2008/01/22

To Those Who Understand...

No explanation is necessary. To those who do not, none is possible.

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US gasoline consumption in billions of liters per day vs. the 20 next largest gasoline consuming countries. Source: Foreign Policy "Prime Numbers: Pain at the Pump"

2008/01/17

White Fluffy Stuff!

by Momo the Wonder Dog
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This morning there was white fluffy stuff all over everything. I saw before just a little over a year ago (see: "What Is This Stuff?" January 7, 2006). It was snow! There was more of it this time- about six centimeters (2.36 inches).

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May not be interesting if you live in an area where it snows a lot, but for us it's pretty exciting. My bird friend, Jyo, came by later and checked on me. He was out looking for things to eat and glad that the sun was out and would melt the snow.


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By mid-morning it was bright and sunny, so Pandabonium took me for a walk. The snow felt cold on my paws and my legs and belly got wet. Pandabonium dried me off and brushed me when we got home. I'll stay out of the snow for now. It's pretty, but I prefer laying on my blanket in the sun.

I hope that the weather wherever you are is as you like it.

2008/01/16

Yamaha


For some, the name Yamaha brings to mind keyboards, guitars, or other musical instruments, or perhaps audio systems. Others will no doubt think "motorcycles".

My new Yamaha is none of those. It's a PAS City-S Lithium hybrid-electric bicycle.
"A whosiwhatsis?", you ask.

A hybrid-electric bicycle is one which can be pedaled like any ordinary bike, but which also has an electric motor to assist when accelerating, climbing a hill, riding against the wind or carrying heavy loads. Yamaha has been building them since 1993 and currently offers twelve models including a trike. (Unlike an electric bicycle, which can move using only the motor, a hybrid requires the rider to pedal.) The latest, like mine, utilize a Lithium-Ion battery and 240 watt motor to provide a range of power assistance and up to 104 km (64 miles) of range. At this time, I believe Yamaha is the only Japanese bike offering a Li-Ion battery.

I have read studies which show that hybrid electric bicycles are more energy efficient than a regular bike (when all energy inputs are taken into consideration). Pretty amazing. That would make them the most efficient means of transportation on the planet.

I put about 50km (32 miles) on it in the first two days. I've also carried a heavy load - 18 liters of kerosene, which weighs 14.75 kg (32.5 lbs). I am very impressed by the overall quality and performance. I've seen a number of hybrid-electric bikes here (they make up 25% of the one million bike a year market in Japan), but most use NiMH batteries and the overall quality is not as good as the Yamaha. I did pay extra for that. A Panasonic bike with a NiMH battery that I looked at, for example, costs about 40% less.

I found this bicycle offered on the internet and paid ¥101,800 (US$933), a 15% savings off the suggested retail price. They also threw in a cable lock and a bicycle cover. Initially, I was going to buy a version of this bike with a 3.7 amp battery and maximum range of 52km, but changed my mind and purchased one with a 7.5 amp battery which offers up to 104 km range. I think that should also give me longer battery life because of fewer recharging cycles.

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Fresh out of the box.

I've added a rear basket that, in addition to allowing me to carry more, gives me a place to put my backpack when it is not otherwise in use. I have installed a speedometer/odometer to keep track of distances and my average speed.

The bike handles well and the 27 inch wheels are a nice change from the 26 inch ones on my other bike. The seat is comfortable and its height easily adjusts without tools - for when K wants to borrow it. It is also easy to ride even without electric assist. That was something I did not expect as the EV Motors E-Bike I own (on Maui) is a real "bear" to ride without the motor.

The 3 speed internal hub transmission works very smoothly and offers a good speed range for a city bike. Pedaling flat out I get up to about 24 kph. Not coincidentally, if on, the assist will automatically shut off at that speed. My normal cruising speed turns out to be about 18 kph.

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There are three power settings and two modes to choose from. It isn't as complex as it may seem at first. For the assist there is off, Standard, and Power. There is also a choice of using "Auto-eco mode" or not. The Auto-eco controls the assist in a way that uses less energy. It senses how hard your are pedaling and adds power accordingly. It applies less assist on level ground and cuts out if you are cruising at a steady speed and don't need it, but gradually offers more assist if you encounter a hill or headwind. Basically, NOT using Auto-eco mode gives you access to more of a boost in each phase of riding. Using Auto-eco mode and Standard assist will give you the most range per charge - 104 km - but of course, going up hills and so on will reduce that range.


The Power setting offers the most help for starting from a stop or climbing hills. I was very surprised with just how powerful that assist is! With Auto-ec on and the Power setting, you still control energy use, but get the maximum assist if you need it.

I've ridden the bike into the center of town twice, about 25km round-trip each time. It is amazing how quickly it accelerates to speed and how easy it makes climbing a hill. I still have to pedal, but it feels like I have twice the muscle power. (Like Hans und Franz - the PAS system is there to PUMP - clap! - me UP!). On each trip I came back with several liters of drinking water and groceries or other goods. The PAS system it made it easy, even for the fairly long distance I rode.

