*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Kindle Paperwhite

So I got one.

It's finally, and exponentially, much easier to get reading in Japan, but with or without one.

I was living near Tokyo in the mid-nineties when there were few places you could get books new or used in English.  Sadly, it is just the same storefronts now.  They are no better and are going to get murdered, and deserve it.  The Internet was in its infancy then too (not that Japan has or will catch up on any format but mobile Internet).  I'd have to go down to the city from Saitama and load up a backpack of books, taking in a backpack for trade-in, which they no longer do at the used places for the glut of paper books left here by departing Gaijin.  A 'blink of an eye' after Amazon Japan made it easy to get English books here, now you can do it via eBook: initial nominal investment followed by cheaper books in an easier to carry format than a bookshelf.  So long as you read some Japanese, despite their 'English' page option.

So why this and not a tablet or 'Smart phone'?  It is simple to use back home once I switch the location at the Amazon site, which is not so easy for any other platforms bought in these fucking Galapagos: Japan.  It's cheap.  The battery lasts forever between charges, which also means the battery will last indefinitely to take charges.  We have not known at any point that we were staying in Japan long enough to get involved in a multi-year cell contract, or to be worth buying a device that may turn out unusable in Canada.  Unless I'd pay 5K/yen/month for another 3G plan for a tablet, or go to the trouble and expense of a better phone I could use to tether it to the Internet, I'd have to rely on finding wi-fi in Japan, which is a fucking joke (Google if you must).  I need to read more books and surf less.  I want a device I can afford to get broken in travel, or lose, and has no personal information on it.  If we find we are staying I'll just get a decent phone I can use for Internet, not lug a tablet everywhere.  I like eInk better than lit-screen on my eyes.  My best friend, the IT guy, says it is his favourite piece of tech.

Nothing's ever simple here though.  Amazon misled the public on the device's scarcity: was told it would be delivered in four to six weeks, but got it in two.  Given wi-fi in Japan, and for the battery, I am keeping it on 'airplane mode', and loading my books via my laptop, but you do need to sign in wireless initially for some goddamned reason.  We have a landline, because we are cheap and do not move the laptop, and do not have a tablet yet.  Got a dozen wi-fi signals in my house, but the Japanese keep them all locked down; in Canada I'd get a few open ones.  Tried the free Yokado (7/11) wi-fi, but it kept cutting out.  Starbucks works!  (When it asks for your email and password, they do not mean the password to your email, but to make a password for the wi-fi sign in).  You can do what the Japanese would do and pay 150% for the 3G version, but the Japanese are trained to take it unlubricated...

It's a bit of a quirky device, as is the way to get books on it from Amazon without a wi-fi connection.  As a book it works pretty well, though not as well for paging through of course, but much better for text by weight and volume.  If it cost much more I'd be annoyed at its limitations, but given that you can get some books free or near to it, and all other books at a fraction of their paper-price, it is a good deal as a portable bookshelf, or should I say, library.  I have the entire Bible on it (atheist, but cultural reference is valuable), two English dictionaries, an English Grammar, a Japanese dictionary, the complete Shakespeare and several other complete authors, and a dozen other books, and have used less than a tenth of its space.  Be aware some of the free books out there have no indexing, which makes them unusable.  Read reviews.

Recommend it?  Do you read a lot of books?  Do you live outside an English speaking country?  Do you never plan to get used or library books anymore because of possible lice infestation?  Do you go on long trips and are tired of carrying several books at a time to ensure reading?  There you go.

Some tips here. Free books here, and here.

Friday 28 December 2012

It's not paranoia, when history proves it true.

Margaret Thatcher and her chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe were behind a politically toxic plan in 1982 to dismantle the welfare state, newly released Downing Street documents show.
Funny, same thing under Reagan at the same time, and just look after 1982 on that chart.  Revolution or collapse always comes, unless your industrialists are smart enough to loosen the screws: 'The New Deal'.  What I want to know is are the 1% ignorant of all history and the term 'blowback', figure they'll be dead when it comes and could care less about their own progeny, think it will be different this time and they'll keep it all forever, or simply act according to their nature: feed their bloodlust on the slavery of others as viciously as they can at any given chance, damn the consequences?

Tuesday 25 December 2012

'Render unto...'

If you score the skin of a duck all over, and trim off the fat and chop it up, you can render about two cups of awesome from it.  If you are as awesome as me, you can put that two cups back into the meal in the other dishes.

Merry Christmas my American friends.

But sorry, I won't ever be visiting you.  Ever.
Shooting 'foreigners', politicians, children and now fire-fightersChildren and fire-fighters?!  If I believed in gods or Santa Claus, I know what I'd be asking for: in 2013 no innocents get shot, but each one's place taken by an NRA executive or spokesperson, conservative pundit, gutless politician, or plutocrat making a fortune off this misery.

