2007/02/28

Orangutan Breakout - Tama Zoo

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A large orangutan attempted to escape from Tama Zoo in Tokyo yesterday, frightening some children who burst into tears, while zoo staff fully mobilized in order to contain and then shoot the beast with a tranquilizing dart. The male orangutan grows to around 5ft tall and can weigh up to 200 pounds.

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In this case, the oversized orangutan was actually a man in a costume and the whole episode was a drill that the zoo holds annually. Last year's "escapee" was a lion.

Once found throughout Southeast Asia, this species of ape now survives only in small populations across the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The orangutan is the largest tree dwelling mammal.

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The real orangs at the zoo - there are four - weren't sure what to make of it all as they watched from their 1 billion yen (US$8.3 million) enclosure, which took 2 years to build and features ropeways they can use to swing between high towers. Perhaps they were thinking, "Crazy humans".

2007/02/22

Royal Blood, Jazz, and Rock & Roll

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Mary Kaye 1924-2007

Last weekend, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty passed away. Her American name was Mary Kaye, but she was born Mary Ka'aihue, the daughter of Johnny "Ukulele" Ka'aihue ( a pure Hawaiian) and granddaughter of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, brother (by adoption) of Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliu'okalani. The Queen was a musician and composer, and wrote the world famous song "Aloha O'e". Her monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by US businessmen.

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Prince Kuhio

After Hawaii was annexed by the USA, Prince Kuhio (a very well educated man who had attended university in California and England) was the delegate in the US House from the Territory of Hawai‘i from 1903 to 1922. His life story is worth at least a post of its own.

Johnny Ukulele was one of the original group that Olympic Gold Medalist Duke Kahanamoku brought to the mainland USA in 1916 as part of the band that played at his surfing demonstrations. Johnny stayed on the mainland and pursued a career in music.

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Johnny Ukulele played with the Harry Owens Hawaiian Band. Shown here (top right) with the 1916 Duke Kahanamoku 'Swimmers'

Mary was born in Detroit on January 9, 1924. She starting performing at age 3 (at which tender age she lost her mother) dancing hula to the ukulele strummings of her brother, Norman. By age 12, Mary and Norman were performing with their father's band, Johnny Ka'aihue's Royal Hawaiians. Later she formed a trio with her brother and husband and started playing jazz - that's right, jazz - in Las Vegas before it was a show town. The trio is credited with starting the Las Vegas lounge scene.

After WWII, Norman returned from the service and suggested they change group name from the Mary Ka'aihue Trio to Mary Kaye Trio so that people would not expect to hear Hawaiian music every time they played. They did of course, also play Hawaiian tunes. Early patrons of the Mary Kaye Trio included Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. Later, Elvis Presley would listen to them from backstage. Over the years the trio cut 13 albums and 21 singles and earned about a million dollars a year - that's in 1950's dollars. A Los Angeles Times review of a 1949 performance at the Orpheum Theatre declared the trio "atomic when they get into full swing" and concluded: "They have style, energy, ingenuity."

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Mary Kaye Trio album "Our Hawaii"

You can see some of their other discography here.

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Mary Kaye Trio at the Sahara in 1956.

Mary Kaye could also be said to be the "first lady" of rock and roll and even had a guitar named for her. In 1956 she posed for and ad with a white ash Fender Stratocaster, which became a favorite instrument of many stars and was known in the music business as the "Mary Kaye Strat". Fender introduced a Mary Kaye Tribute guitar a few years ago. Ironically, she usually played D'Angelico guitars. In 1959, they had their first rock & roll hit with a rendition of "You Can't Be True, Dear".

Hawaiian Royalty, jazz star, rock star, and Las Vegas legend, Mary Kaye, passed away on February 17, 2007. Aloha O'e.

2007/02/21

Monks Sunbathe On Maui Beaches

My kayaking and snorkeling buddy George sent me some pictures of a Hawaiian Monk Seal taking a nap on the beach in front of George's condo in Kihei, Maui.

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Hawaiian Monk Seals are indigenous to the Islands and are "true" seals, meaning they use their rear flippers for propulsion, steer with their front flippers, and have no external ears. Eared seals, on the other hand, in addition to having external ears, swim with their front flippers and steer with their rear ones. Also, eared seals can put their rear flippers underneath their body to act as feet, which gives them more mobility on land. True seals cannot do this and have to lurch along on their belly. Seals are very closely related to bears and dogs, but left land for the sea about 2 million years ago.

