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Borat movie coming to Japan November 30, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Media.
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I was hoping that Borat‘s film would be distributed in Japan, because I for one can’t get enough of Sacha Baron-Cohen’s antics. (The Ali G stuff was/is hilarious, too. I’ve got a bunch of Baron-Cohen’s stuff on DVD, brought back from the UK)
There is a Japanese version of the film homepage (although it isn’t nearly as funny when done in Japanese) so it looks like Fox is bringing the film to Japan, although I can’t see it packing out mainstream cinemas. (maybe they are testing the waters. The Japanese version of Newsweek (Dec 6th edition) has Borat on its covers, and 6 pages inside devoted to Borat)

I would guess that there are enough ex-pats and english speaking people in the major cities to merit the film being shown in places like Ebisu Garden Cinema or on limited release at some of the smaller cinemas in Shibuya (Eurospace?) and elsewhere. I don’t think the Japanese subtitles would be very funny though.

[Well, seeing that I am going to London next week, I could probably catch it there if it is still running...]

Off topic…

Sacha Baron-Cohen is a fellow alumnus of the school where I received my secondary education. The school seems to have something about attracting what some might characterise as irreverent types, judging by the fact that the aforementioned Baron-Cohen, and fellow comedians David Baddiel and Matt Lucas are probably the most famous of its recent(?) alumni. I think there are some other famous alumni in more serious professions as well….

PayPerPost, Japan style November 30, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan.
1 comment so far

There was a flurry of posts about PayPerPost and other pay-to-shill business models on the blogosphere a few weeks ago (probably set off by TechCrunch having a go when PPP announced that they raised funding).

Japan has its share of companies who are in on the act or have announced their intentions to do so. Blomotion (no link, intentionally) has been at it since June, just about the same time as PPP. I assume that the model was devised independently here. There’s also CyberBuzz (again, no link on purpose) which is targetting “alpha bloggers” to shill, rather than the unwashed masses.

Neither has any mention of any requirement to announce that bloggers are being paid to post.

I echo Michael Arrington’s and BusinessWeek’s opinions that these efforts pollute the blogosphere, as long as the companies driving these efforts allow shills to post without disclosure.

I personally wouldn’t touch investments of this type with a barge pole. I would have serious issues with people who fund these companies (in their current form) as well.

There is so much advertorial content in all forms of media here (journalistic integrity? what? – I can’t think of any Japanese mainstream media outlet which doesn’t have any slots available to the highest bidder – we still have TV announcers doing in-programme advertising slots – like, isn’t that what TV advertising was like in the 50′s?), it doesn’t come as a surprise that people aren’t too fussed about shilling (if they even realise that it exists).

Chinese Mixi clone November 27, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan.
4 comments

ITmedia had an article (in Japanese) about a Chinese Mixi clone that has been found.

I guess that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….

Is this the first Japanese website cloned by the Chinese?

The most hilarious bit is when the author had a peek at the source, and apparently found this:

<TD align=middle background=”http://img.life365.com/mycc/0912/right_menu.gif” style=”BACKGROUND: url(http://img.mixi.jp/img/right_menu.gif) no-repeat”><div align=”right”><img src=”http://img.life365.com/mycc/0912/right_menu.gif” width=”59″ height=”19″></div></TD>

(my emphasis)

So, not just ripping off the design, but also freeloading on the Mixi server too, eh.

Of course, clones have been a part of the Japanese internet scene too, lest we forget. Perhaps most notriously, some of Livedoor’s Web2.0-ish services were basically rip-offs of more well known sites from across the pond.

Cleantech investment and competition for resources November 27, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Energy, VC.
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With the recent trend of so-called “cleantech” investments in bioethanol and solar, I have yet to see much discussion within the VC community addressing the resource scarcity issues that both these technologies seem to face, so I’m thinking aloud to see if anyone will chime in to discuss the perceived issues.

