About Joe Wein

Software developer and anti-spam activist

Strava Cycling Climbing Challenges

Strava is a popular service for logging bike rides and other activities, which provides a way of comparing one’s achievements with those of other cyclists and runners. Competition is a powerful stimulant and a main driver behind the success of the service. Monthly “challenges”, such as a Gran Fondo (a ride of at least 100 or 130 km, depending on the time of the year) or a monthly cumulative distance or elevation gain challenge, are particularly popular on Strava.

While I regularly participate in the Cycling Distance and Gran Fondo Challenge, I do not normally sign up for the Cycling Climbing Challenge, which is meant to encourage you do ride hilly courses. I love hilly courses. In fact, most of my weekend rides are hilly, usually going from close to sea level to over 900 m and back.

Last year I averaged one century ride (at least 160.9 km / 100 miles) about every other week, so the Gran Fondo challenge is not really that much of a challenge for me. My typical centuries are about 170-190 km with 1800-2100 m of elevation gain. Yet at 7500 to 8000 m the goal for the Cycling Climbing Challenge is set so high, I could do a hilly century ride four Saturdays in a row and still miss the climbing goal. So how do other people, who do not ride 170 km into the hills every other weekend complete the climbing challenge?

I think the Strava climbing goals are designed for people who record their rides with phones or other GPS devices that rely only on satellite data for elevation. GPS-based elevation data is much less precise than lattitude-longitude data. Other popular GPS units like the Garmin Edge 1000, Garmin Edge 520 (or my o_synce Navi2coach) use a barometer for more precise elevation tracking. The problem with GPS-based elevation is that it’s noisy, it will go up and down pretty randomly but all those little ups will be added up by Strava, resulting in a considerably inflated climbing total. If you’re using a GPS device measuring relatively accurate barometric elevation, you can’t really compete against all that noisy data 🙁

I could confirm this in group rides with other people who were using mix of equipment, where I had a chance to compare the posted stats on Strava afterwards. The iPhone or Android-app recorded totals were often 50-100% higher than the Garmin-recorded totals, for one and the same course.

Here is one random example of 4 people doing the same course up a volcano in Tenerife, Gran Canria yesterday. Note, this not my ride, I just randomly stumbled on it while looking at high scorers in the March Cycling Climbing Challenge on the Strava website. Two of these cyclists were using the Strava iPhone app, the other two were using a Garmin Edge 520:

Strava iPhone App:

Strava iPhone App:

Garmin Edge 520:

Garmin Edge 520:

As you can see, the two cyclists using the phone app posted almost double the total climbing for the course as the Garmin users, despite riding the very same roads and posting the same elevation profile for the activity (i.e. no hill repeats).

Based on evidence like that, I don’t think elevation gain competitions on Strava are happening on a level playing field! 😉

2018BRM120 Miura Peninsula

I rode my third century of January and my first randonnée of the year on Sunday. After completing the 204 km ride (finished in 12:04) I rode home, for a total distance of 233 km. I had done the same event in 2015 – with only minor route changes – and almost the same time (12:06).

The main difference was that on Sunday it was not quite as chilly. Perhaps that was because it was overcast, which preserved more heat from the day before than if the night sky had been clear. It also meant that the sun wasn’t in our faces (and the faces of drivers coming up behind us) when we cycled towards Kawasaki around sunrise. I felt a lot safer because of that.

This brevet is the flattest by far of any events that AJ NishiTokyo (my local club) organizes. On the other hand, the first third and the last quarter had a fair number of traffic lights. Still, there was less pressure to make closing times than on any other brevet I rode.

I had to be at the start by about 5:20 to pick up the brevet card and attend the safety briefing, so the night before I rode 30 km from my home to a cheap hotel near the start where I spent the night. This I could still get almost 7 hours of sleep. Perhaps I’m getting soft in my old age 🙂

After passing by the Yokohama harbour near Chinatown, I took the optional route over the hills. This is where a lot of foreigners set up their homes when Japan opened to the world after the arrival of Commodore Perry’s Black Ships. On the Yamate district up on a hill you see many western style villas, a great view of the harbour and the historic Foreign Cemetery.

