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NHK’s Miki Yamamoto is an Extraterrestrial

People all over the work tune into NHK World’s Newsline every weekday to listen to the too-cute-to-be-human Miki Yamamoto read the news for “Japan and Around the World.”  But have we ever thought about just what “too cute to be human” means?

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Too Cute to be Human

That’s right.  She isn’t human.  She is an alien visitor, most likely sent to gather data on Earth’s culture—especially the highest expression of that culture: Japanese public TV—from the inside.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the animation below.  Even with their advanced makeup techniques, including cheek padding, the visitors can’t change the overall proportions of their skulls.

mikimorph

Artist’s Conception of Miki Yamamoto Without her Human Disguise

Ms. Yamamoto most likely relies on a high quality latex mask, human-hair wig, and special contacts applied to the lower portion of her giant black alien eyes.  Given the different size of the visitors’ eyes, she is forced to peer out though what, to her, must seem like pin-holes.  Her occasional difficulties reading the teleprompter lend credence to this interpretation.

Note also Ms. Yamamoto’s apparent lack of aging.   According to data from various internet sources, she should now be in her mid to late 40’s.  Yet she looks exactly the same as she did eleven years ago (minus the pigtails). That is to say she looks about 20 years old.  This discrepancy can easily be explained by the fact that latex masks of the quality Miki Yamamoto requires are hard to come by, so she has been using the same one for some time.

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Yamamoto Doesn’t Seem to Have Aged Since Starting he TV Career

It is hard to imagine that Ms. Yamamoto’s makeup artist is not in on the secret, since at close range a professional would immediately notice her disguise.  This person is clearly either an alien themselves, or a human agent of aliens. If the former, it would explain some of the questionable lipstick and makeup choices seen on NHK announcers in recent years, since aliens perceive a different color spectrum than we do.  In fact, we should probably consider the possibility that NHK is now completely riddled with alien infiltrators.

I know that these revelations may be shocking for some.  I was shocked myself when I first realized the truth (although my fifth, sixth, and seventh beers helped with the shock).  I knew, though, that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t let all of you know.

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Bicycle Review: Gran Royal Union Flyer

For most of the past two years I have primarily been a walker. I had been living in a loft above a downtown commercial building and had abundant retail opportunities within a few blocks of me, so there was hardly a reason to ride a bike, much less drive. In fact, I gave away my bikes to people who could use them because I hated to see them gathering dust.

A few months ago, however, I moved to Riverside, CA, to go to grad school. Riverside is quite a bicycle friendly town (by California standards). It has well marked bike lanes in most major streets and bicycle buttons on many intersections. In general, I have found that motorists here hate cyclists much less than those in Los Angeles (who deliberately tried to kill me a couple of times). Too, most of the stores were much further from my new apartment than they had been from my old one. The supermarket is about a five mile round trip. I have no problem walking five miles to buy groceries, but it gets 110ºF (43ºC) here in the summer, and it was impossible to buy frozen food without it melting before I got home. I decided it was time to buy another bike.

After a long search, I settled on the Union Flyer from Gran Royal. I have now been riding it for nearly two weeks, and feel ready to write a review.

When I chose the bike, I knew I needed something simple and basic. After commuting for years on an 18 speed road bike, I knew I didn’t want to mess around with any more derailers or skinny high-pressure tires. Also I didn’t want anything too fancy because it would be locked on campus at all hours and was likely to get stolen or vandalized. The Union Flyer seemed to fit the bill and, at $140 (on sale at Nashbar) the price was right.

The bike has classic lines, reminiscent of English Raleigh and Hercules bikes from the mid-20th century. Gran Royal calls it a “single-speed comfort bike” but most of the world would probably think of it as just an ordinary. It uses an American style one-piece bottom bracket–not surprising, since Gran Royal is owned by a BMX company. All the other components, from the 700×32 wheels to the threadless headset, are modern and metric. The only brake is a Shimano coaster hub.

The Good

  • The design is simple, and should need very little maintenance beyond repacking the hubs every couple thousand miles. This is a bike that will probably last longer than I will.
  • The price, as mentioned above, was quite affordable.
  • The frame is heavy, but the welding is clean and the alignment is good. Steel is real!
  • The bike has full fenders and a chain guard so I can wear nice pants without them getting trashed. The overall look of the bike is quite classy and gets noticed by people around the bike rack.

All in all, I am delighted.

