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Pre-World Cup friendlies: Germany-Japan, England-Hungary May 31, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Football, World Cup.

Germany 2 – Japan 2

Watched this one which was broadcast starting at 4:30pm (kick off was an hour earlier, but the match was timeshifted and a (voluntary) media blackout imposed on reporting the result as is customary in the clubby world of Japanese media. However the other TV channels ignored protocol and were talking about the result and how you didn't need to switch channels because you already know the result…. But most of the major internet sites seemed to follow protocol.)

Germany came back from two goals behind to salvage a draw. Japan went 2-0 ahead, 2 well taken goals from Takahara (HSV Hamburg moving to Frankfurt from next season). Plenty of chances for Japan to score a few more goals. For Germany, the centre-backs' performances will be a worry. Ballack also did not seem to be playing anywhere near his best. German's delivery of corners was shockingly poor. They had a bunch of corners and I can't recall seeing one decent delivery. Given their aerial and physical superiority, they really have to make corners count a bit more. Most of the balls too low and were cleared with ease by defenders at the near post.

For Japan, the 2 goals were taken well by Takahara, with Nakamura being involved in both moves. Apart from that, Nakamura did not feature very much, he should have been playing as the attacking midfielder behind the front two, but he often appeared further back. Without going back and looking to see how he was being marked by Germany, I can't say whether his lack of visibility was due to German marking or due to Hidetoshi Nakata, who was allegedly positioned as a holding midfielder, who was getting up the pitch at every opportunity, was squeezing Nakamura out of the game. Holding midfielders do need forward at times to bolster the attack but Nakata appeared to be getting forward a bit too much, at the expense of Nakamura. Having said that, Nakata was involved in some good attacking moves, and slotted through a couple of excellent passes. It is no secret that Nakata's preferred position is the coveted attacking midfield spot occupied at this time by Nakamura. Nakata's positioning remains a big worry as Japan's main strength is their ability to keep their shape and formation, and attack and defend as a unit.

The 2 goals Japan conceded are symptomatic of Japan's biggest weakness, which is their lack of physical presence. In open play, team defence can work pretty well, as long as the team keeps its shape. However, at set pieces, whilst organisation remains important (players should know who is marking who), the strength, speed and vision of the individuals going for the ball becomes more of a factor.

For Germany's first goal, a free kick curled in to the area from the left wing, Klose seemed to have been marked by Miyamoto, possibly the shortest centre-back in the world. Klose's superior strength saw Miyamoto going to ground. Miyamoto is a big uncertainty especially playing against big physical strikers the likes of which will be fielded by Australia and Croatia. He isn't particularly quick either, and his lack of height means he isn't particularly strong in the air either. If Japan play a 3-5-2 formation as they did today, I would expect opposing teams to take on one of the two other defenders (Tsuboi, Nakazawa, both who are taller and stronger in the air), pull them out wide and get their forwards matching up against Miyamoto. I don't see how you can play the modern game with a central defender who is like, 5'9" (and I suspect that is generous).

The 2nd German goal was due to Yanagisawa apparently marking an invisible man in the area. Schweinsteiger
rose to head home an inviting free kick curled in from the right, and had a virtual free header. Schweinsteiger timed his run to get in front of Yanagisawa who didn't even appear to make an attempt to get up to the ball, who got in the way of Fukunishi who tried to get up and got tangled up with Yanagisawa. 2-2.

For Japan, stand-outs were Takahara who scored the 2 Japanese goals, Fukunishi who battled well in the holding midfielder's role, and Komano, who troubled Germany down the right wing.

Komano came on as a substitute for Kaji, who fell awkwardly when he was fouled by Scweinsteiger. Looking at replays, he seemed to catch his toe on the turf when fall forwards, and appeared to be in pain. He left the stadium on crutches. If it is does transpire that has a medial ankle sprain, he may be out of the World Cup. In that case, I'd call for Daisuke Matsui to be called up to the squad, as he, like Komano, can play on either wing.