From Kawasaki to Yokohama down to Yokosuka the roads were urban, with traffic lights slowing you down. Yokosuka is home to the US Seventh Fleet. Not far from it is where William Adams (the Miura Anjin of James Clavell’s “Shogun”) had his fief back in the 1600s. The peninsula turns rural thereafter.

It was too overcast to see the mountains of Boso peninsula in Chiba, on the opposite side of the mouth of Tokyo bay. At Kurihama I passed Perry Park, a memorial to Commodore Perry who landed here in July 1853.

Following the coastline the route passed through seaside towns and fishing villages. Miura peninsula is one of the vegetable gardens of Tokyo, with mainly cabbage and daikon (radish) being grown.

After PC2 in the southwest corner of the peninsula, the route headed up the west coast. This is my favourite part, particularly in the late afternoon, with the sunlight reflected in the ocean, or when it’s cloudy and the sky can be very atmospheric. We passed the Imperial villa at Hayama. Emperor Yoshihito, father of WW2-era emperor Hirohito, died here in 1926.

A couple of km to the north we passed by Kamakura, one of the 4 historic capitals of Japan (Kyoto, Nara, Kamakura and Edo/Tokyo). In summer it’s popular for its beach, but even in winter there are many windsurfers (see picture at the top).

The next major town was Enoshima, which offers great views of Mt Fuji when it’s sunny, but not that day. Before the mouth of the Sagami river we turned inland, heading up north to loop back to the start. About 5 km later we reached PC3, that final control before the goal.

By this time I was about 1:15 ahead of closing time, so I could have made it to the goal even with an average of 10 km/h. I still kept up the speed to cover as much distance as possible before the sun went down. I only rode about the last hour in darkness, plus the ride home after the event.

Due to business travel my February distance will be lower than my January distance, but I’ll try to get one century in on the first February weekend, weather permitting. Today it’s snowing here in Tokyo. Usually we only have a couple of days of snow a year and this makes CaM a lot easier here than in many other parts of the planet.

Swisscoin (SIC) Crypto-Currency Spam

When crypto-currencies like Bitcoin (BTC) were first introduced, they were claimed to offer the potential of a low-cost, frictionless international payment system. This has not really happened, as BTC turned out to be severely restricted on the volume of transactions it could handle. From then on, it increasingly became a vehicle for criminal transactions (including fraud) and speculation.

In the past twelve months, people have been buying BTC and other crypto-currencies primarily because of the expectation that they could later sell them at a profit. This has allowed existing holders of crypto-currencies to do precisely that. This is very much how “pump and dump” scams operate, usually involving unlisted (OTC) stocks.

“Pump and dump” scams used to involve selling by phone, but in recent years many switched to email spam. Now we are seeing crypto-currencies being advertised via spam. One example is Swisscoin (SIC), as in this email received on 2018-01-16:

It’s probably not news to you at this point if I tell you that bitcoin has made tons of people tons of money. Something else you probably already know is that it will never go up like crazy again. Its time to shine is long gone. That’s why we must look into what the next big thing is, and the truth is that there have been plenty over the last few months. Can you jump on the next huge one before it soars? Swiss coin {SIC} is the most likely candidate for a fifty thousand percent return this year. It has the support of the Switzerland government. It is already considered as legal in the country. It’s the type of coin that you can buy a thousand bucks of right now, sit on for a small period of time and you could make out crazy wealthy when all is said and done. SIC has already doubled since Saturday. This long Martin Luther King weekend could bring you even more upside if you act quickly. For those of you who know what this means- you can get it for under 50 satoshi right now. And if you have no clue what this means, it basically means that you can get in on the ground floor How do you get some? You just need an account at coinexchange. Read the currency’s official page to find out more info: https://swisscoin.eu/sic-deposits.html

The truth is, far from “having the support of the Switzerland government”, Swisscoin / swisscoin.eu is listed on a warning list by FINMA, Switzerland’s independent financial-markets regulator. The Swiss company listed in the FINMA warning did not have an office there. It was founded with a capital of only CHF 20,000. Its officers are based in Leipzig, Germany.

