About Joe Wein

Software developer and anti-spam activist

Disc brakes on my Bike Friday (part II)

As I explained here almost two years ago, I have had the front brake of my Bike Friday replaced with a disk brake, an upgrade that involved installing a new fork with disk brake tabs. Now I’m having the same upgrade done one the rear:

I needed to replace the rear wheel anyway because after 37,000 km its rim was worn out. The aluminium of the brake surfaces was already worn past the wear markers. I decided, this was a good time to switch not only the rim but the brake too. With disc brakes, a well built rim will basically last forever. The brake wear will be on the rotor, but that is a cheaper part that can be replaced without the need for a full wheel rebuild. But more importantly, disc brakes are much more effective in the rain, where they are more predictable. I was reminded of that fact again when I descended a winding 20 km from Mt Norikura in the rain last month.

Originally I thought I could get IS disc tabs at the rear by simply swapping the rear triangle, which is a separate hinged part of the folding bike frame, but as it turns out Bike Friday needs to build the main tube and its hinge together with the rear triangle to ensure they will be properly aligned.

I went ahead and placed an order. A couple of weeks later the new main tube and rear triangle arrived. Tokyo Bike Friday dealer ehicle will be swapping all other parts from the existing bike to the new hinged section that has the disc tabs.

I bought a second Shimano BR-CX77 disc brake calliper. I still had a 140 mm centerlock rotor that I had bought two years ago as well as the matching IS adapter. The smaller rotor should be sufficient at the rear, especially with the smaller 20″ wheels. Heat dissipation should be less of a problem for a rear brake, which normally doesn’t have to work as hard as a front brake. I never had any heat problems with the 160 mm rotor at the front.

GS Astuto, my favourite wheel builder, built me a new rear wheel based on the Shimano Deore FH-M615 rear hub and an AlexRims DA22 rim (same as originally came with the bike). The disc brake wheel uses an O.L.D. (Over Locknut Dimension) of 135 mm, but the existing rim brake rear triangle uses 130 mm. Therefore installing the new wheel in the existing frame before the Norikura ride required some effort, but it worked OK. With the new rear triangle that issue will go away.

Once the conversion will be complete, I’ll actually have a spare main tube and rear triangle, a spare fork, two spare rim brakes and two spare hubs. The only frame parts missing to a complete non-disc brake frame will be the steerer and the folding seat tube 🙂 Nevertheless, doing it this way will have been worth it.

Instead of buying a new bicycle, I could first try out at the front what difference a disc brake would make, making only the minimal investment. I never had to send my bike back to the US for a few weeks for an upgrade or pay shipping costs either way. I only lost the use of the bike for a short period for each of the upgrade steps.

I’m looking forward to riding my upgraded bike this weekend, when the work will be complete! 🙂

Disc brake pad and rotor wear

It looks like I get about 6,000 km of useful life out of the disc brake pads on the front of my main bicycle. That’s about 9 months for me (I ride all year round, about 8,000 to 10,000 km per year).

Two years ago I switched my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket to a disc brake on the front by replacing the fork and the front wheel. 1 1/2 years ago I received my Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer (NFE), a low trail randonneur bike with disc brakes. 9 Months ago I switched the NFE from TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes with metallic pads to Shimano hydraulic brakes with resin pads. These pads had now worn out, see picture above.

Along with the brake pads I also replaced the front rotor, as the old one had worn quite thin.

Most of the 7,000 km that I had done on the TRP Spyre brakes I had been using metallic pads, as the factory resin pads wore extremely rapidly: I had to keep adjusting the brakes after each Saturday long ride (typically 130-200 km). The metallic pads needed less attention but were very noisy in the rain.

My experience with the Shimano BR-RS785 brakes was much better. As hydraulic brakes their pads were self adjusting. There weren’t any noise issues. Wear is quite acceptable: One set of resin pads every 9 months is not too bad and I expect the new brake rotor will last even longer than 13,000 km / 20 months now that I am only using resin pads. On top of that the modulation on the hydros is great and they need very little effort. I could not be happier!