England 3 – Hungary 1

Not having seen the match but having read the match reports, I think Eriksson's strategy of playing Carragher as a holding midfielder is a good move. Playing the 4-4-2, there has been continous debate about what England's midfield should look like, whether it made sense to play Lampard and Gerrard together, etc etc.

Whilst the English midfield is full of talent, there was no recognised world class defensive midfielder, someone like Chelsea's Makelele. Putting Carragher, a defender, in that position allows the team to shape up with two central midfielders, one who is deadly with long range passes and free kicks, another who can do that and also run and score in free play and also get back to defend. [Having said that, Carragher was switched to right-back at half time, with Hargreaves coming on to play the holding role (as he does at his club), whether that had anything to do with the fact that England scored 3 times in the second half is something I will look at when I watch the game. Carragher may be too defensively minded to be a fully fledged roaming holding player]

Giving Gerrard a chance to play off the forwards and run at defenders and take shots at goals from distance makes sense. (Otherwise, Eriksson in effect gives Gerrard the bulk of the defensive duties when lining him up with Lampard in the middle of the pitch, which he has done reasonably well because he is so versatile, but clearly it is stifling Gerrard's style) Given the form Gerrard is in, he makes perfect sense at the tip of the diamond. Gerrard and Lampard are interchangeable, so that would allow them to mix things up a bit. This fore and aft relationship makes a lot more sense than sitting these two side by side. With Gerrard or Lampard playing off the front two, loose balls around the attacking penalty area will be punished. (Now "all" we need to do is to work out how to handle defensive duties midfield

Whilst hardly pretty, this would give England the option of playing Crouch (probably as sub) up front, pumping the ball forward and running in on the loose ball, as Gerrard did so effectively for Liverpool in the Cup Final. However, I think even in the absence of Rooney, England should be playing 2 forwards, in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-3-2 and not 4-1-4-1 especially with Owen still to prove hehas regained full fitness and form.

Hopefully Rooney will also make the World Cup, then England will have a decent crack at the top spot.
Note: I am a 20+ year Liverpool fan so that my World Cup coverage will heavily feature England and especially their Liverpool players (and ex-Liverpool player Owen) if they play well.

Mobile: N and P announce development alliance May 30, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Mobile, technology.
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From Reuters

NEC and Matsushita are two of the leading mobile phone manufacturers (Sharp has become the other major player in the last couple of years) in Japan, but the short product cycles (4-6mths) and the increasing complexity of phones is weighing heavily on the mobile phone business. 

It looks like TI will also be heavily involved in any joint development programme.

Domestic produces dominate the landscape here, but this is partly due to the fact that the pre-3G Japanese market was based on a domestic specification which made it difficult for overseas manufacturers to justify targetting the Japanese market. Overseas manufacturers virtually disappeared after the widespread adoption of the cellphone as a mobile data device, the UI became more important and this was an area overseas manufactuers were at a distinct disadvantage. 

With the advent of 3G, overseas manufacturers are now again looking at the Japanese market, it remains to be seen whether they can make any meaningful impact here.

The adoption of CDMA based technologies has allowed domestic manufacturers to evaluate more aggressive overseas expansion, but the domestic focus of these manufacturers has meant that they face a uphill battle as they have little brand recognition. Whilst some may point to some new brands doing pretty well, Japanese handsets tend to be feature rich premium phones and lack transferrable offerings at the lower end of the market. 

Mainstream Japanese Internet Radio at last May 29, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, Music.

J-Wave, one of the more popular Tokyo based radio stations (they have a great view of Tokyo from their studio/office facilities on the 33rd floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower), has launched Japan's first major internet radio station, Brandnew-J

Broadcasts started today, however the site says it only supports the IE6.0 and WMP to actually listen to the programming. This is a beta launch for the station, with the full service slated to start in October.

The station has dedicated programming (it is not a web feed of the over-the-air broadcast), and is broadcast live from 10am to 10pm local time, with recorded broadcasts for the other 12 hours.

The fact the over-the-air broadcast is not streamed is probably due to the difficulty in managing the various rights negotiations (copyright neighbouring rights) which are still laborious for internet based broadcast services.