There is no “ground floor” opportunity for Swisscoin. It has been marketed via MLM since 2016 and various people called it a Ponzi scheme. The Dynamoo blog writes in a recent post:

There are questions as to whether Swisscoin is actually a cryptocurrency or a Ponzi scheme. Honestly, I don’t know and I’d advise you to do your own research. However, this has all the markings of a pump-and-dump scheme, so it’s quite possible that someone who bought Swisscoins at their peak wants to pump the price up so they can sell off their holdings. Given that the spam is being sent out from a network of hacked machines and does not comply with anti-spam laws, you can pretty much guarantee that this is not legitimate and should be avoided.

Never buy anything advertised via spam!

Carbon Sink Concrete Snake Oil

When I was a kid, I learnt that carbon dioxide (CO₂) makes up around 0.3 % (300 ppm) of the atmosphere. Man-made CO₂ output, from burning of fossil fuels to deforestation, has increased this number year after year. In 2013 it first exceeded 400 ppm. Even back in the 1950s, after over century or coal and oil burning, the number was already the highest in 650,000 years. We are still adding CO₂ to the atmosphere every year and the amount being added per year is still increasing. As CO₂ is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, this has far-reaching consequences. There are dangerous feedback loops that will amplify the consequences, from increased arctic warming from absorbed sunlight due to melted sea ice to increased methane output from melted permafrost regions. Disappearing mountain glaciers will have effects on rivers downstream.

As humanity realizes the dangers from changing climate, from rising sea levels to extreme weather patterns, devastating droughts and wildfires, desertification and failing harvests we need to take action. We will need to cut CO₂ emissions as much as possible as soon as possible, but we also need to look at ways of binding CO₂ that has already been released.

Some people are trying to make a quick buck on this or to deflect consequences from industries that harm the environment. Because of this, be very skeptical of any claims made for carbon sink technologies that aim to delay the phasing out of fossil energy sources (including but not limited to “clean coal”).

A couple of years ago a US company called Calera made headlines with bold claims of a process that could act as a carbon sink for CO₂ from fossil fueled power stations while producing a product that could be used in place of cement. About 5 % of global CO₂ output is from cement production while power stations account for about 1/3 of CO₂ output in the US, therefore this would sound like a win/win situation. The process would extract calcium from sea water, combine it with CO₂ from the smoke stack of a power station and output calcium carbonate (lime stone) as a building material. Calera received funding from ventures capital fund Khosla Ventures and built a prototype plant adjacent to the Moss Landing power station at Monterey bay, California.

The company has always remained fairly tight lipped about how its process would actually work and what its inputs and outputs would be. However, despite the numerous articles that repeated its ambitious claims, nothing much seems to have come off it since.

The fact is, their claims were debunked by two critics, Jerry D. Unruh and Ken Caldeira, but relatively little attention was paid by the media to the inconvenient facts they had pointed out.

Most of the calcium and magnesium dissolved in sea water is either in the form of calcium bicarbonate or magnesium bicarbonate. To precipitate dissolved (Ca,Mg) bicarbonate as solid (Ca,Mg) carbonate, one has to remove CO₂, not add it. Calcium and Magnesium dissolved in the ocean is there because rain water absorbs CO₂ from the atmosphere and then dissolves lime stone and dolomite rock as it seeps down into the ground before re-emerging in springs and rivers:

H₂O + CO₂ + CaCO₃ => Ca(HCO₃)₂
H₂O + CO2 + MgCO₃ => Mg(HCO₃)₂

Precipitating solid carbonate from dissolved bicarbonate reverses the process and thus releases CO₂:

Ca(HCO₃)₂ => CaCO₃ + H₂O + CO₂
Mg(HCO₃)₂ => MgCO₃ + H₂O + CO₂

Fundamentally, calcium and magnesium ions (Ca++, Mg++) in sea water are not a viable option for binding millions of tons of CO₂ as they are already the end result of a carbon-binding process. Turning bicarbonates into carbonates either releases CO₂ or it requires huge amounts of alkaline materials to bind that CO₂.