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Hawaiian Archipelago - click to enlarge

When the Polynesians arrived, the seals were distributed throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. They were hunted by the Hawaiians and so gradually moved to the Leeward isles which were uninhabited by humans. After European contact, hunters came to kill them for oil and pelts and like many sea mammals, they were brought to the edge of extinction.

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"Did someone mention extinction? - I think I'll hide."

Their numbers have declined to about 1200 animals from three times that number fifty years ago, despite being protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1976. The problem? Debris in the water - drift nets, lines, rope, etc. in which they can become tangled and drown, or various plastics, which they may try to swallow and choke to death or can end up blocking their stomach causing them to starve. These are problems shared by green sea turtles and many birds.

Last year, President Bush signed an executive order declaring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a U.S. National Monument, creating the largest protected marine area in the world and the largest single conservation area in the history of the United States. (I can't help but point out that there is no oil in the area and this was probably done as a sop to the public in order to "balance" his other actions with regard to environmental issues.) Whatever the reasons, it's a good thing. Also, it is one thing to create a National Monument or park, but another thing to properly fund it. It is important to make sure Congress provides enough funding to the National Park Service.

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"I wasn't really hiding. I was just putting some sunscreen (sand) on my neck."

In recent years, Hawaiian Monks have been returning to the main islands and can even be seen at times on the beach at Waikiki. The first one I saw was on Poipu Beach on the south shore of the Island of Kauai. I played trombone in a full orchestra which was hired by a major US corporation to play for their awards banquet. We were flown to Kauai and put up in the Sheraton Hotel at Poipu Beach. Nice work if you can get it. ;^)

Anyway, the morning after the performance, some of us stayed a while and enjoyed snorkeling with the green sea turtles (also endangered) and were visited by two monk seals that decided to join us on the beach. Since they are protected, if you ever see one, you should not approach it and try to stay at least 100 feet away - they need the rest. When Hawaii State authorities learn of one on the beach, they rope off the area like a crime scene until the seal leaves. By the way, if you encounter one in the water, say while SCUBA diving, don't try to play with it. They may be cute, but they are wild animals and can be aggressive and been known to bite humans.

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"Ah, life is good - when you're protected."

Let us hope that with continued efforts to protect and clean up the leeward islands these rare seals can be saved. Thanks for the great pics, George.

"White Sandy Beach of Hawaii" Performed by Iz

2007/02/20

Update: Hokule'a Reaches Majuro

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The Polynesian Voyaging Society's double hulled sailing canoes, Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu reached Majuro on the 19th of February and safely moored in the lagoon. My original post about this voyage is here: Hokule'a To Visit Japan.

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They left Kawaihae, Hawaii on January 22nd. Majuro, in the Marshall Islands, is 2060 nautical miles from Hawaii and estimated that the trip would take 26 days.

They will island hop island hop through Micronesia to the island of Satawal in the Yap group, home of the Hokulea's first navigator, Mau Piailug. There, the Alingano Maisu will be gifted to Mau in recognition of his passing down the ancient knowledge of how to navigate voyaging canoe across vast distances using only wind, stars, seas, birds and other natural cues.

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You can follow the voyage here: Hokule'a Crew Weblog.

2007/02/19

If I Had A Bell

"I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land"
- Peter, Paul, and Mary - the Hammer Song (by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger)


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At the United Nations headquarters in New York City, erected over soil brought from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stands the World Peace Bell. It was cast in 1952 by Chiyoji Nakagawa, a one-time Mayor of Uwajima in Shikoku (who collected donations of coins from 65 member nations, which were melted to make the bell) and given to the United Nations by the people of Japan in 1954. Today there are 21 replicas around the world, donated over the years, four of them in Japan. One of these bells is at Soya Misaki (Cape Soya), the northern most tip of Hokkaido, near the town of Wakkanai.

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A small bell for visitors to ring at Soya Misaki, next to the World Peace Bell replica (all of which are one full meter in height).

One time newspaper reporter and photographer, Roy Sinclair of New Zealand, was moved by the story of the bell so he and his Japanese partner Haruko, decided to visit the Soya Misaki bell in February of 2001 (temperature: minus 22 C/7.6F) and their journey by train to Wakkanai inspired a newspaper article by the World Peace Bell Association in Tokyo. Roy, an avid cyclist, told the WPBA that he would ride the length of Japan by bicycle for them if they would donate a World Peace Bell to New Zealand.