Rest in peace children, my teaching colleagues, and fire-fighting heroes.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Japan, if you can't do Christmas right...

...doing it will be idiotic, and at worst offensive.
This is not offensive (I've used this picture before).  I have a thing for periorbital puffiness (that's above the shoulders, btw), and the 'cos-play' people get up to in their 2DK or porn is none of my business.  I was at a pub Friday night with some other Gaijin and I couldn't stop repeating "Merry Christmas..." each time the twenty-year-old barmaid slinked by in just this outfit.  Well, not the boots, the skirt down to the knee, and covered past the shoulder, but good enough!

And I don't find the opportunistic commercialism any more offensive in Japan than at home, because I couldn't find it any more offensive.  I am no fan of Christmas, mainly because of the usual family trauma and nonsense that's not even interesting to a well paid shrink.  I'll spare you.

This shit is stupid.
First, N.Americans are wrong.  There is no good reason to eat bland turkey more than once in the year: Christmas goose and Easter lamb (ham is for people in the 'Hate-States')..  And this is none of the above, but available in every Japanese department grocer now: chicken leg covered in teriyaki sauce, as if they haven't had enough shoyu in the year...  At least they prefer dark meat?

And this shit is stupid.
I don't mind KFC cashing in, not that I touch the stuff, but the Japanese zombies paying double to go on unavoidable dates with the rest of the islands on the evening of Christmas Eve, and then buying chicken (chicken!) at KFC, like that has anything to do with anything but arteriosclerosis and nausea, just reminds me of what I call the 'Japanese Razor': "if there is a more sensible solution, 'it's not Japanese culture'."

Don't tell me that the Japanese appropriating Christmas to their culture in their own way is inevitable and harmless, because this:
And finally, this that we do to their culture:
If you're going to appropriate, don't miss the point, and do it worse.

No, if you're going to make offence, go big, smart, or go home.

Folding fixed gear hack

I have changed the plan for this bike.  The Bike Friday below was the best idea, until I found out that the chain will fall off on every fold, as the hinge is inside the rear triangle.  Not to mention that the $1500 cost will go up to $2000 once it is shipped to Canada or Japan, and hit by shipping and tax and duties.  And the S3X hub?  Seen a video and it has far too much lash.

Altering a $350 Dahon Speed Uno will work best, for the following reasons:
- the chain won't drop off on folds
- the wheelbase is comparatively long for a folder, and I can put the rear wheel at the far end of the dropouts
- the frame is steel, though not the fork
- the cost of the whole bike is no more than the value of the frame to me
- it folds as small as anything else
- with all the alterations, still well under $800
So what does it need?  All of this in black to be my 'Smell the Glove' bike.
- the silly coaster rear need replacing with a 20" fixed/free wheel
- 14T cog and 16T freewheel
- the flat bar needs replacing with road drops, black cotton shellacked tape
- a Gran Compe Shot lever, since I'll only run the front brake
- I have an old black caliper brake I can put on the front
- I can use this to get the seat back if needed, and this to get the bar forward, as I am 6'+
- spd pedal
- a black leather Brooks B17N or Swift Saddle
- with the brake lever on the flats for riding among traffic, I'll need dummy levers for riding in the tops

Old Post:
This is a project I have had on my mind for some time as a fixed gear bike I can take on/off Tokyo and Toronto trains, which also has a climbing gear.  Other than having the Sturmey Archer S3X hub, it would look much like this.  Yes, I know folders look silly, but larger wheeled folders are not an option on moderately crowded trains; on fully crowded trains no luggage is an option, but my commutes are downtown outwards.

The Bike Friday Pocket Rocket option is overpriced at $1500, but there isn't really anyway to beat this 'custom assembly' price, since nobody's making a stock fixed folder at all, much less one with the Sturmey Archer S3X hub, drop bars, and a steel frame, with choice of stem and seatpost length.  Some have had Bike Friday make them a fixed from the Tikit frame, but 16" wheels are just silly.  20" are silly enough, and replacements are easy as BMX uses these.

There are few other folders with the track ends needed for a fixed gear hub, whether the S3X or standard.  There are fewer yet that are steel, and there are even fewer that are affordable.  None come stock as fixed gears, which means changing components, which quickly becomes as much cost, and more trouble, than a 'custom assembly'.  You could start with a Moulton, but that's stupid-money.  The next best option is a Swift Folder, but it doesn't fold nearly small enough.  The Dahon Speed Uno is a cheap start, if you can find it, but the components it starts with are crap, so nearly everything would need changing but the frame: expensive and troublesome.

Tomorrow I find out if I get the new job in Tokyo.  If so, I sell my regular fixed gear and order the Bike Friday.  Fingers crossed...