The truth is, besides CO₂ and seawater, Calera’s prototype plant consumes existing stocks of alkaline magnesium oxide left over from previous industrial uses at the site, but those stocks won’t last forever. If one had to replenish these stocks from scratch year after year, this typically would involve the high temperature calcination of magnesium carbonate, which consumes roughly as much energy and produces as much CO₂ as making cement does.

Calera has suggested a few alternatives in place of magnesium oxide as alkaline process inputs for a full scale production system, but these don’t make much more sense either:

  • Making sodium hydroxide from brine via electrolysis consumes more electricity than can be produced from any power station whose CO₂ this process could clean up.
  • Fly ash from power stations can be a low cost source of alkalinity, but only in the case of relatively carbon-heavy coal and not natural gas. Even there the amounts of ash are far too small relative to the amount of CO₂ to be absorbed from burning the coal. Cleaning up CO₂ from coal using fly ash still leaves you with more CO₂ than burning natural gas without cleanup.

Long term, the cheapest way of dealing with rising CO₂ levels are not carbon sinks, but not producing the CO₂ in the first place. This means reducing energy consumption, a halt to deforestation, switching transport to electricity and producing power from wind, solar, geothermal and other non-fossil energy sources. The sooner we do this, the more livable this planet will remain for its 7 to 12 billion inhabitants this century.

Further reading:

Twenty-Seven Centuries in one Year

By the end of this year I will have cycled just over 8,000 km, slightly less than in the last couple of years (I cycled about 9,000 km in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and topped 10,000 km in 2015).

At the same time, the number of century rides (rides of at least 160.9 km aka 100 miles in one day) has actually gone up. In 2012, my first season of century rides, I completed 11 of them. Both in 2013 and 2014 I rode 21. The next two years I managed 22 each. This year, with one week left to the end of the year, the total came to 27 centuries.

The biggest difference has been that I didn’t participate in any 400 or 600 km brevets this year due to my business travel schedule. Both in 2015 and 2016 I had signed up for one 400 km brevet (which I finished) and one 600 km (which I DNF’ed). Both years I also pre-rode the 400 km route on a personal long distance ride. So I missed some distance overall, but most months I managed to ride 2 or 3 centuries. It’s all about being consistent.

With my December rides I have extended my “A Century A Month” streak to 5 years and 4 months. To ensure that I can keep this up, I usually do a long ride on the first weekend of each calendar month. That way, if anything comes up later in the month, such as a typhoon hitting Japan or me having to travel abroad, I won’t have an issue.

One of the most important factors no doubt is to avoid injury. Many of my friends have been involved in road accidents. A broken collarbone or other severe injury could put you out of action for weeks or months. Any kind of road sport has risks, but I try to limit my exposure. I am not a very ambitious descender because with anything that happens at high speed, the negative effects will be magnified. I am not ambitious when cycling in a city either. Where I work hardest is on climbs, because I need to 🙂

I have been very pleased with my Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer. Last year I converted it to 11 speed with a Sugino “compact plus” double crank and hydraulic brakes. It has been fun to ride and extremely reliable. The ride comfort from the 42 mm Compass tires is terrific and I have been without puncture for 20 months now. I still ride my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket as well and had its rear converted to a disc brake a couple of months ago.

The main attraction of long rides to me is the views I come across, at all times of day, in all kinds of weather and in all four seasons. I ride to see things, by myself or with friends.

Here are some pictures from one year of cycling:

January: BRM107 by Audax Japan Kanagawa – Zushi-Izukogen-Zushi 200 km

January: Doshi village on my Bike Friday

February: Boso Peninsula via Kurihama Ferry across Tokyo Bay (cycling to and from Miura peninsula)

March: Mt Dodaira in Saitama, visiting the observatory

March: BRM318 in West Izu, the hardest 200 km brevet I ever rode

April: BRM408 in Yamanashi, the 3rd 200 km brevet this year

May: Ome Temple Loop, a very mountainous course in Saitama that I normally only do once a year. I did it twice this year 🙂

May: BRM520 around Mt Fuji — my fastest ever finishing time on this 300 km brevet

June: Doshi village for coffee and cresson cake.

