明けましておめでとうございます 2017

Happy New Year 2017. This year, for the first time in 9 years, I was back in the UK for Xmas and New Year, and much of that was on the road, so this post is a little late.

New Year was a more UK style ‘drinks at midnight’ affair with the family, and though I was planning a hatsuhinode morning sunrise viewing, heavy cloud and rain put an end to that unfortunately.

We’re now back in Japan, so there are some New Year traditions to sort out this weekend, then it’s figuring out snowboarding trips and potentially, a change of motorbike.

All the best to everyone for 2017.

My Kiva.org Update 2015

kiva

I’ve covered Kiva a few times over the years I’ve been ‘lending’ through it, so I thought I’d put up a post about where I am as we copme to the end of 2015.

At the end of 2014, I’d lent 125USD total in 3 years, and lamented I was far behind the average 330USD lend rate, and having just 50USD to rotate through loans.

Now I’ve got 105USD on deposit with Kiva, and have made 300USD in loans. I’ve also donated some money to Kiva itself. I think that counts as a good year for my Kiva involvement, and I hope in 2016 I can put a little more in there. I also collected all 7 of the ‘Social Performance’ badges, which is one of the ways Kiva tries to gamify the experience a little.

One thing I will say though is that I see quite a lot of small US businesses on there now, which you wouldn’t see before, such as a Manhattan fresh food start up. It’s certainly no bad thing, just something I hadn’t noted before. For my part, I think I’ll keep my small loan rotation focused on other parts of the world.

Kiva on, people.

 

 

 

Modern Hoaxes & Frauds from Japan

One thing that seems to happen all over the world, are hoaxes and frauds, like Piltdown Man, crop circles and Justin Bieber being a lizard, to name but three. Some have been subtle,  and yet others were put on display almost as challenge hoaxes, such as those by entrepreneur P.T. Barnum.  Many fall somewhere in the middle.

Is there a difference between a hoax and a fraud? I’m going to say a fraud is pretty much a hoax in these situations, but where someone has intentionally benefited either financially or through reputation. Let’s say that shall we? Here then, are four hoaxes/frauds from Japan over the last couple of decades.

When is a stem cell not a stem cell?

Early 2014 was an interesting time in Japan with the rollercoaster scientific ride which was RIKEN and Obokata-san’s announcement they could re-program adult cells to become stem cells in a process called STAP (Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency). This was an exciting announcement, given with great fanfare in January 2014, making Obokata a celebrity in Japan, right down the apron she claimed to get from her grandmother which she wore during the experiments (and later proved to be largely untrue).

This news of a simple way to create stem cells was published in Nature magazine in fact – not a lightweight outfit in itself. The Japanese media lapped it up.

Quickly though, many peers became unimpressed, initially citing doctored images, and by April 2014, these doubts had made Obokata quite irritated, and so the press rallied to support her, given the pressure being put on their allegedly photogenic star scientist.

However, it was all for naught. In July, Nature retracted the paper as Obokata could not recreate the results she claimed to have been able to do 200 times, neither could any other lab;  her mentor – Yoshiki Sasai  – tragically committed suicide just a few months later,  in August. It all came to a close in December when Obokata resigned, after six months working with an independent team and still not managing to recreate her results.

Like most hoaxes/frauds, this one took a lot of time in the checking and unraveling which could have been better spent researching in what is a very worthy field, so I label this one a fraud, and given allegations Obokata hadn’t been entirely honest on her doctorate submission, we await if she can make a comeback in the field.

 

Not The New Beethoven-san

It seemed that for years a man called Mamoru Samuragochi had been earning a fairly tidy living being known as a deaf composer, indeed a modern day Beethoven – except that he wasn’t actually writing the music. Also, he might not even be deaf.

The music was actually being written by another composer, a music teacher named Takashi Niigaki, who effectively was ghostwriting for the rather more flamboyant and charismatic Samuragochi.

This all came out in February 2014 (a good time for these things in Japan it seems), when the composition “Hiroshima Symphony #1” was about to be used by one of Japan’s Olympic skaters at the Sochi Olympics. In fact the truth was outed by none other than Niigaki himself. I expect since this was on an international stage, Niigaki decided it was time to get some personal credit for his work.

