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Torture victim’s records “lost” at Guantánamo April 21, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in crime, law, Overseas.
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From The Guardian….

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/21/guantanamo.humanrights

Ah, how very convenient.

Mind you, at least they have the infrastructure to record audio/video evidence.

Which is much more than suspects in the Japanese criminal system are afforded.

The Japanese police must have much to hide. How safe are convictions in a system which does not force the prosecution to share evidence with the defence? Not much better in the civil courts either…

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How long will the PV venture funding boom continue? September 14, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Energy, Japan, Overseas.
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Lots of and lots of money being ploughed into photovoltaics at the moment, especially hot is non-Si thin film solar. Nanosolar, Heliovolt, Miasole, Solyndra, DayStar, the list goes on. Each one has raised tens of millions of $ of VC financing. Most of these non-Si PV companies are doing CIGS (Cu-In-Ga-Se) thin films or variations thereof, but it seems things are not going to plan in the world of thin film solar ventures. Lots of reported management changes, including this latest one, but the money keeps pouring in.

It appears the companies are finding the transition from the lab to factory a bit more difficult than they had imagined.

To be fair, First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR)seems to be doing great, recently closing a $1B+ deal with EdF. (Current market cap $7.2B) They have a different technology, based on a CdTe thin film process.

Meanwhile, Si-based PVs keep on being cranked out, and the supply side issues for Si are being addressed with PV grade Si production ramping up.

Of course, some people are further along the path to mass production CIGS-type PV cell production. Whilst Japan is recognized as a significant player in Si PV production, the competition to the thin film PV ventures from Japanese interests have not really been convered in much detail (the cleantech community seems aware of these Japanese players, but the investment community seems to prefer to pretend this competition does not exist). You see statements like this from the above CNET article –

“CIGS aren’t in mass manufacturing yet anywhere and cracking that problem is proving tricky. There are several companies trying to bring products out and each has a slightly different manufacturing technique.”

Honda Soltec, a 100% subsidiary of Honda Motor Company, has been selling CIGS modules since June 2007. Soltec’s manufacturing facility is currently just 27.5MW/yr, but it is expected that Honda will ramp up as large scale manufacturing techniques are validated.

Showa Shell also announced that they are building a second factory to produce CIS based modules adding a further 60MW/yr to the current 20MW/yr from their first factory which began operations last year.

Both companies have years/decades of R&D behind them, and they have immense resources in manufacturing at their disposal. I know what kind of company I would bet on to succeed in the lab to mass production transition, all else being equal. (My investment thesis focuses on this qualifier. There are plenty of areas for improvement in the current state of the art in thin film manufacturing)

Interesting to note, both companies have their PV factories in Kyushu. Kyushu, which was already dubbed Silicon Island due to its strength in the semiconductor sector (major players with production facilities include Sony, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electric, Rohm, Toyoda Gosei, TI Japan,Canon, Kyocera, Renesas, NEC, AKM, Matushita, Yamaha, Pioneer) is rapidly becoming photovoltaic island as well, with Honda Soltec and Showa Shell being joined by players such as Fuji Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (both a-Si manufacturers), and SUMCO recently announcing that they are building a new PV silicon wafer plant in Imari with a n equivalent capacity of 300MW/yr.

i-mode’s global expansion is faltering July 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, IT, Mobile, Overseas, technology.
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Reuters reports that both Telstra (Aus) and O2 (UK) are abandoning i-mode.

I guess this just highlights the difference between the mobile scene in Japan vs elsewhere.

I would like to point out that the following statement from an industry analyst:

 “In the i-mode business model, operators keep only a small amount of content revenue, making most of their money by charging for data network usage,” […] “But regular users of the Internet on mobiles will become increasingly dissatisfied with ‘having the meter running’ while they surf, and the trend is already moving in favour of flat-rate data tariffs.”

is misleading in that flat rate tarrifs are available with i-mode on DoCoMo, and as such the i-mode business model is not tied to a metered data service.