Friday 21 December 2012

"protect all that [is] truly valuable from the practical people of the world"

Putting his head down on the dog's neck, he vowed to himself fervently that he would always have some money on hand, no matter what became of him, so that he would be able to protect all that was truly valuable from the practical people of the world.
'The Little Businessman', Morley Callaghan.

After diving into the water, to untie the old dog his uncle had paid a hired-hand to drown.  A simple moral that has stayed with me since I read it in elementary.  Besides, Callaghan beat the shit out of that poseur Hemmingway, which is wonderful wish fulfillment for every literate Canadian.

What does this have to do with anything?  The 'dog' is Toronto's common weal.  The 'uncle' our 1%.  The hired-hand our voters.  The 'boy'?  Nowhere for him to appear in this story.  It's not just a Toronto story.  Let's use Toronto as an example.

Bedbugs in the libraries (e-books for me from now on).

Crumbling infrastructure decades past due, and public transit needed decades past, never built.

Degradation of democracy: that Rob Ford was possible.

Society costs money, but so does graft!  Which do you want?  That's the real left/right-wing issue.  The shit about identity politics, the lazy poor and the idle rich is all bullshit.  Everyone's greedy as fuck.  I'd rather see that greed spread thinly among all the classes so the children get to eat, the water runs clean, and we don't need gated communities.  Do you want to be Copenhagen or Mogadishu?

Nationally, and provincially in Ontario, we voted in our hate-party ('Conservative' is clearer than 'LDP' or 'Republican').  And our hate-party rejigged Toronto so that the tolerant centre would be disenfranchised.  So  mental health was slashed, and many ended up on the streets, so warm up in the libraries, and bring bedbugs and untreated psychological issues into them.  But it doesn't matter to the hate-party and voters, who don't live downtown, or care.  And reports on a sixty year old freeway falling apart are buried, and subway line building is cancelled, so that Toronto now has the worst commute times in N.America, soon to get much worse (this will matter more to suburban voters than 'soft issues' like a psychiatric patient's quality of life).

Worse yet, they'll get voted in again, because: most everyone outside of the city is an idiot (and many inside), don't understand what they have done, what they are doing to themselves, and wouldn't take responsibility if they did; and wouldn't understand what a class-interest is, much less that they are voting against their own.  Canada/Ontario/suburban Toronto: you not only suck, you don't even know that you suck beyond redeeming.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Well done South Korea; Japan-fail! (Again).

South Korea did what Japan cannot: elected a woman leader.

Can't say I know much about her, and I do not like the conservative ties, but LDP, DPJ or Sokka Gakkai party, Japan can't and won't elect a woman leader.  You can blame the old men, you can blame the rural vote, but most of all I blame the female half of society for the retrograde status of women in Japan.  If just a few of you stopped dressing like children and fetish objects and got politically motivated your country might have a future.  If South Korea beats you at a sexual equality benchmark, you're finished.

Fuck them.  My family's out of here in the summer, and I am not raising my daughter here.  Thank god.

Sunday 16 December 2012

America worships death.

Yes, the most recent of many shootings.  If you are an American, I do not hate you, but yes, I hate your country and I hate your 'culture'.  America worships death.  What should I think?  Here are some thoughts I have put out here and there.  They are copy/pasted, so don't expect an essay.
Massacres happen far less often, and with far fewer casualties, if the weapon is less 'effective'. If I have to have a massacre at the school where I teach, let it be while in Japan where the man will only have a knife.

Incidentally, Japan allows hunting, whatever you think about it, but the gun control is strict, and handguns, automatic and semi-automatic long guns are banned outright. There is also a mental health interview before licensing. This is a culture with some wound up and crazy people, but the gun-murder rate is even lower than Canada's. Go figure.

Gun control means a lower gun-murder rate. Anyone who'll argue against that either doesn't know what they're talking about, is lying, or is a victim of 'truthiness'. I have no time for any of these collaborators in the deaths of children, women and men.

If I were American, I would leave that hole if I could; as I would if I were Albertan. I can barely tolerate what Toronto's become, in the ridings which won't go Conservative. Sadly, though my family can live in Canada and Japan, due to marriage and parentage, I am not happy with the conservatism in either. Still, happier to send my children to school in either than in the US.

Countries with or without gun control more stringent than the US should have the same proportion of murderous personalities, but you don't kill lots of people with only a knife in your hand, or even with single-fire weapons. The stats on massacres around the world confirm this. Hell, the stats on murder rates confirm this. You may even fail to intimidate someone if poorly armed, especially if outnumbered.

