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Acronyms August 15, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Internet, IT.
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Kenji Mori asks “why G,Y,M is ordered in that order?”

It is probably because “gym” is a real word, and easy to pronounce. The three letters ordered in any other way doesn’t work as well.

There was a trend towards giving some of the other internet giants (Amazon, Ebay, Fox/Newscorp (post MySpace acquisition) and maybe Time Warner/AOL?) credit by adding them to the acronym, but it didn’t really work and ended up in a weird alphabet soup.

So I went back and played mental scrabble with the letters at hand….
I suppose Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ebay, Newscorp would spell “GAY MEN”….

Imagine:

An entrepreneur in response to a VC’s question about exit strategy for his new web2.0 startup:

“We hope one of the GAY MEN will buy us…”
Errr.….  Somehow I don’t think “GAY MEN” will enter into the internet/Web2.0/VC vocabulary. Especially the alpha male dominated VC world.
OK, now that I have embarassed myself by showing that I am terrible at humour of this type, I look forward to suggestions….

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Rube Goldberg Machines August 15, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, technology.
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I do not condone copyright infringement, and that is a big problem I have with the likes of YouTube, who to gain critical mass inevitably have to turn a blind eye to infringement. Of course it would be less of a problem if traditional media outlets got with the programme and understood (or at least experimented in order to try to understand) how to leverage microchunking and distribution of content in a way that reflects positively on their bottom line.

But for an engineering type like me (a kind way of saying techie nerd), the clip below is just irresistable, and I have to spread my enthusiasm. The linked clip is of a compilation of various Rube Goldberg machines which were created by Keio University professor Masahiko Sato, who is a famous advertising movie planner/director and also happens to be the creator of the brilliant game I.Q.(and its sequels). He created the machines as part of his involvement with NHK Education channel’s Pythagoraswitch, a children’s education programme.

Of course, the ultimate in Rube Goldberg machines must be the one featured in the award winning ad for Honda, called “Cog“, a two minute long, single shot effort, which took over 600 takes to get perfectly right.

Lots to write about, not enough time August 7, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan.
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There are a bunch of things I have been meaning to write about, but I just haven’t had the time to sit down and compose my thoughts.

I’m in the UK at the moment (work, of course) and internet access is still poor. At least this is a work trip so I can charge the extortionate internet access charges which are the norm for UK hotels to the firm.

Some things I would like to write about in depth when I get the chance:

iza, the new(ish) site launched by the Sankei Shimbun newspaer, an attempt by old media to embrace blogs, tag clouds and Ajax.

The IPO of affilitate advertising outfit, ValueCommerce, a firm set up by a group of ex-pats. (thanks Gen for the reminder)

The fight for Hokuetsu Paper Mills between Oji Paper and Mitsubishi Corporation.

Leading Japanese VC NIF SMBC’s annoucement of a JPY60 Billion fund, and the impact of big fund sizes on the Japanese VC market.

ChuoAoyama announces that it will be rebranding, its new name, “Misuzu”.

Paloma Industries, another crisis management disaster July 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan.
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For the latest corporate crisis management disaster in Japan, let’s head to Nagoya and Paloma Industries.

Paloma Industries is a privately held company which is Japan’s #2 maker of gas powered water heaters (they also make other gas related equipment like gas cookers). It owns Rheem, the US water heater/HVAC company.

It has transpired that there have been more than 2 dozen incidents of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning related to the use of Paloma water heaters, resulting in more than 20 deaths going back more than two decades.

The company’s first press conference attributed the accidents to tampering of the saftey devices within the heaters which were designed to detect incomplete combustion. The implication was that the heaters were tampered with by either users or some third party over which Paloma had no control.

It now transpires that many of the cases of “tampering” are likely to have been known if not directed by Paloma. The problem began with a manufacturing fault with the safety unit, which resulted in a large number of units failing in the field. Replacements parts were in short supply, and repairers hotwired the units so that users would not be without hot water. It appears that at least some of these incidents were carried out with Paloma’s full knowledge.

