Summer Acros

Turned on the tap, stuck my fingers in the water… that’s not 20ºC closer to 25ºC… hmm… let the tap run for a while… getting cooler… 23ºC. <brief moment of confusion> am i suppose wait until winter before developing again? This can’t be right!

Wanted to develop two rolls of Acros today, but the tap water is just too warm for what i usually do, and my Super Prodol was even warmer than the tap water. Seeing as the development time for Acros in Super Prodol is 4m15s @ 20ºC, it’s going to be close to impossible to control at 25ºC. Rodinal has a much longer dev time (~13m @ 20ºC), but i’m going to be guessing at the time.

The only solution (haha <cough>) is a splash of Rodinal (10ml) in a litre of tap water, give it a brief shake, and then let it sit for an hour, aka ‘stand development’. Sean has tried it with good results, and Jim used to swear by it…

Guess what? It works like a charm.

My cursory look at the negatives suggests that they are as well developed as my usual efforts, and the details in the shadows might be a little pulled up. Result!

Alfalfa Fame!

One of my pictures on flickr got linked from a Japanese blog post about the ‘力士シール (rikishi seals) that started popping up around (East?) Tokyo last year.

In the last 24hrs it has received about 5000 10,000 hits, adding a couple of hundred ever hour. It’s not even in the main body of the post, just a comment.

Alfalfa? Never even heard of it!

Have to love that creamy, f/1.2, bokeh on the left hand  side… but let’s be honest, it’s  nothing special.

I like alfalfa… mostly in sandwiches, with a good hot, vinegary mustard.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

“We have had a great run in equities, emerging market currencies, credit and other risky assets, now people are struggling to justify lofty valuations,” said Alan Ruskin, strategist at RBS Securities. He added: “The ‘green shoots’ argument for the economy was very tentative to start with.”

“The smartest players in the US stock market – the top insiders who run public companies – are not betting their own money on an economic recovery,” said Charles Biderman, chief executive of TrimTabs.

Pessimistic executives cash out of shares – The Financial Times

You have to wonder if their strategy is simply to hope that nobody notices that they are lying sacks of shit, laying down confidence trick, after confidence trick

Sven sent me a link to the graph below, which adequately makes the point:


The rather amusing note that accompanies this:

If graph has a red background, S&P 500 is fully priced by this measure as of the above date.

If graph has a green background, S&P 500 is considered to be undervalued. See Yes, You Can Time the Market for more guidance in interpreting these graphs.

“[F]ully priced” … hehe.

If the regulators hadn’t made shorting mostly illegal / dangerous it’d be a natural time to be betting that this can’t hold and taking short positions in SPY.

Sideways (& under arms?)

I’ve been ignoring the US stock markets for a while.

The rally from below 700 back in March hasn’t made much sense to me. As far i can tell it hasn’t been based on any real improvement in the underlying economic situation. In fact, it’s run so counter to what i’d expect, that i’m left looking for alternative explanations.

My chart reading foo is basically weak, but that plateau from May until now doesn’t look positive. Many of the daytraders, on blogs such as Zero Hedge, have been bemoaning the blatant manipulation over the last month or longer.

Given the US Treasury’s need to shift huge amounts of bonds (via the primary dealers), and the relationship between the stock and bond markets, one would expect the market to be manipulated lower (or sideways?) when large amounts of bonds need to be sold. I say “sideways” because a falling stock market might release capital that seeks safety in bonds, but it also generates fear which tends to push the yield higher. Which, consequently, suggests a balance needs to be struck been fear and confidence!

The June quarter end is also a time of reckoning for mutual / investment / hedge funds. Statements have to issues, positions elucidated, returns stated, etc. There is a lot of ‘window dressing’ going on in order to create the correct reality for investors and employers. The performance / success of a fund dictates bonuses, etc.

All of which probably adds to the expectation that not very much is going to happen until the end of the month. After that… i’d suspect that things are going to head back down.

All seems a little sick to me: the bankers are manufacturing reality to maintain their personal positions, meanwhile, out in the real world, house prices are still falling (remember where this all started…), bankruptcies are at record levels, unemployment continues to rise, world trade volumes are off ~10% qoq, credit markets are still effectively fucked… does that sound like that kind of background against which a 20% rally in equities can be sustained?

The Enigma of Japanese Power

It rained a lot yesterday. I’ve been busy. Lying on the tatami reading for the day seemed like a good idea… at the time.

Karel Van Wolferen’s view of Japan is worth reading. It’s highly critical, well informed, and suitably cynical. His general thesis, that Japanese society is a extremely artificial and managed affair, is pretty close to the truth as i’ve seen and experienced it. There were many points during the book which caused me to flashback to situations that i found myself in while dealing with japanese companies… knowing what i know now, i probably would have given up much earlier, or had severely lower expectations about what was possible.