Who knows what one would do, though we ought to be humble enough to expect we'd do no better than most people have, but knowing a small amount about how poorly people wield edged weapons from martial arts training, I can imagine taking on someone with one (though I don't presume to be certain). Much less sure of myself, I can imagine trying to get the jump on someone who might get just one shot off before I reach him with something heavy, as most people fire poorly. But if he can get a magazine off... I don't think I could be that brave, and it doesn't matter as he'd get at least one bullet into to me. As for the NRA argument about other civilian gun owners having fire-power to take him out? One: it has never happened! Two: civilians panic-firing is supposed to reduce the bloodbath?

Canada, sadly and unlike in my youth, now has nearly the same social and political culture as in the US. Yet, it has a murder rate a fraction that of the US. It's pretty damned hard to kill many people with the weapons that are legal there. The day we get American gun culture is the day I stay the hell out of N.America entirely. I already have stayed out of the US for a decade. Media, politics and 'foreign policy': it is a culture of death.

As for my "culture of death" comment, yes, it's provocative. Not to ask you to agree, but when I say it what I have in my mind is: the fact that TV and movies are not rated for adults when showing murder and torture (death), but are when showing physical love (life); that romantic or physical love between consenting adults must fit narrow sexual and racial norms (50% of Louisiana believes inter-racial marriages, as is mine, should be illegal - you can imagine what they think about same-sex unions...); that America's government, courts and military have thrown out everything decent in the Common Law tradition; and that exporting death abroad is the norm, as is sending your children to help do it.  Let's not even start on the enslavement that is America's income-disparity.

I guess I am a radical: I do not believe an American life is worth more than an Afghani one, I do not believe a hetero one is worth more than a queer one, I do not believe a financial speculator is worth more than a blue collar member (quite the opposite), and I do not believe that 'ignorance is bliss'. I also don't see anywhere in the New Testament that gives 'Christians' a right to kill. Maybe Canada is just as perverse as America, but I take some comfort that it doesn't have the power to make others' lives hell (except that we collaborate with America...).
I have met more fine Americans than poor ones. I have stood up for Americans in my social groups in Tokyo getting $#!+ on by other nationalities thus: "Give him a break. The ones you hate don't exactly travel or learn another language." But I am sorry, I am not impressed by the mere words in America's constitution when I look at the realities of its history, recent and older. If America is ever going to live by the sentiments of the 'Founding Fathers' there are two things it will have to get rid of: empire and plutocracy. I am not hopeful: Rome managed neither; Britain managed one.
 Or, as Andrew O'Hehir  put it:
Moving backwards from the evidence here, I would suggest that these atrocities tend to occur in a culture with numerous fundamental problems: one that is economically divided and socially stratified, with a dark undercurrent of male anxiety and anger, one where high-powered firearms with no legitimate uses are far too easy to find, where the social safety net has been shredded and decent mental-health care is not available to all, and where our experience of the world is increasingly as a shared media spectacle. Does that sound familiar?

Saturday 15 December 2012

You pay either way.

When you need work done on a car or bike, it's often just cheaper to pay the shop.
That is how she looks now for most rides.  I can fit a handlebar bag off the accessory steerer, and a huge seatbag, as well as the frame bag that fits tools, a water bottle and sundries.  I even have a top tube bag I rarely use.

I just finished putting a new fork (Part I) on my road bike, and paid as much for the tools* as I did for the fork itself.  The shop cost would have been 3/4 of that in Canada, total (but 100%+ here in Japan).  Sure, now I have the tools and know-how, for a job I may not do again.  And sure, now I have taken off and serviced or replaced every component on my bike...  No, that's cool.

Why do this but bragging rights and experience points?  You ever dealt with the Japanese... ?  Things I like here and all (including the J-wife) but if you are a sadomasochist go to a Japanese 'professional' and say, 'my opinion...', or 'I have heard elsewhere...'; 'professionals' don't take kindly to second opinion, especially if it is correct.  Also the fork isn't available in Japan, and it's the only one I could determine has the same geometry to the one I replaced.  Of course, when I got the J-wife to phone for installation, I had this experience:
The shops gave me BS: pay us double installation since you did not order through us (you don't carry steel forks, fuckhead), and bring us your bike to look at before we commit to doing it (bag and it and schlep it across Tokyo twice?  And you might do it?  Fuck you!)
Why replace an unbroken fork?  As mentioned in other posts, I got a 2006 Lemond Croix de Fer years ago (fuck you, Lance) which has been a great bike for long rides on good pavement.  It has limitations that I have worked around, since it is not a bike I would buy now.  As I want to ride in comfort for long miles, don't need the external validation that owning and racing a 'dentist bike' provides, and need low gears for climbing Japanese mountains more than high gears to join rush hour in a peloton, I want a steel frame still, but also a steel fork, and a compact double with some big rings on the cassette.  This I may get when I go back to Canada, if I don't give up on long road rides among Ontario's fuck-witted drivers.  Or I may continue to alter this bike with a double crank, even though the rear fender clearance is not ideal.