It is good to have real-life figures from actual use as to how quickly parts will wear on the bike so you can do preventive maintenance. It is better to replace a worn out pad at home when you know that it will be due for replacement soon, rather than finding out on a mountain descent that suddenly you’ve got nothing left to stop you! 🙁

Likewise, I regularly replace shifter cables (about once a year), before they wear out enough to break inside the brifters during a ride away from home, as happened twice to me before I learnt that lesson.

In the past I have been quite easygoing about replacing worn out bicycle chains, but a chain that has “stretched” will wear out your chain rings or cassette more quickly. Chains do decrease in robustness with increasing numbers of gears (from 8 speed to 11 speed) as they increasingly become narrower, so I will probably be replacing my 11 speed chain annually too.

Jōmon Sugi, the hard way

Eight years ago I visited Yakushima island near Kyushu/Japan with my family. We did a lot of hiking to see the ancient Cryptomeria trees in the lush green mountains, but we did not try to go to Jōmon Sugi (縄文杉), the oldest and biggest tree on the island. It is estimated to be around 2000-7000 years old. Visiting it involves an all day hike. At the time I thought it was a bit far for my kids to hike.

Most people take a bus to the Anbo trail. Starting from the Arakawa trail head they walk along the tracks of the old narrow gauge railway previously used for logging. From there they follow the Okabu trail, which consists of a combination of dirt tracks, wooden steps and board walks. The route passes by Wilson’s Stump, the hollow remains of an even bigger tree, the size of a small living room.

The round trip on this route takes about 9-10 hours. People often leave their hotels at 04:00 to catch the first bus to the trail head at 05:00. The last return bus from the trail head leaves at 18:00.

Looking at the map (PDF here), I saw that one could avoid the buses by starting at Shiratani Unsuiko, climbing over the Tsuji Toge Pass and joining the Anbo trail about halfway to the turnoff for the Wilson stump. It involves a lot more climbing and descending, but the up side is that one is not tied to the bus schedule, no need for bus tickets and last but not least, Shiratani Unsuikyo is one of the most beautiful parts of the island. Furthermore, not far from Tsuji Toge Pass lies Taiko Iwa, a rock overlooking a mountainous valley with spectacular views.

We left the hotel in Miyanoura at 06:30. The hotel had prepared two lunch boxes for each of us, one with breakfast that we had in our room and one with lunch for during the hike. After driving up the steep road to Shiratani Unsuikyo high in the mountains, we parked the car in the car park and started to hike.

It was hot and humid but at least we were mostly walking in the shade of the dense forest.

At the Shiratani mountain hut I filled up with water. From the pass we climbed the trail up to Taiko Iwa. It was at least half an hour of detour, but we spent quite a bit more on taking pictures at the top.

A tour guide we met there told us we were probably a bit too late already to still make it to Jōmon Sugi in time to be back at the car park by the evening. Still, we decided to push on and see by what time we could make it to the Wilson stump. I reckoned, if we could make it there by noon we’d be at Jōmon Sugi by 13:00 and back at Shiratani Unsuikyo by 18:00, with about an hour spare before it got dark this time of the year.

Personally I find descents on foot harder than climbs, because they exercise muscles that only get used going downhill whereas climbing is much more similar to the kind of cardio exercise I get from cycling that I’m used to.

After about half an hour of descent we reached the old railway tracks, with wooden planks in the middle that made it easy to walk fast.

After maybe an hour we reached the turn-off for the Wilson stump. From here the course was a lot harder again. Especially the stairs were very hard on the legs.

We encountered some people heading back already. Many groups of people were resting by the side of the trail, either already return from or still heading to the tree.

There are two large viewing platforms near the tree, one below it on the hillside, one above it. For protection you can’t approach the tree itself anymore.

It was still a little before 13:00 when we started the hike back. With about six hours until sunset I was pretty sure we would make it, but it was going to be hard. There was a lot of up and down back to the Wilson stump and the Anbo trail. We rested a while at the Wilson stump, after going inside and taking pictures (there were about 8 people inside the stump at the time).

We were totally drenched in sweat by then. I had brought a towel to wipe my sweat but it was already soaking wet. All my clothes were soaked through. Paper tickets in my backpack dissolved.

I slowed down on the Anbo trail. With the goal of making it to the tree before cut-off time gone, I just wanted to make it to the end with the least amount of pain.