For a short video intro to Yamaha PAS, click on the picture below. Then click on the four tabs to the right side of the video to see others about the PAS system.

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A 26" Yamaha PAS Bicycle
(Flowers and young woman not included).

Riding at night, I was happy to see that the 1 watt LED headlight is the brightest bicycle light I've ever had and illuminates the road very well. Headlights on bikes are typically only good for making you visible to on-coming traffic. In contrast, this one really lights up the path and lets you avoid rocks or potholes easily. While the headlight operates off the main battery, the flashing rear LED lamp has a small solar panel and Ni-Cd battery. It charges by day and comes on automatically at night. I added a second battery operated LED light to the rear basket for added visibility.

Using only high power without the Auto-eco mode will result in a range of about 52km. I did not use the Auto-eco mode at all the first day. The second day I used it about 2/3 of the time and also switched between Standard and Power settings. "Power" is really nice to have on the last part of a long ride. I think the Yamaha estimates are fairly accurate as using the bike as described above for 50 km I had used about 3/4 of the battery's power and would expect to go about 60 - 70 km that way.



The bike comes with a recharger which can handle both NiMH and Lithium-Ion batteries. The battery has a built in handle and is easily removed for recharging, which takes 3.9 hours. The batteries are good for 300 - 400 cycles, so I should get several years of service out of mine.

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The kick stand lifts the rear wheel off the ground and supports the bike in a fully upright position. This is important if you have cargo in the basket or a child seat mounted on it (as young moms in Japan often do), as it keeps the bike from toppling over. The provided lock puts a bar through the rear wheel and automatically locks the steering to either side or straight ahead. The same key is used to lock the battery in place. I also use a cable lock. If the bike were to be stolen, it is registered with the police department and Yamaha includes one year of theft insurance in the purchase price.

So what's it all mean for me? I no longer have to worry about being tired out after running errands all over Kashima City. I can make the hills around here with ease, and I can ride much further north and south than I used to, putting more stores and farmer's markets within easy reach, meaning less use of K's automobile and more convenience.

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The only things I might change are the transmission and color options. The 3 speed internal hub works fine, but it might be nice if they offered a 5 speed internal hub instead. The only colors offered on the "City-S L" are silver (nice color, but 95% of the bikes in Japan are silver - yawn) and dark wine (looks black in the pictures but is really a deep burgundy with a slight metallic sheen to it). Neither of these things is a biggy, obviously.

For people who commute a few miles to work (or train station) or who, like me, just don't want to produce excess CO2 or deal with the high cost of car ownership, yet want a good personal transport for errands, the hybrid-electric bike makes a lot of sense. Even if you just want to cut back on car use or have a back up means of getting around, it might be a good choice. No need to worry about breaking a sweat or wearing yourself out either.

For readers in the US, I'm sorry to report that to the best of my knowledge the Yamaha bicycle is not available in the USA. Maybe $5/gallon gas will change that, just as higher gas prices have prompted some car manufacturers to start offering plug-in hybrids in the next few years. E-bikes and conversion kits are widely available, however, and some hybrids as well.

There is a company with stores in Seattle, Washington and Oceanside, California, which carries the Chinese "Giant" brand hybrid-electric bikes that utilize Panasonic's NiMH technology. You can check them out at:

2008/01/14

Fiji - Witness to Climate Change



Part of an Al Jazeera series called "Witness" about global climate change, the following two videos focus on the island of Kabara (pronounced Kambara) in the Lau Group of the Fiji Islands where 400 inhabitants are trying to maintain their sustainable way of life while coping with the effects of climate change. Coral reefs bleached by rising sea temperatures mean fewer fish to eat; higher tides erode the shore destroying trees; drought means difficulty growing traditional crops and a shortage of water for drinking and washing, while dangerous cyclones increase in frequency.

Part 1 of Witness on Kabara, Fiji 10 minutes 25 seconds:



Part 2 of Witness on Kabara, Fiji 11 minutes 43 seconds:



For more on climate change and its causes, listen to George Kenney's interview with Dr. Chris Rapely: Anthropogenic Climate Change on Electric Politics

and watch Dr. Suzuki's interview on The Real News Network: Dr. David Suzuki

Thanks to Laminar Flow for the 'Witness' clips.

2008/01/04

Blast from the Past

La Festa Mille Miglia, October 2007

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"The first Grand Prix Race for automobiles was held in 1921 in the ancient city of Brescia in the north of Italy. In 1925, the Grand Prix Race was transferred to the newly built Monza Circuit in the outskirts of Milan. The people of Brescia, who dearly love motor sports, were very disappointed and they wanted to bring their city back into the spotlight. Based on an idea of four local men, they planned to hold a race on public roads, not on a closed circuit. The course ran from Brescia, south to Rome and then swung back north along a different route and returned to the goal in Brescia, with a total distance of 1,000 miles. In Italian, this is expressed as Mille Miglia, and this phrase was adopted as the name of the race. On March 26, 1927, the first Mille Miglia was held with the participation of 101 cars." - La Festa Mille Miglia 2007 website

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Pandabonium was caught (far left) in this official photo of a 1927 Bugatti T37C

Except for a hiatus during WWII, the race was held every year through 1957 when there was a terrible accident. A tire burst on a Ferrari and it skidded into spectators. The driver, Marquis Alfonso De Portago of Spain, his co-driver Edmund Nelson and 10 spectators - five of them children - were killed and 20 more people were injured. The Italian government put a permanent end to the race.