Brad Feld posted an interesting quote from some guy (the CEO) at Tyson Foods, who blamed bioethanol production for pushing up feed prices.  Much of the bioethanol production in the US is currently based on corn, and bioethanol competes with livestock feed. Increased food production costs are eventually passed on to the consumer. Even in the US, it isn’t like everyone has enough food to go around. More than 10% of the US lives below the official poverty line, that’s more than 30 million people. (National Poverty Center link) It isn’t like the poverty line is set at some inflated value by raving left wing communists either (see definitions at the NPC site).

I am all for sustainable energy, but it seems to me that corn based bioethanol has serious ethical issues, even before we get to the net energy debate.

Proponents of bioethanol then point to cellulosic bioethanol as the end goal, claiming that this would eliminate direct competition with food production.

However, you can’t avoid competition for prime arable land or water resources (the latter is an issue which gets far too little attention IMO, and an obvious cause of future armed conflicts – and more than a billion fellow humans – that is one in every six people – don’t have access to safe drinking water, and water management issues are getting more and more serious by the year in many areas).

There is also the real possibility that corn ethanol producers may not necessarily be the ones who will devise (or hold the rights to) a commercially viable cellulosic ethanol process, although to be fair, the ethanol conversion process is likely to be fairly similar technologically than not. Also, viable feedstock production for cellulosic bioethanol production may not eventually be located in the areas where corn bioethanol plants are being built and an energy density calculation would likely indicate that conversion should take place near the site of feedstock production.

Regarding solar power, there has been a flurry of interest in alternative materials to replace silicon (which in its favour is abundant, and as long as the production sites are located close to cheap, less ecologically unfriendly methods of electricity generation (like hydroelectric) are not too bad – which is why silicon production in Norway seems to be such a good idea compared to say producing it in Japan) given the silicon supply issue. CIS/CIGS technologies are being touted as a silicon competitor.

Which is fine until one realises that these thin film technologies will be major consumers of indium, an element although not scarce (it is about as abundant as silver), faces supply issues as well. Indium consumption is currently also dominated by the flat panel display industry, which is also the reason for the silicon shortage. So, if we go either the silicon route or the thin film route, there are likely to be cost issues as production of photovoltaics ramps up and volumes start to compete in earnest with flat panel displays. The future indium shortage is an issue being taken very seriously by Japanese indium producers and consumers, who are accelerating recycling efforts, but if CIS/CIGS production takes off, indium prices will most likely follow.

In both instances, whilst I agree with the basic idea of more sustainable energy, I feel there is a need to promote more efficient energy usage to much greater effect. Which basically means getting rid of the SUV, for starters. How many times a year does the car get fully loaded? Once? Twice? Never? And forget about getting that 103V Plasma TV, which consumes a virtually criminal 1.5kW of power.

Get a small car and rent a people carrier for the odd occasion where you really need that capacity, and if you really “need” a big TV, go the projection route – just looking at the infrastructure build-out requirements associated with big monolithic flat panel displays vs slimmer than ever RPTV (size for size, RPTVs are now only about double the depth, less than 30cm deep and we’ll see newer models at CES this year which will probably feature average depths approaching flat panel technologies) and comparative electricity consumption requirements should be enough to convince people that big glass/semiconductor sandwhich sheets are really not a very eco-friendly purchase.

Of course, the cited weaknesses in the currently dominant technologies in both areas are actually also opportunities for new entrants and the people who will fund them. The bioethanol issue is most likely going to produce huge value for someone in the biotech or agribusiness industries, and in the solar business we’ll probably see some winners from the electronic materials sector.

There is plenty of technical innovation required in both areas, and in that respect it is right that these energy related businesses are attracting VC money.

Read/WriteWeb now in Japanese (CNET Japan) November 22, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japanese.
1 comment so far

CNET Japan has started running a Japanese translated version of Richard McManus’ Read/WriteWeb

The R/WWeb blog has been going since early 2003, and is “a tech weblog [...] focused on Next Generation Web Technology”, and has been in my blogroll for a long time.