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Cyclist in Kinosaki, Hyogo Prefecture (click to enlarge)

In 2004, Roy and Haruko (also a bicycle enthusiast, obviously) made the nearly 4,000 km (2485 mile) journey from Soya Misaki in the far north to Sata Misaki at the southern end of Kyushu by bicycle in 71 days.

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Mt. Kaimon-dake, Kagoshima, southern Japan (click to enlarge)

Some of the areas they visited are dear to K and I, particularly Matsumoto City, historic Hida Takayama, and between them, beautiful Kamikochi, a part of Chubu Sangaku National Park high in the Japan Alps. We visited those places ourselves in 2003.

This post is just to give a you peek at this adventure. You can read about their experiences and see pictures of the scenery at the Japan Cycling Navigator website, which I have in my Bicycle Links section. The complete story starts here:

Pedalling Japan - end to end

In addition to enjoying the beautiful pictures and an interesting read, at age 56 I am quite encouraged to find out that Roy was 60 at the time of this ride. Keep on pedalling! It is also inspiring to read about a person who has used his passion for a sport to further a worthy cause.

On October 3, 2006 New Zealand's World Peace Bell was officially unveiled in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.


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World Peace Bell - Christchurch, New Zealand


The Association hopes that World Peace Bells, which are made from coins and medals of 130 nations around the world which have been melted down and mixed with the bronze, will be installed in the capitals of all nations of the world, and aims at promoting an international peace movement based on the Charter of the UN, transcending political, religious, racial and ideological barriers.

Roy Sinclair is completing a book, "World by Pedal Power", for publishing by Random House NZ later this year. It will include New Zealand, Japan, Britain, France, and Switzerland. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

My thanks to Roy for kindly providing the enlarged images of his pictures of the cyclist in Kinosaki and of Mt. Kaimon-dake used in this post.

PEACE

2007/02/18

Desktop Tag

The Moody Minstrel - who by the way has a new blog page called "The Minstrel's Muse" featuring MP3 samples of his music - tagged me to show my desktop. I don't always respond to being tagged for a post, but this seemed easy enough.

For Windows users, this IS easy, just email Microsoft and they send you a picture of your desktop back since they are always watching what you do on your computer. (OK, so really, you just hit a few keys and your PC will snap a picture of it).

With a Mac running OS X, I have been unable to find an easy solution. Everything I tried just produced a file of the background picture without the icons, etc. So I resorted to taking a picture of it with a camera. After about ten tries, here's the result:

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Most of the applications I use are on the tool bar at the bottom (called the "dock" in Apple-ese). It disappears when the cursor is not over it, so it keeps the desktop pretty "clean".

For pictures, I like out of doors shots, mostly ones I've taken. Past ones have included airplanes, Kashima Jingu shrine, and the view from Taveuni Estates, Fiji. This one of a newly planted rice field down the hill from our home is one I took last year.

Who shall I tag? No one. I'm feeling compassionate today.

UPDATE: Thanks to Don Snabulus I know how to do this without wasting a lot of time fooling around with a camera. Much better, and easier. Thanks, Don!

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My PowerBook G4 Desktop


Actually this could be useful knowledge, so this exercise wasn't a total waste of time.

2007/02/17

Do You Suffer From DSACDAD?

DSACDAD or "Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder" is a newly discovered disease that is quite common in modern consumer cultures. To find out if you suffer from DSACDAD, take the quiz here: HAVIDOL QUIZ

Happily, help has arrived in the form of a new pharmaceutical, HAVIDOL (avafyntyme HCL) from Future PHARMS Inc.


SELF-DISCOVERY THROUGH HAVIDOL

HAVIDOL helps sufferers see that no matter how much they have, more is always possible.

Patients have reported feeling:

* renewed interest in themselves
* increased ability to spend
* higher risk tolerance
* better quality consumer decisions
* improved social attention-getting skills
* return to former self esteem levels
* supplementary stamina levels
* augmented vision
* a surge in well-being

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Click here for Reuters news coverage about Havidol: REUTERS

2007/02/13

Vernissage

We had to look up the word "vernissage" when we were invited to one by our blogging friend Martin Frid - a Swedish national and long time Japan resident who writes the blog Kurashi News from Japan. Perhaps a vernissage is some kind of Swedish Massage? Oh, my! But, no. The word is of French origin meaning "to varnish". It comes from the old days of private showings of paintings the day before a public exhibition during which the artist would varnish his works. These days it is simply any private showing of art. This one was planned for the Sunday afternoon of February 11th.