Incidentally, the New York Times called Samuragochi ‘beloved’, and referred to the incident as a hoax, but I’m going to have to call fraud on this one. The two were in cahoots for 18 years, and whilst I don’t doubt either of them had talent, they needed each other – would Niigaki’s work have received the same attention it had done if it was he doing the PR for it, or does it get more attention to have a hippy looking, deaf  ‘composer’ fronting the works?

Sadly I can’t find any details of how it works under copyright, but Niigaki claims he’s received 70,000USD for his work with Samuragochi, and with his tune soon to be getting massive exposure in Japan with the popular skater Daisuke Takahashi, I have to assume the timing was related financially.

That Samuragochi may not be totally deaf is just another twist on this, as claimed by Niigaki and others, and even the man himself admitted, “The truth is that recently I have begun to hear a little again.”

The proof in this one is the calibre of future works by either of them.

 

I’m Your Biggest Fan!

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that may not be the case when the other person doesn’t know you’re doing it, you’re claiming it as your own, and accepting awards and money for it.

In 2006, Yoshihiko Wada received a fairly prestigious award in Japan – the “Education, Science and Technology Minister’s Art Encouragement Prize”, except that, following an anonymous tip, it was alleged that Wada had in fact copied some of ‘his’ works from an Italian artist, Alberto Sughi.

If you look at two of the items side by side, they do look a little more than similar more than similar – that’s assuming you can find images as they seem a little scarce nowadays.

Sughi vs. Wada
Sughi vs. Wada (from kispad.hu)

It’s not as if Wada had just randomly found the images either – he’d met Sughi whilst in Italy, studying, and claims to have worked with him, which might be stretching it a little, since that’s not how Sughi remembers it – he thought Wada was a fan and remembers he took a lot of photos of his work.

“I never knew he was producing works like this. They’re stolen” – Sughi

This then, has the added wrinkle of plagiarism to it, making this the only one here most definitely not a hoax. Wada also lost the award – and the tidy sum of money associated with it, and given his defence argument, it’s not difficult to see how:

“I borrow others’ compositions and add my own ideas,” he insisted. “Only artists who’ve studied abroad can understand the subtle differences in nuance.” – Wada via BBC

I’m not sure where he’s going with that, and neither it seemed, did his peers. It seems like he thinks it’s OK because it was outside Japan, so no one inside Japan would notice? Perhaps he underestimated the global nature of modern art.

The sad thing here, like most artistic frauds,  is that Wada seems to be a fair painter in his own right, a body of work which is now likely to be discredited or even ignored after this.

Making up History

I’ve saved one of the older hoaxes till last, because for some reason, I find this one the most annoying.

Shunichi Fujimura was an amateur archaeologist who participated in over 180 digs around Japan, and was responsible for making incredible finds which raised huge questions about when humans had first arrived in the archipelago, and thus how and from where they had come. At each dig it seemed he’d find stone objects in ground strata which suggested they were much older than expected.

In late 2000, he and a team had been working at a site near Tsukidate in Miyagi Prefecture, and after a few decent finds, Fujimura announced they’d found proof of human dwellings almost 600,000 years old. That’s a significant difference to what was then believed – most estimates put it at around 40,000 years ago that people had arrived in modern day Japan, via land bridges from mainland Asia.

It seemed almost unbelievable – and indeed, it was. The man had his doubters, and it seems they were correct when Mainichi Shimbun released photos of him actually burying the finds before they were excavated. They then did an interview with him, and he tearfully confessed that pretty much all of his most impressive finds were fraudulent, some going back to the 1970s.

That someone would do this to aggrandize their standing in a community may be understandable, for it did gain Fujimura a great deal of respect and drew admiration from peers, with the Japan Archaeological Association [JAA] and even local and national governments, some of which themed tourism campaigns around the finds.

It’s not clear though as an ‘amateur’ archaeologist, how much this financially benefited Fujimura, or whether it was just the adulation he craved. The man himself, by way of explanation said something along the lines of ‘being tempted by the devil’. This perhaps parallels that he was sometimes referred to as having ‘divine hands’ when it came to finding exciting artifacts.

Eventually, when he was outed by the Mainichi, he seemed to come clean as to the scale and duration of the lies, meaning much of his work could be quickly debunked, and updates were made in many textbooks to reflect that various sections they contained were now known to simply not be true.

