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The World’s Best? April 23, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Food and Drink.
7 comments

Just came across the 2008 The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (sponsored by everybody’s favorite fizzy water, San Pellegrino)

I love lists like this. Especially when they are as flawed as this one.

4 restaurants in the top 50 outside of Europe and the USA?

Since the list’s inception in 2002, only 2 restaurants in Japan have been on this list. Sukiyabashi Jiro, and the New York Grill….. The New York Grill???? (up at the top of the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku) OK, the NY Grill isn’t that shabby, but as far as Tokyo restaurants go, there must be dozens which are better.

OK, so the voting mechanism is flawed, it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine that European and North American foodies tend to concentrate most of their time between these two continents….

But still….. I’m sure most of the restaurants on this list are great, but unfortunately I’ve only been to a small handful, mostly the ones in London.

And, to be honest, I really can’t see how places like Nobu London, Hakkasan and St John deserve regular spots in the Top 50. Unless the others on the list are equally average.

I mean, the food at St John (#16 this year) is great, I’ve always enjoyed my meals there, but would it cross my mind when considering a venue for my last supper? No.

And the other two…. Neither would get into Shin’s Top 50 restaurants in London, let alone the world.

Nobu London (#30), where the markup on their sake (compared to Japanese _retail_ price) is above and beyond 500%. Where the (mostly Eastern European, when I went last) waiters were really rather clueless. And most distressing of all, on each and every occasion, at least some part of the food was grossly sub-par for the price. Not being one to make a scene, I didn’t object to the piece of sashimi which would have offended customers at a cheap Izakaya chain here in Tokyo. Or their apparent use of industrial soy sauce on another occasion.

Hakkasan, what can I say. Cocktails? Perfect for the UK binge drinking culture perhaps. You’d need to be smashed to think that these cocktails were anything a real bartender would admit to mixing. Food? OK, but definitely not worth the price. You could have much better Chinese food in a dozen restaurants in London.

If you thought the Michelin Guide to Japan was bad…….

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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…

The GM crops issue April 21, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Environment, Food and Drink.
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Reading the IHT today, couldn’t help but notice that the headline replaces what I thought was the usual GM tag for the more high tech, less sinister sounding?, “biotech” “In lean times, biotech crops are less taboo, IHT

Anyway….

What if the surge in prices isn’t just about hedge funds pumping up the commodity markets and the criminal non-cellulosic bioethanol drive, but also partly due to the fact that GM crops are directly contributing to this trend due to lower yields, as a University of Kansas study has found (Independent).

If any academic institutions were able to be bought out by the agribusiness lobby, surely this one would be an easy target being situated right in the middle of the US grain belt…..

Mixi revises ToU to exploit users March 4, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan.
11 comments

New (revised) Mixi Terms of Use have been announced as coming into effect on April 1st. (Mixi is of course Japan’s #1 SNS site with 10million+ users)

By agreeing to the ToU (which all users implicitly do by continuing to using the service):

1. Users grant Mixi a no-royalty, non-exclusive rights (of replication, broadcasting, public transmission, display, distribution, translation, alteration, etc) to any content uploaded onto Mixi servers.

2. Users agree not to assert their moral rights against Mixi. [Moral rights include the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work. source:Wikipedia]

When the new ToU comes into effect, the terms will apply retroactively to content uploaded before the changes to the ToU.

What this means is that Mixi can take any content (not just diary or community posts but also private correspondance via the message feature), ignore any access controls which are in effect within Mixi and potentially profit from content created by users.

However, the responsibility for the content remains with the original content owner….

I wonder if the user community will revolt and cause Mixi to back down on this blatant attempt to exploit its user base. In any case, my Mixi account will be deleted by the end of March unless they reconsider this change to their ToU.

As a publicly traded company, you would think they’d think things through before they dropped a bomb like this which would alienate their users. I can see why Mixi wants to leverage (exploit, given the currently proposed terms) the potential of the user generated content created by its 10million+ community, but this seems to be a heavy handed and ill-thought out way to achieve it.

But I guess they are in good company. Gree (Japan’s #2 SNS)’s ToU isn’t much better in this area. Facebook’s ToU in this area is similarly dubious.

What part of “users should own their own data” don’t the SNS operator community not understand? Just imagine if ISPs or phone companies or the post office asserted similar rights….

Japanese video sharing site February 29, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Internet.
6 comments

For those people who come to this blog via a search engine with Japanese YouTube as keywords, I guess I should point you out to Nico Nico Douga.

I don’t think I’ve posted about this before, mainly because I’m not big fans of the 2ch culture which pervades the site. (No coincidence, given the involvement of  Hiroyuki Nishimura)

Not a big fan of Dwango which operates the site either.

