every penny!

Sun / Oracle

Feels like an odd marriage. While at Sun, Oracle was one of the more difficult partners with which i had to deal. Easier than IBM, but not exactly kindred spirits. Culturally they were poles apart. It will be really interesting to see what happens now that they are “one”.

The Sun Alumni mailing list has been hilarious for the last couple of days. no doubt some of the stories should never have been told… but i’m glad they were. Happy times. Feeling nostalgic for Silicon Valley days…

Another Yen / Dollar Theory

There is a quite a lot of talk about the dollar carry trade. In essence this means that dollars are being used to buy assets (other currencies) with higher yields. This is, in effect, selling the dollar. This selling causes the value of the dollar to fall relative to the currency being bought. (I’m not sure if that part is right. It doesn’t seem right that selling the dollar and buying another asset would cause the value of the dollar to fall against all other currencies, so i’m assuming…)

If the yields for holding dollar denominated assets rise (stock market indexes, or bond yields, increase) the non-dollar assets are sold to buy these now higher yielding assets. The value of the dollar rises relative to the currency being sold. (similar caveat to above)

As the dollar carry trade is currently considered to be huge (larger than the yen carry trade that proceeded it!) the effect on the value of the dollar is large. However, the stock markets in the US have been rising for some nine (plus) months, which must temper some of the possible decline in the dollar. There are also different classes of risk, meaning that some of the money flowing around might consider the equity markets too risky, and would flow into government bonds (with higher yields than US treasuries). In all likelihood, given the general trend of massive public sector borrowing, there are lots of high yielding bonds out there to buy. If holding these bonds becomes too risky, the money will flow out again, back to lower yielding, but presumably safer assets (US Treasuries, for example).

Assuming that there is some kernel of truth in the above, it makes sense that the Yen is remaining stubbornly strong against the dollar, even while everyone and their dog is predicting japanese sovereign default. Yields on japanese government debt are low (because the debt is held in Japan …that’s not really an answer, but let us just say that it is possible for the MOF to borrow cheaply, just “because”) and other yen denominated assets are not attractive (deflation; would you want to buy a shrinking pie?!) Therefore, very few of the dollars that were sold resulted in yen being bought. And conversely, as these carry trades unwind, very little yen is being sold…

Having written all that down, i’m not convinced… all it says to me is that the yen is sort of in a no-mans-land, languishing in the doldrums, while the action happens elsewhere. Perhaps it’s just that with a positive trade balance, companies are constantly having to buy yen to repatriate revenue.

Magnesium & Exhibition: Fragments of Tokyo

It has been a busy couple of weeks. What a way to start the year…

Along with everything else, a bunch of very determined friends have opened a photography agency.


It’s not entirely clear what eventual form it will assume, but right now it’s a driven bunch of people seeing how far they can push a loosely associated group in the direction of being serious about photography.

The mix is also interesting. Inevitably there is a dichotomy (trichotomy?) of those who are journalist / commerical, and those who see it as an artistic endeavour. I seem to fall on the “artistic” side of the divide, but will do what i can to support those who want to try to make it their living.

My first contribution to the site is a bit of shameless self-promotion. Next month, along with three others, i’ll be doing my first exhibition. It’s a little bit nerve wracking, but i’m determined to make the best of it… and even though recently everything has been a touch stressful, pulling it all together has actually been a fun distraction.

If you’re in Tokyo for the week of the 8th of February, please drop in and take a look. No doubt we’ll arrange to get everyone together on one afternoon in the final weekend, probably the 13th. More on that when plans are made.

Google, Fecal Contamination, and GM Crops

An unlikely looking combination i’ll admit.

Back when the whole Google / China thing broke it seemed a little ‘off the wall’ to me that a company would pull out of a market, citing human rights issues, because it’s network security had been compromised. Besides the fact that they’ve been living with this human rights issue for the last four years, it does all seem a little tenuous. Anyway, more than enough has been written at this point speculating over the actual motivations, so i’ll just leave it to the professional pundits.