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These images (which I shamelessly stole from Martin's blog) show him preparing for the vernissage.

Martin lives in Saitama City, northwest of Tokyo and among his many talents is painting with oils and acrylics. In addition to the display of his art, there would be a live quartet playing jazz with a Latin twist, and after, food. It was an offer we could scarcely refuse and most of all we looked forward to meeting Martin in person.

A combination of too much caffeine from drinking tea late in the day on Saturday and some noisy thunderstorms that night kept K and I from sleeping well Saturday night (grouchy Panda alert), so with about 3 hours sleep, we set off for Kashima City Hall where we would catch a bus to Tokyo. Normally we would shorten the bus trip some by driving to nearby Itako City, but unless one gets to that terminal early in the day, there is likely to be no place to park.

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First stop was the mall, where K donned a mask and robbed the bank. Well, no, actually, K has had a cough that doesn't seem to want to go away (time for the health clinic K) and wears the mask to keep from spreading it.

The bus ride gave us a chance to relax and rest if not sleep for the hour and forty-five minute trip to Tokyo Station. Buses in Japan are quite comfortable and used by many people including business commuters. There a buses from Kashima City to Tokyo every ten minutes. In all, the trip by bus and train a short walk would take us 3 hours and twenty minutes.

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From Tokyo Station we took a train, changing once to catch an express for Saitama City. I made K promise not to rush through the stations. I hate that. My attitude about travel is, if you want to get somewhere earlier, you should leave earlier. In between, walk, cycle, drive, what ever, at a comfortable pace - without getting into anyone's way of course. The trains leave every few minutes, some are only 2 minutes apart, so there is no reason this Panda can fathom for people rushing around a train station like their hair is on fire.

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I know people in other countries often picture Tokyo trains as being crammed full of people with railroad employees shoving in the last passengers as the doors close. That happens on certain routes at rush hour, but it isn't all the time. Sunday was the middle of a three day weekend (Monday was National Foundation Day), so there were not so many people. In fact we only had to stand for a short distance. The rest of the way, plenty of empty seats were available.

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Above is the Yono Honmachi station in Saitama City. Note all the bicycles. Across the street was a two story parking garage - for bicycles only. In some sections of Tokyo, 80% of the people own bicycles and many commute by riding them to a train station and taking the subway or train to a station within walking distance of their workplace. Owning a car in Tokyo is an expensive proposition and generally not very convenient. Just a parking space in a garage can cost what you might expect to pay for a studio condominium.

Anyway, the Yono Honmachi station was just a few blocks from our destination, Bokuryuuutei - a small restaurant owned by a retired high school teacher (he taught agriculture I think) and friend of Martin. The doors were to open at 2:30PM but we wanted to make sure we found the place and arrived about 20 minutes early. We were about to head off for a cup of coffee to kill some time when Martin came out to set up a reception table. So, we met at last. It was interesting to finally be face to face with someone I'd communicated with through blog comments and a few emails. I'm happy to report that in person, he was the same guy I has come to be friends with on the internet. While we were talking, the band pulled up and unloaded their instruments and equipment. When the set up was completed we went inside.

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As we found a seat and took a look around at the paintings (and musical instruments that were set up), and had some coffee, more and more people arrived - about 30 in all. Martin had some oil paintings hanging and several acrylic ones painted on clear acrylic panels with a second panel behind separated by spacers. This created some interesting shadow and lighting effects. Many of them were paintings of red hibiscus flowers which he had seen here in Japan, but which is a favorite of mine being the official State flower of Hawaii. My pictures of the paintings are a bit blurred as I didn't use flash, so you'll have to settle for what you see in the backgrounds. Here is one example:



The windows had been covered with heavy paper to darken the room and with lighting coming only from spots above, one soon forgot it was afternoon. It felt like evening and set the mood for the music.

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About 3Pm, the band came in and started with a long time favorite of mine - "One Note Samba" which was written by the Brazilian composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. This song was on one of the very first music albums I ever purchased that featured Stan Getz on saxophone, with vocals by Astrud Gilberto. This group played it really well, and the sax player, Sguru Miyaji (on a Selmer Mark 6 tenor sax) sounded almost as good as Getz as he employed the full range of his horn. I have linked the names of the musicians to their individual websites (in Japanese) so you can take a look at those if you like.