So why does this one annoy me? Mainly because some scholars based years – decades – of research on his findings, trying to figure out and piece together the history Fujimura’s finds suggested, and the generation of archaeologists who would have to unlearn his findings from their textbooks. That’s a lot of other people’s time wasted for an ego boost. Some suggested he did it for vague nationalistic reasons, but I think was just an average man who got  swept up by fame and forced himself to make the next ‘find’ even more incredible than the last, perhaps not appreciating the knock-on effects these finds had internationally. A review by peers found that the JAA was also somewhat at fault, in not checking for tell-tale staining and other environmental effects on the finds, which should’ve raised questions earlier.

 

So there are four hoaxes from the Japanese archipelago over the last few years, which join the thousands of others from around the world. Some hoaxes are sometimes started as a bit of fun, such as the crop circles, but as with many things, many seem to have more serious intent, either for fame or simply money. Having looked at these four, I came away at least thinking they should have taken a leaf out of P.T. Barnum‘s book and managed to put on a bit of a show with some of these!

 

The Fee Jee Mermaid

 

 

 

Nexus 7

So last month I bought my first tablet – a Google/Asus Nexus 7.

Nexus 7
Courtesy of Google Play Store

There hasn’t been much in the way of gadget updates here in a while, due mainly to a lack of necessity and general interest to be honest, but one of my personal situations, is that I have a decent commute to deal with on a daily basis, and I’ve wanted something with a slightly larger screen to watch documentaries than my phone, and read some textbooks on which are mainly .pdf based, and thus a little too complex for my normal Kindle Reader. One thing I have learned from my Kindle though, is that that form factor is great for reading whilst sitting or standing on the train.

The iPad never really grabbed me for this task, just feeling that bit too bulky and heavy, and judging from my fellow commuters, that must have been right as there aren’t many people with them on my JR line.

Previous Android tablets just seemed to lack a certain polish to me, but when the Nexus 7 came out, it piqued my interest, so I put a bit of money aside, and picked up the 32GB version (24,800yen / ~290USD/ ~ 180GBP)  the same weekend the iPad Mini came out – though that was 13,000yen more!

The Tegra 3 based hardware is excellent, and rugged – the rear mounted speaker is surprisingly good for film watching and podcasts, and the sound quality via the headphone socket seems decent. The tablet is snappy, and media playback of even 720p material on the 1280×800 display looked fantastic. There’s no point me going overboard on details here – you can easily pull reviews of this thing off the web. One the hardware side though, note that you don’t get headphones or much else with this – just a USB power adapter and micro USB cable.

My only previous Android experience had been on a phone I borrowed, so I was essentially new to the Android system. It probably took as long to figure out as an iOS device really, from scratch. The Google Play store isn’t bad but it takes a little getting used the scary sounding access rights the apps ask for, but basically this is just putting up front what iOS apps are doing anyway. As for finding the apps, I’m still figuring out some equivalents – all the main social apps are there, but I’m still looking for a podcatcher like Downcast, though I’m currently testing a few out. I have to say though, being able to just install stuff on this thing after plugging it in, and not have to mess around with iTunes feels great, though you now sort-of have to manage the files. Also note you need a special app installed on a Mac to mount it currently (Android File Transfer).

In summary then, the Nexus 7 has exceeded my expectations – it’s very smooth and reliable, has decent battery life, and can survive being the recipe guide during Sunday Dinner preparations and  has survived both kids abusing it. (Note that for novels, I still use the Kindle)

The 2011 Nutshell

I’ve never been one for massive reviews of the year just gone by – it always seemed somewhat redundant if not impossible to squeeze 365 days into a post – but here’s a few observations of 2011, and some things I’m hoping to look into in 2012.

Obviously 2011 was dominated as far as events go by the massive earthquake of March 11th, and the thousands which followed it and the social questions it triggered. Right now it seems we’re back to ‘normal’ levels of earthquakes. It was all quite surreal. For me, the trip to Iwate to help in some of the tsunami clean up re-enforced how resilient people can be in the face of true tragedy, even the though the continued leaking from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor captured the news headlines.