July: Some hydrangea blossoms at a mountain ride in Hinohara with friends.

July: Tokyo/sea level – Mt Fuji 5th stage/2300 m – Odawara/sea level (first time in 4 years that I rode this course again)

August: First ride on Arima Toge in Saitama

September: First ride on Nokogiri Toge

October: A hunting falcon at Lake Okutama

November: Annual Chichibu Foliage Ride

December: West Izu Century (view from Kumomi Onsen towards Mt Fuji, 72 km away)

Downloading routes from RouteLabo (Yahoo LatLongLab)

Most of the brevets I ride are with AJ NishiTokyo, a randonneuring club based in the Machida/Sagamihara area. One thing I like about their rides is that they provide a link to a RouteLabo page for each event (RouteLabo is an online map service run by Yahoo Japan). This page shows a map of the course as well as download links for KML, GPX and TCX files of the course. By copying these files to your GPS device (Garmin or other) or by uploading a KML file to Google “My Maps” for your smartphone, you can almost completely do away with the need for paper cue sheets. I navigate all my brevets and many of my personal rides by following a “breadcrumb trail” on the screen of my GPS unit.

Unfortunately other clubs often only provide a map without any download option, like this Randonneurs Tokyo 2018 BRM421 Tokyo 600 Lake Hamana (BRM421東京600浜名湖鰻) page:

This does not help you much on the road. Without a link to the full RouteLabo page with download links, there’s no obvious way to obtain a GPX or KML file. You are still expected to navigate via printed turn instruction on a paper cue sheet, which I find cumbersome and error-prone.

However, there is a way!

The web page uses some Javascript code to display the map off the RouteLabo website, including a magic value that identifies the particular course to be shown. To see this value, view the source code of the page. This step varies by browser and operating system. On Chrome under MS Windows, Ctrl+U will show the source code, on a Mac under Chrome, Option+Command+U will do it. On Safari, once you enable the option via Safari > Preferences > Advanced > Show Develop Menu, you can also use Option+Command+U (just like in Chrome).

In the displayed HTML code, search until you find a line for Javascript like this one:

<script type="text/javascript" encoding="UTF-8" src="https://latlonglab.yahoo.co.jp/route/paste?

The value consisting of 32 hexadecimal characters (128 bit) after “id=” is the magic value you’re looking for. A full RouteLabo page URI with the download options will look like this:


By replacing the value after “id=” in the URI with the ID from inside the HTML code using copy and paste, you will get a browser URI that will give you full access to the route, including route file download links to feed your GPS device of choice. You can then bookmark it for future reference. Bonne route! 🙂

Bitcoin Phishing Spams Cashing in on the New Tulip Mania

As a spam and scam research I watch new domains being created for malicious purposes. The following domains are look-alike domains of blockchain.info and blockchain.com, two legitimate Bitcoin-related domains:

xn--blckchain-66a.info (blóckchain.info)
xn--blckchain-66a.net (blóckchain.net)
xn--blckchain-m8a.info (bløckchain.info)
xn--blckchain-wxb.info (blōckchain.info)
xn--blckchai-w3a03f.info (blóckchaiń.info)
xn--blckchaln-66a.com (blóckchaln.com)
xn--blckchan-81a8d.com (blóckchaìn.com)
xn--blckchan-i2a8c.info (blóckchaín.info)
xn--blckchin-eza9o.info (blóckcháin.info)
xn--blckchin-m7a96e.info (blōckchāin.info)
xn--bliockchai-s1b.com (bliockchaiņ.com)
xn--bliockci-o8a35ayl.com (bliockcħąiņ.com)
xn--bliokchai-3eb86d.com (blioċkchaiņ.com)
xn--bliokci-u4a5c4s9l.com (blioċkcħąiņ.com)
xn--bliokhai-49ab66d.com (blioċkċhaiņ.com)
xn--blioki-00a0cb4z9l.com (blioċkċħąiņ.com)
xn--blocchai-gmb8m.info (blocķchaiņ.info)
xn--blocchain-orb.com (blocķchain.com)
xn--blocchain-orb.info (blocķchain.info)
xn--blocchin-m7a15c.info (blocķchāin.info)
xn--blockchan-dob.info (blockchaīn.info)
xn--blockchan-ipb.info (blockchaįn.info)
xn--blockchan-n5a.info (blockchaín.info)
xn--blockchin-12a.info (blockchäin.info)
xn--blockchin-61a.info (blockcháin.info)
xn--blockchi-n7a50e.info (blockchāiņ.info)
xn--blockchin-c3a.info (blockchåin.info)
xn--blockchin-ccb.info (blockchāin.info)
xn--blockchin-hdb.info (blockchąin.info)
xn--blockchi-o8a54d.info (blockchąiń.info)
xn--blockchn-fza4j.info (blockcháín.info)
xn--blockchn-n7a43b.info (blockchāīn.info)
xn--blockhai-obb78c.info (blockčhaiņ.info)
xn--blokchain-xdb.info (bloćkchain.info)

These so-called IDN domains substitute characters for easily confused look-alikes. There will be sighted in links inside spam emails as part of Phishing scams.

Phishing is just one of the pitfalls around Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. Scammers have revamped the old so called “High Yield Interest Programs” (HYIP), which are really just a Ponzi scheme, to hitch a ride on the publicity around Bitcoin’s stratospheric rise in 2017. If you deposit Bitcoins into an online investment scheme, the scammers can just walk away with your deposit and cash it out into dollars, euros or rubles without being traced.

The latest exchange rate push beyond US$10,000 came on the heels of the cancellation of the SegWit2x fork, a proposed upgrade to the underlying technology that not the entire Bitcoin community was prepared to follow. The driving force behind the upgrade was the urgent need to handle more transactions, if Bitcoin was truly going to be used as a payment vehicle competing against credit cards, wire transfers and PayPal. If new Bitcoins are constantly being mined and the value of Bitcoin goes up but the average purchase the crypto-currency is to be used for doesn’t change much then the system needs to be able to handle more individual transactions.

By cancelling the upgrade, a split of the community has been avoided, but at what cost? It’s really a vote for Bitcoin as speculation object and against it as a viable payment method.

A friend of mine expressed it best when he mentioned that it reminded him of “Pump and Dump” stock scams, only that in the case of Bitcoin it is legal. With all this publicity, existing Bitcoin holders
will be able to offload their existing tokens at huge profits. Then, when people realize that Bitcoin is no longer able to work as an efficient payment system (except for scammers, drug dealers and money launderers who value anonymity), the bottom will fall out and all the recent investors will lose billions. It’s Tulip mania all over.

See also:

Exploring the Chuo Shinkansen Maglev Route

Not many cars drive on prefectural road 35 near Akiyama, but I’ve cycled there many times on the way to or from Tsuru city during brevets and other long rides. Akiyama’s claim to fame, other than being a charming rural backwater, is it’s Maglev test track, which will grow into a section of the 286 km Tokyo-Nagoya line scheduled to open 10 years from now in 2027.

The test track was built in the 1990s to develop and test prototypes for the train and track, first 18 km in length, then extended to 42 km to be able to test the train at higher speed. The best detailed summary about the route that I’ve found so far that is not in Japanese is this (in German).

Ten years is not a very long time for a project of this scale, especially when there is always the risk of unforeseen difficulties during tunneling (the known unknowns). A 25 km long tunnel will run between Hayakawa in Yamanashi and Oshika in Nagano. Construction has started at both ends. As the Maglev train needs a near level track, this will be a base tunnel at low elevation. Consequently there will be 1400 m of rock above at its deepest point.