So what about the fork?  Yes there was a weight penalty of a pound.  If you're worried about a pound and you're not an anorexic racer, try taking it off your gut.  If you are a sponsored racer, you have bigger troubles.  The carbon fork always made me nervous, and the clearance for anything more than a 25mm tire was shite.  Now I can run 32mm rear and 35mm+ front, though I'll stick with the 28s (unless I take up riding dubious rindo).  Why do so many bikes come with a carbon fork, even if the frame is steel or aluminum?  Marketing.  You'll be told it's lighter (it is by a pound, but doesn't matter), and more responsive (no,  twitchy), but the truth is they can build a carbon fork for nothing, and sell it up; a carbon frame is more expense for the builder.  If you have the money for a 'better' bike: titanium, so long as you don't mind whippy.  If you have the money, better components maybe, or a custom sized steel frame: though frame sizing can be addressed by switching stems and seatposts more cheaply.  Bikes, like anything: 'law of diminishing returns'.

The Lemond, I wanted to minimize its limitations as simply and cheaply as possible.
- I don't like the 'q-factor' (stance width) of a triple ring, but it is expensive to change for the benefit.  If I do, the White VBC is the way to go.
- It's hard to put fenders on, but removable fenders work, and a kludge to put one in the rear triangle also worked.  Removable fenders are preferable in Japan, where it goes in and out of a bag on trains.
- I've got the safer fork with more tire clearance.
- I love the Brooks Saddle I got half price, but needed a setback post to put it where it should be.
- I have no carbon on the bike except one headset spacer, which I can call ironic: frame and fork are steel, most components are aluminum.

How is a fork switched?  I won't go into all the details, which you can find online easily enough, but just supply the photo essay.  Suffice it to say: only do this if you have no good shop at hand, otherwise pay them to do it.

These are most of the tools, but substitute a dowel for the steel bar, for putting in the star-nut.

Old fork in situ.

Used one hose-clamp as a cutting guide: steel cuts slowly!

Some time later...


Filed roughly, and star-nut sunk.

That's not clearance.

Nor this.

This is!

Something's wrong...  No room for the brake.

Ohh... the crown race needs to come from the old fork.

Get more tools: a crown race puller and setter. Pull the crown race (the hardest part - the tool was less useful than a narrow-headed slot-headed screwdriver, which I snapped the head of...). Set the crown race.  Put the steerer through and adjust tension on the stem bolt until satisfied.  Line up the bars and fork.  Set stem bolts.

I meant to pull out the sealed bearings, clean and grease them, but these do not seem to come out with gentle prying from the cheap-ass Cane Creek Aheadset.  I'll use it to failure than replace.

Everything looks good on the fork.

Everything looks right, and moves right.  Now to find time to take a ride... Felt just like the old fork riding.  Well done.

*Tools, etc.:
- degreaser
- crown race puller
- crown race setter
- rubber mallet
- 30tpi steel saw
- hose clamps
- star nut
- Shimano long reach front caliper brake
**'That looks about right.'

That ain't right.

A wine store near Tokyo with all of its bottles on end,* on open racks with the doors wide open to outside,** half of them against the glass.***  Hmm...  Unless your turnover of every bottle is under a week...  Was interested in the selection, but turned on my heel and left.  Took this photo from outside.
Now I have seen poor wine storage elsewhere, but I see no end in Japan.  There are otaku of foreign tipples who do get it right, but they are an exception, and expensive.   I know cellaring is not in the culture, but shit: Google it.  No, fuck you!  If you're selling something, try not to do all of the things to ruin a product in ways the buyer won't know until they uncork it... if they even know enough even then.

Reminds me of my brother taking me to Delirium and noting the beer would be better if it weren't so cold.  "Yes, but cellar temperature beer is a non-seller with the salaryman."

*Corks will dry out, and become permeable to pathogens which will ruin the wine.
**Wine keeps and ages best at a consistent and cool temperature and high humidity (think 'cellar'): not Tokyo's dry winters down to zero, and humid summers up near forty.
***UV bad.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Metrofeits/Soma Pick Up Artist

This is what I'd get for my kids back in Canada, if I had the garage for it...  Nine feet long.

This has been well reviewed.  It ain't perfect, and a Cetma is better, but you pay the difference (the Dutch brands cost more because of duty and shipping - poor value).  It is an outstanding deal for this kind of bike: $2000 US to $2500 with some options.  These guys should get as much press as possible.  There are competitors out there, but none that don't cost $1000 more, or much more.  Some Chinese made pieces of shit will cost half, and last a fraction as long, handle and stop poorly.  How much are your kids worth?

