Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, February 26, 2015



If you talk to Californians today about their concerns these days, one worry is one every one's mind: THE DROUGHT. Not a drop of precipitation fell in San Francisco in January, adding more woe to a vicious three year cycle. But it's not just the Golden State with problems. In Brazil, São Paulo is currently turning off the faucets three days a week. Meanwhile, Aussies have long had water rationing as a way of life. However, one desert city is solving its water worries using nothing but air: Lima, Peru gets water from fog.

Here's how it works: Thick mesh is stretched out over a large rectangle frame made by bamboo and metal rods. At the bottom, you'll find plastic gutters which drain into a bio-filter. Finally, water is collected into giant, one thousand liter tanks. It's simple, effective and energy-efficient. Boy, does Lima need water. It's the exact opposite of the damp Amazonian rain forests which are hundreds of miles away. Peru's capital receives a mere two inches of rain a year. It is the world's second largest desert metropolis...behind Cairo.

"The water is crystalline," explains Lima resident Abel Cruz. "Just don't drink it." It's true: Fog Water is not potable. But you sure can use it for the other 95% of the city's water needs. Agriculture, cleaning, washing clothes and dishes, light industry...you name it. Free water is also liberating for the poor of Lima. Normally, they spend six soles ($2.50) for 100 liters of water. This is a large percentage of income that has been freed up for the poor.

But what impressed us most about this story here at the DUNER BLOG is the simple fact that the Peruvians are planning for the future. There are three river that flow through the sprawling capital: The Chillion, Rimac and Lurin Rivers. These are fed almost entirely from Andean tropical glaciers, which are melting at an accelerated rate. Faced with this dire reality, Peruvians looked elsewhere for answers.  They found a way to exploit the 97% air humidity that blows in from the Pacific every day.

It's not just Peru that is using this valuable resource. Around the globe, thirsty nations are turning to Fog Catchers to supplement water supply. You'll find them in South Africa, Yemen, Morocco and Guatemala. Unfortunately, they will likely never work in drought-plagued California. See, the black mesh is unsightly, and will disfigure local landscapes. They are placed near the shore, where property values are high. While Californians are thirsty, keeping up appearances is still more important!

Thursday, February 19, 2015



Last week, the Mars One Project announced the names of the hundred finalists for their unique mission. One lucky winner will be the first human to walk on the Red Planet. It is quite an honor! During the 1960's Space Race, twelve Americans set foot on the moon. However, no attempts have been made since to go to other planets. Without the threat of Soviet occupation, NASA has shifted focus elsewhere. Fortunately, the private sector that has taken up the mission. Mars One, based in Holland, has big plans ahead. Let's open the mailbag!

How long does it take to get to Mars? Yuri, Kharkov. According to the Mars One website, earthlings can reach Mars in six to eight months, or about the time people currently spend on the International Space Station. See, the orbits of Earth and Mars vary wildly. But...if you time it right, you can use the "Hohmann Transfer Orbit" which shaves two months off the trip.

Who would be crazy enough to do this? Henri, Lyon. Believe it or not: Over 200,000 people signed up for the space mission. From these, a (lucky?) one hundred were announced on Friday. The candidates range in age from 19 to 60 years old. Thirty-eight are Americans. Thirty-one are European. Some are engineers and technicians, others are students and adventurists. Half are men; half are women. However, they do share one trait: They are all crazy!

Is the mission scientifically sound? Sunjay, Allahabad.  Not exactly, Sunjay. According to a report from M.I.T., the Mars One mission is "overly optimistic." Should they be able to land on the planet's surface (half of all un-manned landings have failed), their supplies would likely run out in a mere 68 days. Plans to melt Martian ice into drinking water and to plant crops in oxygen filled domes are also "not really feasible. There are just so many unknowns."

Who will finance the mission? Irwin, New Jersey. This is the most difficult question! Estimates for the initial launch in 2024 range from four to six billion dollars. Quite a daunting task for a non-profit organization. The solution? A reality TV show! The BBC, National Geographic and Discovery Channels have already shown commercial interest. It's true: The photos and bios for the candidates read like an article in People Magazine.

How do you fit 100 people in a spaceship? Chuck, Calgary. To clarify: The first voyage of Mars One will have only four people, including the next Neil Armstrong. Then, every two years, another four astronauts will blast off to Mars. A grand total of thirty-six will be fortunate to go to Mars. Hopefully, they will return, but Mars One only promises a one-way trip.

Did anyone from Berkeley win? Virginia, Oakland. Of course! Meet Yvonne Young, a workout instructor. She blames "childhood dreams and watching way too many Star Trek episodes" as her main motivation for the mission.

