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Bamboocycles!

Bamboo Bike

I have been blogroll diving again! There is a new one in town Responsible China (No, it is not an oxymoron!) and it is worth your attention: Erica Schlaikjer, a trained journalist (She has had paltry internships at: The Chicago Reporter, Crain’s Chicago Business and National Geographic. But, she has never written for OMBW, so….) one of the producers for Entrepreneur Magazine’s online radio show, The China Business Show, hosted by WS Radio, is the author.

She has a bunch of great posts up now and I picked one to showcase that I thought was interesting:

The article is on Bamboo Bikes. It caught my attention because I helped a company create a prototype of a Bamboo baseball bat last year, but it proved too durable and they opted for something that Barry Bonds could break–even off the juice. But, I digress….

According to Erica, China is home to 450 million bicycles and 4.21 million hectares of bamboo and it make sense to combine the two into something good for the environment. And it appears that designers Liakos Ariston and Jacob Prinz, who started Daedalus Custom Bamboo Bikes two years ago after drawing up designs on a napkin, feel the same. The problem is the bikes will be for Laowai or well-heeled Chinese as they cost about $1,250 each. For $1250 a Cantonese would want it to float, double as a shelter, act as a fishing rod, stand-in as an eating utensil and play bootleg MP3s and DVDs. If the truth be known, I wouldLOVE to have one of these, but at my salary it would take three months of starvation.

“The raw materials are sustainable, so potentially make less of an impact on the environment, the designers say. But that’s not the only appeal.”

‘We’ve gained a lot more respect for the material we work with because we’ve had a few accidents on them and generally riders and bikes have come out unscathed,’ said Ariston, 25 . . . .” I get the unscathed bike part, but I wonder how the rider gets a break (no pun intended) from injury.

If it gets cheaper to make it could have a future in China as Erica reports that China’s Ministry of Construction wants to restore bike lanes to their old glory.
Here are some links she posted to bamboo related projects and designers:

Bamboo Bike Project
“The project aims to examine the feasibility of implementing cargo bikes made of bamboo as a sustainable form of transportation in Africa.”

Brano Meres Engineering & Design
“This is my second home-made frame. This time I used bamboo rods connected with carbon composite joints.”

Calfee Design
“Beginning as a publicity stunt in 1996, Craig’s bamboo errand bike evolves into a well-tested new model for the general public.”

Thanks Erica and welcome to the Sphere!

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Can the Wheels Be Put Back on Chinese Quality Control?

bad wheels

I remember as a kid when “Made in Japan” was a euphemism for junk or soon-to-break disposables. That was long before Toyota turned the “S” in Sinophobia into a dollar sign.

Now I run through 2-3 VCR’s a year due to the poor workmanship and the less than perfect DVDs that you have to buy locally. As I write I can look down to a sack of local medications that are headed for the trash as I fear the consequences of taking them. Even the mainland Chinese are jamming the aisles in Macau and Hong Kong pharmacies in hopes of safer, more efficacious drugs.

As profit margins decrease due to global tariffs and increased competition, some manufacturers are cutting a few safety corners. The phenomenon is not isolated to the Middle Kingdom as the West has had its share of debaucles: Firestone, Perrier, Dell, ect….

The latest scare (with a hat tip to Tim Johnson’s blocked Typepad site ) is reminiscient of the Firestone and Ford scare: Tires and autos. China’s Brilliance BS6 is meant to be positioned as a premium-style import sedan at a budget price. After viewing the videos of this tiny hearse traveling only 40 miles an hour I would say it is unsafe at any price–with apologies to Ralph Nader.

Germany’s test group gave it one star out of a possible five. And I am with some of the dark humorists in the comments section of an Autoblog (also blocked in China) article on this beast. They wonder if it takes an explosion to get no stars and one reader thought a riding a tricycle without a helmet would be preferable to taking the wheel of a Chinese car.

The picture above is from a tire sold by Foreign Tire Sales, Inc. of Union, NJ. They are in a panic after a death resulting from one of China’s Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company’s tires, sans an important layer of rubber, overheated. FTS says the tires may need to be recalled. What?! And since the geniuses at FTS don’t have the financial resources, and obviously product liability insurance, to deal with a recall disaster, they are suing the Hangzhou Rubber to cover the expenses. They claim Hangzhou built the tires in a way that differed from the FTC’s specifications. Score one for stupidity and indifference in due diligence and zilch for the consumer at risk. The company executives should be made to crash test the next 100 shipments personally.

I am a staunch supporter of buying locally and doing my bit to support the economy that pays my rent. As an example, all my computers are Chinese save my laptop MAC. But, I have now drawn the line at anything ingestible or drivable in a crisis.

The scariest part of all of this? Analysts and consumers (also blocked in the mainland) don’t think this information will negatively affect sales of the Chinese car. People would rather save a buck than breathe.

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Not with a Whimper….

china food

One of the worst phone calls I ever received was from a friend of 30 years who weeks earlier had phoned to ask my advice. The first call was to get my recommendation for a natural sleeping aid. She and her husband were facing big job changes and she wanted a non-narcotic alternative to counting sheep. At the time I was successfully using amino acids like tryptophan to help naturally restore chemical balance and chemically altered serenity to alcoholics and addicts. The best sleep aid available was tryptophan, the chemical precursor to serotonin and the substance that you find in turkey and milk. It is the reason, other than you have seen it 9999 times, that you never make it through that re-run of It’s a Wonderful Life after Christmas dinner without snoring. Back to the phone call….

