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Nintendo DS fever in Japan March 30, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, technology.
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The Nintendo DS went on sale back in Dec 2004 if memory serves, and was slow off the blocks.

However, good luck if you want to buy one now.

Since the end of last year, the portable game device has been hard to find anywhere.

On March 2nd, Nintendo released a "lite" version (in white only, due to a manufacturing problem with the other 2 colours), with a smaller form factor (and a slightly higher price).

There were queues of hundreds of people in front of major electronics retailers such as Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera, some people camping out for the night. Many stores only had a few dozen units to sell.

The second release was on March 11th, a saturday, and even bigger queues were seen.

Plenty of people were left disappointed.

There were reports that whole families (including babies) were lining up and picking one up, one each. I don't think babies can play these games yet and most grannies aren't so interested in games, so I guess plenty of these units found their way onto on-line auction sites. (There are rumours that some people tried to claim their pets were people, and demanded an allocation for their pet too. It is even more incredible for a chihuahua or dachshund to play games on the DS than a months old baby…. Some people have no shame, clearly)

DS fever struck close to home for me, too. My better half "M" decided back before X'mas that she wanted a DS. The store shelves were of course already empty, and most stores whilst accepting reservations, were quoting months for delivery. There was the option of buying one at a hugely inflated price on-line, but that was ruled out, and when news of the "Lite" came out, she was determined to get one. But not too determined, as we shall see.

She ventured out on the 2nd, timing her arrival at the local electronics superstore for opening time. LOL

No queues, of course. The store opened early to get rid of the queuing customers for whom there were not enough units to go around…. So, came back empty handed. Saw the news that day about the big queues elsewhere, and decided that trying again on the 11th was not a good idea as it was a weekend and that meant even more people with too much time on their hands willing to queue up for this toy.

Then, last week, she got a call from a friend saying that a major retail chain (Itoyokado, sort of similar to WalMart) was going to sell a limited number of units on sunday, and this time it was not going to be first come first served, rather, the were going to give out tickets to everyone who was at the store by a certain time, and then draw lots. So, she ventured out on sunday to the local Itoyokado, arriving a little before 9am (on a sunday morning!).

There was already a decent queue in front of the main entrance.

The tickets were to be distributed to everyone who had arrived in the store before 9:15. The store opened at 9:00. The actual tickets were being handed out on the 3rd floor, and people were running to get a ticket, even though they knew it wasn't first come, first served.

"M" followed the crowd in, and looked around to see people flooding in from other entrances as well. Apparently there were queues at the multiple entrances…. The crowd surged forward, and "M" found herself running up the escalators following the person in front of her.

Getting to the area where the tickets were being handed out, she saw a huge crowd of people gathering behind. She got a ticket numbered in the 200's.
There were about 80 units available. 3 different colour models were on offer, and ticket holders had to apply for one particular colour model. There were different numbers of units available in the various colours, so she decided to go for the "Ice Blue" model, of which there were 30 or so units.

Looking at the size of the crowd, she decided to do some grocery shopping rather than wait there agonisingly for the lottery result.

Half an hour later, after finishing her shopping, she headed back up to the 3rd floor, where there was a list of the lucky tickets who had won the right to buy a DS Lite.

Lo and behold, there was her number. She quietly went to the counter, paid her money, and went home with her prize. Around, there were apparently scenes of parents trying to console their distraught kids and the like.Whilst feeling sorry for the people who weren't so lucky, she wasn't about to offer her prize to anyone….

I was out playing futsal with my futsal/football buddies that day, and she sent me an email from her phone with the news. I called her, and she said that the biggest number listed on the winners' list was twelve hundred and something, so that meant that more than 1200 people had come to that store alone. This scene was apparently repeated at other Itoyokado stores elsewhere. Her friend's family had ventured out to various stores elsewhere, and the family came back empty handed. Not one DS Lite between them to show for getting up early on a sunday morning.

Since sunday, she seems to have become attached to her DS Lite, the other day she actually brought that thing into bed….

The surge in popularity of the DS seems to have been triggered by games which have become a hit with the wider audience beyond the hard core gamers. "M" has two games, one a game testing English skills, another testing mental dexterity. These games have proved a hit with the wider audience, and it is becoming a rather distrubingly common sight to see not only geeky otaku gamers but seemingly normal people playing games on their handheld devices on the trains.

I saw a couple on the train yesterday, sitting side by side, each with a DS in hand, each seemingly oblivious to the presence of the other. Maybe they were playing a 2 player game (does the DS have that functionality? the PSP does, I know).