Furthermore, the production of the spare safety units was terminated although Paloma had enough information to suggest that substantial numbers of units were likely to fail. (They did keep parts for the statuatory minimum 7 years)

The Paloma Industries group is a family owned business, with turnover of around $2Billion per year. It’s current 37 year old CEO is the 4th generation of the same family to head the company. His father is Chairman.

At a recent press conference where both were in attendance, each was attempting to shield the other from blame, which you could interpret as the lovely sight of father-son mutual love, or the out of touch behaviour of a family who presided over their own little kingdom. The problem with these mini-feudal organisations that are mega-family run businesses, is that the mere employees are often put in a situation where they are simultaneously demotivated by the promotional ceiling of a company where the top tier of management is defined by blood relationships, and work in a climate of fear/intimidation of a dictatorial boss which leads to poor communications and lack of transparency within the organisation.

It was sort of tragicomic to see one of the underlings attempt to cover his Chairman’s ass by stating that he was not sure if his boss was aware of the reported accidents, even after the Chairman had stated (to his credit, but then he has all but retired from the front line and was doing it mainly to deflect attention and responsibility from his son) that he had been briefed about the incidents at the time.

I guess the underling’s behaviour would have been lauded by many if not most Japanese in the past (even now?), but my personal opinion is that these people have a misplaced sense of loyalty. Of course, being a whistleblower is still very difficult in Japan, especially if you are a middle aged man without any outstanding skills as reemployment on similar terms is a remote possibility.

Unquestioning loyalty used to be the norm and a desirable characteristic. In this day and age, I think it should be seen as a character defect. Sign of a sheeple. A real man should stick to his principles and sense of justice (he should have a moral backbone and a decent set of principles in the first place, of course).

[Sidenote: I know things were different in WW2 (Japan wasn’t a signatory to the Geneva Convention for starters) but I happen to think that people who carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity (class B and class C war crimes) even if they were following orders, should not have been enshrined with the other soldiers who gave their lives for the nation – at least the ones found guilty of crimes severe enough to merit the handing down of the death penalty (about 1000 men in total).

I don’t see how crimes against peace are in such a different league to the other two types of war crimes, both of which seem to be equally dispicable (granted, Class A criminals directed the big picture but the individual acts of barbarism seem inhuman enough to me not to justify a honourable burial). I guess the alphabetical lettering makes it appear as if A>B>C in order of severity….]

[Endnote: Haven’t all these big Japanese companies heard of PR (or even more specifically, crisis communication) management companies? Given how pathetic most Japanese executives seem to be at handling actual communication, it would seem to be a great business to be in]

Cool Osaka? July 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan.
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Osaka, modelling itself on the UK’s Cool Britannia effort (which seems so 90’s) has announced the Osaka Brand Summit to be held on the 25th of October.

Apparently the aim is to convince people the rest of Japan and the world that there is more to Osaka than Takoyaki and Owarai.

Officials and the local business community have apparently launched this PR campaign worried that many people associate negative images like muggings (of which Osaka boasts the highest incidence in the country) and bad manners (Osaka-jin being stereotyped as loud mouthed and common, and having shocking driving manners).

I guess they forgot the fact that we also associate Osaka with a thriving underworld (e.g. the recent Asuka-kai scandal), a huge homeless problem (i.e. the de facto slums of the Airin district), and the imminent bankrupcy of the local municipal government burdened under 1) an immense amount of debt from financing public sector white elephant construction projects (which are defended as a) having provided work to the construction industry during a time when the industry in Osaka was hard hit, or b) the difference in actual vs calculated demand for the products of the construction projects could not have been foreseen at the time (which is clearly bullsh*t, but is a line offered by bureaucrats all over the country and hardly anyone is ever held accountably) and 2) an inefficient, lazy, money wasting, and militant bureaucratic public sector workforce.

To be fair, there is a strong manufacturing base in and around Osaka, the Matsushita and Sanyo related clusters being two major examples. But Sanyo’s difficulties of late are another big worry for Osaka…

Back to work July 14, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general.
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Apologies for the unannounced absence. I’ve been on a well deserved holiday, the first decent vacation in about 4 years. I’m back refreshed and raring to go.

