing them, I'm firmly convinced that their proliferation is inevitable and probably coming sooner than most expect. At the same time, I'm not a True Believer Fanatic who thinks we'd all be living in harmony with nature already if only the Big Oil Conspiracy would lift its boot from our necks. In fact, most renewable technologies just aren't ready yet (one exception being wind power, which is genuinely affordable in many electricity markets). It's all about economics and priorities: if we all decided tomorrow that we wanted to power the country with pollution-free renewable energy and didn't mind paying five or ten times as much as we do today, it could happen in a decade. Right now, that's an unacceptable trade-off. But the price of renewables is only going down and the price of fossil fuels nowhere but up, and when those two curves cross each other I think we'll see an amazing transformation. So do the oil companies, which are already among the biggest investors in and developers of renewable power. They know.

In any case, I got what I needed for my paper, with only one unsolved scientific mystery lingering: What the heck is this?

A weasel? Ferret? Mongoose? I saw this thing from my hotel balcony and from a distance thought it was a squirrel. It's about that size and kind of moved like one, but as it scurried through the bushes almost directly beneath me I got a better look. I know very little about Hawaiian fauna, except that much of it has been displaced or wiped out by imported invaders, of which this must be one. Any insights are welcome. This creature haunts my dreams.


Lynne said...

I don't know what that thing is, but you seem to be on a rodent thing.... hmmmm

Anonymous said...

A mongoose, indeed, and an ecological disaster. Most are brown, but there are also gray ones. And I suppose tout les mongeese sont gris dans la nuit.

Briefly, the cane growers thought mongeese would kill the rats -- also imported -- that were nibbling the cane. They killed a few, but were far more of a threat to ground-nesting birds and are blamed for the near-extinction of the nene, a Hawaiian goose.

This is not the only such case -- invasive species began wreaking havoc on Hawaii's ecosystems when the Polynesians brought in chickens, dogs and pigs. Of course, it could be argued that the Polynesians, and later the Europeans and Japanese, were also an "invasive species." Still, when something is brought in specifically the change the balance, it really belongs in a separate category, I think.

Mike Peterson