In summary, we here at the DUNER BLOG fully support the Mars One Mission. After all...They all laughed at Columbus when he said the world was round. Also, we are starved for a new Reality Show that doesn't involve the Kardashians or female wrestlers!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015



This September, Pope Francis will make his first official visit to the USA. When his Excellency makes it to California, he is expected to make a historic announcement: The canonization of Father Junipero Serra. Never heard of him? Well, every kid who went to Elementary School in California sure knows him. In Fourth Grade History, we were taught how the benevolent priest built a string of missions in the 1700's. As the 'Columbus of California,' he carefully placed all 21 churches one day's walk apart. NOTE: This dude walked 20 miles a day! At any rate, Father Serra is a beloved part of the Golden State's heritage.

However, not everyone is thrilled over the Pope's upcoming announcement. "During the colonial period, we lost 90% of the Indians in California," explains Ron Andrade of the LA Native American Commission. "Serra was no saint to us." It's true: The 250,000 natives living in California in 1750 perished within fifty years of Father Serra's arrival. First, cattle ruined their creeks and food supply. Then, new diseases ripped through the populations. Also gone are centuries of wisdom, culture and folklore. Finally, today we miss their secrets on how to live in the semi-arid lands of California.

While it is easy to take Ron's point of view, historians know better. As the figurehead of the colonial movement, Junipero Serra has taken the lion's share of the blame for history's unfortunate path. The truth is the native peoples who lived in California in the 1700's were horribly isolated from the outside world. They had no agriculture, no metallurgy and had no permanent homes. Sooner or later, another group...Native or European...would have moved in and annexed their territory.

As to the true nature of Father Serra, we have very few primary sources available to establish any hard facts. However, we do know of one event in San Diego that occurred in 1775. Angry Kumeyaay Natives sacked the mission and killed three Spaniards. Afterward, the Spanish Viceroy called for the immediate execution of the dozen Indians captured in the skirmish. But Father Serra disagreed: "As to the killers, let them live so that they can be saved, for that is the purpose of our coming here and its sole justification." Hmm. Doesn't sound like a tyrant to us!

Sadly, the vast majority of the famed Spaniards who came the New World do not enjoy popularity today. For example, Columbus Day is being replaced by Indigenous People's Day. In Mexico, the Sea of Cortez has been renamed the Vermilion Sea. But it is truly unfair to lump Father Serra in with these conquistadors. He was a man of peace, ignorant to micro-bacteria that was killing natives and unaware of native grass types he destroyed. Fortunately, Pope Francis understands this. See, the Pope took his name from Serra's Franciscan Order. He has great respect for Saint Junipero Serra's legacy.

Thursday, February 5, 2015



The figures came in last week.  There is a new Top Dog when it comes to the world's busiest airport. Dubai International Airport logged in 70.5 million passengers in 2014. London's Heathrow...long the reigning champion in this category...serviced 68.1 million international travelers last year and is now in second place. How did Dubai do it? First: Location, Location, Location. 70% of the world's population lives within a four-hour flight away. Second: Emirates Airlines is based there. With sleek Airbus A380 SuperJumbo jets, they are now the world's fifth largest fleet. Lastly: Dubai is "in." Remember the Mission Impossible movie? Tom Cruise scaled the Burj in an unforgettable scene. Recently, Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez partied in the exclusive nightclubs. Sorry, Las Vegas, but Dubai is hotter!

Not so fast, Dubai! There are more ways than one to measure who is #1 when it comes to the title of World's Busiest. In fact, if you measure Total Passengers, not just International Passengers, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta is numero uno. It posted 72 million total travelers last year, thus besting Dubai. Since Atlanta has tons of short flights to boring places like Charlotte and Chattanooga this accomplishment becomes a bit tainted.

Hold on, Atlanta! The number of passengers doesn't matter...but the number of planes does. Specifically, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport can boast the most total number of plane movements; a departure or landing. Using this criteria, ORD is tops with 659,401 different aircraft coming and going from this important domestic hub. Many people have never been to the city of Chicago, but have transferred between flights at the airport numerous times!

Wait a second, Chicago! There is yet another way to measure who is the busiest airport on earth. People and planes don't matter...but Cargo does. And if we measure the total tons of commercial traffic handled at one airport, Hong Kong International is the busiest. A whopping 3,214,000 tons of cargo was shipped from Lantau Island's runways last year. NOTE: This just barely bests Memphis, home to the FedEx Empire.

Boy...now everyone must be thoroughly confused. Which statistic truly measures the World's Busiest Airport? Don't worry. We here at the DUNER BLOG naturally have the answer, and it's not one of the four categories discussed above. Nope, the true measure is how much people spent on Duty-Free shopping. With $2. billion in sales, it topped Seoul's Incheon International ($1.9 billion) for the top shot. Dubai Wins!