It seems to me that the critical period in modern japanese history, the post-war occupation, is still shaping a lot of what happens in government today. The similar period in Germany history, where after the Nürnburg Trials, which did not convict many Nazi officials, lead the German people to hold their own trials to bring to justice those who had perhaps not committed war crimes, but had committed crimes against the German people, has no analog in Japan. The SCAP did purge many of the leaders of the Kwangtung Army, but then released them back into society to fight their common enemy: communism. The experiences of these administrators in manchuria, building a new industrial base, were then applied to regeneration of Japan. Unsurprisingly they didn’t stray far from what they knew…

Obviously there is a difference there between the reactions of the German and Japanese people, which can only be explained by the historical differences in culture. I get the impression that the changes that lead to complex and well balanced democracies of mainland europe accumulated over a long period of time, however, in Japan, the Meiji Restoration attempted to achieve all this in less than a generation. Ambitious… but one would imagine impractical. Oligarchs have certain goals in mind that don’t necessarily leads to a society capable of balancing the needs of business with the people…

The above is not an attempt to place the blame squarely on the SCAP, but merely to point out that it was likely a pivotal point in modern japanese history. Had the SCAP known more about the existing structure of japanese society, and not assumed that it would behave as a western society would behave, perhaps they wouldn’t have been to gung-ho about encouraging the busting of the labour movement, and installing far right bulwarks against potentially progressive movements. The events of the following 50 years might well be described as ‘blow back’.

Many of the names that crop up in that era are still with us today, very few of them in person, but the political elite is very much a family affair. Fortunately the direct experience of the war period cannot be passed on as easily as a constituency seat, or a family fortune. This alone gives me some hope that a future generation of japanese will have different view of progress. Much is made of the ‘organisational memory’ of the various organs of the japanese body politic / bureaucracy, but the grand sweep of history doesn’t give it much chance against the relentless pull of entropy.

I’m rather interested in Karel Van Wolferen now… it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that despite the unrelenting barrage of criticism, much of it very pointed and on the mark, he lived here for something like 30 years, left, and has now returned. What does that say about him? Again, not in a critical way, but it seems hard to reconcile some of the criticism with a desire to live here!

From my own experience (much, much shorter, and more recent) living in Japan, but outside of The System can be rather pleasant. When The System does intrude it’s chillingly alien, and gives me pause for thought, to question if the risk i’m taking living here is acceptable.

Anyway, interesting book to read. It has provided much food for thought. I look forward to lending it to friends and hearing their take on it…

June Diving

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, so i did the honourable thing… and went diving!

The water has warmed through now, and it’s safe to venture out in a wetsuit. To be honest i think it was actually warm enough last month, but i didn’t have time to change my gear over. There is something really wonderful about that first wetsuit dive of the year. The feeling of the water on your skin, the lack of pressure from being squeezed by all that sealed neoprene… it’s also one less thing to worry about when dealing with buoyancy.

I’d taken the venerable 10D along with me to attempt to get some IR long exposure shots of the rocks. This seemed to have been enough to upset the balance, rendering me incapable of taking anything decent underwater.

There are a couple of underwater shots, but nothing really noteworthy. Even old sausage fingers didn’t seem to pose for the camera. There were all sorts of nudibranch around, some that i’d not seem before, which makes it all the more annoying to not get any decent pictures. The obvious answer is to find a way to take a proper camera underwater! The idea of buying a second underwater housing seems like one of the more stupid things that i could possibly consider…

After a few months off from hiking up the stairs out of おくりだし i made the effort, only to be faced with a wall of extremely cold spring water welling up after the storms earlier in the week. Made for some gorgeous.


Is Change Possible?

In the 朝日新聞 (our “left leaning” daily…) today is this (er, this, it would appear permanent links are a bad idea after all (aside)):

In addition, 52 percent of the respondents said they would prefer a government led by Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), up from 45 percent in the previous survey. It is the first time the ratio has exceeded 50 percent for the main opposition party.

Which makes it sound like 自民党 (LDP … famously “neither Liberal nor Democratic”) is going to have to pull something special out of the bag in the next couple of months. Their previous effort, getting the leader of the opposition 民主党 (DPJ … famously unelectable until recently) to quit over accusations that he had been receiving money from a construction company (believe me, if this was the standard by which Japanese politicians were judged, the Diet would be empty!), does not appear to have gone down well. It was pretty clear to the public (presumably) that it was a politically motivated move, and made to look especially venal when it was revealed that at least four LDP members had taken money from the same company, but weren’t being bothered by the prosecutors… oops.

I’m reading Karel Van Wolferen‘s controversial book, The Enigma of Japanese Power, at the moment. Despite having been written in 1989, many of the names and a lot of the issues are just as relevant now as they were 20 years ago. If there is one country that needs some change, having spent the last twenty years in recession, it’s Japan.

The timing is rather odd… i’ve been meaning to read this book for literally years, and now that i’m finally getting round to it, not only  is the author back in Japan, but many of the issues with political stagnation under the LDP might finally be challenged.

My guess is that if the DPJ does manage to get itself elected this Autumn, the bureaucracy aka System will insure that they fail to enact reform, and will do whatever it can do restore it’s cosy relationship with the LDP. Life in Japan, for many of those that still care enough to vote, is comfortable enough that they are likely to be tempted by the siren call of the devil they know.

One day Japan will have to change… but i’m willing to bet that day isn’t going to, in any meaningful way, come soon.