Still, it is promising that a big name player has launched a service, others have announced similar efforts. It will only help speed up the adoption of the internet as a broadcast medium, and hopefully drive legislative change.

Now all we need is a Japanese Squeezebox and for mini-system and boombox manufacturers to put internet radio functionality onto their systems.

Mobile carriers’ new services May 29, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Mobile, technology.
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May/June is the launch season for the summer models from the mobile carries. (See previous posts: 1, 2, 3)

With new handsets come new services.

A few services that have caught my attention: 

KDDI's LISMO music download service is being heavily advertised, and new handsets which work with the services are being launched. Exposure on the radio, in the printed press, and on the web. 

On the music front, details of NTT DoCoMo's plans for the music to mobile market are taking shape. Initially reported earlier in May, it appears DoCoMo will be launching a fixed fee download service with Napster. I suspect this will be a venture with Napster and Tower Records KK's Japanese JV, Napster Japan. Subscription fees have not been announced, but the service is expected to start in the summer. It is expected that a pay per download service squarely aimed at LISMO is also in the works.

Staying with DoCoMo, DCMX, DoCoMo's integrated credit card service is seeing a big push.

With phones now having Suica (e-wallet, also can function as corporate security card (with requisite hardware) and as passes for JR (and from next year, private railways and subways) and DCMX, as well as lots of potentially sensitive personal information in address books and emails, security is a big issue. Virtually all of the new phones feature biometric security.

Additionally, there are remote locking features (call the DoCoMo call center to engage, or set up the phone correctly and call your phone) which prevent not just unauthorised calls but block access to any data on the phone. Service starts 5/30.
Another announced feature which also starts on 5/30 are network based address book backup. Handy for those who are prone to losing their phone or dropping the phone into the toilet. Both apparently more common than I thought based on a straw poll I took recently. The network backup capability is implemented using SyncML, and it is expected that more SyncML based services will be forthcoming. 

There is also a service which allow you to send a text message when calling someone, the text message being displayed on the receiver's phone. It might be used to let the receiver know what the call is about, so they can decide to pick up, or not.

GPS location queries of other users (with their permission) is also now available, at the reasonable price of 200yen/month and 5yen per query. 
Vodafone: Here in Japan, bluetooth accessories have not yet taken off in the way that they have elsewhere, so you don't yet see that many people standing around apparently talking to themselves. However, bluetooth functionality is beginning to catch on, and to take advantage of this Vodafone has launched a new service which will allow bluetooth enabled Vodafone handset users to text chat with other similarly equipped users. Will this catch on? Usage of this is apparently free. 

World Cup 2006: FIFA mismanagement, again May 29, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Football, Sport, Travel, World Cup.

The Sankei Shimbun had an article over the weekend exposing the full scale of the accomodations debacle that is currently angering hoteliers in Germany.

FIFA's subsidiary WCAS which had reserved as many as 2 million room.nights for sponsors, VIPs, and teams, has cancelled more than 1 million room.nights. The cancellations amount to 8000 rooms at 76 hotels, of which 5000 rooms are concentrated in and around Berlin. 

Hoteliers are angry that the cancellations occured so late, although the cancellations occured before cancellation fees kicked in. (I suspect normal people are being held to draconian cancellation clauses, whereas WCAS has negotiated flexible terms)

Some hotels are slashing prices to increase occupancy rates, whereas some have said it would be unfair to those who have reserved their rooms at the published rates and will not be modifying pricing.

This is not the first time FIFA have screwed up. A similar hotel cancellation problem was reported in Japan/Korea 2002.

There is also the question of why WCAS was handling this role. WCAS is said to be a company associated with FIFA, but details are unclear. FIFA still seems to be awarding lucrative deals like this to companies set up by insiders and associates, despite the fiasco of the on-line booking system and hotels 4 years ago.

It is high time organisations like FIFA (and the IOC, amongst others) get their act together and implement trasparency and accountability in their process, however hard it may be to kick a decades long habit of lining their own pockets. 