However, as the mechanic in the third link points out, box bike are looong and noodley.  Something like a Bilenky cargo is much less trouble, though you need more skill for loading the kids and getting underway.  Of course, the Bilenky is something like $6K; the more reasonable Circe Morpheus $3K, and shipping from the UK; and something the same for this; the $2K Kidz Tandem is a bit graceless, and too long; but Soma is going to make up the 'Pick Up Artist', a shorter version, for $1.5K, which is a steal!
You could actually manoeuvre this thing around a city and into a van or truck.  I could totally make a kid box out of marine plywood or black HDPE, put the kids back to back and their feet could go down front and back of the wheel, out of the way of turning.  Put a boom of the front a few years later and have a hi-lo tandem.  Hope Soma figures this out so I don't have to do my own building...

Yes, a trailer and options costs only about $500, but with this you can see the kids and reach out to bop them on the helmet when they need it.

Friday 7 December 2012

12/12/07 Earthquake

Which turned out not to be so serious, but it was a good jolt about 17:30.  Same fault as the bad one a year and a half ago, off the Pacific coast.  And we'd just had a good jolt at 5:30 this morning.

My train came to a stop in a station after everyone's cell phones had gone off with the warning, which I have long turned off: it never rings early enough to allow me any time, and it goes off far too often to be taken seriously.  Gave the train and station on the elevated platform a good roughing up, but we eat quakes like this 'for breakfast and shit them out before lunch'.  All I learned from the big one was to get a message home before the lines were swamped, and to start thinking about how I would walk home from where I was.  Trains started again.

If you are new or coming to Japan, do not live near the coast or on landfill, or in a place more than thirty years old (new codes since).  In Kobe '95 people died in collapsed buildings and fires from kerosene space heaters; in Tohoku '11 from the tsunami.  Other than collapsible buildings or the sea side, your survival odds are high.  You will face infrastructure fragility.  Figure out your own food and water, and how you are going to get around in case of the worst.  And never buy real estate here!  Besides the fact it is already depreciating, and the bust is yet to come, Tokyo will get flattened yet.  If you live, there is no good reason to still owe money to the bank.

Thursday 6 December 2012

"How did you get started with getting rid of your vehicle?"

A good question was just asked me by 'SusieTron FiveThousand':
Just a wee bit curious, how did you get started with getting rid of your vehicle. I honest to god live 2 miles from where I work and I think I could do quite fine without driving if I purchase a bike I think. Our pub trans system here sucks especially for what would be my route.
It is hard to give her advice, as I do not know if where she lives is urban, suburban or rural.  I am not even sure what country she lives in.  I hope she responds to this post and gives a bit more detail, but not enough to compromise her privacy.

The hyperlinks in this paragraph go to posts I have made.  I became 'car free' out of carelessness and financial necessity, though I'd always suspected car ownership was a racket.  Not only would it be dishonest to portray myself as a paragon of environmental and social virtue, but that's a useless sell.  Once I quit, or anyone quits, the benefits were legion.  Among these are your health and pocket-book, but also getting a better sense of your city, and a more reliable way of getting home in a disaster.  After having to walk home 12km from Tokyo when the trains were stopped, following the Tohoku Earthquake, I will not live further than a half-marathon's distance from work.

Besides habituation to an automotive lifestyle, the biggest obstacle to commuting by bicycle any great distance is a lack of showering facilities at work, which is the norm.  Of my six most recent positions, only one has had a shower; or I should say, four of six have had showers, and three of those four showers were made inaccessible to staff by school principals for no better reason than small mindedness.  But do not let me get started on the type of teacher most commonly attracted to that authority...  I am afraid none of the work arounds are ideal: gym membership, if one is near your office; washing out of a sink; riding more slowly, if you have the time...

There are people far more durable than me without car ownership.  I have done it in Tokyo, where it is unremarkable and easy; Toronto, where it is remarkable, but not too difficult with a bike, transit and a car-share membership; Montreal during university, which is the only Canadian city where it is easy; Toronto's suburbs, where my lifestyle and social-standing were severely impinged; and St. Catharines, Ontario, which was entirely miserable - but any life in that inbred hinterland is.

Feet and bikes have been around a long time, as has transit, but the car-ownership killer is car-share: Zipcar, Autoshare, or whatever company your city has.  If you can commute without a car, there is no reason ever to own one.  Hell, even if you need to use a traditional rental agency from time to time, there is no reason.  Let's do some 'back of the envelope' math:

Average annual N.American cost of car ownership, including depreciation, insurance et alia: $9000 US/CAD

Living the most luxurious and mobile life, without owning a car, annually: $7700
- transit pass: $1200
- increased bicycle expenses for a better bike, maintainance, etc.: $1000
- taxis: $500
- renting a car once every week from a rental agency: $5000

I in no way spent that much money, but even if I did I would be ahead more than a thousand dollars, and be able to drink any evening I'd like.  The truth of my expenses in Toronto was more like this: $3250
- transit tickets (as I did not need a pass): $600
- increased bicycle expenses for a better bike, maintainance, etc.: $600
- taxis: $250?
- renting a car twice every month from Autoshare: $1800

Shall I mention that I never bought a gym membership: $1000/yr?