They were led by pianist Miho Nakada who calls her group Descarga Corazon Latino, which can have several more players (trumpets, trombone, etc) depending on the gig. My Spanish is a bit rusty but I think that translates to something like "delivering latin heart". Miho's personal motto is "No Challenge, No Success; No Music, No Life!" and she lives up to it on the keyboard. A graduate of the Kunitachi College of Music, she has been to Cuba three times to study playing Latin style music.

After the Samba, Sguru switched to his Yamaha soprano sax for the tune "Mercy, Mercy " which was made famous by Cannonball Adderley and later the Buddy Rich Big Band. But this arrangement, while starting out like the original soon adds a Latin twist that really mades it sound fresh.

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This song introduced the other musicians with solos by bassist, Kazutoshi Shibuya (playing a Fodera Emperor 5 Elite electric bass) and percussionist Yoshihiko "Mizalito" Miza on conga drums. Bass solos are notorious for being difficult to make interesting, but Kazutoshi was up to the task. Mizalito was likewise awesome and had some interesting instruments in addition to his two congas. His seat, which looked like a wooden box, was a Peruvian "Cajon" which he also used in his performance. He had a third drum from Dominica and attached to it an African percussion instrument made up of metal rings.

The next tune was the old Neal Hefti standard "Cute", which I've always played in big bands as written for Count Basie. But this arrangement picked up the beat and added Latin rhythms. Spicy.

Then came a dedication to Martin - "Greensleeves". After a break they played "Never Ending Story", "Isn't it Lovely", and "Para Cachero". This last is a lively number and the restaurant owner soon got everyone up on their feet to dance. There wasn't much room, so everyone did so in place. It was still a lot of fun.

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Miho was skillful at entertaining the audience between numbers with humor and talk about the instruments and so on. For you non-musicians, this is only partly to establish a rapport with and inform the audience. Its most important function is to give the musicians a rest between numbers.

A couple in the front row announced that they were getting married, so Miho started playing a very straight rendition of the wedding march, but subtly segued into "Loving You" as she was joined by the other instruments. Finally, they finished the second set with "Ojos de Rojo".

Everyone shouted for more of course, and we weren't disappointed. The encore was "La Bamba" with everyone clapping and singing along.

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Martin speaks with Sguru and a friend of Martin's wife.

With the music over, the chairs were rearranged and some tables brought in and food was served in buffet style. A nice spread of veggies, chicken, boiled eggs, pesto pasta, edamame, etc.

It was an interesting mix of people. A number were artists, some were involved with charities, consumer protection. We also met his wife, Akiko, who is a researcher for Greenpeace and can tell you all about GMOs. I spoke with one young man who was a designer for an architecture firm and another who just graduated from college as a computer engineer. The band members joined the party too and it was fun to speak with them. In talking with Sguru, the sax man, I learned that he had gone to college in Boston and lived in New York for a while. He was interested to hear about the music scene in Hawaii.

All too soon it was time to head for home. There are return buses until about 10 PM, but if you don't queue up by around 8:30 or so, there may not be enough to handle all the passengers and you might get stuck for the night.

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Yawn. Just push me onto the train, dear. After it stops of course.


It had been a long day and while we still felt energized by the event everything was kind of a blur going home. We Pandas are a reclusive lot and that was most socializing I'd done in ages. It was a great afternoon for us.

On the train, three little girls bouncing on their seat (and their dad) and playing "Jun-ken-po" (the rock-paper-scissors game) kept us entertained and from nodding off.

Though the outdoor line for the bus to Kashima was 45 minutes or so long and the air was a bit "nippy", they added an extra bus, so we were on our way by about 9PM and could catch a few Z's. We would have no trouble sleeping this night.

Later, looking over the pictures, we realized we had neglected to get one of the four of us, or at least Martin and I together. Ah, well. Next time. Our turn to be hosts.

Thanks Martin!

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise*


*the character Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors, Hawaii resident and one time Macadamia nut farmer on Maui. He has also visited Taveuni, Fiji. (Well, I had to make some island connections to this story.)

The Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania does studies of the IQ (and other attributes) of American presidents. Their assessments are based on each president's scholarly achievements, writings that they alone produced without aid of staff, their ability to speak with clarity, and several other psychological factors which are then scored in the Swanson/Crain system (whatever that is) of intelligence ranking. Here are their estimates for the IQs of the last twelve men to hold the office:

147 Franklin D. Roosevelt (D)
132 Harry Truman (D)
122 Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)
174 John F. Kennedy (D)
126 Lyndon B. Johnson (D)
155 Richard M. Nixon (R)
121 Gerald R. Ford (R)
176 James E. Carter (D)
105 Ronald W. Reagan (R)
98 George H. W. Bush (R)
182 William J. Clinton (D)
91 George W. Bush (R)

They claim an accuracy within 5 points. Only one president has revealed his personal IQ. That was Jimmy Carter at 175 points.

Maybe no big surprises here, except I was a little surprised that W scored as high as he did. Shazam!

Full story is here: The Lovenstein Institute

UPDATE: I have discovered that this story is a hoax. I don't feel so bad for falling for it as so did the Observer newspaper in the UK as well as Gary Trudeau. The sad part is that it was so believable. So, I have decided to leave this post up. If anyone has a problem with that, prove to me that the commander in thief has an IQ of over 91 and I'll retract it.

You just have to laugh. As the Dalai Lama said when asked why he is always smiling: "would it help if I cried?"

2007/02/10

You Say You Want A Velorution?

Well, you know
We all want to change the world.


(thank you John Lennon and the Velorution cycle shop in London, England)
Aerorider - human powered vehicle from the Netherlands with electric assist.


There is disagreement over what to call these types of machines. Americans seem to prefer HPVs, for "human powered vehicles", while Europeans refer to them as velomobiles. It appears that the latter is winning out, since most of the manufacturers at this time are in Europe.

This is one of my (many) dream machines. It will probably remain just that, because I don't really need one, but I could become a regular Walter Mitty riding this thing.

This particular velomobile is the brainchild of Gjalt Wijma, a student at the Department of aeronautics at University Of Delphof. The design was devolped by a team young professionals and students from various universities working together. Aerorider is owned and managed by its co-founder, Bart de Wert.

Top speed 45 kph (28 mph) Limited to 20 mph in the USA

Range - 20 to 80 km (12-50 miles)
depending on battery packs used

Luggage compartment
Volume*: 120 Liter* (4.2 cubic feet)
* single battery pack

Brakes
Front: hydraulic, discs Magura
Rear (Parking brake): mechanical, drum

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Tell me, Q, which button launches the missiles?


Bicycle
Internal gear hub: 8 speed Shimano Nexus

Steering
System: dual joystick
Radius: 7m

Ventilation
2 Electric ventilators
2 Naca air inlets
2 Removable windows
1 Removable roof panel


But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.

Adjusting one's lifestyle sure beats going to war over oil, or using the food crops for fuel when food production is dropping, or accelerating climate change.

Price? As the old saying goes - "If you have to ask...." being low volume production, they are very pricey compared to a bike, but still a fraction (if a significant one) of the cost of a car. In most places you'd pay no road fees (it's a bicycle in USA, a moped in Europe). You may need moped type liability insurance there. See the website (click on the photo above). There are dealers in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea, and Belgium. Hmmm, maybe there should be one in Kashima City?

Surf's Up, Dude! Next week, let's tow the kayak to the lake.


As the picture above illustrates, a velomobile makes an eye-catching, head turning "billboard" for advertising a business, in this case a surfboard manufacturer, Boardworks. There is the possibility for velomobile rental businesses coupled with advertising revenue. This has already been done with human powered cabs like the Velotaxi - which also has electric assist - in many cities around the world.

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Will velomobiles change the world? In a word, no. Not by themselves at any rate. But they may well be one of the many technologies we turn to as the parallel critical issues of liquid fossil fuels depletion and climate change force us away from the internal combustion engine.

Besides, they look like a hell of a lot of fun to me.

Don't you know its gonna be alright
Alright Alright

2007/02/08

Gently Weeps

Islands as destinations and way points between distant lands bring a lot of diverse people together. In the 1980's and 90's George Harrison spent a good deal of time at his house in Nahiku, on the rugged northeast coast of Maui. The house is located near the cliffs, surrounded by 63 acres of land. I used to see it often as I flew past on my way to nearby Hana airport or to the Big Island.

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Thanks to my flight instructor Jon Muralt at Maui Aviators for this picture.