Personally I am rather drawn to a PSP, as a portable internet device (lashing up a Location Free box on my home network would allow me to watch live and recorded TV from outside on my PSP) with the added bonus of games. Maybe I'll head out one of these days and get me a PSP, together with some games (IQ, Xi[sai], and maybe Lemmings…. and Minna de Golf, of course).

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METI publishes PSE exceptions list March 30, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, technology.
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METI have published the initial version of the items which will be exempted from the PSE legislation which will prevent non-PSE mark labelled products from being sold from April 1st (although they have already announced a de facto moratorium on enforcement for the time being).The list is here.

Trade sellers will need have an application to METI approved to sell items on this list without a PSE inspection.

Trade sellers are also required to:

  • display the approval certificate at the point of sale.
  • explain to the purchaser that the unit is not PSE complaint, and will be sold only to users familiar with usage of the unit
  • confirm with purchaser that said purchaser is familiar with usage of the unit
  • maintain an inventory of products sold under this exemption, including a check of whether the explanations were provided to the purchaser

 For items not on the published list, sellers may request that additional items are added to the list using the same application form, representing that the criteria for exemption are fulfilled (product has been discontinued, cannot be adequately replaced with an alternative due to the unique nature of the product, and has a sufficiently high value due to rarity)

So, looking at the list (which currently only covers "pro-audio" devices, and far from comprehensively at that)….

We see Tannoy's "Reveal Active"  near-field active studio monitor on the list. LOL.

This is a model from just a few years back, you can still get these NOS/NIB(new old stock/new in box) on-line at many e-tailers. Originally retailed in Japan for JPY140,000, and in the US for $899.99. You can get a pair for as little as $499.99….

Hardly a hard to find, irreplaceable, collector's item, is it. 

I wonder what other laughs are in store for us on this list. 

NTT DoCoMo’s ad in The Economist March 29, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, TechCrunch, technology.
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Mobile TechCrunch has a piece on NTT DoCoMo's ad in The Economist.

The Ad Copy reads "In the future, mobile communications will be wrapped around you", and features a woman wearing "clothing" which has various media images projected on it.
1. Mobile communications technology will offer a fully immersive, always connected environment. This has positive and also potentially less positive implications, depending on your point of view.

The positive implications are fairly straightforward. Various value added services will be enabled by having a single device which allows data access and storage, providing functionality from e-wallets (debit and credit functionality on mobile phones with embedded non-contact IC card technology is already here), security authentification (phone doubling as security pass for entry into restricted areas),
The potentially not so positive implcations include being subjected to personalised advertising and promotions where every you go, and more seriously the potential precise tracking of mobile phone users. From 2007, all new mobile phones sold in Japan will be required to have GPS functionality. The rationale for this is the increase in so-called E911(US terminology) calls from mobile phones. [The US E911 regulations provide for either phones with GPS modules, or a network of TDOA(Time Difference Of Arrival) receivers (the working principle of TDOA should be self evident)]

2. NTT DoCoMo announced an agreement with flexible display developer PlasticLogic last year. Flexible displays have the potential to allow larger screens which can be stowed when not in use, thus improving usability without sacrificing usability. Perhaps a wearable screen is also possible. The flexible plastic backplane developed by companies like PlasticLogic promises large improvements in toughness, something which has been a major weakness in screens utilising glass and/or silicon in their assembly. Perhaps phones might have external screen outputs (like PCs do) which would allow users to hook up a flexible screen when needed, and revert to the small screen when on the move…

3. There is extensive research going on regarding wearable computing. One of the big issues is power. NEC and others have announced results in flexible battery technology. Whilst the silicon components are already probably small and light enough to be embedded into clothing, useable battery power still requires significant physical volume, and one way to enhance the wearability is to make it thin and flexible. A more flexible battery form factor also allows for more creativity in creating handheld phones with non-traditional form factors.

All of these 3 themes seem to be covered by the DoCoMo ad, the ad copy implicitly refers to these actual initiatives which are being undertaken within NTT DoCoMo's future product strategy.

Smart. (even if the average reader who sees the ad is probably unaware of DoCoMo's current R&D efforts)

CyberAgent operated websites disappear from Google March 29, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan.
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Reported here (in Japanese, with screenshots of the possible offending item).

CyberAgent is an internet media/advertising firm with a wide portfolio of affiliated companies and websites.

