Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dry this, dry that

I've always been impressed that you can take stuff like fresh vegetables and even meat that have a strong tendency to rot, and leave them out in the sun, and instead of going bad, they turn into a form that lasts indefinitely, more or less.

So now that we have a surplus of tomatoes and goya, I hurried down to the DIY store to get some drying equipment. I hummed and hahed about getting one of the bamboo trays with the convertible-roof style net, but they look like an invitation to little flies and ants since they don't seal so well. Instead I got one of the tightly zippered kinds that I've seen fishermen using for drying small fish.

The plan is to have dried tomatoes to keep in olive oil with basil, which I also grow, and goya tea which is hellish bitter, but very refreshing if you can actually swallow it. Having once got used to eating and drinking goya, I spend a large part of the year looking forward to the season. I also enjoy the pungent stink of the vine itself.

The wooden balcony gets so hot now, you can't stay in one place with bare feet, so it's a good temperature for drying things. You just have to hop about when you set up the drying net. After two days, the goya is already done, and the tomatoes are coming along nicely. The net keeps even little flies off completely. Since the net has to be taken inside at night in case it rains, which is a bit of hassle, it would seem to pay to do rather more at one go. Something to plan for next time. Today I bought two more tomato plants to ensure a larger surplus towards the end of the summer.

The weather forecast at the moment is 'sunny forever'. This is good for growing and drying tomatoes (I always think of the little suns as mini-tomatoes, and my family no longer even look up when I say "Mini-tomatoes all week".) It's a bit of a concern about the other plants that actually like a sip of water from time to time because there isn't any left, at least not in the rainwater tank. I feel guilty using the hose.

Oh, and I succeeded in growing a big orange American sugar pumpkin. In fact, one section of the garden is positively littered with the things. I hope they taste as good as they look*.

* They taste lousy - watery and thin. I won't be growing them again, although the fruit made an attractive decoration that added a very American Colonial flavour to our house.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


No I'm not talking about having my blood sucked by mosquitos and itching for an hour afterwards. I'm talking about economic losses on a dramatic scale.

This week, I lost six high quality, organic watermelons to a crow. The normal chemical watermelons are selling at 580 yen at the moment. So that's a loss of 3,480 yen, more if you consider the value of organic produce. And the stupid vermin didn't eat all of the six watermelons. It ate the equivalent of one, and ruined the rest by pecking at them, leaving beak-sized holes for the ants to get in.

And just now when I went outside to sniff the air, I heard a rustling in the corn, and knew that it was a tanuki. I charged up the garden and heard it get over the fence into the mikan orchard next door where it waited while I inspected the damage. Again, it hasn't eaten in an orderly, economically responsible fashion. It has ripped and nibbled at each corn cob in turn, ruining about five, and trampling down some of the stalks.

The corn incident comes as an especially bitter blow since I spent some time this morning setting up nets over the Cannonball black watermelon patch where a crow had tasted but rejected an immature melon (not counted in the damage tally above). With a little foresight, I could have protected the corn. Last year, I lost all of my corn and most of my watermelons to drought, weeds and typhoons. This year, it's not all, but losing some to vermin is a serious annoyance.

This calls for determined protective measures.

OK, 'vermin' might be a bit harsh. Maybe, 'naughty little tinker' might have been fairer. When I went out to water later, my headlight picked out a pair of green eyes staring at me from the other side of the fence. I approached my nemesis talking to it in a soothing voice, and found it was a very young, very black tanuki, only the size of a small cat. I really like tanuki. They're always wary and maintain a safe distance, but they respond to being spoken to, and don't dart off and cower like cats. I put some of the opened cobs on the other side of the fence for it to eat later.

I'm still going to put nets round my next crop of corn though.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Micro Kickboard Original and other imperfect means of travel

When I went back to the UK at Easter, I was determined to get myself an A-bike (normally I would link to the site of the product itself, but unbelievably, it's down for 'site maintenance'. How pathetic). The idea was to use the A-bike for trips to the pub in the evening to see my friends when I'm in the UK, and take it back to Japan on the plane. Here I would use it to ride to the station, fold it up on the train, and ride it in town on whatever errands I might have (mostly drinking). I contacted sales at A-bike and they 'thought' the new version of the A-bike 'might' be out by April 1st. It's now July, and their website has disappeared.

So as an alternative, I looked at scooters, otherwise known as 'kickboards'. I'm always tempted by unorthodox kit of any sort, and so I was immediately drawn to the Micro Kickboard Original, with its groovy 3 wheels and knobstick. I own an Outback mountainboard which has a similar front end and which carves in a blissfully loopy fashion. I figured that the Micro Original might do something similar in a smaller, portable package. Well I got one, and it doesn't.

I ordered it before I left Japan, took delivery in London, and brought it back on the plane. I'd hoped to have it as hand luggage, but no such luck.

Micro Kickboard Original review

Having tried the Micro Kickboard Original in all sorts of places and conditions, I can safely say that the Original has the following fatal problems;
  • It doesn't turn properly. It just topples over at the slightest angle. This is because the front wheels are too close together and the axles interfere with the natural balance that centrifugal force would otherwise provide.
  • It goes into wobbles at very low speeds.
  • The wheels don't return to a neutral position on their own. You have to sort of squish the front to get it back into alignment.
  • The springs squeak all the time. It sounds like standing on a cat.
  • The rubber grip is too small and too soft. It's also the wrong shape.
  • It's too heavy for use as a casual commuting vehicle, or for taking on a plane, or indeed for just bunging in a cupboard.
With slight pressure on the left side, the right wheel rises up.
(It's hard to see in this pic, but there is a gap.)
On the move, this means you simply fall off.

I've tried the springs on a range of settings and it makes no difference to any of the problems above. Applications of grease don't stop it sounding like an outraged cat either. I'm sick of the dogs in the neighbourhood barking at me.

It's supposed to return itself to upright - but doesn't

I recently tried a Razor scooter and it was just so much better than the Original. Faster, lighter, quieter, more stable, and really fun. And it's much, much cheaper than the Original. I was frankly shocked how bad the Original is in comparison even to a cheap Razor.

I have seen a couple of videos of the Original here and here. It's quite obvious from these videos that the Original can't make tight turns. In the first video, you can see how it nearly falls over, and you can see how the children have to clutch at the insufficient knob with both hands to keep their balance. Oh, and here's a good video of somebody losing it, as you do.

In short, this product is not suitable either for children's or adult's fun, and it isn't suitable for commuting either.

This is all a rather sorry state of affairs. With the worldwide energy situation entering a crisis, any fun, cheap, portable, readily available source of transport would seem to be highly desirable. And yet companies like the A-bike and Micro are pitching their products at non-serious people in a thoroughly unbusinesslike way.