At the Borders Bookstore on Maui where I worked for a while, George recommended the movie "Baraka" (1992) to a friend of mine. If you have never seen it, let me pass on the recommendation to you. It is a stunningly beautiful look at the planet we live on, the people who share it, and what is happening to it, set to music.

One of Harrison's songs that really strikes a chord (sorry about that) with me is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - both the tune and the lyrics.

A young man (about 30 now) who has performs this tune exceptionally well, even to the delight of Harrison's widow, is Jake Shimabukuro, a master of ukulele who was born and raised on Oahu. Jake has played ukulele since he was four years old and has become an icon in Hawaii. With his many trips to Japan has won accolades both for his skill as a musician and his contribution to Hawaii-Japan relations and tourism.

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You may have seen this popular clip before. If so, enjoy it yet again. I think this "kid" is awesome.


So many threads came together in Hawaii in this performance. Jake, whose ancestors were from Japan, George, from England, and the ukulele which was developed in Hawaii by three men from Portugal based on two instruments in that country. Another special gift of Hawaii and the people it brings together.

2007/02/06

Out "Spoken"

I don't expect many comments on this post, as most active readers don't ride bikes (though many "lurkers" of this blog certainly do).

As I have commented before, when walking or riding a bicycle, one sees a whole lot more than when driving or riding in a car. To whit, this rusted, overgrown tricycle which rests just a few meters from the road we live on, not 100 meters from our house.

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I've known of its existence for a long time, as I walk past it with Momo or ride past it on my bike almost daily. K, on the other hand, driving by in her car for many years was unaware of it until I pointed it out. A funny looking machine, but I saw a newer one the other day as I rode from town to home. An elderly man was riding it at slow but steady pace with a big box in a basket over the rear axle, two big heavy looking sacks on top of that, a full backpack, and a basket full on his handlebars. Not fast, but very practical for trips of 5 kilometers or so. Around here the major roads have wide sidewalks to ride on.

Today I went for a short (I thought) grocery run by bicycle. I decided to visit a local store (20 minute ride) rather than ride into the "city" (40 minute ride). The store's selection and some prices are not as good as in town, but they have a farmers market out front where one can buy local produce. I followed a route that would form a loop rather than a simple "there and back". It would take me down the hill to the rice fields and back up the bluffs, offering more interesting views than simply following the mostly level highway. This old house/store is one example of the things I see along the way. I also spied a '61 Chevy Impala in someone's garage.

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Though the picture does not reveal it well, the old building is juxtaposed by a metal roofed addition on the back, the plastic rain catchment emptying into the old wooden tub, and a TV antenna on top. I am disappointed that the reflection of the sun on the tub of water, which played under the eaves, is not evident in the picture.

But such are the joys of bicycling and seeing the world at a slightly slower pace. One has time to notice a lot more and even say hello or talk to people you see. A more aware pace, yet not really a whole lot slower than that of expensive, polluting, gas guzzling automobiles. My trip should only be about 20 minutes longer than if I had gone by car, yet the cost of my bike was about 100th of the cost of a low priced car, I pay no insurance or inspection fees or annual license fees, or (gasp) GASOLINE. I also don't contribute to climate change, etc. and I get exercise in the bargain. Of course there are trade-offs, but obviously I accept them.

My 'sort of' trusty steed.

Unfortunately, I had a slight mishap today. There is a poorly maintained section of road near our house which leads down to the rice fields below our bluff. It is a section of road which has had several operations of digging trenches for drainage, sewer line, utilities, etc. leaving a patchwork of macadam and concrete. I did my best to take it easy going down, but along the bumpy way I heard a metallic "CRACK!". I waited for a crash as I thought the bicycle frame had broken somehow (not likely), but nothing happened except a strange squeaking sound which I couldn't precisely locate. It wasn't until I had crossed the flat rice fields and started up the bluffs again a few kilometers later that I noticed that the rear wheel was rubbing - off and on - against the rear brake pads. I noticed it because I was going up hill and it was slowing me down a great deal.

I had broken a spoke and as a result the rear wheel rim was bent. The last time this happened was on the way to a concert, which I missed. This time was not as severe, but it made it impossible to ride up a steep slope. I had left my tool kit at home, so I was unable to loosen the rear brake which would have temporarily solved my problem. Nothing to do but go on with the added drag of the out-of-true rim. I knew that K was going to Mito City today and that I had to be home soon to see her before she left. The added drag would slow me down enough to make that impossible - partly because I had misunderstood her schedule and partly because I had been optimistic about mine. Typical guy thing.