[By some crazy coincidence, i’d left a comment on a blog a few days before bemoaning the trust that people we putting in ‘the cloud’, which anticipated someone getting at the unencrypted data and causing havoc.]

Moving on.

This quote crossed my path at some point during the week:

When medical researchers at the University of Minnesota took more than 1,000 food samples from multiple retail markets, they found evidence of fecal contamination in 69 percent of the pork and beef and 92 percent of the poultry samples. Nine out of 10 chicken carcasses in the store may be contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me glad that i’ve not eaten meat for years. The whole industrial farming thing, and presumably procedures like ‘Advanced Meat Recovery‘, seem very likely to mix all sorts of shit (literally, obviously) in with what can euphemistically be called meat products.

How people can ignore this kind of information and keep shovelling the stuff down them is really quite beyond me. My guess is that we are now so divorced from the production of what we eat, that food is a completely different *thing* than meat. Perhaps we’ve just become too trusting of these multinational corporations with their worthwhile sounding marketing about feeding the world.

A case in point, GMO crops. This youtube video on GM crops (specifically soy) made my skin crawl:

What worries me about GM crops is that the industrial agriculture companies seem very keen that minimal research is done into the consequences of adding them to the human diet. Their plan appears to be to get the things out there, and then say it’s too late to stop them as the modified genes are already out in ‘nature’. You can imagine a farmer not wanting to grow GM soy, next to one that does…

It’s not hard to tell whose side these regulatory bodies are on, but you’d think that just some of the people there would be interested in stopping their world being reduced to grey goo.

[That was all very US-centric. Here in Japan GM is still shunned by consumers, and the government is very keen on keeping it out of the market. Quite how long that will last, given that GM seeds are making their way into seed stocks, is any ones guess.]

Losing (it)

There we were doing a little shopping when we stumbled across the usual blather outside a station. It was only when i read a banner 「外国人参政権反対」(against foreigner voting rights) that the mist descended.

Now, frankly, i’ve never been a big fan of democracy. Foreign permanent residents in Japan make up roughly 1% of the population. By all measures, our input is meaningless, and at best it is a gesture to even begin to care.

In theory, i shouldn’t really give a damn whether i’m given a vote or not. Yet, when faced with a bunch of middle-aged, vitriol spewing, politicians, it’s too much to ask for me not to have a go…

First i took one of their leaflets (which i was given reluctantly), looked at it for a few second, and then tossed back, with a dismissive, “don’t suppose i want that…” Then, letting go of Masumi’s hand, strode up to the main speaker, with his white gloves and microphones, stopping about 50cm from his face. My arrival ‘in his face’ was rather sudden, which prompted him to stop talking, and look like he might lose control of his bowels. A few seconds of uncomfortable silence were ended by Masumi yelling “Stop it!” at me. At which point i laughed in his face and walked off.

As we walked off he was demanding that Masumi talk to him in Japanese. If you only speak japanese how can you not think everything you don’t understand is directed at you?

I’m well aware that the right in Japan sees this issue as a nationalist / popularist vote winner. And, the only likely outcome of my temporary loss of control is to give this political parasite more courage in his convictions, “those foreigners have no respect for the Japanese way of expressing opinions!” I can hear him saying it to his cronies over a beer at the local hostess bar…

The reality is that nobody was listening to his blather outside the station – nobody cared… except me, and all i’ve done is add fuel to his rhetorical fire. Shame on me. Even worse, i didn’t even get to enjoy making him feel threatened for more than a few seconds.

Somewhere out in Danchi-land…

Thomas eyes up another melancholy scene!

I’ve been having real issue getting  my 120 film on to reels lately. Before getting a camera that used 135 all film was loaded onto the reels in a dark bag. The initial struggles with 135 forces me into the toilet (the easiest room to black out in the house) and out of the bag. So far i’ve not managed to load one roll of 120 correctly on my lap…

It’s obviously time to head back to the bag!