“Web 2.0”: O’Reilly’s service mark affair and Web 2.0 Inc (yes there is a company of that name) May 27, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, law, Overseas.
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The controversy (covered across the blogosphere, Tom Raferty, Shel Israel, Jeff Clavier, Boing Boing, Rick Segal, John Battelle (who I thought was treading a bit too carefully in his post but is trying to communicate a bit more clearly in the comments – actually, Philipp Lenssen's comments make a point I wholeheartedly agree with), the list goes on….) about O'Reilly's (or more accurately, CMP Media's) application of the use of Web 2.0 as a service mark.

My opinion that usually it is important to protect trademarks so they aren't abused and also aren't used by profiteering freeloaders. Better to have a responsible person (usually the person who came up with the mark in the first place) own the rights, assuming that person will be sensible about enforcement.

The area I am slightly ambivalent about is the conflict between the filing for the trademark/servicemark and promotion of the term "Web2.0" from what is undoubtedly a very authoritative position in the IT industry. A cynic would say that O'Reilly (the organisation not the person) has been using its position to evangelise the "Web2.0" meme, and given the nature of this meme it was foreseeable that if the meme stuck it would be the sort of thing around which conferences would be held. This suspicion of planned commercialism may be what is upsetting some quarters.

Whilst I can understand the "Tim is on holiday" excuse, I think Tim's absence has exposed a problem within the O'Reilly organisation. Assuming that going after non-profits like IT@Cork was not part of the original intention behind filing for the servicemarks in the first place and that Tim would not agree with the strategy, the affair has exposed that groups within the organisation aren't with the program. From a corporate governance perspective, it is far from ideal.

I don't think IT@Cork's usage is an abuse or an attempt at profiteering. [added 5/31 : Asking them to post an attribution would have sufficed, according to Tim's account, so the question is why they were so trigger happy with the C&D. A communications breakdown is the likely cause (though Tim carefully points out CMP owns the rights and his company is only a partner).] 

The incident made me recall that a Japanese company has decided to call itself Web2.0 Inc.

Web2.0 Inc was set up in November 2005 by a consortium of 3 publicly listed companies, Digital Garage (a "web solution provider and business incubator", operators of Technorati Japan), Pia (Japan's largest ticket vendor/publisher), and Kakaku.com (Japan's leading price comparison site).

It apparently offers blog marketing data services, and will also be launching a new portal site in "Spring 2006". When does spring officially end? At the end of May? The summer solstice? Will the portal appear as announced?

Was this corporate naming an inspired piece of PR (they can rename when/if they feel like it) or will it be seen as a cynical attempt to ride on the coattails of a trend? What will happen when "Web2.0" goes stale as a marketing buzzword (some would claim it is already well on its way to becoming stale…) With regards to the Web2.0 servicemark, here in Japan a company called MediaLive Japan (which has been organising events such as Networld+Interop Tokyo, and COMDEX/Japan) has filed a similar application in relation to the term's usage in connection with conferences, but not only that, the application also covers areas like market intelligence services and advertising. MLJ is now a subsidiary of CMP Japan (as of January 2006). (additional information here)

Personally, I think the name is in bad taste, against the whole spirit of Web 2.0, social web, whatever.

Some more commentary on the blogosphere: Michael Arrington and Thomas Hawk (1,2)also cover the issue. This is really going to be a major headache for Tim O'Reilly when he gets back from vacation….

[Links to external sources added and title changed 5/28]

Update 5/31. Tim puts forward his side of the story. I am personally not fully convinced. He seems to characterise "the blogosphere" as a "mob", and conveniently ignores some points I think he would should have addressed. The fact that he and his organisation were evangelising the "Web2.0" meme, and the non-disclosure of potential commercial conflict of interest thereof appears to so NOT what O'Reilly and company have been promoting the meme to be about – although looking back at the original Web2.0 meme map, he has "The right to remix: some rights reserved" (my emphasis). Some rights reserved, that's irony for you. 

NTT DoCoMo confirms fuel cell battery for mobile phones May 27, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Mobile, technology, Uncategorized.

Asahi Shimbun is reporting that NTT DoCoMo will be marketing a external fuel cell battery for phones in 2007.