Reason and emotion both should convince one to give up the car: getting to your perfect BMI with no extra work is icing.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

'The Rules', to my son

The idea comes from here, and I don't agree with all, because I am not having that kind of mid-life crisis.  I do tend to go with their views on sucking it up.  Imagine the sort of advice to grumble at a boy who you think should know better.  Yes, it is masculine, but if think about it, not derogatory in any way to women.  Certainly not to anyone who isn't 'straight' either; my son isn't three yet, so I take nothing for granted.  Suggest your own and I may add them.
- Coffee is drunk black.
- Espresso may be drunk with little hot water, or not more than a tablespoon of milk foam.
- Tea is drunk black.
- Sugar is for invalids.
- Soft drinks are for Red States.
- Unless you were diagnosed in childhood, you are the 'metabolic problem'.
- Tobacco may be smoked in a cigar no smaller than your unit.
- So women may smoke what they like.
- Spirits may be mixed only with water.
- Beer is drunk above refrigerator temperature.
- Wine also.
- Do not drink with the British.
- Drink and tobacco are 'habits' if they have little effect on your wallet or body, otherwise 'addictions'.
- Women, children and the aged come first.
- Dates, the aged, infirm, 'with child' or with children get the seat, lest you become a 'salaryman'.
- Break up in person, unless she's crazy.
- 'Don't fuck crazy'.
- No, it doesn't matter if s/he's hot.
- You won't always finish last; but don't always finish first.
- You mustn't try to look as good as your date.
- There's no such thing as an 'accident'
- 'If it looks too good to be true, it is'.
- If you pay for sex you may get something else for free.
- If you can impress a date with money, you'll never be allowed to stop.
- Always pay your way, or better.
- When dining with a group, pay up extra and leave early, lest you're made the chump.
- Don't make promises you can't keep.
- Don't start fights.
- Finish fights.
- Don't start a fight you cannot finish.
- You will have to face the bully.  Get it over with.
- No, life isn't fair.  Get over it.
- You won't regret failure; you will regret wimping out.
- 'Fear is the mind-killer': cowardice is a choice.
- 'Sturgeon's Law'
- 'Hanlon's Razor'
- 'Occam's Razor'
- Get your friend's back, unless s/he relies on it.
- Own up, usually.
- Authority is arbitrary, but I'm paying the bills.
- The well isn't bottomless.
- 'There's no such thing as a free lunch'.
- 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be', where praticable.
- Don't buy the house you can afford; buy less and pocket the difference.
- Don't buy what you can rent cheaper.
- You can rent cars.
- Car owners are fatter.
- If you 'need' a car where you live, it sucks.
- Suburbs are fatter, whiter, boring and conservative: you meet the svelte, interesting, mixed-race chicks/boys downtown.
- 'Law of Diminishing Returns'
- Avoid bankrolling scum: traffickers, pimps, salesmen, bankers and politicians.
- Never buy the hype: where there's hype, someone's got an angle.
- When someone tells you what to believe, you've found a fraud.

Monday 3 December 2012

"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses..."

Just never pay retail.
Yes, I have referred to my frustrations shopping, previously.  The marketeers simply do not know how to get my money.  Is everyone else stupid enough to keep going to the mall, not find what they want, pay too much for second best and return for more?  Yes.
That the Internet has not killed 'bricks and mortar' retailing is both a personification of 'Sturgeon's Law', and validation of the fallacies latent in 'free' market economics.  I'm done with store fronts.  It isn't just online shopping that should have killed store fronts, but information.  Before I make a significant purchase I research it.  While researching, I lose any impulse I had, so make the decision to buy quite a bit more rationally.  On several sites where I shop I have 'wish lists' where items may stay up as long as a year, or as short as overnight - but never less. I save money both by not impulse-buying something I will under-use  and by finding the best and cheapest option for my needs.

Besides getting clothes to fit me from the US, while in Japan, I also buy a lot of bicycle parts and some electronics.  Going to a mall in Japan for the clothing is pointless; going to a store for bicycle parts just a little less.  Nobody has the stock I can find online, nor will I get as much information from more points of view than 'buy this so I get paid'.

Canada's bike shops are no better.  I wanted an Alfine 8 wheel to retrofit a bike.  The link shows me I can get the wheel, shifter and small parts for about $450 US ($600 US once I ship it to Canada: post, tax and duties).  Since Shimano parts are cheaper in Japan, $425 US if I take it across the border myself.  In Canada?  I sent a shop an email and got a piece by piece quote that came to $750 US for the one wheel...  He didn't have the guts to write the total, but I can add.