The Bad

  • The paint is pretty but seems overly delicate. Already I have several small paint chips. I can see myself repainting the whole bike in a year or two, or even getting it powder coated.
  • The hand grips get a little slippery when my hands are sweaty (see above about the hot summers here). I am thinking about trying a different brand.
  • I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the coaster brake. I like the simplicity of it, but I am having to revise my whole riding style. For example, when stopped in traffic at an intersection it is impossible to track-stand. Also, to get going, I need to change feet. I have accidentally locked the back wheel a couple of times when I was bunny-hopping potholes and brought my feet back too far. I think that most of these problems have more to do with changing my technique than with any problem with the bike itself, however.
  • The bike comes standard with a 44T chainwheel and an 18T cog. This works out to be about a 5.5 gain ratio (using Sheldon Brown’s calculator) which is probably fine for a bike path, but is a little too high a gear to climb a hill with a load of groceries. I installed a 20T cog (5.0 ratio) and realized an immediate gain in rideability (total cost less than $10, including shipping).

Changes I Would Like To See

  • Rod Brakes – Which are almost impossible to find in this country, but this bike would be a perfect application. They would be as durable as the coaster, but much more effective.
  • Lower Gearing – As described above. 44X18 seems perfect.

Of course the rod brakes are a fantasy and the gearing is cheap to change in the field. I am really rather happy with this bike as it is.

Undergraduate Capstone Project: Straightedge Engineering

WGU requires a capstone writing project for all of their BS degrees.  For management majors this takes the form of a business plan for a real or hypothetical company.  In my case I was not planning on starting any more companies right away (I had already been accepted to Business School) but I did want to write my plan for a a realistic company that I actually could have started, had things gone a little differently. 

The company I came up with was a general contracting firm that specializes in tricky insitutional work–the kind where the contractor spends more time wading through red tape and dealing with bureaucrats than they do on the actual job site.  While this may not sound appealing to most, I still maintain that it is an underserved, and potentially lucrative market segment.

I apologize for all of the censor bars.  In the interest of realism I built based my management team on the resumes of actual associates of mine who gave me permission to use them as long as I fictionalized their contact information.  I don’t want any misunderstandings with their current employers, though, so I have tried to excise all identifying information. 

Business School Math Review

My school requires that all incoming students who haven’t taken calculus and statistics within the last ten years either pass a waiver exam or take a remedial “Quantitative Methods” class. Since the last thing I need is an extra class, I have been reviewing pretty hard for the waiver exam. It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to post my review notes on the web, so as to help other business students who were in the same situation. The result is a website which you can find right here.

Motorscooter Madness

In the past month, I have added one more transportation mode to my arsenal: a 150cc Taiwanese motor-scooter. I dragged my feet for some time before going motorized. During the past ten months of living with no car, though, I realized that I had a lot of trouble with trips of between 15 and 50 miles. They were too far to ride my bicycle (if i wanted to get there on time and/or carry any amount of cargo). They were too short to justify borrowing or renting a car. If the train went close, then no problem. A lot of trips around here are only served by bus, however. Here in Southern California, a thirty mile trip across town can cross the territories of three or more transit authorities. Just working out the transfers was a headache.

Even after realizing that I needed some sort of motorized transportation, I spent several months researching various forms of powered bicycles. Electric bikes are cheap to recharge and low maintenance. Unfortunately, the good ones are expensive. Also, the batteries wear out after a couple of years. During this period, I wrote a rather chilling research paper about the environmental problems of recycling batteries. Too, few e-bikes can much faster than 30 mph–fine for downtown, but too slow to keep up with traffic in OC and the South Bay.

Next, I looked at gas powered bicycle conversions. They are much cheaper than e-bikes. I could have gotten everything I needed to convert a beach cruiser for about $250. If I was willing to cheat a little on engine displacement, I could probably build a 50 mph motorized bicycle. The only problem was, I have already owned one. I remember it as a noisy vehicle with poor handling at speed, with inadequate brakes and tires that wore out as fast as I could change them.

From an environmental point of view, motorized bicycles have engines about the same size as motorscooters. Because they have no transmission, however, they are inherently less efficient. Thus, they tend to burn more gas to travel the same distance. They also have more lenient smog requirements, so they tend to pollute more.

I was already considering some kind of scooter when I went to Thailand on vacation. In Thailand nearly everyone rides scooters. They use them to carry passengers and cargo in all kinds of weather conditions, everywhere from the freeways of Bangkok to remote country roads. Needless to say, I resolved to buy an Asian-style scooter as soon as I got home.