We rested again at the public toilets before the climb back up to the pass. Again I found the climb easier than the descent because my wife and kids slowed down more climbing while I had fallen behind on the descent.

The last kilometers from the Tsuji Toge Pass down to the Shiratani Unsuikyo car park were the hardest. All my muscles were sore.

A few hundred meters before the goal we soaked our feet in the cool water.

Finally we made it to the car, well before 18:00.

On the way down to the coast we passed some Yakushima monkeys. There are many of them all over the island, but especially on the mountains and on the west coast.

My legs were sore for several days after the hike (probably not helped by a canyoning tour the very next morning, which by itself was a lot of fun).

It was a great adventure to combine Jōmon Sugi with Shiratani Unsuikyo and Taiko Iwa. The latter two are definitely a local highlight, and much more interesting than Jōmon Sugi, which even though it’s impressive, is no match for the variety of stunning views at Shiratani Unsuikyo.

One of the hotel staff, who was a keen hiker, told us that even though he had also done the combined route, he had only ever done it once because it’s so hard. I can understand that.

If you want to see Jōmon Sugi, the conventional route on the Anbo trail is much easier, but then you should definitely also go and see Shiratani Unsuikyo separately.

When I next visit Yakushima, I probably won’t be hiking to Jōmon Sugi again, but I would love to visit Shiratani Unsuikyo again, perhaps climbing up from the coast by bicycle. A bicycle loop of the entire coastal road around the island (ca. 130 km) is also on my agenda for a future trip.

BRM520 300 km Mt Fuji

There is one cycling event I have ridden every year since I started long distance cycling five years ago, the 300 km brevet around Mt Fuji organised by AJ Nishitokyo. It was my introduction to randonneuring in 2012. This year I rode it for the sixth time, with unexpected results.

For the first four years I rode my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, a folding road bike with 20″ (ETRTO 451) wheels. Last year I used my new adventure bike, the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, 650B randonneur bike with disk brakes. Most of my cycling friends expected the bigger wheels would make a big difference on the completion time: The event has a 20 hour time limit and I had always struggled to stay under the limit. The last two years on the Bike Friday I had finished with 11 minutes and 15 minutes spare. The first time on my NFE I finished in 19h 45m again – the same time to the minute as a year before! The Bike Friday really has been a great bike for me and if I had not been fast on it, that wasn’t because of the bike but because of the engine! 😉

Because this event starts at 22:00 at night, with the first 6 1/2 hours of riding through the night, getting enough sleep upfront is essential. I tried to avoid staying up much after midnight for the week before the ride and took short daytime naps on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday afternoon I went to bed at 15:00, planning to sleep until 18:00, but mostly rested. I don’t think I slept more than about the last hour.

I left home at 18:50 to cycle the 28 km to the start in Machida and was intending to ride home after the event too. So that’s 56 km on top of the 304 km of the event itself. I took it very easy, knowing I’d have plenty of time.

I bought bananas at a convenience store a few km before the start. The reception at a park near the Cherubim bike shop in Machida opened at 21:00. I saw many new faces, including younger riders.

It had been warm and sunny all day and the forecast for Sunday was the same, so I didn’t even wear a windbreaker at the start. Only for the early morning descent from Gotemba to Numazu did I bring my nylon rain pants, because that was going to be the coldest time of the night, before sunrise and going downhill for about 25 km.

The briefing started at 21:30. There aren’t any changes to the course from the year before, but temperatures would be quite different as last year’s event had been run about 8 weeks earlier in the year. Knowing it would get hot on the long climb on the opposite side of Mt Fuji, I decided to build up a decent time buffer until the morning, when it was still cool, so I would not risk overheating as much later in the day.

After the security inspection we started. The route to the untimed checkpoint in front of some public toilets in Enoshima (38.6 km), where we had to collect a signature on the brevet card from staff members, was pretty urban, with streetlights, cars and traffic lights all along. I made good time and arrived before midnight. It helped that I didn’t have to stop to take off a layer.

There was a large group motorbikes near the checkpoint. I came across groups of bikers throughout the ride, including several encounters with Bōsōzoku clubs making a racket on their two stroke bikes and weaving about on the road.

About half of the 35 km route from Enoshima to PC1 at Odawara I was drafting other cyclists, similar to last year. The Nitto Randonneur bars make it much easier to use my drops to get into a more aerodynamic position to save energy. I arrived at PC1 at 01:26, with 86 minutes spare, 5 minutes more than last year.