R/WWeb does at least one thing right from the beginning, proper attribution of translation/editing duties. (Having said that, a name without any background information isn’t much information at all, but it is more than what was provided at Techcrunch for the first several months)

I wonder what logic drove the decision to make the first post posted on R/WWeb(JP) a post from back in July, though. I contend that picking and choosing which posts to post is an exercise of editorial powers almost as strong as actually “translating” content in a way to change the message.

Clearly translating the archives involves considerable effort, so I think the best practice is to set a zero date and work forwards chronologically from there, giving priority to new posts, and dealing with the archives separately, either from the first post forwards or from the zero date chrnologically backwards as a basic rule. (I might make exceptions for instances such as where a new post links to an old one, this kind of scenario may warrant translating the linked post out of order)

[As an aside, the R/WWeb post on the "Top Web Apps in Japan" was pretty mediocre, compared to others in that series there were a lot fewer sites profiled, and it was much more commentary heavy, something other readers apparently appreciated, but I personally found some of the commentary dubious.]

Speaking of Techcrunch(JP), it has updated its About page with what I guess what they consider is sufficient attribution, a list of 4 names of people apparently responsible for the translation.

I have a problem with this approach, as individual posts are not attributable to a specific translator (which I suspect is deliberate).

The names don’t come with any context, so it remains unclear how clued-up these translators/editors are with the issues being discussed.

Worse, only one of the names given is a full name, the other 3 give either just their first or last names, hardly useful information:

<翻訳スタッフ>
Nobuko Fujieda
satomi
Namekawa,U
Nob

The one full name returns this blog [update: Nobuko tells me she is actually blogging here now (in Japanese), which comes up directly below the blog I originally linked to, on Google at least], whose owner appears to have some of the skills required for the purposes of the effort involved in putting out the Japanese version of Techcrunch.

Could do better.

Livedoor selling off its finance businesses November 22, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Internet, Japan.
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Livedoor is selling off its financial services arm, Livedoor Financial Holdings (LFH), to Advantage Partners, a Tokyo based PE firm. The price is rumoured to be in the region of 20Billion Yen, approximately $170M.

Livedoor Financial Holdings owns 6 fully owned subsidiaries, Livedoor Finance, Livedoor Securities, Bitcash, Livedoor Credit, Livedoor Card, and Livedoor Commodity.

LFH was responsible for around 90% of the entire Livedoor group’s operating profits, which just shows how silly it was to continue to call Livedoor an internet company during most of the time it was in the media spotlight, even if many of the financial services were offered via the internet.

Livedoor says it plans to focus on its ‘core’ internet portal business going forward.

The deconstruction of the Livedoor empire continues.

Google/YouTube deal analysis November 21, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Internet, law.
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An interesting analysis posted on Mark Cuban’s blog.

“Do No Evil”, eh.

We’ll see if this scenario pans out, but certainly the fact that many of the media giants had shareholdings in YouTube  (which was announced just as the Google deal was announced), and it isn’t a stretch to imagine that it was not independent of discussions of a potential purchase (yes, that is an understatement). It may be difficult to prove Google’s involvement directly, but the timing screams Google involvement. WSGR are also known to have been both YouTube’s and Google’s regular outside legal counsel (Google got another firm – Simpson Thacher & Bartlett  – to represent them for the purchase deal, conflict of interest and all that).

Getting the media on-side for the immediate future (even if there are suits which will in most likelihood go ahead after some predetermined time) makes great sense for Google/YouTube. The media lawyers are probably hounding as many YouTube clones as they can as we speak.