I did a 10 day trip to Europe, most of the time spent in Italy. It was a foodie road trip, spending most of the time in Tuscany, returning to the region after a 10 year hiatus. The food and wine were enjoyable as ever. Tuscany seemed to be taken over by Americans whilst we were there, in August of course Tuscany becomes the English enclave called Chiantishire. Our most memorable nights were in rural Tuscany, in a wonderful hotel outside the village of Montalcino, renowned for its Brunello red wine. The hotel was located on a ridge with spectacular views of the valleys below filled with vineyards and olive trees. The weather was glorious, hot for sure, but with much less humidity than Tokyo, so I wasn’t sweating like a pig like I do everyday during my commute into work here.

The last couple of nights were spent in Milan, catching up on some shopping (it was sale season in Milan, as luck would have it), and just happened to coincide with the World Cup final, which meant that of course I had to head out to the Piazza del Duomo where a giant screen was set up hosting tens of thousands of mad italian football fans.  Howls of protest when the Zidane headbutt reply was shown, a massive cheer when the ref reached into his back pocket and showed red. You could hear a pin drop when the penalties were taken, the crowd bursting into cheers as the Italian players scored, and also when the French missed. After it was all over, absolute mayhem, into the early hours. It was great fun, I don’t suppose I’ll be in a country celebrating a World Cup victory with the locals very often. A memorable evening.

European hotels still mostly charge extortionate rates for internet access, and that was a good excuse to try to test my psychological dependency on internet access. I must say, it was hard. It really is psychologically addictive, more so than alcohol, and nearly as bad as nicotine withdrawal.
And now, back to work and blogging. A lot of backlog to process on both fronts….

Flooring materials June 15, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general.
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via 100shiki

This Puzzlefloor concept looks interesting, although I'd want to know what "northern hardwood" they are using in these floor panels. They mention the renewable nature of wood, temperate climate hardwoods aren't the fastest growing trees around.

These are advertised as "solid hardwood" pieces and that immediately led me to worry about warpage, although the pieces are intended to be glued down. Looking at the pictures posted in the gallery, it would appear that the individual pieces are comprised of a collection of (probably pressure glued) thinner pieces, like a butcher's block, this would reduce the tendancy to warp. However, the pieces are thin (5/8inch) and I wonder how much warpage might result, especially as there are inherently going to be lots of edges, and even slight bumps are irritably noticeable. 

With Japanese housing usually having poor thermal insulation and usually no central heating, wooden flooring gets mighty cold in the winter. Especially as the Japanese normally take their shoes off in the house. There are various underfloor heating systems available, but they would be wasted if they are placed beneath 16mm of wood and then adhesives and whatnot. I suppose we could wear indoor slippers around the house.

I still don't quite understand why modern Japanese housing is so poor at keeping the cold out. When the houses were built of wood and paper (or, post-war, wood and corrugated sheeting), it was unavoidable. But even in modern buildings, it gets so cold inside if you don't have a heater on or something. And yet hardly any houses are built with central heating. Surely it is more economical to build a integrated building wide central heating (and maybe cooling) system than to use the air conditioner on heater mode or use a portable electric fan heater. Or a oil heater, if your landlord allows. This is 21st century Tokyo and yet in the winter little trucks carrying heater fuel drive around Tokyo and people come out of their houses with plastic containers and buy heater fuel, and store this stuff in their homes. Sounds like an unnecessary fire hazard in metropolitan Tokyo. 

Broadcaster TBS on the Unification Church June 14, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general, Japan, Media.
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Japanese broadcaster TBS had a piece on air at the moment about the Unification Church on Sunday.

"Holy books" being sold for JPY30M each (yes, that is more than a quarter of a million US dollars). Vases and other artefacts are also available. Trips to the indoctrination center – oops I mean educuation center are also "encouraged", and available for a not inconsiderable fee of several thousand dollars. (You can go to South Korea for a weekend for as little as a couple of hundred dollars including airfare and hotels, by way of comparison)

"Donations" being demanded using psychological pressuring techniques, endoctrination sessions, and manipulative group psychology being used to ensnare unwitting victims (all par for the course for a religious cult). The Unification Church apparently tells its followers that unfortunate events in this life are due to the acts of one's ancestors, and tells followers that they should attend sessions where they are absolved of their ancestors' sins.

