Alien Beings

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August (but not august) Diving

Failed, yet again, to dive two days in a row. Partly psychological, and partly a feeling that my eardrum still isn’t quite right. It has been slowly getting better, but some days, especially when i have slept that well, it just doesn’t seem like a great idea to push my luck – the last thing i want is to put another hole in it, and end up being unable to dive again.

Ended up at a BBQ after diving, getting drunk, and stumbling home (not easy with 25kg of wet diving gear) sometime after midnight. There is something… melancholic about riding on the shinkansen, coming into Tokyo late at night. Most definitely not a party train…

Summer has bought blue to the water… and someone has planted trees on the sands. Makes for a somewhat surreal view.

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One day i’m going to get a real housing and strobe. Do this properly. Broke another diffuser this time and will have to see about replacing it. Hope it can be replaced without buying another housing… might end up tempted.

Cryptic Remarks

Over the last couple of days (mostly what i read at the end of last week and over the weekend) there has been a marked change in the tone of the doomsayers. The likes of Zero Hedge, Denninger, Mish, etc. have been saying for a while now that this rally in the stock markets is ‘not based on fundamentals’. They’ve all had slightly different takes on who, or what, is driving the indexes higher, and what will, eventually tip things over the edge. Denninger, for example, thinks every Treasury bond sale is going to be the straw that breaks the dollars back; Zero Hedge sees market manipulation in every chart; Mish sees things in terms of deflation, and the falling housing market.

In reality they are probably all right some of the time, but the markets just kept on shaking off the knocks.

Then, over the last couple of days, everything in the media has been about how the recovery has started, the bottom is in, growth has returned… and that seems inherently dangerous. Happy talk.

Monday  saw markets around the world move lower, many indicators are heading back to where they were when Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers hit the floor… it seems possible that reality was coming back to town.

Personally, i’m guessed that nothing dramatic would happen during the summer, and it would October before we’d see if the system had enough to drag itself over the cusp, or fall back into the pit. Perhaps that’s still a good guess, and this is just a little wobble.

Take a glance at this set of charts, and try to convince yourself that they are all about to start heading in the right direction. It’s not working for me.

On the other side of that coin, take a look at the depths that have already been plumbed and note that The System is still with us. This is the biggest shock that it has been through in almost 80 years, and it’s still hanging on.

It’s too easy to declare that the thing is fundamental broken and beyond repair (undoubtedly correct) and that it it must fail (questionable). The degree of flexibility, and freedom with which elements can be manipulated make short-term predictions very hard.

Really, it’s a coin toss. All of it.

S.M.A.R.T

For years and years hard disks have been labelled with “S.M.A.R.T. enabled” and yet no O/S that i know of reports this stuff in a meaningful way.

Yes, yes, I know, most disk failures happen due to catastrophic hardware failure (hardly surprising if you think about what we do to disks, the conditions they operate in, lack of environmental control, etc). Still, if just one time in ten a disk can tell me that it’s in the process of dying, it might save me some hassle.

Consequently i’m now running SMART Reporter on my work machine. It’s unobtrusive, tiny in memory, and free… a combination that’s hard to beat. It’s set up to send me mail if it notices anything odd happening on any of the disks.

All of which makes me wonder why OS X doesn’t automatically do this? Surely it would be a simple thing to have as part of the system – after all, SMART Reporter is reliant on systems calls that Apple provides to get the status codes off the drives…

Election Fever

I can see myself getting all caught up in this whole election business. There is a lot of stuff out there to read, a fair amount of cynicism, but also a lot of optimism that the DPJ is actually going to shake things up a little.

My favourite find so far is a set of quotes attributed to Katsuya Okada, which actually sound like the sort of things that you’d want to hear a Japanese politician say. A few examples, on corporate tax cuts:

“In the previous election, Keidanren (Japan’s biggest business lobby) stood at the forefront and supported the LDP, and they made a very harsh assessment of our policy. That is because of differing perspectives, and I do not think that can be helped.

“We do not particularly want Keidanren to support us. We will firmly stress our policies to the voters.”

On relations with the U.S.:

Unless Japan has its own nuclear strategy, nuclear disarmament, and nuclear non-proliferation policies and it strikes a balance with the United States, and if Japan thinks there is no mistake if it just follows what the United States says, then I think as a sovereign nation that is very pathetic.”

Similarly, on the over reliance on exports to the U.S.:

“Growth that relies on exports to the United States, in particular, clearly has its limits as the U.S. overconsumption is being corrected.”

On equal opportunities:

“In the current Japan company system, highly competent women don’t find many opportunities, so they go outside of Japan, or go to foreign firms … What we need to do is to open the doors and let in new winds.”

Yes, yes, he’s a politician, when his lips are moving he’s probably lying (or offering to blow me at some point down the road if i’ll just him my vote.. <cough>), but when was the last time you heard an LDP politician express himself in such honeyed tones?! With the LDP it’s always been about how the people must sacrifice themselves for the corporations, for the economy, for the good of the nation. But Okada sounds all grown up and progressive… crazy talk. I’m excited for them to get elected and even do ten percent of this stuff!

Westminster in Japan

Good article in the Japan Times today. Gives a few details on how 民主党 (the DPJ) is planning on confronting the bureaucracy:

In June, DPJ Deputy President Naoto Kan took a six-day trip to Britain to hold talks with officials from the government and opposition parties about power transitions and the relationship between bureaucrats and politicians.

The trip implies that the DPJ has a strong interest in adopting Britain’s Westminster system, in which power is concentrated in the Cabinet at the expense of the governing party and the bureaucracy.

Which feels a little … disturbing, given how little i think of the English parliament. And not just the picture of John Prescott. Perhaps it’s possible to (begrudgingly) admit that it might be what is needed in Japan, and would actually give some meaning to a system involving the election of a party.

Upon his return, Kan published his thoughts on the topic in the July issue of Chuo Koron magazine, where he outlined his plans on how to concentrate power in the Cabinet by abolishing the customary practices that allowed the bureaucracy to accumulate its vast power over the years.

Would be good to read the full article in 中央公論 (Central Review) but it doesn’t look like it’s online… let alone translated.

More informed comment at Observing Japan.