My position has always been that virtually all of YouTube’s growth has been built on illegally posted content, regardless of the 建前 (tatemae – public stance) that YouTube has taken regarding its intolerance of IP infringement and the whole facade of it being a “user generated media” (user ripped media is more accurate probably based on actual content consumption metrics)

Google may not have blood on its hands, but I can’t believe that YouTube acted independently to engineer a scheme whereby the media giants get a financial reward in exchange for doing YouTube’s dirty work and taking out its competitors.

I’m sure the artists whose rights have also been trampled upon by YouTube are none too happy to see the media giants get a windfall whilst they don’t see a single penny….  But most of them probably don’t have the time nor the resources to pick a fight with Google.

Very cunning way to kick away the ladder and protect its dominant position.

“Do No Evil”, eh.

It would seem that Google has possibly lost sight of its roots.

PDP manufacturers cut 07Q1 sales forecasts November 6, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Uncategorized.
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With LCD display manufacturers becoming more and more competitive in larger form factors, 3 big PDP manufactuers have reduced their sales forecasts by between 8% and 20% for the 07Q1 period. That’s still a year on year increase in boxes being shifted, but they are beginning to feel the squeeze as LCD players ramp up their Gen.8 fabs (Sharp’s Gen8 fab went on-line earlier this year, Samsung/Sony are set to follow next year) which will be churning out larger form factor displays as LCD manufacturers fight the price erosion which is increasing especially at smaller sizes. Gen8 labs will enable manufacturers to churn out more of the 40-50 inch screens which were traditionally the staple of the PDP camp.

Just a couple of years ago, the LCD/PDP boundary was at around the 37V size, but LCD technology has shown it is easier to scale up than PDP to scale down (and price erosion in the 32-inch and below sectors is so intense, it would make little sense for PDP manufacturers in any case).

Sharp recently announced that it intended to make all its large format displays full HD (1080p) capable, in an attempt to secure the higher end of the market and minimise price erosion pressures.

It seems likely that LCD will eventually rule the roost up to at least 50V (Sharp is probably gunning for the markets upto around 65V).

Above that size, I certainly can’t see any reason why RPTV can’t take the bulk of the domestic market (if you have the space to view a 70V screen comfortably, you should have enough space to concede 8-12 inches of floorspace by the wall (yes, new RPTVs are really that thin), and PDP screens are only about half as thick so the difference is insubstantial) which would leave PDP for high brightness, thin form factor commercial usage on the whole. (Will SED be able to survive just on the high end videophile and broadcast monitor markets?)

Also, just compare the power consumption between a PDP and a similar sized RPTV. It seems criminal to use a technology which consumes significantly more power than a competitive alternative. (I’d bet the manufacturing energy costs are also significantly different, based purely on the relative areas of the active display surfaces)

An often overlooked problem with large flat panel displays is that there’s a lot of glass comprising the screen which makes for a high and offset center of gravity which results in a not particularly stable structure. If you live in an earthquake zone (which is like the whole of Japan) or have kids or pets, ensuring that the screen doesn’t fall over is going to be a concern. (And as for those photos of screens hung on a wall, don’t try it unless you have a brick wall or pay for reinforce ments, plasterboard isn’t strong enough to hang a huge sheet of glass and associated electronics from.)

MySpace Japan launch imminent November 6, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan, Mobile.
2 comments

The Nikkei had an article saying that Newscorp and Softbank are due to announce the official launch of MySpace in Japan as early as this week. (the Japanese version has been in beta for a while now)
Apparently Rupert Murdoch is in Tokyo at the moment, in talks with Son-san.

The Softbank/MySpace initiative has been rumoured for months.

Is it a coincidence that the news was “leaked” to the press (Softbank is saying “no comment” to press inquiries for additional info) just as Softbank was in dire need of a diversionary topic to deflect criticism for Softbank Mobile’s handling of the start of MNP (mobile number portability) in Japan? Probably not, I would actually guess that Softbank assumed that the aggressive pricing strategy and its sudden announcement would have attracted positive media attention, and the MySpace announcement was supposed to be another initiative which showed that Softbank was on a roll.