In the 1970s Italian tourism went into a slump. To attract more visitors, Brescia revived the Mille Miglia in 1977, not as a race, but as classic car stamp rally. Rather than a race for speed, a stamp rally requires entrants to visit certain check points and have their paperwork time-stamped. There is a time factor involved but the object is to make to each point on time - not early, not late. The 1977 rally only allowed cars which had previously raced in the Mille Miglia or would have been eligible to do so up to 1957.

"La Festa Mille Miglia" is a classic car stamp rally which celebrates the Italian original, but takes place in Japan. It was first run in 1997. Starting in Tokyo-Harajuku, the rally covers a 1,000 mile course over a 4 day period, heading north and west through Saitama, Tochigi, Fukushima, and as far as Miyagi prefecture before returning along the east coast as far south as Kashima City and heading back toward Tokyo and the goal at Yokohama Motomachi. They visit 10 prefectures in all. A lot of beautiful mountain and ocean scenery lies along that route as well as very famous historic towns like Nikko, Aizu Wakamatsu, and of course, Kashima.

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1957 Giaur Taraschi 1100S,
1955 Lotus Mk 9, '57 Porsche Speedster, '55 Motto MG Special, and a '59 Fiat Abarth.

Cars must be registered classic originals (no replica cars allowed), built in 1967 or earlier. The checkpoints along the route are at scenic and historic sites. Happily for me, one of those sites is Kashima Jingu (Shinto shrine) right in the heart of our fair city.

I left home early as I was not sure exactly where the checkpoint would be located and also wanted time to find a good vantage point from which to take pictures. I also had no idea how many spectators might show up. As it happened, the checkpoint was easy to find - it was the main parking lot by the shrine's entrance. I found a fence to which I could lock my bicycle and wandered over to a corner across from the great torii. There were only a handful of other people there. A rally representative greeted me and handed me a flag to wave at the cars and a nice bilingual program listing all the cars and drivers. As my hands would be busy with the camera, I attached the flag to my backpack. The cars would come up the stone street, San-do, to the entrance of the shrine, then turn to enter the parking lot, get their time-stamp and exit via the same route. It was a great spot for picture taking as the cars would have to go slow for the turns and I could catch them on the way in and out. The schedule called for the cars to begin arriving at Kashima Jingu at 9:20 am.

Surprisingly, there were only about 25 people there by that time. The gods taunted us with a light mist from the clouds, but no more than that, and even that soon ended. Finally, the first car arrived - a 1924 Bugatti T22 "Brescia" - the oldest car among the 118 entrants.

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1924 Buggatti T22 Brescia - still looking good at age 83.


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Why are the drivers of this "1925 Rolls Royce Phantom I Torpedo Tourer" wearing ear protectors? Because the huge six cylinder 7.668 liter (467.9 cu in) engine is LOUD! that's why.

I can't say as I had a favorite car, but the 1920's models and sensuously curved bodies of the 1950's Italian cars were for me especially delightful to see; the former for their pioneering engineering and mechanical craftsmanship, the latter as works of sculpted art. It was fascinating to watch them all - a blast from the past - a cavalcade of automotive history brought to life.

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1926 Bugatti T37A

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1956 Maserati 150S


The "crowd" grew as time went on until there were perhaps well over a hundred lining the street. Shopkeepers and a chef came out to watch as well. A volunteer from the shrine directed the cars toward the checkpoint and helped to keep the spectators off of the street.
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1960 Austin Healy 300 MK1


While everyone was provided with flag, adults in general can be a stodgy lot and sometimes take some prodding to get into the spirit of things. As if answering the call, a kindergarten on the other side of Kashima Jingu brought their children through the shrine to join the fun.

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The enthusiastic youngsters soon had everyone waving energetically at the cars, much to the delight of the drivers, such as these guys in an Alfa Romeo.

In addition to the Italian and British cars, there were also some from the USA, Japan, and Germany. A Mercedes, by the way, was the only non-Italian car ever to win the Mille Miglia, in 1931.

Two very beautiful examples from that country were a 1957 Mercedes 300 SLS (sure to please NZM) and a '58 BMW 507.

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1957 Mercedes 300 SLS


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1958 BMW 507

Not all of the 118 original entrants made it. Some perhaps encountered problems along the way, but I did get to see the vast majority of the entrants that day, and was grateful that I was using a digital camera and not paying for rolls of film! By 11:00 am, the last of them came through the check point (a 1955 Abarth 207A Sypder). As with a fireworks display, some of us lingered to see if there might be just one more to see, before reluctantly going on our way.

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1955 Abarth 207A Spyder - 'hope to see you in 2008 - arrivederci!

An Affair To Remember

A "few" more of the pictures I took...