My mishap really didn't add that much time to my trip - perhaps 15 minutes. You may think that two broken spokes in a year proves a bike unreliable, but I've not experienced this with any bike in the past. I think it is due to one or more of the following: poor quality of my ahem "low cost" bike, poor maintenance of the roads (yep) and poorly "tuned" wheels (maybe). Bikes purchased from mass marketers (like mine) are not well adjusted by the store before being sold - I know, I used manage a sporting goods department in a department store. When I first brought it home I should have taken the time to "tweak" it by adjusting the spokes, wheel bearings, etc. Instead I've been doing piecemeal. Perhaps, if I find ANY readers interested (har har), I'll write a post about how to do that. The first broken spoke I simply removed, as replacements are hard to find in Kashima. For now, until I get new spokes, I'll probably have to "borrow" two spokes from the front wheel and put them in back. The rear wheel takes most of the weight after all. One thing I did not do going down that hill, which may have prevented this was to stand up on the pedals. Doing that when going over a bump takes some weight off the rear wheel and allows your legs to act as shock absorbers, reducing the stress on the wheels.

At one of my stops - a hardware store - I saw a brand new tricycle. It had a lithium-ion battery behind the seat post because it also had an electric motor assist to sort of level out the hills. When engaged, the electric motor comes on when you pedal, making it easier to go up hill. You may laugh at this vehicle at first glance, but get back to me in a few years when your gasoline costs $10 a gallon (if you can find it) and we'll see who is laughing. What about a retiree who can no longer drive? This trike had a package in the front basket and a canister of kerosene for home heating (weighing 30 pounds) in the back. How else would an elderly person get such a load home without a car? The clever little trike gives its owner a measure of independence.

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For distances of several kilometers or a few miles, consider the advantages of such a vehicle in terms of initial cost, operating cost, and convenience.

After shopping, I headed home on the straight and flat "highway". Along the way, K passed me going the other direction, slowed down and opened the window to say "hi". Well, at least we made some contact.

In Fiji, I'd opt for an electric assist mountain bike. If I stay in Japan for much longer I might look into a recumbent trike like this one. Some recumbents are bicycles, some trikes. Since, at 25 mph a rider uses 90% of his/her energy to overcome wind resistance, recumbents are very fast on level ground. In fact they were outlawed by bicycle racing authorities back in the 1930's. They are slower that upright bikes going up hills due to their additional weight, and for the same reason they are much faster going back down. They are also more comfortable than an upright.

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Or maybe a dream machine like this HPV (human powered vehicle) or "Velomobile" as they are sometimes called.

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Oh, yeah! Is this HOT or what? Basically a recumbent trike as above, but with an aerodynamic shell for speed and to keep the rider out of the elements. This one is a "go-one³" built in Germany. Most velomobiles are built in Europe, but I read that one is now produced in Texas and a Japanese firm has one under development. They too can be equiped with electric motor assist. Zoom zoom zoom.

2007/02/04

Demons Out!

Yes, February 3 was Setsubun again in Japan, that special day marking the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring according to the old calendar.


One of the rituals practiced on the day is called "Mamemaki". The head of the household takes roasted soybeans (Japan imports 96% of its soybeans, so these are likely to be from the USA or China) and throws some out the front door yelling "Oni wa soto!" (Demons out!) then tossing some back inside yelling "Fuku wa uchi!" (Happiness in!). The same is performed in each room of the house. The soybeans are called "fukumame" - happiness beans.

As I explained in last year's Setsubun post (for you new readers) the tradition is based on a an old story. In it, a demon or ogre, "oni" in Japanese, disguises himself as a human and goes to a widow's house. He uses a magic mallet to fashion a beautiful kimono and the woman decides to try and trick him getting him drunk and take both the kimono and the mallet from him. But the demon sees through this and reveals his true self to her. She is so frightened, she starts throwing soybeans at him and he runs away, taking his mallet and the kimono with him. You can also read about some of the other Setsubun traditions and events in that post along with pictures.



So Setsubun is all about casting out the demons at the end of Winter and inviting in the blessings of happiness and good fortune in the Spring.

Hopefully this tradition, or a form of it, will spread far and wide, and soon, a special prosecutor will show up at front door of the White House with a bag of roasted soybeans (one for each article of impeachment), and yell - all together now -

"Oni wa soto!" "Fuku wa uchi!"