She told me she had been in a wheelchair for weeks and had lost all strength in her muscles. She went on to tell me that she was the one of the lucky ones as several people had died and the Center for Disease Control had indeed identified a bad batch of Japanese tryptophan as the culprit. It did not ease my guilt for recommending the supplement when she told me that I was not going to be mentioned in the lawsuit being brought to the Japanese company responsible by pre-Simpson trial heavyweight Attorney F.Lee Bailey.

My friend recovered and the suit was settled quietly by a Japanese company flush with cash. Tryptophan was removed from Vitamin store shelves and I stopped suporting amino treatments despite believing the tryptophan incident was an isolated. They never found the real cause of the devastation and I never heard of a single individual being punished for a part in the debacle.

The Chinese have rightly been under the microscope lately for some terrifying incidents of pure greed. Drug manufacturers and food producers have been found to be cutting costs (while we want to up the value of the Yuan so now shrinking profit margins get even smaller) by using dangerous, cheap chemicals in place of the real thing. Hundred have died or become sick worldwide from a host of products: Antifreeze laced toothpaste, bad cat food, killer cough syrup, and bacteria laden eye drops are among the most recent problem products.

China, like most Asian countries, detests publicity and the resulting loss of face. And to show their resolve about cleaning up the problem they handed Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of China’s Food & Drug Administration, the death sentence yesterday. Swift Action 1, Human Rights 0.

It seems Zheng took $800,000 USD in bribes to look the other way as fake drugs, placebos and worse were exported worldwide. There is evidence that his actions were lethal: In one instance, an antibiotic approved by his agency killed at least ten patients last year before it was recalled.

drug czar

Zheng Xiaoyu in living color

According to the New York Times, via China Digital Times, “The problems are more serious in China because tens of thousands of people are sickened or killed every year because of rampant counterfeiting and phony food and drugs. For instance, last year 11 people died in China after being treated with an injection tainted by a fake chemical. And 6 people died and 80 others fell ill after taking an antibiotic that was produced with a ‘substandard disinfectant.’”

About once a month some task force in Hong Kong is seizing millions of Yuan worth of bogus Viagra (it WAS all in your head) and even cholesterol fighting agents.

“The government also said it would crack down on food products that are being illegally exported, bypassing food inspections.”

Worried that many drugs may be substandard, China is now reviewing over 170,000 production licenses issued by his agency over the past decade. 170,000.

It is going to take a lot of policing to review 170,000 manufacturers. It is time to sell your stock in pharmaceuticals and opt for prison wear and weapons grade lead. This kind of behavior is rampant. I am against the death penalty for a number of reasons, but like Dezza (see comments on this post) I want to see this guy rot in hell, but only after being forced to use his own approved products.

The biggest issue with the death sentence in this case is that it is just a high profile face-saving jesture. Hundreds of vendors in Gongbei, near the border to Macau where thousands of police reside, will launder your money, sell you knock-offs of any watch, drug, DVD, or game that you want. Virtually every booth has i-Pod Nanos for 170 Yuan ($20 bucks) that look (but don’t behave) like real. One post long ago at Sinosplice had what was then a funny entry about “Nalencia” oranges. Several commenters remarked that the oranges were pretty good despite the fake inspection sticker which should read, of course, Valencia. I would think twice now about eating anything from a company that goes to that kind of trouble to give a false impression.

I am not parqnoidby nature, but I still travel to HK about once every two months to make a “drug run” where I pick up western medications and over the counter products I cannot get or safely trust in the mainland. The pharmacists there actually have legal degrees and a knowledge of medicine. I do not scare easily, but I have been afraid of mainland products for a long time. I have an infection from a recent dental procedure that will not abate and worry further that the antibiotics given me are really made of chalk or worse.

Don’t expect any great changes anytime soon just because they offed this opportunistic scumbag. It appears this issue, if it ever ends will do so, not with the whimper of a fleeced Japanese industrialist, but with a bang….

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China Cool Gadget of the Week: Credit Card USB….

Are these cool or what? David, the non-belly dancing Grinellian fellow in residence, brought one back from Nanjing. Some people are using them as business cards overprinted with their logo:

Credit Card USB

Most sites are charging from 30-80 Us Dollars for the 128 KB versions, but the 2GB styles wholesale here in China for less than $30 bucks with shipping and duty included if oyu buy 300 of them. I have used one and loved it. It slips right into a wallet….

  • 100% Plug and Play for Windows 2000, XP and future Microsoft platforms, MAC OS 9+ and Linux.
  • Windows 98 and ME users require special drivers (included with unit).
  • Available with 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GB and 2GB storage capacity.
  • LED data activity light on end of drive lights when data is passed to and from unit.
  • Shock resistant. No moving parts (Duh!).
  • Packaged in plain white box with driver CD for Windows 98+Me users, lanyard and leatherette carry case.
  • Custom colors available with 500+ pieces – 3 weeks lead time.

General Specifications:

  • Measurements: 84.3mm x 54.2mm x 6.8mm
  • Measurements: 3.317″ x 2.138″ x 0.263″
  • Lanyard: 17.32″
  • Imprint area Location Size: Front 2.95″ x 1.57″
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