After Odawara the route starts climbing until it levels out at an elevation of about 400 m around Gotemba. I was still riding mostly with other cyclists. In Gotemba I put on my wind breaker and nylon pants for the descent. I rode down to Numazu with another cyclist, separated only temporarily when I stopped to take a shot of the first Mt Fuji view around 04:00, still about half an hour before sunrise. A waning moon hung in the eastern sky. It reminded me that we’re only three months away from the total solar eclipse in the western US on Aug 21, 2017.

Though I was yawning at times, I felt no urge to take a nap and continued on to Fuji city, maintaining my pace. I only stopped for a few quick photos of Fuji in the early morning light.

I counted down the distance to the Fujikawa bridge, where the road turns away the coast. I used the public toilets near the Tomei expressway entrance, so I could avoid queuing at PC2, only a couple of km up the road.

I tried to take pictures of Mt Fuji from the south-west, but the sun was behind it and the air was too hazy.

I made it to PC2 by 06:56, 132 minutes ahead of closing time. This was 26 minutes earlier than the year before.

It was still early in the morning, but it was already getting warm. From here it was about 36 km uphill, from close to sea level to about 1100 m. Some of the road was shaded under trees, but most of it was exposed to the sun.

Having done this brevet before, I knew this part of the ride was both rewarding for its views of Mt Fuji and green landscapes, but also tough for the relentlessly climbing road where I was pedaling in the heat. I had also done it on a rainy day, with only a few degrees above freezing, that wasn’t much fun either.

Until the climbing started I had consoled myself that even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the elevation (adiabatic cooling) would somehow make it bearable. Somebody forgot to pass that message to my Navi2coach GPS, whose thermometer displayed as high as 39 C at one point.

The air may have been cooler over the meadows and forests I was passing, but the south-tilted dark asphalt of the prefectural road 71 soaked up just as much sunshine at elevation as it would have at sea level. I was like riding on top of a barbecue. I stopped a couple of times for views and pictures and that made it easier to continue.

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I made it to the top around 10:30 and pulled into a parking area and view point overlooking Motosuko (Lake Motosu).

I took a couple of pictures, ate a banana and got back on the bike again. After a bit of rolling terrain the road descended. The forest surrounding it is called Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), also known as the Suicide Forest for the number of people who picked it to take their own lives there.

At the bottom of the descent, the minor road joined major Rt139, which is usually crowded with cars. Some of it’s surface is very rough, especially around Fujiyoshia. This is where the wide tires of my NFE really helped. They give me the confidence to descend faster even where the road surface is far from perfect.

After Fujiyoshida came a 25 km fast descent down to Tsuru. I didn’t have to pedal much and trusted my tires to deal with the bumps and cracks at speed, with several other cyclists in trail, none of whom ever tried to overtake me until after the road leveled out. It was till before noon and heating up more and more.

At 12:20 three of us pulled into PC3 at Tsuru. That was 92 minutes ahead of closing time. I knew I had previous made here with only 35 minutes spare. I was now 47 minutes ahead of last year’s result. But it was still going to get hotter for another hour or more from here.

The final 66 km from Tsuru to Machida were the hottest part of the ride. I used my lightest gear a lot, climbing slowly to avoid overheating. I am not usually someone who worries much about heat stroke. I drink sufficient water and keep the effort down when I feel it’s getting too hot out there, but this time I was starting to worry. Three or four of us stayed together more or less continually for the last leg of the trip, nobody willing to go any faster in this heat. I counted down the distances to the top of each climb.

Finally we made it to Doushi road (National route 413), for a lengthy descent. we stopped at a convenience store where AJ Nishitokyo staff met with us. Some ice cream cooled me down a bit. Based on the remaining distance it looked like I could finish before 17:00, with more than an hours pare. That would be my best result ever.

I felt relieved when I crossed the last major bridge, where I crossed back into the urban area of Sagamihara and counted down the final kilometers to Machida.

At 16:51 I pulled up in front of the Cherubim bike shop, together with one of the other participants. I had finished 54 minutes faster than in 2015 and 2016.