Promotional material claims that the burdens are responsible for a whole range of ills. Illness, infertility, personal problems, etc etc, and that absolution can resolve these problems.

There are laws and case law precedents which outlaw the recruiting of members preying on vulnerabilities, or using spiritual and self-improvement seminars or other apparently non-religious events to attract recruits. However there continue to be a long list of cases brought by ex-followers who are demanding the return of their hard earned money.

The program also revealed that the Unification Church, a major property developer in South Korea, is the biggest developer in the area which was bidding (and lost out to Vancouver) for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games owning the ski resort which would have hosted the Games.

It should be noted that TBS itself is rumoured to be closely associated with another major religious group (one that backs a major political party in Japan), so this piece is seen in some parts as competitor bashing disgused as journalism.

FedEx is pissing me off June 2, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general.
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I sent a package to Canada via FedEx and it has been stopped, in Anchorage, Alaska. 

Apparently the FDA rules post-911 (or perhaps more precisely post-Anthrax scare – which reminds me, what happened to that investigation?) mean that packages containing food which travel to the US are scrutinised and people sending stuff to the US need to submit a prior notice via the FDA website. Which is fine, every country can set its own laws. However, apparently the laws apply to goods which are transhipped through the US.

So my package got stuck in Alaska, and FedEx called me explaining the problem. They then said I had to make the appropriate filings, and send them a copy of the filings.

Not particularly wanting to volunteer personal information to a foreign government (not that they don't have me on their records already), I asked if they couldn't file the application (which the FDA rules state they can, if they wanted) but they insisted I had to do it. I then asked what happened if I didn't file the paperwork. They said the package would be shipped back. AT MY COST. Yeah, right. Over my dead body. (even if the FedEx account is paid by the company. as a matter of principle)

OK, so I didn't file the paperwork ahead of time, but I am not particularly familiar with the details of US import/export regulations and I think it is crazy to expect people to be aware of various requirements.

The package had a bill of lading which CLEARLY indicated that the package contained foodstuffs. The package was picked up, and processed at FedEx's facilities in Japan, and put on a plane and only when it arrived in Anchorage and refused entry at customs was the problem identified.

I would think that in this set of circumstances, FedEx are at fault for not picking up the problem before the package left Japan. It wasn't like they didn't have any way of knowing the contents of the package.  

I was thinking about telling FedEx that I wasn't going to file the paperwork and to get the package back to me. Then fight with them if they tried to get me to pay for the return shipping.

However, call me lazy, I decided that it would most likely be a waste of my time, so I did what the FDA required, and sent FedEx a copy of the paperwork. 24 hours later, FedEx's tracking system shows no change in status, and I have yet to receive any communication from FedEx. 

FedEx's service in Japan sucks. Big time.

A previous experience of their service resulted in a server (double boxed, in original boxes, with "fragile" and "sensitive electronic equipment inside" stickers all over the box)being delivered with the box looking like it had been dragged behind the FedEx van from the airport. The mild steel casing of the server was warped, suggesting it had been dropped at some point. Trying to fire the box up, the HDD made a funny noise and died.

The current experience reminded me why I don't use FedEx out of choice. I was so pissed off I am considering lobbying our admin department to switch international courier companies. After all, FedEx doesn't have a monopoly, and the best way to punish bad service is by voting with our wallets. (and telling the story to anyone who cares to listen)

Hopefully my package will arrive in Toronto sometime before the end of the year, vaguely intact. 

夫婦別姓の議論について May 25, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in general.
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カナダのCBCのホームページで興味深い記事を発見

北米では夫婦別姓は減少傾向にあるらしい。

結局別姓ってのは自己主張の表現方法ってことか。(理屈は後付けが多いので、本人が語る理由は本当の理由では無いと考えるべき)

仕事などで男女平等が進めば別姓で主張することが減るってことか。または社会(女性も含む)の保守化傾向の表れか。

ま、選択の自由はあってもいいとは思うが。なんか両方の姓をハイフンで繋げるのはいらないけど。

個人的には別に結婚した時に奥さんの姓を名乗ってもいいと思うくらいですから、どうでもいいですが。