HAWAII AT WORK
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gen Miyashiro, left, enjoys serving the public by making sure consumers get what they pay for and businesses don't give away more than they charge for. On Thursday, Miyashiro checked out a taxi operated by Nien Van Pham, right, to make sure its meter was accurate.
Keeping it real
Gen Miyashiro inspects meters, scales and pumps to make sure everything checks out
Title: Measurement standards inspector IV
Job: Verifies that scales, gas pumps and other devices used by businesses are accurate
Gen Miyashiro gives a lot of credit to his parents and one of his first bosses for his work ethic and how he conducts himself. The state measurement standards inspector says his parents always emphasized the value of treating people right, while his father, in particular, "was always saying, 'Don't think you're too smart to learn something new." And a man named Toku, his manager when he was a teenager working as a dishwasher, taught him patience and poise. "It was a great lesson for me," said Miyashiro, a graduate of McKinley High School who also attended the University of Hawaii part time for several years. The lessons he learned have helped him in his current job, which he said sometimes requires a bit of diplomacy to engineer win-win outcomes -- both for the businesses he inspects and consumers. Miyashiro, 52, is married to the former Sharon Carlson, with whom he lives in Village Park and has two children: a son, 16, and a daughter, 12.
Question: What is your proper title?
Answer: Measurement standards inspector IV.
Q: Who is your employer, specifically?
A: The state Department of Agriculture.
Q: Is there a division you're in?
A: Yes. It's called the Quality Assurance Division, and I'm in the Measurement Standards Branch.
Q: How long have you been doing your job?
A: A little over 16 years.
Q: What were you doing before you became a measurement standards inspector?
A: (Laughter) I had aspirations of becoming a musician.
Q: No kidding.
A: Yeah, and I also had been working full time at a restaurant, the Flamingo Restaurant, because musicians don't make that much money. I started there when I was about 16 years old.
Q: Is that the one on Kapiolani Boulevard?
A: Yeah, it was on Kapiolani, across from the high school (McKinley High School), but they knocked down the building already.
Q: What instrument did you play?
A: The trumpet. I was playing part time with the Royal Hawaiian Band. Two supervisors in the band, "Boxhead" Yoshino and Kats Oto, both treated me real nice, and they would always call me when they needed an extra horn. I did that for a couple of years, so that's why I was hoping to get into the band. It's a full-time musician job, so I kind of was targeting that.
Q: But what happened?
A: That was maybe 20 years ago. I failed miserably on the audition, so I decided to find some other full-time work. I started as a picture framer, and then while I was doing the picture framing, I applied for a state job. My wife was working for the state already. So I just kept applying and applying. I took a couple of tests. I also went to two interviews, and just by chance, both of them called me at the same time.
Q: And what were they?
A: One was for the animal quarantine station, and the other one was for the one I have now, the measurement standards office. Being able to play music full time is so great, but I got lucky -- this job is almost as fun as playing music. I get to serve the public interest, and I get to meet a lot of really great people, too.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gen Miyashiro checked the calibration on Thursday of a gasoline pump in Kalihi. Miyashiro, a measurement standards inspector, conducts routine inspections of stores and gas stations to make sure their scales, pumps and cash registers are accurate. He also checks taxi meters.
So what exactly do you do?
A: Let's see. ... I'm an inspector, so we go out and do routine inspections, as well as investigate any complaints or concerns from the public.
Q: Regarding what?
A: Mostly it's to do with measuring devices, like gas pumps and scales.
Q: What kind of tools do you take with you to make sure the equipment you're testing is working properly?
A: We have calibrated standards, we call them, so some are weights, ranging from real little like 100th of a pound, and then they go up to about 50 pounds. And for gas pumps, we use the five-gallon "proofers," we call them -- like the word "proof."
Q: So you fill it up to see if it matches?
A: Exactly. They're calibrated. We have a laboratory here at the office, and the person who runs the lab is called a metrologist.
Q: And what do they do?
A: They make sure that the weights and standards are correct. They make sure that five gallons is exactly five gallons and one pound is exactly one pound.
Q: What do you do if you find a gas pump or a weigh scale or a cash register or a taxi meter or whatever that is not working properly?
A: We give what we call a rejection notice to the owner or manager of the business, and they in turn call a repair person who makes the necessary corrections. On occasion, if it's real bad, we'll just shut them down.
Q: How often do you come across cases of outright fraud?
A: Um, you know, I cannot say that I found any. I think it's because of Hawaii and the nature of business in Hawaii. The island is so small, I think the owners realize that integrity means a lot to keeping their business. Everyone wants to keep the business they have, and honor means a lot to them, so as soon as they find an error, usually they make the correction right away.
Of course, human error comes into play, and devices can fail at any time. That's why we go out and make routine inspections.
Q: So how many of those do you do a day?
A: It's hard to put a number on it. Some places are bigger, others are smaller, and the bigger places take more time. And it depends on how far away the business is, because we cover the island. Also, sometimes we have trouble explaining to the business owner or manager about what we're doing, so that can take up some time.
Sometimes the problems comes with another type of inspection we perform: price verification, for businesses that use scanning devices at the checkout. It goes real fast sometimes, and the customers is not always assured of being charged the right price.
Q: So you run stuff through the scanner?
A: Yes, we take items off the shelf and match the shelf price with the price that's rung up at the register.
And one more type of inspection that we do is, you know, after the operators of the devices use the device, we make sure that the quantity is correct, like the half-pound of meat or fish, or any kind of bottled product -- juice, or milk. People don't realize that milk is a lot more expensive than gas.
Q: So how do you measure a bottled product?
A: We have a short-cut audit. We take samples of the product back to our lab and we determine how much the product weighs to determine if it's got the correct amount. If we find any deviation, then we pour it into a measured container.
Q: When you're pulling up at a store or gas station somewhere, do you ever get the feeling that the merchants might be going, "Oh no! Here comes the weights and measurements guy"?
A: I think a lot of times, sure, especially initially. But after a while, they kind of welcome us, because we have found devices that are giving away too much. I think our service is something that benefits both the business and the consumer.
Q: Do you ever assess fines?
A: We can, but usually the way I try and do it is to convince them that it's in their best interest to just fix the problem, that it's in their best interest not to give away stuff, and also that if the consumer finds out, they would lose business.
Q: How many people are in the inspection branch?
A: It's real small. I'd say, off hand, maybe about 11.
Q: Are you all out inspecting every day?
Q: I heard that right now you're inspecting a lot of cabs.
A: Yeah, maybe two, three months out of the year we try to inspect all the cabs on this island.
Q: How do you inspect a cab?
A: The metrologist went out and measured a course over the roadway, and we have the cab drive over that course.
Cabs are only a small part of our job, maybe about a fifth. I think more emphasis would be on the gas pumps inspection, and the price verification and the packaging inspections, and the scales, of course. I think the effect on the consumer is greater if there are any errors, so I think that's how we prioritize our work.