Unfortunately, Softbank lost customers to its competitors as MNP kicked in.

Nonetheless, MySpace is going to be a big threat to Mixi and Gree (the two leading local SNS players), Mixi stock took a tumble today as the MySpace story hit the newspapers. Similar to Gree teaming up with KDDI (the carrier behind #2 mobile brand au – the new SNS launches this month, and all au users can join – previously it was an invitation only SNS), it is entirely conceivable that MySpace will be aggressively “mobilised” in the same way that Softbank has promoted Yahoo! Japan’s integration into Softbank Mobile’s handsets. MySpace Japan is slated for a PC only launch apparently though, which doesn’t make much sense.

It would seem that Yahoo! Japan’s attempt at a SNS  (Yahoo! Days) is going the way of the dodo imminently. Yahoo! Days has been a failure thus far, and I’m wondering when they’ll pull the plug….

On martial law in the US November 2, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in law, Overseas.
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I don’t write about US politics very often because Japan has plenty of problems of its own (and it is a delicate subject when which can touch a raw nerve when “foreigners” start criticising other nations – descent into an unproductive “debate” of the pot-kettle-black type is just around the corner).

However, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act which became law last month has received minimal media exposure for a law which has huge potential implications (yup, let’s just throw out the safeguards against abuses of power defined in the Insurrection Act and Posse Comitatus Act). Buried within the 439-page long Act is a provision which appears to makes it easier for the President of the United States of America to impose martial law. I’m sure supporters of the Act will argue that this will enable the Government to respond more quickly to disasters such as Katrina. Perhaps, but even then it turned out that the public disorder stories were mostly hoaxes, lest we forget. It is questionable if federal commandeering of the National Guard would have been possible before any violence broke out anyway (although the timing of same could be arranged, no doubt), which would have been too late to prevent the damage caused by the hurricane.

“ 333. Major public emergencies; interference with State and

Federal law

“(a) USE OF ARMED FORCES IN MAJOR PUBLIC EMERGENCIES.–

(1) The President may employ the armed forces, including the

National Guard in Federal service, to–

“(A) restore public order and enforce the laws of the United

States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or

other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or

incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the

United States, the President determines that–

“(i) domestic violence has occurred to such an extent

that the constituted authorities of the State or possession

are incapable of maintaining public order; and

“(ii) such violence results in a condition described in

paragraph (2); or

“(B) suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic

violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such insurrec-

tion, violation, combination, or conspiracy results in a condition

described in paragraph (2).

“(2) A condition described in this paragraph is a condition

that– “(A) so hinders the execution of the laws of a State or

possession, as applicable, and of the United States within that

State or possession, that any part or class of its people is

deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named

in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted

authorities of that State or possession are unable, fail, or refuse

to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that

protection; or

“(B) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the

United States or impedes the course of justice under those

laws.

 

Senator Leahy in a statement he made at the end of September:

Not only does this Conference Report unfortunately drop the Empowerment amendment entirely, it adopts some incredible changes to the Insurrection Act, which would give the President more authority to declare martial law. Let me repeat: The National Guard Empowerment Act, which is designed to make it more likely for the National Guard to remain in State control, is dropped from this conference report in favor of provisions making it easier to usurp the Governors control and making it more likely that the President will take control of the Guard and the active military operating in the States.

The changes to the Insurrection Act will allow the President to use the military, including the National Guard, to carry out law enforcement activities without the consent of a governor. When the Insurrection Act is invoked posse comitatus does not apply. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy, and it is for that reason that the Insurrection Act has only been invoked on three — three — in recent history. The implications of changing the Act are enormous, but this change was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.

Why has much of the US media ignored this story?

It seems almost as much of a whitewash as the Japanese media’s marginalisation of Togo Fujita’s whistleblowing re: Shinzo Abe’s friends’ (Apa Group) likely fraud of building safety codes with bureaucratic assistance….

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