Near the end points at Tokyo and Nagoya, new stations will be built under existing train stations (Shinagawa station in case of Tokyo). The lines will run in tunnels at least 40 m underground. Under Japanese law (“Deep Underground Law”), construction at least 40 m below the surface can be done without having to purchase the land above, as long as its purpose is deemed to be in the public interest.

The Chuo Maglev line has been called the world’s longest subway line, as more than 85% of it will be in tunnels. From Shinagawa the tunnel will first run southwest towards the Tamagawa, passing Senzokuike and crossing the river near Todoroki (between the Daisan Keihin and Tokyo Toyoko line bridges).

It continues on the Kanagawa side towards Sagamihara. Avoiding Machida to the south and Tama New Town to the north, it will run south of Onekansen. The first stop after Shinagawa will be near Hashimoto station, to connect it to the existing rail network (JR Yokohama line, JR Sagami line, Keiō Sagamihara line) with proximity to the Ken’ō Expressway. The Maglev line will cross the Sagami river on a bridge, heading between Tsukui-ko and Miyagase-ko.

A 50 ha railway yard for maintenance with train depot is planned near Toya, which my cycling friends mostly remember for the Sunkus convenience store north of Miyagase-ko. From there the line tunnels west through more mountains to the existing test track.

Altogether there will be 9 emergency exits that connect the line to the surface in the tunnel section near Tokyo.

If you check Google maps for the satellite view, you’ll see the test track line emerge to northwest of Tsuru. where it crosses national route 139 from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko. If you drive out from Tokyo on Chuo expressway, you can see the line cross over the expressway on a bridge. There’s a Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center nearby.

Heading further west into Yamanashi, the line first stays a little south of Chuo mainline and the Chuo expressway, before those two swing northwest while the Maglev route heads straight west. You can see it emerge for shorts covered bridges near Hatsukari, then pop out for longer viaducts as it crosses national route 137 and prefectural route 36 on the edge of the big Yamanashi plain. The current end of the viaduct is at Fuefuki, Yamanashi, according to Google maps.

There will be a station for Yamanashi prefecture in Ōtsumachi near Kofu, with access to JR Minobu Line.

The Yamanashi plain is where most of the above ground distance of the line will be found. The viaduct sections will either have noise barriers or complete covers. A main reason to opt for viaducts in this area is the relatively high water table, which would complicate tunneling.

The debris from 246.6 km of tunnel drilling amounts to 56.8 million m3 (some 145 million t by weight) that will be deposited at locations along the line.

Personally I’m a skeptic about this project. The time savings compared to regular bullet trains are relatively minor, once you factor in that most people will also spend a fair amount of time getting to and from one of the Maglev stations via conventional public transport.

For the people along the line who don’t live in Tokyo or Nagoya, they get one station per prefecture. Chances are, with Japan’s population on the decline, as the new line starts up that train services on the JR Chuo line, which runs somewhat parallel to the Chuo Shinkansen line, will get thinned out. We’ve seen the same thing with bullet train lines that opened that lead to cutbacks on other regional train connections.

So how much time will people actually save, if they don’t happen to live in Shinagawa and want to go to Nagoya or vice versa? Even Nagoya is only a halfway solution without the extension to Osaka that isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2045 (or 2037, if the central government steps in with a huge loan).

I think the only thing we can say with any certainty about benefits from the project is that, yes, the construction companies and the suppliers of equipment will benefit handsomely. Drilling and lining 247 km of tunnels with concrete and pouring some more of it for 24 km viaducts and 11 km of bridges will make them some money but will add a fair amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. The air resistance of trains at 505 km/h and therefore their energy consumption will definitely be higher than that of conventional trains. One source I saw listed it as having a CO2 output of 2-4x that of conventional commuter trains (not sure how those compare to a shinkansen).