I wanted some baby shampoo for my son, and for me, because some makes me break out and I cannot differentiate the Japanese brands.  I made a trip to a Lalaport's Body Shop, and they had none in stock; nor the soap I wanted.  Cursing my own stupidity I went home, found it online, and it is now en route.

I will happily pay for a premium product that meets specific needs, such as this crank, otherwise do not bother calling it 'premium' when it was made in China with everything else, and there are a dozen cranks that will do the same job, and one of them I will find cheaper.

Electronics?  The market is flooded with options, which is why I have never bought an Apple product.  My wife and are were looking at tablets, but since we had no intention of rolling into a store and getting sucked in, we still haven't bought.  We have researched and I have quizzed my friends in IT.  All I do online is read, email, maintain my blogs, and Facebook (which I may quit). More to the point, I want to be able to read lots of English books easily in Japan.  And I want to be able to hold it with one hand, stuck standing on the train, without too much worry about the cost of dropping it.  I read books on trains up to 2hrs/day.  I am not going to pay for another cell service just to get Internet on a tablet in Japan, nor bother with tethering.  Probably getting the Kindle Paperwhite, mainly for the long battery life and eInk, and also because if I can access Internet even on my commute, I'll never read books anymore, and that is bad.

Sigh... This is why I don't buy anything. I want perfection, and am not easily seduced. I want eInk, and colour, and Internet, and lightweight, and cheap...  I am buying less and less tech, and using it less, as it gets 'better'.  I am tired of upgrades that promise much, and deliver little more than before.  The point of upgraded devices is to encourage us to buy shit we'll hardly use.  The only really great development in IT lately is the cheapness and miniaturization of Flash storage.  There is less nostalgia for IT as it improves more quickly, if there ever was. Things like furniture, buildings, bicycles and engines from the past you can get excited about, but not IT. Maybe that time will come once we have reached the limits of optimization of IT.

I want all my data and capability in just one place, no 'cloud', with a readable screen, and a battery that never dies, but fits in a pocket, and cheap. Make me a laptop the size of a phone, for the price of a good dinner, and I'll get excited again. Like this:
That standard marketing is aimed at convincing people to upgrade when they don't need to, buy things that are not ideal for them, waste time among the other zombies at the mall and to believe the hype, only means that it works.  Humans enslave themselves.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Ontario cycling strategy? Who knew?

Ontario has a cycling strategy?  Who knew for how piecemeal infrastructure is (municipal level), and for shite it is to ride in Ontario, mainly because the drivers are zombies: ’slow zombies’ and ’fast zombies’, but zombies.  How many bureaucrats have funded their lives and retirements making documents like at the first link, and effected exactly nothing.  Say what you want about we teachers, but we have some outcomes, good or bad.

What Ontario needs most is a different attitude in the police and from the courts to all traffic, aimed at minimizing harm; and the same from traffic planning departments.  You minimize harm by reducing speeds everywhere, but especially where there are people out of cars, by enforcing these limits well for a change, and by making criminal and civil consequences to collisions, as in Japan.  Japan has a fraction of N.America's traffic fatalities for just these reasons.  Cycling infrastructure is poor to non-existent in Japan, apart from levée paths, so although infrastructure is nice icing, the cake it ain't.

If process were the point it'd be safe to ride in Ontario: it isn't.  I'll address the pointlessness of the 'strategy' by a KISS objection to each point.
  • Enhance cycling infrastructure in the province [Money: 'put up or shut up'.]
  • Enhance cycling safety through education and legislation [What? One more page in the drivers' guide?]
  • Ensure relevancy through monitoring, researching and coordination [But not use the data for policy, for heaven's sake.]
  • Providing the purchasers of bicycles with cycling safety information, [Not drivers, because our society only respects 'conspicuous consumption'.]
  • Initiating consultations on legislative and/or regulatory changes regarding cycling on paved shoulders, [So we can delay paving shoulders for another generation, though the need is inarguable.]
  • Public education for drivers and cyclists, in collaboration with road safety organizations, [Id est the CAA, which is anti-cycling, no surprise.  However, they spend campaign dollars...]
  • Updating the Driver Handbooks to enhance the safety of all road users, including cyclists, [See my second objection.]
  • Reviewing and updating the Highway Traffic Act to improve cycling safety, and [Tell me another one.]
  • Leading the identification of a province-wide cycling network. [Bullshit.  Anyway, 'identification' doesn't mean building anything: it means throwing up a few signs on some roads so designated by politicians and bureaucrats who do not themselves ride.]
Is this the way Rome fell?  I think we need a Golgafrincham solution.