(Including a Search Engine Marketing company. Oh the irony… Having said that, if you try to navigate the CASearch site, you may become as frustrated I did at the unfriendly UI.)
Google appears to have removed from its index various CA operated sites such as ecnavi.jp, e-cashing.net, melma.com, creditcard-hikaku.com, ca-guide.jp.

The blog linked above has a before and after shot of the possible offending functionality. (The sites have been changed already, but the old screenshot is apparently of courtesy of Yahoo!'s cache)

The use of a scrollable "link box" of minimal size to "display" links to various other associated sites (which also had this functionality reciprocated) appears to have been deemed to be inappropriate.

Some bloggers are wondering out loud what makes this punishable, whereas similarly expansive crosslinking between affiliated sites using a bunch of links at the bottom of the page is deemed to be OK (scroll to the bottom of the page to check the bunch of links, and then click through any of the links to find a similar setup).

The issue of visiblity to the human reader is most likely to be the determining factor, but is a row of 27 unordered links at the bottom of the page that much more useful to the human browser?

GMO also have a SEO outfit…..

I guess it could be argued that the scrolling window can be used to secrete links to SEO/SEM customers' sites as well, and that is where Google draws the line. I never had the opportunity to see what was contained in those scrolling windows so we shall never no for sure. However, one clue is that the screenshot does show [PR] in the text, which usually denotes that the following link is a paid link. So perhaps CA were selling links on their pages to 3rd parties as well as cross linking between themselves?

Will we ever find out?

In any case, Yahoo! is the dominant search engine in Japan, with over 50% market share (share increasing inversely proportional to IT literacy, based on a discussion I had with a SEO/SEM person – searches for non-technical current affairs, trends, fads, and celebrity gossip and the like appear to come as much as 80% from Yahoo, in some instances), GOOG and MSFT lag behind with less than 20% share each. In Japan at least, Google Blacklisting isn't as critical an issue for businesses compared to areas where Google dominates (eg USA).

Still, it is embarassing for a "internet" company like CA to be caught out like this…….

The Japanese MSM are slow to pick this one up. There has been just one internet article and this news was buried within Yahoo News' SEO category, so I assume it has had minimal exposure.

An IT company facing such an embarassment elsewhere would be expected to take a hit on its share price, but CA was up more than 5% today. Perhaps on the strength of the whole market, or on yesterday's news of CA setting up a new subsidiary targetting advertising for CGM……

UPDATE [Apparently the CA sites had these "linkboxes" not just on the top pages but on lots of (all of?) the pages contained within the sites which have been blacklisted, where as the links on the GMO sites appear only on the top pages. This may be deemed to be a significant difference]

PSE法に反対するデモ March 20, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan, Japanese, law, technology.
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週末にPSEに反対するデモがあったらしい。

リサイクル・中古品販売の業者らが主催したデモらしい。

渋谷区議で知り合いの平田さんもブログにも書いているのでその存在を知った。

でも、どうもしっくりこないのです。

PSE法に反対するリサイクル業者が中古品の販売の際の点検・整備や、自社で販売した商品へのアフターケアはどう考えているのかわかりませんが、この週末のデモには違和感を感じています。

そもそも中古販売だからこそ、電気的・機械的な部品があるものに関しては販売業者に整備・点検・販売製品の記録管理の義務があってしかるべきでは ありませんか。それを怠り、売るだけ売って、ノークレーム・ノーリターンで営業するのはいかがなものか。そのような悪徳業者も存在するのは事実ですし、そ のような業者に当たる不安故に中古品の購入を躊躇う消費者がいるのも事実です。それら業者の存在は一般消費者にとって利益のあるものか。

中古品でも安心して購入できる環境こそ中古品の流通性を高め、中古市場の活性化に繋がることを業者側も理解できないのか。

特定電気用品以外の電気用品に関しては販売業者が製造業者として届出を行い、自主検査を施し、検査記録等を記録する仕組みを確保すればPSEマークを独自に付けることができます。

中古の電化製品に関しては販売の際に基本的な点検(内部点検を含む。コンデンサーの電解漏れや、埃の蓄積など、不良の原因がないかチェックする) を行うことは義務づけられるべきだと思います。その際、古い物に関してはフューズ交換くらいは行って頂きたい。(経年劣化でフューズが切れただけの「故 障」は少なくないし、フューズなんて数十円のパーツ。販売後の早期不良を未然に防ぐための先行投資としては極めてリーズナブルかつ良心的な対応)フューズ 交換の行為をもって製造事業として認められる現制度に適応した事業者として業務を行うこととなる。