Nevertheless, the dice have been cast and construction is under way. I will try and find more information about where construction is going on and what parts can be explored on bike rides or visited. You can already get train rides at the Maglev visitor center in Tsuru. There was some discussion of extending the test track 7 km to the west and building a station by 2020 to be able to offer test track rides as far as Kofu by the Olympics but without the Kanto connection that seems like a gimmick to me. I doubt that’s going to happen, as all kinds of construction projects are already competing for capacity before the magic Olympic year, driving up prices and busting budgets.

Military Coup in Zimbabwe – Has “Gucci Grace” Overplayed her Hand?

Early reports from Zimbabwe suggest the military has taken control of the country to prevent Grace Mugabe from becoming President Robert Mugabe’s anointed successor. She was scheduled to be nominated as ZANU-PF vice president at a party conference next month, after the expulsion of the previous VP, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The military take-over is preempting these moves. Mr Mugabe and his wife appear to be in military custody. There has been no public statement by him so far.

The coup was sharply criticized by the ZANU-PF Youth League, an ally of Grace Mugabe. Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, another ally, has been detained. The coup was supported by the War Veterans Associations, an ally of Mnangagwa, who has now returned to the country from South Africa, where he had been staying since his expulsion.

These political affiliations highlight the factional nature of the coup: It is not about ending Mugabe’s dictatorship, but about who within the ruling party will get to keep the spoils of the corrupt system. Grace Mugabe, whose luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the people made her deeply unpopular in the impoverished nation, would have been an extremely risky choice for the party. The military leaders feared she would redirect funding to herself and her allies, away from the military, other civil servants and other party factions.

Her opponents are anything but angels. Some have been involved in the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983-84, when over 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed. The so called War Veterans (many of whom are too young to have participated in the independence war of the 1960s and 70s) were involved in violent takeovers of farms and violence and gross human rights violations against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the disputed 2008 election.

Even if the military were to force Mugabe to resign or to retire to a purely symbolic position, the real question will be if the military and the factions taking over from him will allow free and democratic elections to take place in the coming year. I think this coup is a milestone, but the struggle is far from over.

Huawei Nexus 6P Battery Upgrade

I’ve had my Huawei Nexus 6P for about two years now. The combination of a great camera, an excellent screen, good performance and decent battery life has made this my best smartphone ever.

However, a couple of months ago something happened as the battery capacity appeared to have collapsed dramatically. Sometimes the phone would shut down only 5 hours after I had disconnected it from the AC charger when I left home, starting off supposedly fully charged! I had to always carry a USB battery and cable with me to not risk losing the use of my phone in the middle of the day.

Attempts to recalibrate the capacity indicator helped only insofar as the phone would shut down at 14% charge instead of say 55% charge, so there was slightly more warning, but the number of hours was still too short. This actually seems to be a common problem with the Nexus 6P, which otherwise is still a great phone.

It’s not uncommon for Li-ion batteries to significantly lose capacity after about about three years, but if it happens after less than two years as in my case, that’s not very good. Fortunately, replacement batteries are available and any competent phone repair shop will be happy to do the necessary surgery to replace a battery that is on its way out. Unfortunately the days when you could simply pop open the phone case without any tools and swap the battery yourself are long gone. This is a trend started by Apple and almost every other phone maker has since followed suit. I think it’s meant to get people to buy a new phone sooner, which is good for Apple and its competitors, but bad for consumers and for the planet.

There are Youtube videos that will show you how you how to open the Nexus 6P case and disassemble the phone to swap the battery. This involves the use of a hairdryer or heat gun to soften the glue that holds it all together as well as a plastic card and a small screw driver. As I did not feel adventurous enough to attempt this myself, I contacted several phone repair shops here in Tokyo. Repair King Japan replied. Though they they didn’t have the Nexus 6P battery in stock they were happy to order one for me. Once they got it, I dropped the phone off and two hours later I could have it back with a new battery. So far it’s looking good: It’s been 40 hours since the last full charge (with battery saver mode inactive) and it’s still showing 64% with about 3 days of power left 🙂

UPDATE: At 72 hours, it still had 23% charge left. At that point I connected it to a charger.

Hopefully with the new battery my Nexus 6P will be a great phone again for a few more years!