I’m very happy to have made it safely. I thanked the AJ Nishitokyo staff. As always they took good care of everyone. The route is difficult, but rewarding. I often incorporate large parts of it into other long distance rides that I do privately.

As to why I finished so much quicker this year, I am not sure. Looking at the elapsed times between PCs both years, I gained 21 minutes between PC1-PC2, another 21 minutes between PC2-PC3 and 7 minutes even from the last PC to the goal, in the heat. So I was pretty consistently faster. The first 73 km to PC1 is where I gained the least relative to last year (5 minutes), probably because I was already working hard there last year. Overall I took about a 100 photographs on both rides, so it wasn’t that I stopped less for pictures.

Perhaps my two recent rides of the Oume temple loop, with 2500-2700 m of elevation gain on 180+ km of cycling each time, helped prepare me for the amount of climbing 🙂 Whatever it was, I’m happy!

Oh, and I did ride 28 km back to Tokyo after the brevet, tired and sleepy, but I made it safely. I won’t be able to ride AJ Nishitokyo’s 400 km brevet this year due to business trips and I’m not sure yet if I’ll attempt the 600 km brevet in September again – I have DNF’ed (did not finish) it three times so far. Finishing it is a bit like riding a 400 km brevet, then finish this 300 km brevet starting from the bottom of the big climb at PC2… Pretty insane!

What I enjoy about these brevets is not just the scenery and the challenge, but also the camaraderie and shared love of cycling among randonneurs. We all have this same passion.

Angola: Dying Children in an Oil Country

I was watching an old re-run of “Columbo” on a commercial cable channel the other day. The ads in the commercial breaks were fundraising ads by Unicef, showing malnourished little children in Angola. I remember when civil war raged in Angola after independence and during the Cold War, with different countries supporting different independence movements. Cuba and the Soviet Union supported the Marxist MPLA while South Africa and the CIA supporting pro-Western UNITA. After the cold war ended, Angola finally found peace. It is still ruled by the MPLA but has become the second biggest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria.

Now why would a country whose oil wells bring in billions of dollars every year literally become a poster child for UNICEF fundraising for starving children? The truth is, Angola is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Little of that oil wealth finds its ways to Angola’s most vulnerable citizens. Much of it ends up in foreign bank accounts owned by the politically well connected.

For example, Isabel dos Santos, the oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, has made billions in government related business that her father had a say in. She has become the richest woman in Africa. Forbes did an excellent exposé a few years ago, based largely on the research of brave Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais that showed how she systematically received huge chunks of businesses due to favouritism by her father, the president who has already been in power for 38 years.

Hundreds of millions and billions of dollars from diamond exports, oil and other resources that should be funding health care and education for Angola’s poorest instead have ended up in the pockets of the president’s family members. This seems especially ironic, given that MPLA claimed to be a socialist party, which is supposed to be about equality. Now it’s just another kleptocracy and the world is looking the other way.

The Latest “Pump and Dump” Stock Scams

For a while it was quiet about stock spam pushing penny stocks, but recently they’ve been making a comeback. Recently we’ve seen these campaigns:

  • 2017-03-20: Incapta Inc (INCT)
  • 2017-04-11: Quest Management (QSMG)

If you receive spam pushing shares, beware! Never buy stock based on “information” sent out as spam. The only people making money on such stocks are the scammers, who wait for the spammed buyers to offload their near worthless shares at grossly inflated prices. Reselling such stock is near impossible and and usually will lead to great losses.

JWHOIS uses 100% of CPU on CentOS

Occasionally we hit a bug where the ‘whois’ command hangs on one of our CentOS servers and goes CPU-bound. This has been happening on several CentOS versions, including 6.8. Specifically, this is a problem in jwhois, the whois client included in CentOS.

Apparently, CentOS (and RHEL, on whose source code it’s based) is missing a number of fixes that have been added to other Linux versions including Fedora over the last couple of years. So the problem is actually known and a fix has been available for years, it’s just not included in the product.

Comparing the change logs for jwhois between CentOS and Fedora, everything matches up to and including build 4.0-18 in September 2009, but then the two diverge.