自主検査にしても、項目は大したこと無い。
外見検査:通電部が露出しておらず、筺体に破損がないことを確認
通電検査:通電して正常に動作したことを確認
絶縁耐力検査:1000V1分間の絶縁耐力試験で漏電がないことを確認

そもそもこれらすら出来ない業者が電化製品の販売を行っているとしたら、それこそ大問題であろう。

もちろん、体制整備にお金が沢山かかるようでしたら、零細事業者に過大な負担がかかるとの理論は成り立つわけですが、実際はそうではありません。 検査用機器は10万円前後する機械です。届出も難しい作業ではないし、そもそも販売した商品のインベントリー管理は良心的な販売店としては当たり前の行為 ですし。

実際、中古販売店で製造者として届出ていて、自主検査を行い、情報管理をして販売の継続を表明している業者もあります。
http://www.hifido.co.jp/merumaga/osu_sale/060310/

「お父さんが昔ほしくてほしくてたまらなかったあの楽器がもう手に入らなくなるんですよ!」
という状況は、ビンテージ品の除外が既に発表されている現在、真実なのか疑問です。昔から欲しいと思っていた物であれば、それなりに名機として認 知されている物である可能性が高いわけです。まぁ、正体不明のブログの書き込みなんか基本的に信用できませんが。(それも新聞記事等と並べるのもどうかと 思うが)

世の中のPSEに関する騒ぎは、不勉強で条件反射的に騒いでいるのか、作為的に反行政の感情を煽っているのか。どちらにしても、腑に落ちない。

行政側の特例措置の発表までの経緯にしても、反PSE運動の扇動者にしても、スタンドプレー的な思惑が見え隠れしていて不愉快です。

ビンテージ楽器特区って、ビンテージ楽器が除外すると発表があるのに、なんの意味があるのでしょうか?

反PSE法の立場の方には、上記の事実を踏まえ、なぜ反対するのか聞きたいです。

ブログの著作権 March 18, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Uncategorized.
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前回ライブドアブログの著作権ポリシーに関して取り上げましたが、これはライブドア特有の問題ではなく、GooやExciteなど大手でも問題となる利用規約があります。

様々なブログプロバイダーをまとめてあるサイトがありますので紹介します。参考になればと思いまして・・・

Ownership of posted content March 18, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, law.
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There was a comment to the Zooomr post which asked about Livedoor PICS, which is Livedoor’s photo sharing service which was revamped at the end of last year to look remarkably like Flickr. My comments regarding that matter have been added to that post.

In that comment there was an issue which I brought up regarding Livedoor’s user policies generally which I thought merited a new post.

Livedoor’s user policies waive the user’s right to assert their copyright against Livedoor or its designates. Whilst this may seem less drastic than asserting the copyright for themselves, it nevertheless allows Livedoor or its delegates to monetize user content without “hinderance” from the original poster and copyright owner.

Livedoor was popular with the mass market (ie not very IT literate) crowd, and it is likely these users did not bother reading the ULA. Certain other providers offer similarly exploitative ULAs, but I would not go as far as saying that such exploitation is the norm. In the end, it is up to the user to educate themselves, but in all the Livedoor cheerleading which was going on until January’s en masse volte-face by the media, but are we asking too much of the media to shine light on such underhand tactics? Perhaps it is. The user community needs to look after its own.

The pertinent articles and their english translations (e&oe, I did the translations myself and my legal writing skills are rusty) are reproduced below.

Article 18 of the user agreement:

第18条 (電子メールおよびアップロードされたウェブ・コンテンツ)
[…「livedoorIDユーザ」は、ライブドア及びライブドアが指定する者に対し、自らアップロードしたウェブ・コンテンツについての著作権を行使しないことに同意します。]

Article 18 (Electronic mail and uploaded web content)

….Livedoor ID users agree not to assert their copyright against Livedoor or parties which Livedoor designates.

Same kind of language in the Livedoor Blog user agreement:

「第8条」
利用者が著作したウェブログとそれに付随するコメント及びトラックバックは当該ウェブログを著作した利用者に著作権が発生するものとします。但し、宣伝、 利用促進、出版、マーケティング等を目的としウェブログサービスの著作物を使用する場合、利用者は弊社に対し、当該著作物を著作権法の規定に基づき無償利 用することを期間無制限で非独占的に許諾し、かつ弊社及び弊社の指定する者に対し著作者人格権を行使しないものとします。

Article 8

Weblog content and their associated comments and trackbacks are deemed to be copyright material whose owner is the creator of the weblog. However [my emphasis], for the purposes of advertising, sales promotion, publishing, marketing, etc, the user grants the company a non-exclusive, term unlimited right to use the copyright material without compensation [again, my emphasis], and agree not to assert Moral rights against the company or its delegates.

