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Asilomar 2011

Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 18-21, 2011
ΦBKNCA 25th Annual Asilomar Conference Report

The tax deductable amount of your $100 payment is $82.46

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What a wonderful weekend!  The weather was variable, with rain Friday and Saturday (with a fantastic rainbow!), but lovely sunshine Sunday and Monday

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Ben Santer, an Environmental Scientist at LLNL, was masterful at making Global Warming (GW) understandable.  The data are now quite clear, and they show that human beings have exerted a measurable effect on the world’s climate, which shows up quite dramatically when data from the past 800,000 years are displayed.  The only uncertainties associated with GW appear to lie in our attempts to predict future climate effects.  So, will the next fifty to one hundred years see a 2 degree or a 5 degree (centigrade) increase in the average temperature of the earth?  Refining our computer models is a major job.


 

On Saturday morning, Kate Moses delivered the literary highlight of the weekend using lyrical, poetic language in a presentation that was a real treat to listen to.  Kate told how she was encouraged and inspired by a professor at University of the Pacific (UOP) to follow her passion for writing.  She was captivated by the tragedy of Sylvia Plath’s short life and suicide and spent several years getting deeply into Plath's life and work.  Moses’ book, Wintering, is a sensitive and beautiful novel about Plath's struggles with depression and PMDD after her husband’s infidelity and betrayal overwhelmed her.  We are most fortunate to count Kate Moses among our PBK-NCA members. Read more from Kate Moses here


Saturday afternoon Mrs. Jane Lindsey, immediate past president of the California Genealogical Society, shared with us several interesting insights into the satisfaction and rewards of preserving the treasured stories and pictures of our lives for future generations.  (Wouldn’t you like to know some of the stories of your parents’ lives when they were young?).  This talk was a real hit with many of our members.


In the evening Mr. John Marchand, Vice Mayor of Livermore and water quality chemist of many years’ experience, walked us through some of the complexities of water allocation problems in California, compounded as they are by a multitude of competing and powerful political interests.  He also gave us inside information about the water we drink, pointing out that tap water (the cheapest form of water for us all and which is controlled by one government agency with its purity standards) is compelled to be much purer than bottled water (more expensive but governed by different, less restrictive standards under another government agency).


On Sunday morning our own Neal Wiegman, a scholar of Spanish at The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Chico State, shared with us the 500 mile trek he and his wife took across the north of Spain on the Way of Saint James, which in medieval times was the third most important pilgrimage in the Christian world (right after those to Jerusalem and to Rome).  Several of our members at Asilomar this year have also walked this famous Way.


In the afternoon Sunday, Mr. Bill Anderegg, a doctoral candidate from Stanford University and recipient of one of PBK-NCA’ graduate scholarships last spring, shared some of the results of his research into how certain tree systems respond to drought and Global Warming.  He told us that one of the key elements in his data collection system was funded directly by our scholarship money.  We are delighted to have made it happen for him.


On Sunday evening we were treated to a wonderful visual presentation, as Dr. Ed Moses, Director of the giant Laser Facility at LLNL (the National Ignition Facility - NIF), explained how this massive research facility is bringing us closer to realizing the dream of using fusion energy (the same reaction that fuels the sun) as a possible answer to humanity’s quest for sufficient clean energy to power a greatly expanded energy-dependent future.  Although the fusion reaction itself has been achieved many times at NIF, we are still a bit below, but rapidly approaching, the magic threshold of “Ignition,” in which more energy is produced by the fusion reaction itself than is expended by the lasers in producing the very high temperatures and pressures needed in order for the reaction to occur.  Since “the devil is in the details,” many theoretical physicists are using some of the most powerful and fastest computers in the world to analyze data from these experiments and redesign capsules to produce more efficient results in the quest for “Ignition.”


On Monday morning those of us who remained on the grounds at Asilomar found ourselves in the company of a young ranger, Mr. Danny Rizzo, who guided us on a walking tour that included visual insights into the dune restoration project as well as showing us several of the Julia Morgan designed buildings.
 

In all, it was a great experience to hear the presentations, and we really enjoyed the opportunity to renew acquaintances and spend time with our good friends.  We hope to see you all at Asilomar next year.

The amount of tax deduction you can take for this year’s Asilomar registration, is $82.46 for each $100 fee.  We thus contributed $7,874.76 to the scholarship fund, which is equivalent to one and a half graduate scholarships.