The Flywheel

Program for September 12Th, 2008

How Green is my Prius

Paul Guzyk of 3 Prong Power Inc. in Berkeley talks about their electifying business: converting Toyota Prius hybrids into ‘plug-in’ electric hybrids.

The spike in fuel costs and the growing concern about climate change are spawning a flurry of responses from entrepreneurs. Electricity from the grid (or solar panels) can be a bridge to alternatives.  

MEETING OF September 5th, 2008

Welcome, Invocation, Thought for the Day

President Mark Howe rang the bell and called the meeting to order. John Nicol led the pledge of allegiance. Sid Chauvin recounted the story of an innocent blonde beauty who experienced a flat-tire on the busy I-80 freeway. She immediately began to set things up to change the tire, including two cardboard images of Chippendale hunks wearing nothing but overcoats opened wide. In responding to the CHP officer in the ensuing mayhem of cars piling up, the exasperated blonde identified the two cardboard images as simply her “emergency flashers”.

Visiting Rotarians

  • Our speaker, Carl Pennypacker, from El Cerrito Rotary.
  • Mac Niven, a fellow Rotarian who’s relocated from Wisconsin as the manager of the Richmond Country Club.

Sunshine Report

It was quite sunny to witness Dan Tanita’s return. He’s missed a few meetings (has had some back problems).


  • Margaret Morkowski reminded everyone to consider making a $100 donation so each teacher at Peres elementary school can have some extra funds for classroom supplies (above and beyond what they already purchase out of pocket).
  • Coming soon is online Rotary payments for various things via PayPal (including straightforward credit card usage). Right now you can purchase tickets online for the October 31 Rotary Winehaven event ($35).
  • A few seats are still available for Thursday, September 18, dinner at the Hotel Mac followed by the Masquers Playhouse performance of “Petrified Forest”. Sign up with Hank Covell ($40 per person).
  • Alan Baer also confirmed a few seats are still open for the Rotary A’s Night baseball game, Friday, September 19. Cost is $30 per person. See Alan or Rafael Madrigal.
  • As part of fund-raising for the Richmond Rotary Peace Project, there will be wine tasting and purchase opportunities each Friday afternoon until the October 31 Winehaven event, from 4:30pm – 6:00pm at Mark Howe’s office, MSH Group, 201 W. Richmond Ave., in Pt. Richmond (across the street from the Santa Fe Market).

Happy and Sad Dollars

  • George Egan had happy dollars for the FHA’s new Hope for Homeowners Program. If you know of anyone who might benefit, talk with George.
  • Monique le Conge was happy to be back after being out for six weeks recovering from shoulder surgery. She was also pleased about her daughter starting classes at Whittier College in SoCal.
  • Dan Tanita combined recognition and happy dollars. Besides having a recent birthday and anniversary, he was also very pleased with his daughter Kimiko’s recent graduation from UC Berkeley.
  • Laura Kuhn was happy to be heading to Capitola for the weekend, celebrating a birthday and an anniversary.
  • John Nicol had happy dollars for the day back in early September of 1964 when he joined the Richmond Rotary Club.
  • Erle Brown admitted to being very happy about celebrating his 49th wedding anniversary on August 29. Someone then asked, “Yeah, but how does Phyllis feel about it?”
  • Mark Howe was happy that his daughter seems “ok” so far with having started boarding school, something which he remembers doing as a youngster.
  • Judy Kafka was happy about the wonderful cruise to Greece and Italy that she just got back from. Plus she returned in time to attend the infamous Contractors Lunch.

Raffle Results

Seemingly overly lucky Josh Surowitz drew the orange ball.


The Universe in 20 Minutes

Hubble image of galaxy

Mark Howe introduced Carl Pennypacker, a member of the El Cerrito Rotary Club and an astrophysicist researcher at the Livermore Berkeley Laboratory.

For those of you who weren’t there for the program last Friday, you missed a good one. The content of Carl’s presentation was, in a word, profound. It was also cool – with the aid of Internet protocol and the Skype service through Carl’s laptop computer, we talked real-time with Susan, a fellow scientist in Kenya ten time zones away (more on that below).

Carl showed some elapsed-time video taken from the Hubble telescope as it looks into the seemingly endless, milky soup of the universe. As for size, our own Milky Way, one of gazillions of such galaxies out there, is 100,000 light-years across. And the “infinite” universe, according to Carl, is still expanding. Go figure!

As Carl and his fellow researchers daily ponder the question of where we came from, he underscored how we are the first generation to “know” something about the answer to that question. And yet he quickly and humbly added that we (actually, smart guys like him) may yet have only a flimsy hold on a mere third of the relevant theory.

There’s wide-spread scientific belief in the “Big Bang” theory of the universe’s beginning. But we don’t know what happened before that, how all things were, in effect, squeezed down to the head of a pin – and then exploded. Interestingly, Carl says there’s still a detectable (with the right equipment) hissing, a humming “out there” left over from the Big Bang.

Carl presented the following mass-energy budget of the universe:

  • 70% “Dark Energy”, about which little is known although it accounts for the continued expansion of the universe (which is happening more rapidly than thought only recently).
  • 25% “Dark Matter”, which is residual, relatively unknown stuff left over from the Big Bang.
  • 4% free hydrogen and helium, the basic building blocks of everything.
  • Less than 1% “normal” matter like basic stars and planets like ours. (By the way, Carl mentioned that, outside of our solar system, about 200 earth-like planets have been confirmed orbiting stars like our sun. Is anyone else out there?!)
To help put the timeline of the universe in perspective, Carl used a familiar 12-month calendar.

  • The Big Bang occurred on January 1st (about 13 billion years ago).
  • Sometime in August, galaxies started forming (gravitational attraction and clustering occurs throughout the universe). This was about 5 billion years ago.
  • In early September, our solar system came into being (about 4 billion years ago).
  • In late September, “life” appears on earth.
  • Life-form differentiations started occurring around the end of November.
  • The month of December has been relatively active.
  • The presence of oxygen happened around the first of the month.
  • The first plants occurred on the 19th.
  • First trees and reptiles on the 23rd.
  • First dinosaurs on the 25th.
  • The dinosaurs disappeared on the 30th and mammals proliferated.
  • We humans have been around for about the last… 10 minutes.

As for the Internet phone call to Kenya, Carl linked us up with an astronomer colleague who’s helping promote a project that El Cerrito Rotary is involved in: “To Stars and Beyond”. Susan, in Kenya, is joining her local Rotary Club and starting an Interact Club of young people at the University of Nairobi.

Susan described the project in Kenya as a vocational education activity that strives to use astronomy to get young Africans better educated, connected, and inspired. While they learn about the planet, thinking about and discussing the stars and the sky, numerous skills are brought forth and developed. They learn critical thinking skills and stimulate scientific curiosity from which human progress flows.

As the program concluded, our own Jon Lawlis, who went to the top of nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro in July, bid a farewell to Susan by offering a grateful Swahili phrase, “asante sana” (thank you very much). And to Carl as well!

- Tom Waller, Rotating Scribe