[For more anecdotes about Livedoor’s business,see my comment on the Zooomr post linked at the top of this post……]

Sony PSP new features announced March 16, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan.
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It is a bit pathetic that I got around to reading the news about the PSP via an overseas blog (Russell Beattie’s blog article about the PSP annoucement) when the press conference was held in this city.

My excuse it that in scanning the news headlines yesterday, all the domestic press were focussing on the delay of the PS3 release. Positive news regarding the PS3 was the confirmation that the PS3 will be fully compatible with PS and PS2 media, and the announcement of the network service which is offered without any basic subscription charge, and will connect to the Sony servers over the open internet.

Anyway, with regards to the PSP, some interesting features were announced.

OK, this isn’t a feature but they announced a “base model” PSP for 199Euro/USD.

Downloadable games bootable from MemoryStick, combined with a PS emulator, should unlock a wide library of games. Contrary to Russell’s interpretation of the news conference, the GameWatch article states that PS games will be made available via download, and would not require UMD.
The announced accessories sound interesting:

The EyeToy for PSP will allow video chat but also brings motion tracking technology to the PSP, it will be interesting to see how that technology will be used in a handheld game platform. One easy use may be to integrate video chat with motion tracking to allow avatar headshots which mimic expressions of the user. It could add a level of expression capability whilst maintaining privacy as required.

Another accessory is the GPS unit for the PSP, so your PSP can become a portable Sat-Nav platform. Integrating GPS with games may bring about games which mesh the virtual and physical worlds in some way.

Also announced was Flash capability for PSP, and an expansion of functionality around RSS, to make the PSP a viable audio and video podcast player.

Software updates will be available in the coming months, the accessories go on sale in the autumn.

Drecom update 3/16 and other tech IPO craziness March 16, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IPO, IT, Japan.
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Drecom is still trading at over 4million yen (JPY4.05M at today’s close), making the company worth JPY80Billion, give or take a few yen.

And in other news…..

Another recent (floated yesterday) IPO hikaku.com has also spyrocketed, IPO was at JPY450k (raising approx $20M for the company) and the current price is JPY1.86M having reached the maximum allowable gain/day on its first 2 days of trading. The current price would value this company at approx JPY58B, on operating profits of JPY110M last FY (estimated JPY150M net profit for current FY). PER is north of 400.

Price comparison sites are nothing new, the market leader is kakaku.com, note the similar sounding names (hikaku means comparison, whereas kakaku means price, in Japanese)….

Kakaku.com listed on TSE Mothers in 2003, and is currently listed on the TSE proper. It is valued at JPY63.6B, on operating profits of JPY920M.

Perhaps hikaku.com’s main visual differentiator is that the top page is the discount airline ticket page, but the offered catagories (from travel to electronics to insurance, 42 in all) are remarkably similar. Even their favicons look remarkably similar….. Hmmm…..

A potentially key functional differentiator is that Kakaku.com offers BBS functionality for each product/service offered and a user rating scheme, both of which may be helpful to prospective buyers.

Business model wise, Kakaku.com is an affiliate model, whereas Hikaku.com is on a CPL advertising model. Hikaku.com has a high operating margin (43%) which may be attracting investors.

In terms of pageviews and reach, Kakaku.com is a lot stronger than Hikaku.com, but the relative revenues reflect more efficient monetisation of Hikaku.com’s business model. (and/or overhead related to additional functionality available at Kakaku.com)

Alexa data here (via alexaholic)

The Hikaku.com website is very slow. Looking at Alexa, since the IPO, traffic has doubled, but if that is the cause of the slow response, it would appear to reflect poor planning.

It will be interesting to see where the stock price settles down.

Some problems with permalinks etc March 16, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japanese.
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Seems we have been having some problems with permalinks of posts with Japanese characters in their titles.

The posts showing weird behaviour have been renamed and the links (should) now work. (I think I checked all of the links)

Weird thing is that some of the posts were fine, and the ones that were causing problems were (mostly, if not all) renamed with new/edited titles with Japanese characters, and the edited posts do not appear to be exhibiting the problems.

Sorry for those people who are subscribed to the rss feed, there will be some duds due to the renaming.

Guess I will do some investigation into this problem sometime to work out what is triggering the bug.