If the reports of the O2/Apple iPhone deal are correct, I would suggest that O2 is betting that users will embrace the “full” internet on the phone and make i-mode redundant.

I’m still not convinced that continously zooming and scrolling to read a page not optimized for a phone’s limited size is the best option for users….

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….

Japanese VC bloggers August 9, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Overseas, VC.
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Last week I was in London and met with fellow VC blogger Jason Ball, and we got on the topic of VC bloggers in Europe and Japan, specifically the apparent lack of them (at least as far as blogging in English is concerned).

In that spirit….

I found a new blog written by another London based VC, Shantanu Bhagwat of Amadeus, who I also happened to meet last week. Shantanu didn’t tell me the name of his blog, but mentioned he had started one, so I dug around and found his blog so I thought I’ll out him here. Shantanu is originally from India, and has spent time in Japan as well.

Japanese (self-professed) VC bloggers are few and far between. There are a few VC bloggers who blog in Japanese, maybe a dozen or so blogs on the first couple of pages for this search for “venture capitalist” in Japanese.

As for English language VC blogs, I am embarassed to say that this blog is the first blog that appears when Googling for a combination of Japan/Japanese and Venture Capitalist/VC (for japanese+venture+capitalist, Joi Ito’s blog is the top entry, does Joi count as a VC? anyway for the other combinations my blog seems to be the solitary blog on the first page of results)….

It’s a pity because I think everyone will win from a more diversified discussion on-line. If there are any VC lurkers reading this, please join us on-line. It would be great to have different VC perspectives from various locales represented on-line.

PS Jason and I were in complete agreement that Peter Rip, the MD at Leapfrog Ventures, is posting some absolutely cracking content recently.

SBI creates India fund August 9, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Overseas, VC.
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SBI Holdings has announced it is creating a $100M fund in partnership with SBI Capital Markets Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Bank of India, to invest in Indian venture businesses.
SBI Holdings are a leading Japanese venture capital player, with current investments of more than $1B at book value spread over a number of funds. Its VC investments are primarily managed through its Softbank Investment Corporation subsidiary.

Softbank Investment Corporation set up an identically sized ($100M) fund focussing on China in 2005, together with Temasek, the Singaporean government’s investment vehicle.

SBI Holding and its subsidiaries also make overseas investments through some of its other funds as well.

SBI Holdings was in the news just last week, when Softbank Corporation sold off its 26.7% stake in SBI Holdings. 19.2% of the shares was reportedly snapped up by Goldman Sachs Japan.

The move has been widely expected, SBI Holdings and Softbank Corporation have been heading in different directions and there have been persistent rumours that the respective CEOs have not been on good terms in recent years, and Softbank needs money to finance the operations of its expensive Vodafone purchase.

“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. 

What is the local government running the show anyway? May 23, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Overseas, technology.
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From NaviGadget (via TRENDS): Cabbies striking in Philly

My question is, what is the local government (Philadelphila Parking Authority) doing supervising taxis anyway? It seems like a really inefficient way to offer cab services in a city.

GPS seems to make a lot of sense for cab companies who need to allocate cars to call-in customers, or to optimise coverage. Lots of cab companies in Tokyo now have GPS in their cars. Many Tokyo cabbies also need GPS because many of them are recent job migrants from outside Tokyo and have no clue about getting from A to B. Problem with GPS based route navigation is that the recommended routes are virtually all on the major roads which get clogged up. Why do I have to teach cabbies the back routes, and pay full price for the ride? Because it would be more expensive (both in terms of money and time) if I let the cabbies take the congested arterial roads? 

I'd call for a Tokyo version of The Knowledge to be made mandatory. That and basic manner lessons for some of the cabbies, too.

On the theme of local government providing transport services, what is with busses operated by local authorities? These bus drivers paid a bit too much, me thinks. Ditto for refuse collection. As members of the public sector, they get paid way too much compared to the private sector. Does it really make sense for a refuse collector to be getting paid $80k a year?  Ah, the life of a public sector worker. Decent pay, short hours, job security.