On Jan 26, 2010, Fedora received a fix (“Use select to wait for input (patch by Joshua Roys <joshua.roys AT gtri.gatech.edu>)”) for a new 4.0-19 build that resolved bug #469412 for precisely this issue. There are many more changes in Fedora’s jwhois after that, unlike its RHEL and CentOS equivalent, which in all the years since then received only a single update. This is also called 4.0-19, but it was made on Jun 23, 2011 and it includes only two fixes for unrelated issues that were fixed in Fedora’s jwhois updates 4.0-24 (Dec 20, 2010) and 4.0-26 (Mar 15, 2011), but not the earlier select fix or fixes for any of the other issues. CentOS is missing the “jwhois-4.0-select.patch” and that’s why WHOIS hangs.

Olympic Hydrogen Hype

Today’s Japan Times reports that the Organizing Committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is considering the use of hydrogen torches to light the Olympic flame (“Olympic panel mulls high-tech hydrogen torch, pares soccer venues” — JT, 2017-02-27):

“An important theme of the Olympics is how to promote environmental sustainability. We will talk to experts and see how realistic it is in terms of technological development,” a committee member said.

One official said there are still safety and cost concerns, and asserted that there also was a need for a lightweight torch that can be easily carried.

In March 2016, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced a project to have the 6,000-unit athletes’ village for the games run entirely on hydrogen power.

The Japanese government is one of the most active promoters worldwide of a so called “hydrogen economy”. It sees the 2020 Olympics as an opportunity to showcase Japan’s lead on hydrogen. Other projects are the construction of a nationwide network of hydrogen filling stations for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) such as the Toyota Mirai, research into shipping liquefied hydrogen from overseas using special tankers and production of hydrogen from lignite (brown coal) in Australia for export to Japan.

Let’s start with the most obvious problem in the article, the hydrogen fueled torch: The usual Olympic torches use LPG (propane/butane) as a fuel, a gas mixture that can be stored as a liquid under moderate pressure at normal outdoor temperatures. This makes it easy to carry a significant amount of fuel in a light weight container. Hydrogen by contrast does not liquefy unless chilled to about -252 C. Hydrogen powered vehicles run on compressed hydrogen instead, at pressures of up to 700 bar, equivalent to half the weight of a car on each cm2 of tank surface. As you can imagine that kind of pressure calls for some fairly sturdy containers. An even bigger problem is that pure hydrogen flames are invisible because they radiate energy not as light but as UV. You could feel the heat, but you couldn’t directly see if the flame is burning or not, which makes it quite hazardous. Talk about playing with fire…

The comment about running the Olympic village on “hydrogen power” is quite misleading. It’s like saying they would run the Olympic village on battery power, without explaining where the energy to charge those batteries came from. Like batteries, hydrogen is not a primary energy source, it’s an energy carrier. Since elementary hydrogen does not exist in significant quantities on earth, it has to be produced using another energy source such as natural gas or electricity generated using coal, nuclear, wind or solar.

Though it’s possible to produce hydrogen from carbon-free energy sources such as solar electricity (splitting water through electrolysis) and then produce electricity from hydrogen again, this process is far less efficient than either consuming renewable electricity directly or via batteries. When you convert electric energy to chemical energy in hydrogen and back to electricity, about 3/4 of the energy is lost in the process. This is incredibly wasteful and far from green.

With its sponsorship of hydrogen, the Japanese government is trying to create business opportunities for industrial companies such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries, a Japanese shipbuilder (see “Kawasaki Heavy fighting for place in ‘hydrogen economy'” — Nikkei Asian Review, 2015-09-03) and for its oil and gas importers, as almost all hydrogen is currently made from imported liquefied natural gas (LNG). In the longer term, the government still has a vision of nuclear power (fission or fusion) producing the electricity needed to make hydrogen without carbon emissions. Thus the ‘hydrogen economy’ is meant to keep oil companies and electricity monopolies like TEPCO in business. The “hydrogen economy” is coal, oil and nuclear hidden under a coat of green paint.

These plans completely disregard the rapid progress being made in battery technologies which have already enabled electric cars with ranges of hundreds of km at lower costs than HFCVs and without the need for expensive new infrastructure.

Hydrogen, especially when it’s produced with carbon-intensive coal or dangerous nuclear, is not the future. Japan would be much better served by investing into a mix of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, combined with battery storage and other technologies for matching up variable supply and demand.