DoCoMo head Masao Nakamura confirmed his company's intentions to sell a methanol fuel cell battery next year.

This is a result of DoCoMo's research into fuel cells with Fujitsu. Last year, DoCoMo and Fujitsu showed off their prototype fuel cell, press release here.

The prototype is pretty bulky, hopefully they will have managed  to make it a little smaller by the time it hits the shops.

The battery uses a methanol cartridge holding 18ml of high purity methanol, and a claimed capacity of 3 times the capacity of the Li-ion battery used in the phones.

It would seem that the energy density (taking into consideration the required associated parts) is a lot lower than Li-ion batteries at present.
Battery capacity is a pressing problem for handset manufacturers as phones become more powerful and with carriers pushing energy consumption intensive services like audio/video streaming, more powerful games (like full RPGs from SquareEnix), and providing the ability to watch analog/terrestrial digital TV on the phone. The new Vodafone 905SH (on sale today) manufactured by Sharp has a 4 hour battery life when watching TV, which seems to be enough endurance to keep a phone going for a day out even with liberal use of the phone even after watching a football game on the phone. (as an aside, the 905SH also has the ability to record TV programmes to an SD memory card)

Given how small battery chargers are (the one for my phone measures 3cm x 3cm x 1cm excluding the wires), and given there are USB chargers which can charge your phone from your computer, I wonder how much demand there will be for a bulky fuel cell battery extender. For the time being, people who need extended battery life would be better off getting one of those plug in battery extenders and some alkaline batteries. It would take up less space than the prototype and is probably cheaper to boot.

Allocation of budgets and cost performance in primary education May 27, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Education, Japan.
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From the Daily Telegraph (5/20)

Books are more than twice as effective as computers in raising standards among pupils, says a senior academic who spent 30 years training teachers to use computers.

Given that schools have a limited budget to work with, they need to look at the best use for their money. Whilst IT education is undoubtedly important in this day and age, basic education (the 3R's, etc) remains as important as ever. Without a basic foundation of solid skills in areas like logical thinking, comprehension and communication, no amount of IT literacy is going to add much real value.

Whilst there are IT related skills which are valuable in and of themselves, my personal opinion is that the most important value proposition of information technology is that IT can have a powerful gear/leverage effect in multiplying the expression of the products of fundamental intellectual capacity. Without the fundamentals in place, the gear/leverage has nothing to work on.

I  am a vocal proponent for a focus on core skills especially in the early years of education. Given that schools do not have an unlimited budget, I would hope schools give consideration to results like these. 

Critics of the findings may argue that the study is unfair because it is measuring the benefits of books vs computers in improving results in traditional tests whilst ignoring the benefits of IT education in areas which are typically not measured by these tests.
However, my personal emphasis in core skills leads me to think that we should not be sacrificing opportunities to increase levels in these areas in exchange for other benefits, at least at the primary school level. It seems undeniable that basic skills are in decline anyway, and I would suggest that IT skills are most effective when they are supplmental to a solid set of fundamental skills, not a replacement thereof. 

This philosophy is one reason I am against the increased level of English education at an early stage in Japanese schools. Given a fixed amount of time in schools, can we afford to reduce the time spent on (especially) basic Japanese, maths and science to accomodate English?

That is even before we get to the question of finding enough teachers who have an acceptable level of English. As part of the discussion of teaching reform, the government has set a target level of english competence for english teachers.

The target level is TOEIC730. 

I don't quite think that is a nearly sufficient for teachers. (yes, I am being sarcastic. I don't think it is anywhere near sufficient) Of course, setting the target at that level means there are many teachers who aren't even at that level. A shuddering thought, in this day and age. And it is just a target, nothing about getting rid of teachers who just not cut out to be english teachers (but somehow find themselves teaching english today).

For more laughs, the report/recommendations produced by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (isn't that a bit too long?) english education is here.

The Japanese Social Insurance Agency May 26, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Politics.

The SIA, which administers employees’ pensions and health insurance, is enbroiled in another scandal.