On a smaller, but also personal note, our family car was written off in July by some person running a red light, but thankfully no one was injured in either vehicle. It also seemed odd that in 2011, hospital staff were complimenting us on having our kids fastened into the appropriate child and baby seat, but it brings home the fact that still in Japan, children are either held by parents (or more usually, grand-parents), or are allowed to wander around the vehicles whilst in motion.

But enough about me.

One thing I have been following was my meagre 25USD Kiva investment, which is now 91% paid back by the Mật Sơn 1- Đông Vệ Group, who I loaned the money to as part of a larger group loan to help their manufacturing business. I’m now going to re-invest that amount into another group, and add another 50USD to my fund and support another group. Right now I’m looking at fishing as well as manufacturing in Asia. I think microloan groups are a worthy investment to help communities grow and support themselves, and since I live in Japan, any money would accrue such tiny interest it’s hardly worth it anyway.

This blog actually hasn’t done too badly this year, going from ~150 to 450 views per month, but it’s a personal thing, so thanks to those people who visit it. Every now and then I think I should spend more time on it, or concentrate on a single vertical, but in truth, I’m interested in a lot of things, so it’s unlikely I could ever settle on one thing. WordPress does let me pull out the five most popular posts of 2011 though, so here they are!

1. Home page
2. Dog Day (犬の日)
3. The Baker and the Bromate
4. Volunteering in Iwate Prefecture
5. New Header Photo: Heads
6. Quakebook

OK, so the home page doesn’t really count I suppose, hence the #6 in there. The Dog Day post I noticed a while ago constantly gets a few views per week, which has convinced me to do a few more articles on perhaps lesser known Japanese cultural traditions. ‘The Baker and the Bromate’ was probably the most researched post I’ve ever done, and I was quite pleased with it; the ‘Volunteering in Iwate’ pretty much wrote itself, and I was pleased to receive a few emails to say it’d helped people prep for their own work there. The new header photo post making the top 5 is probably more of a tribute to Jaume Plensa and his sculpture work – thanks Jaume! Bringing up the top five then was my review of the crowd sourced ‘Quakebook’ which was put together after the quake to get some peoples stories out, and help raise fund for survivors of the tsunami.

I was also quite surprised that two of my posts were mentioned in podcasts – the ‘Baker and the Bromate’ post was on JapanTalk #228, and the slightly more whimsical post about the “City of Ghosts” story was mention by John C. Dvorak on the No Agenda podcast.

Towards the end of the year I decided to give the National Novel Writing Month a go – writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. I’ve written short stories and such over the last five years, but this was a whole new scale of things. As you see from some of the posts, it somewhat took over my life for the month, but I was actually really pleased with what came out, and over the next year I’m hoping to revise it a little bit to make it at least readable and understandable to a third party.

Right at the end of 2011 I stepped in to update the tokyotoyrun.com website at the last minute to upload info for one of our large toy runs, which was the first web coding I’ve done in a very long time – at least it seemed to render OK and no one complained. I think in 2012 I’ll spend a bit more time on the overarching site we’re looking to put these toy runs under, reviewing some old HTML, CSS and JS knowledge, and see how it goes.

So on the whole, 2011 ended a bit more on the upbeat than it was looking at the beginning, but a reminder that the people of Tohoku are going to need support for a very long time, and I hope the Japanese government stop squabbling and mucking about, and actually deals with the issues.

2012 then, should be a good challenge, and I’m looking into new professional qualifications, language tests and whatever else is of interest after the family time and work!

Looking For a Podcast for the Commute?

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a few podcasts I was idly listening to in an airport, but I thought I’d look through my current list of podcasts today, and pick out five completely different ones to form the ‘Recommendation of the Month‘ post.

I commute for a total of two hours a day, so I like to make use of the time and get through some podcasts which entertain and inform and are generally diverse in content. In that previous post, I mentioned ‘You Look Nice Today‘ which is still available, but seems to be on some kind of hiatus, PC Perspective – a PC hardware podcast, and ‘This Week in Startups‘ – those last two are still on the go.

So to add to these for June’s recommendation:

The No Agenda Show – Decent news analysis, crackpot theories, and general entertainment, this podcast is in turns interesting and hilarious.