Anyway, there you have it, Japan’s most popular homegrown video sharing site, rife with the same blatant disregard for copyright but with an extra seasoning of 2ch otaku culture.

God only knows why the site garnered a “Good Design Award” in 2007, but then that Award was given out to over 1000 products and designs last year….. Other “highlights” of last year’s awards. Second Life. A Hermann Miller copycat office chair.

Where is the Japanese IPO market headed this year? February 28, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Finance, Japan.
3 comments

I predict that the Japanese IPO market is going to be very quiet this year. There were 121 IPOs last year, and a start of year survey of market professionals by the Nikkei saw 15 out of 39 respondents suggesting that we should see 100-120 IPOs. Just under 20% of respondents said the number was going to be <100. This would mean that around 40% of “professionals” think we might get more than 120 IPOs this year.

Yeah, right.

Try somewhere south of 86, which is the number in 1998.

The general uncertainty surrounding the financial markets doesn’t help and the IPOs so far this year have been dismal. Out of 7IPOs, 5 floated below the offer price (and have not made progress since).

There is also likely to be a one-off moratorium on IPOs at the end of the year, due to the transition of the scheduled introduction of electronic stock certificates in 2009. Estimates for the moratorium range from anywhere between 1~3months. Given the competence of the TSE in IT related matters, I would guess it will be at the long end of that range.

What that will mean is that the listed VC firms are likely to come out with bad numbers this year, with a real likelihood that some will plunge into the red.

Will Japanese VCs finally realize that the game has changed, and they need to change their business model? We shall see, but I am less than optimistic.

The old school firms have traditionally mostly engaged in a “spread it wide and thin” strategy, and have benefited from the increased IPO activity mainly in the new markets set up to allow smaller (but allegedly growing) companies to list.

However, my personal opinion is that it would be foolish (and plainly wrong) to expect the same throughput of IPOs going forward. Since the listing requirements were relaxed, we have had a significant number of companies listing due to a “flexible” interpretation of listing requirements by underwriters and exchanges, especially with regards to the fact that companies should have the potential for high future growth. Post-IPO performance for too many companies has been poor, as their growth has disappointed investors. I believe that underwriters and the exchanges have a lot to answer for. Now the average investor has caught on (the fact that private individuals make up so much of the volume is also a problem, given the size of companies and the relaxed regulations), hitherto inflated valuations have come down to more realistic levels.

The “new school” VC firms, either independent or affiliated with newly cash rich firms who got out onto the market when the valuations were still frothy, do not escape the change in investor sentiment. There have been too many hyped IPOs where investors comprised a significant proportion of the customer base. Drecom, which listed 2 years ago, is a perfect example. Drecom, at its post-IPO peak, was worth about $1B. Two years later, it is worth less than $40M. And in its second year as a public company (year ending March 07), posted a loss of nearly JPY249M on sales of JPY843M. The previous year saw a profit of JPY256M on sales of JPY703M. The year before that, it was JPY89M on sales of PY238M. Funny how the growth stagnates (and profits fall through the roof) pretty much as soon as the company lists. And public market investors appear to have caught on.

To put it bluntly, this is just one example of a case where the interests of the company, investors=customers, and underwriters were aligned, and were able to take advantage of the market’s naivety (easy to do when the majority of players are OAPs, housewives or people looking for an alternative for the pachinko parlour or horses) by creating a growth story and unrealistically insisting that the curve will continue post-IPO. I can’t imagine that the insiders were not well aware of the reality of the situation.

This kind of IPO is easy when you have companies able to list on single digit $M sales, and you have a large/cash rich customer/”strategic” investor who is willing to buy services preferentially from you in return for a potentially valuable equity stake. But this model only works when the valuations are in arithmetically silly territory, and the net sum required to be injected into the company (via equity and also via buying services to pad out the company financials) is likely to be less than the capital gain achievable in an IPO. If a company required sales in significant double or even triple digit $M territory, there just aren’t that many companies who could (and would) engage in this kind of financial engineering.

Everyone appears to still be turning a blind eye to this kind of behaviour, even though the pattern is clear to see. Pre-IPO investors and insiders may win, but investors (again, mostly private individuals) lose. I do understand the whole caveat emptor thing, but you can’t invoke that if you are saying that the market IS regulated (which it should be).

The failure of market regulation is clear to see. More than that, there is more than a whiff of market manipulation and even maybe fraud in the air. If this were the US, we’d have seen a bunch of shareholder lawsuits already.