The Agency has previously been accused of using pensions contributions to build unnecessary facilities (which are often run by companies and agency related institutions which are given the job in the first place in a non-competitive selection process – the idea being to secure positions within these organisations for government bureaucrats after they retire from their government jobs) and thereby wasting pensions contributions. A serious claim (which the facts bear out), seeing that the aging population indicates that the system will run out of money before many current contributors get a chance to draw their pensions. The pensions system is based on a social contract whereby current contributors pay for the current set of pensioners. The system breaksdown when we see old people living longer, and a lot less contributors coming into the system due to the declining birthrate.

Anyhow, many people refuse to pay their contributions, either because they are young and can see they aren’t going to get a penny, because they could make use of the money now, or because they are rich and would prefer to make the money work for themselves rather than for other members of society. 30 something % of people who should be paying contributions are currently not doing so.

Clearly the SIA and the government as a whole see this as a problem, and the SIA has been on a drive to improve the contribution rate. A target was set for a 2% increase in the contribution rate.

The contribution rate equation is fairly simple.

Contribution Rate = # of Actual Contributors/ # of people who meet contribution guidelines

You would expect that the agency officials in the local offices around Japan would be going around to meet people on the non-payments list (mostly people who are not in employment or are self-employed, as most companies deduct at source) and discuss the situation with the people who are refusing to pay, and attempt to convince these people to pay.

They probably did get some people to agree to start contributing.

However, what they have also been doing, is to put people on the exemptions list, many without having processed the necessary paperwork.

At the current count (some local agencies are dragging their feet about making the data available) more than 70,000 people have been exempted from the contributions scheme without the correct procedural paperwork. It seems the agency officials have been phoning people and allegedly getting people’s authorisation over the phone, and then filling out the paperwork themselves.

The pattern has been repeated all over the country, and the SIA has denied that they gave orders for this kind of manipulation of the statistics. So it would seem that individual offices (either separately or communicating directly amongst eachother to share tips) have taken the initiative to improve their numbers by reducing the denominator of the equation, rather than increasing the numerator. I would think the latter would be the correct procedure per the spirit of the initiative.

So, if it is true that the SIA head office was not encouraging these types of tactics, we have a huge number of local managers who clearly are more focussed on meeting a target by hook or by crook, than in maintaining the integrity of the social contributions scheme.

The government has been trying to push through social insurance reforms since the allegations of wastefulness and bad management came to light. The proposal basically means splitting the health insurance and pensions parts, and giving the new agencies new names. There are accusations that the government is just trying to rebrand these functions, so they can get rid of the tarnished SIA name. With these new allegations which suggest that the SIA is rotten to the core, a simple rebrand isn’t going to be an effective solution. Yet LDP politicians claim that they have to make that change because otherwise we are left with the SIA which we know is a problem. Does the LDP think the public are that stupid? Apparently so.

This attempt is another example of cosmetic reform, to deceive the voters. For all his rhetoric, many of Koizumi’s reforms are the same. Yet many voters still vote LDP.

The LDP may be right about the ignorance/apathy of the public. The media doesn’t help either, with its short attention span and appetite for tabloid newsfodder over serious issues. The media would suggest they are giving the public what they want. So it comes down to finding some way of enlightening the public, who have been educated and trained not to think too much about the serious issues which affect us all.

Search Engine Lowdown: MySpace in Talks with Google and MSN… not Yahoo May 25, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan.
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Search Engine Lowdown: MySpace in Talks with Google and MSN… not Yahoo

Makes sense for MySpace, who needs to monetize its eyeballs, and for search engines who get the eyeballs who spend a lot (too much?) time on MySpace. 

Thinking along those lines, Google, which isn't doing that well in Japan (relatively speaking, of course) should be pulling out all the stops and wooing Mixi, the leading Japanese SNS (and perhaps Gree, the (current) distant #2 as well) into switching over to Google from Goo, the current domestic incumbent search engine. Especially as the Goo search engine doesn't have paid listings.

Having said that, if Google does get MySpace, would there be a commercial conflict of interest when MySpace launches in Japan (later this year)…  I don't really think so.