Windows Weekly – this is pretty much the last Twit.tv podcast I listen to (along with Security Now sometimes) as the others seem to have dropped off badly in analysis quality, which makes them much harder to listen to. Paul Thurrott, despite being a Microsoft focussed journalist, does at least attempt accurate and balanced news coverage, and has a dry wit I actually like in a journalist.

BBC Friday Comedy Podcast – a rotating selection of BBC Radio 4 comedy programmes as podcasts,  including greats such as The Now Show, Have I Got News For You and others. As a Radio 4 listener, I really like listing to these, just don’t laugh too much on the train.

Sword and Laser Podcast – a podcast from a book reading community, essentially covering fantasy and sci-fi books, interviews with authors, wrap-ups and recommendations. As a keen reader of any sort of books, I’ve enjoyed this, and been put on to some good books because of it.

DH Unplugged – This is a tangential one for me, as it mainly focusses on the business markets and economics, mainly in the US, and perhaps because of that there are some interesting anecdotes and news stories.

There are of course several others – a project management podcast, a paranormal podcast, and a few other technical ones, but these are likely 5 people might like.

I don’t actually listen to any Japan based podcasts regularly right now – I did listen to GaijinKampai a while back, but it’s anchored out of the USA, and is really just about JPop, and increasingly KRock, which aren’t really my things for a podcast.

I do listen to the Japan Talk / Japundit podcast now and then, but it’s mainly a news oriented podcast rather than a discussion, and since I do try to keep up with Japanese news, it’s not that essential, but interesting nonetheless.

If there are any others anyone would recommend, let me know in the comments – aside from the language ones – news and punditry to keep me going on JR!

明けまして おめでとう ございます 2011

Happy New Year 2011.  Another year begins; for some reason a lot of people didn’t seem to like 2010, but for us, it worked out pretty well.  As far as the site goes, it was a down followed by an up – I’d pretty much put it on a hiatus last Xmas after moving it to WordPress.com and re-organising myself a bit online, and then in late July re-opening nanikore.net, but keeping brightblack.net pretty much offline. I decided I only had the time to post to one site, and brightblack was more of a historical relic. I may, later this year though, put that back online in it’s old HTML4 hand coded glory.

Anyway, back to the point, thanks to all those who have read, commented and mailed me about the posts, and to everyone anyway, have a great 2011.

 

This Week’s Top Three Podcasts [Airport Edition]

I’ll admit I’m a bit bored here at Narita airport, so to break the intensity of announcements, planes going past and people who seem to have an unbelievable amount of luggage even after check-in, here’s the top five selection of podcasts as I look at my MP3 player. I should note these aren’t necessarily the ones I usually listen to, just a few from this week:

1) “You Look Nice Today” – A whole lot of irreverent and irrelevant humour in an ad-lib setting. Kind of geeky, jokes about heraldry and such. Strangely it seems to work on train journeys. It’s very likely to remind you of the odd drunken conversations you regularly had with friends at University.

2) “PC Perspective Podcast” – If you become incredibly aroused and excited when listening to tech specs, or if you like debates of SLI graphics cards vs. multi GPU-on-a-card solutions, then listen to this. Actually this is kind of an interesting podcast of you’re a computer builder enthusiast.

3) “This Week In Start-ups” – Jason Calacanis hosts a show dedicated – with a California slant – to new start-ups, entrepreneurial spirit, tips and advice. Every week they have a guest on who are usually interesting to listen to, discussing their own start-ups. I recommend the audio over the video podcast, which looks a lot duller than the audio sounds.

Obviously I listen to a lot more podcasts than this, but as I sit here trying to balance the laptop and a cup of coffee, shamefully pimping Windows 7 and Windows Live Writer to people passing by with their luggage, these are the ones showing in my recently played list.

Dull Post Apology

I have to say that over the last year, the number of ‘personal’, and especially Japan related posts has dropped a bit. I should say first that it isn’t because nothing is happening in our lives, in fact, far from it – we’ve never been busier, and often I either don’t have the enthusiasm or time to compress items down for a blog post, and hence, many posts have been tech based (which I suppose is fine if you like the tech stuff too, which, judging from the odd comment I get, is probably a decent percentage).

Anyhow, just a note that I am trying to remedy it, rather than put the site on hiatus which was my alternative, but please expect more, shorter posts on here, and possibly linked to longer posts on Brightblack.

Thanks for the patience.