The most popular scooter in Thailand is the Honda Dream, which has large wheels and uses Honda’s famous 125cc GY6 engine. Unfortunately, Honda no longer sells Dreams in the US. Luckily, Kymco (who used to build scooters for Honda) makes several GY6 based bikes which are quite similar. I settled on their People 150. I decided that, since I am a bit larger than the average Thai, it was reasonable to choose the next larger GY6.

So far, I have been fairly happy with the Kymco. It does a splendid job of the mission for which I purchased it. I can load it up with ten bags of groceries, and still keep up with traffic. It does not take up much more parking space than a bicycle. The only problems I have had so far have been mechanical. It stalls inexplicably when running. Vapor lock, perhaps? I have had it apart three times now, but I am sure I will find the problem soon.

The real question, of course, is weather it is morally acceptable to buy a combustion vehicle. I have wrestled with this one, and concluded that it is a necessary compromise. A small scooter still has far less environmental impact than a car. Having the scooter allows me to borrow cars less often. Sure, I would like to live in a city where it was practical to get everywhere by bicycle and train. Los Angeles, however, is a city that was designed for driving. As long as I am stuck here, I think I will need to keep the scooter.

Suited up with homemade rain gear to run permits on a stormy day.

The War Against the Car and the War Against Diabetes

It may surprise my readers to know that I spent most of this weekend on a stationary bicycle. After all, I walk to work and use a bicycle for most of my shopping. Why would I want to spend even more time exercising?

I walk two miles each way two and from work. I bicycle every chance I get but I do not like to ride too far in the dark. Considering that I leave for work before dawn and do not get back until after dark, this cuts into my riding possibilities. All in all, I only seem to be walking and riding about twenty miles each in a typical week. That’s not even enough to stay in shape. So much for giving up my car being a lot of work and exertion.

I am training for some pretty big rides right now, including a century in May for The American Diabetes Association. To feel like I am even remotely prepared, I try to get in 80-100 miles of cycling every week. Thus the stationary bike for five or six hours per weekend.

I bring all of this up for a reason, of course. That reason, as you the reader have probably already guessed, is to hit you up for money. It may seem like Diabetes has no relation at all to an anti-car blog. A little thought, however, will quickly show that there is indeed a connection. The rate of diabetes is increasing dramatically in this country. In fact, as many as 40% of Americans will probably develop the disease over the course of their lives. Adult-onset diabetes is a symptom of America’s lazy, indulgent, energy wasteful lifestyle. Most people who developed diabetes are over-weight and out of shape…often because they have spent their whole lives driving cars when they should have been cycling or walking. Overuse of cars contributes to the diabetes epidemic. Take away the cars, and we will have less diabetes.

In the men time, while we work to eliminate private car ownership, the good people of the American Diabetes Association work to educate people about the disease and how to prevent it with exercise and a healthy diet. If you would like to support them, the best way is by sponsoring me in the Tour De Cure in may, which you can do here.

The added benefit is that every time we ride in a highly publicized 60 mile (100 km) ride, we have the chance to raise awareness of bicycling as long distance transportation. Next time someone tells me that five miles is too far to ride to work, I am going to point out “Five miles? I’m riding 60 miles for the American Diabetes Association”. See how that works?

Car Free Again At Last

I have a confession to make. I write about the evils of cars. I hate the automobile and try to have as little as possible to do with it. Despite these facts, I have owned a car for most of the last year.

I had plenty of justifications. The car, a 1990 Mazda Miata, is just about the most minimalist excuse for a car that I could get away with. It is small, fuel efficient, and used. I offset all of the emissions through Carbonfund. It seemed like I needed it for work. After all, I need to visit job sites in six counties.

Of course, all of these arguments are complete hogwash. Cars are dangerous and destructive. They consume space and money and make you lazy. Getting a car “for work only” like an alcoholic deciding it is OK to drink as long as it’s just beer. Naturally I soon began using it to get to night school. From there is was a short leap to driving on the weekends.

Lucky for me, some higher power decided to intervene. Yesterday the Mazda blew a head gasket. I am not going to fix it, even though I have the skills and tools. I am not going to replace it, either. Car ownership is a dangerous trap. The hypocrisy ends here and now.

I already ride the bus to school and use my bicycle for errands. I am training for a century ride right now anyway so I can use the miles. Now from now on at work I am going to use company trucks for company business or else I will not go at all. I am car free and I plan to stay that way.