The valuation hyping is aided and abetted by NO and also the media (and retail securities firms), which seems to be populated with way too many novices from the naive tat they churn out – that is of course if you believe that they aren’t also in on the game….

And yet the politicians, bureaucrats and market insiders keep going on and on about how to reassert Japan’s presence as a major financial hub. The Japanese markets, especially at the lower end, lack credibility. Without changes to the system (even if it means seeing a drastic cut in IPOs), savvy financial investors aren’t going to touch these markets with a bargepole. I can’t help thinking if it is all one big conspiracy to suck financial assets out of peoples’ saving accounts and into the pockets of certain interests.

Twitter is currently broken February 28, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Internet.
1 comment so far

When I go to twitter.com, I get randomly signed in as someone else. Click on “logout”, and I can jump to another person’s page. and so on.

Someone has already landed on my page and added some juvenile comment. I only post to twitter via twitterfox, so stuff updated via the web page isn’t me, in case anyone was wondering.

Got to the settings page, and harvest lots of email addresses. Oh, this is F*cking great work, twitter….. NOT.

Blog widget for flickr users February 28, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT.
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The uber-geeks at Glucose have released a (free) pretty blog widget called flickrflow to display flickr photos on your blog. (I’ve sort of given up waiting for them to get their act together and embark on a more serious commercial effort this decade, but they are certainly technically talented)

As one might imagine, it is a slideshow app widget inspired by Apple’s Cover Flow.

It is pretty, but this isn’t a photo blog, and however hard I try, I can’t get into the habit of taking photos (though I still think I would prefer taking photos to having photos taken of me). But it might be of interest to people more into photography (if the widget doesn’t make a mess of the finely tuned (yeah, right) UI layout you’ve created for your blog).

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Hopefully this post will mark a resurgence in posting, it’s been rather quiet of late.

JSDF cancels exercises due to bad weather January 14, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Uncategorized.
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Just watching the news on the TV, showing footage of the annual Army JGSDF exercises (held mainly for the benefit of the Defense Minister and other top brass) at Narashino Camp held today. Unlike normal years, this year’s exercises apparently lacked the traditional parachute drop.

Reason: Strong wind…. (admittedly it is very windy and cold today here in Tokyo)

I guess any potential aggressors will be courteous enough to launch an attack only when the weather is accommodating…..

“The tyrrany of qwerty” December 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Personal Blogroll, technology.
7 comments

Gen has a post titled as above, referencing an article in which he was quoted.

As comments are still broken chez Kanai, I’m got to write about it here. (Gen: hint. ditch MT ;-))

Gen writes:

My quote is:

“To a certain extent, Asia is a slave to the alpha keyboard, [..]”

I’m pretty sure I said qwerty keyboard, but I’ll let Jeff slide 😉

I’d posit that Jeff’s liberal quote is more accurate. It is not really QWERTY that is the problem, as Dvorak or Maltron or any of the other proposed keyboard layouts which also assume alphanumeric requirements are equally “guilty”.

Gen’s quote continues:

“Many input methods for languages like Chinese and Japanese require knowledge of the Roman alphabet to use, which is crazy when you think of it. Imagine if the PC was developed in China and everyone in the rest of the world needed to know Chinese before inputting their own alphabet. Well, that’s the case for a lot of PC users in China and Japan.”

The more important point is this. Japanese input does not _require_ any knowledge of the Roman alphabet. OK, so Gen said “many”, but to ignore the fact that Japanese PCs come as standard with an ability to input text based on the Japanese alphabet is glossing over a not so trivial detail. All common keyboards sold in Japan have letters of the Japanese alphabet assigned in parallel to the alphanumeric markings (and there are plenty of keys to cover the entire Japanese alphabet. Typically the space bar is also shortened to add a few extra buttons to do things like hira/kata switching). You can even buy keyboards with markings which gives more prominence to the Japanese alphabet than the roman alphabet. I bet Gen’s Macbook has a US keyboard…. 🙂

And as for the software side of things, all common OSes understand the key mappings required to type in Japanese. (And creating a new driver for any new input device is trivial)

I know literally just one single person who actually uses Japanese alphabet input in preference to phonetic (roman alphabet) input on their PC, though.

The current Japanese keyboard format is the so-called “old” JIS format, they actually tried to popularise a newer version but they killed that off due to lack of traction….

I guess if we were to design a Japanese keyboard from scratch, would it contain keys in 5 rows rather than 4? (to reflect the traditional set of 5 grouping in the Japanese alphabet) Do we set up the groups right to left in the traditional layout, or do we go for a layout which is closer to the existing JIS layout? Do we even want to bother in the increasingly heterolingual world we live in? Would there be a real productivity increase?