See also:
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Are Not The Future (2016-12-05)

Google broke Picasa uploads

Having used Google Picasaweb for picture-hosting for many years, Google’s transition to Google Photos has been a frustrating experience. The original Picasaweb has always worked better for me than its supposed replacement. Several friends of mine who had also been using Picasaweb have already switched to other services, including Facebook.

The latest nail in the coffin came a few days ago, when the Picasa 3 application failed to upload new albums to Google Photo. The error message was:

Error: Request failed
Click here to View Errors

The link revealed that it was a server error:

HTTP Error 400 – https://picasaweb.google.com/post?tok={long-token-here}[156]

It looks like someone at Google broke the upload servers. When they announced the transition a year ago, Google wrote:

Desktop application
As of March 15, 2016, we will no longer be supporting the Picasa desktop application. For those who have already downloaded this—or choose to do so before this date—it will continue to work as it does today, but we will not be developing it further, and there will be no future updates.

For now, the workaround appears to be to use “File | Export Picture to Folder” in the Desktop application to create files no wider than 1600 pixels (below the limit for unlimited free uploads) and then upload those file sets to Google Photo using its web interface.

At the moment it is still possible to share Google Photo images in blog and forum posts but for how much longer? First you must share the album, for example by clicking on the “share” icon in the album in Google Photo, then “Get Link” to generate a link, which you don’t actually have to use. Then you can view an image, right-click on it and select “Open image in new tab”. The URI above the new tab that opens can be used for embedding images in blogs and forums. If or more precisely, when Google also breaks this feature then Google Photos will become unusable for me.

I am looking for a good solution to be hosted on one of my own servers that will replace Google Photos, without size limits and without any hassle for resizing images for public sharing, that will let me control who can see what images like the old Picasaweb did.

Native ads, a race to the bottom for online media

Over the past year you will have seen a steady increase of so-called “native ads” while reading articles online. You know, those half dozen or more links with pictures to what at first looks like other articles recommended by the publisher. Only, they are really outside links. Many are click-bait ads, with pictures and headlines designed to grab your attention. They are introduced with tags like “From the web” or “Promoted stories”. The small print will mention companies like Outbrain, Taboola or Revcontent that place the ads in the space that they rent from the website owner.

At best, the advertised content doesn’t live up to the attention-grabbing ads. At worst, the advertisers try to sell you something utterly worthless through deception and lies, including miracle weight loss, anti-aging and anti-Alzheimer pills or promises of jobs that make thousands of dollars a month with no special skills required. Many of these offerings involve recurring credit card charges that are very difficult to get out of.

So why have reputable publishers like the Washington Post, Newsweek and The Atlantic embraced “native ads” on their websites? The answer of course is money. As the Internet grew, print advertising revenues have been collapsing for traditional media as much of the ads have moved online. What’s worse, with Google Adsense and Facebook ads, traditional publishers now have to compete for eyeballs against an almost unlimited number of websites and SNS, making it very hard to replace print ad revenue with online ad revenue. Companies like Outbrain and Taboola (both based in Israel) and RevContent (based in Florida) are offering better rates to site owners, but they can only do that because they seem to have few ethical problems selling anything that makes money.

Back in the 1990s I used to read High Times, which always carried pages of “fake pot” ads. The description for these products might lead naive readers to think that these legal products offered some of the effects of illegal marijuana, but it was really just bullshit and the High Times editors knew that. Their dilemma was that Congress had passed anti-paraphernalia laws that discouraged their traditional advertisers (e.g. for glass pipes) from advertising and the “fake pot” scammers were ready to fill the gap. When rival magazine Cannabis Culture pointed out the hypocrisy of High Times helping to defraud their readers, one of the editors offered an excuse along these lines: “If you don’t like these ads, why don’t you buy that advertising space yourself?” It’s not quite as simple as that.

While every business needs revenue to survive, I think ultimately, accepting money from unethical sources such as scammers does undermine your credibility. Gradually, more and more consumers will realize these “promoted stories” and “sponsored content” are nothing but deceptive junk. Taking money from these advertisers is a devil’s bargain that will damage the reputation of sites running unethical ads. If readers of reputable news sites lose faith in them, what will they have left that distinguishes them from fake news sites?