New Kindle model – not yet

Ever since the first Amazon Kindle came out, I was extremely excited by the opportunity to use electronic ink technology to read PDFs, online books, and even the news without having to choose between staring at a backlit computer screen or print out hundreds of pages. The major features all sounded very convenient, and I could even envision using the device as a glare-free translation display. It would almost be worth shelling out $360 if only it weren’t such a new and untested technology.

So now that the next edition is out, things are looking better, sayeth the New York Times:

The Kindle 2 has several incremental improvements over its predecessor, which went on sale in 2007. Amazon said the upgraded device has seven times the memory of the original version, turns pages faster and has a sharper display.

It also features a new design with round keys and a short, joysticklike controller — a departure from the earlier design, which some buyers had criticized as awkward. The device will ship Feb. 24. The price remains at $359.


The Kindle 2 is much skinnier than its predecessor, slimming down to 0.36 inches in thickness from 0.7, but it’s only a tenth of an ounce lighter. The storage capacity has jumped from 256MB to 2GB, or about 200 to 1,500 books, and the electronic ink display has improved from a 4-shade to 16-shade grayscale.

The layout of some of the buttons has been restructured, and the new Kindle also has a text-to-speech reader.

But there are still some serious drawbacks that force me to wait until they make further improvements. The Kindle 1’s current blurb about how to read your personal files doesn’t look very attractive:

Personal Files
Eliminating the need to print, Kindle makes it easy to take your personal documents with you. Each Kindle has a unique and customizable e-mail address. You can set your unique email address on your Manage Your Kindle page. This allows you and your contacts to e-mail Word documents and pictures wirelessly to your Kindle for only $.10. Kindle supports wireless delivery of unprotected Microsoft Word, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files.
PDF conversion is experimental. The experimental category represents the features we are working on to enhance the Kindle experience even further. You can email your PDFs wirelessly to your Kindle. Due to PDF’s fixed layout format, some complex PDF files might not format correctly on your Kindle.
If you are not in a wireless area or would like to avoid the $.10 fee for wireless delivery, you can send attachments to “name” to be converted and e-mailed to your computer at the e-mail address associated with your account login. You can then transfer the document to your Kindle using your USB connection. For example, if your Kindle email address is, send your attachments to

And who wants to pay 99 cents a month to read blogs?

Unlike reading blogs on your PC, Kindle blogs are downloaded onto Kindle so you can read them even when you’re not wirelessly connected. And unlike RSS readers which often only provide headlines, blogs on Kindle give you full text content and images, and are updated wirelessly throughout the day. Get blogs wirelessly delivered to your Kindle for as little as $.99 per month.

This system appears not to have changed with the new version. Basically, you need to convert any file into a proprietary Kindle format before it can be read on the device. But instead of offering an offline tool, they require you to send all files to the Amazon service first to either wirelessly transfer to the Kindle (for a 10 cent fee) or sent to a PC email address so you can use a USB connection to transfer files (converted into Kindle format) from your PC to the Kindle for free. I am guessing they intentionally make this a little cumbersome in order to direct customers to the fee-based services. This library blogger apparently had a relatively easy time of it. Still, as the over-demanding consumer, at this price it just doesn’t seem worth it. When the time comes, however, I am sure I will make full use of user-created guides like this one.

UPDATE: I should mention that this product has never been rolled out for an official Japan release (though the Kindle 2 may be changing this soon), and from what I have heard it does not work properly in the country. So my visions of owning a Kindle are contingent on me either living in the US or the product becoming usable within Japan.

Women set to overtake men in US workplace. What about Japan?

Amazing news from the New York Times:

With the recession on the brink of becoming the longest in the postwar era, a milestone may be at hand: Women are poised to surpass men on the nation’s payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history.

The reason has less to do with gender equality than with where the ax is falling.

The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.

As of November, women held 49.1 percent of the nation’s jobs, according to nonfarm payroll data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By another measure, including farm workers and the self-employed, women constituted 47.1 percent of the work force.

With that in mind, I wondered what the figures were for Japan. As it turns out, they are released monthly by Japan’s statistics bureau. The figures (PDF) include farm workers and the self-employed.

As of December 2008, of Japan’s 63.31 million workers, 36.92 million, or 58.3%, are men, and 26.39 million, or 41.7% women. Not even close!

Architectural preservation and history in Taiwan updates

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed three stories in the Taipei Times on the topic of preserving notable or historical architecture in Taiwan.

  1. Taipei County looks to rebuild site of weird UFO houses – I had actually written that I wanted to stop by this area and see the UFO houses before my trip to Taiwan last summer, but just couldn’t find the time. Alas, they may be completely gone by the time I next visit Taiwan.
  2. Taipei to preserve historical Japanese-era buildings – I have previously discussed the many Japanese houses that can be found all over Taiwan in stages of repair ranging all the way from crumbling ruin to well preserved monument. Here is a gallery of photographs I took at one ruin in Taichung, and here and here are photographs of the one behind my apartment building in Taipei. Although Taipei is not proposing a general preservation rule for such historical buildings, which might be nice, they are designating an area near the intersection of Zhongxiao E Road and Jinshan S Road, which contains a cluster of 10 surviving houses built for Japanese civil servants – reportedly the largest single cluster in Taipei – as a special historical zone.
  3. Miaoli officials caught in a lie – Another piece of grim news. Apparently officials in the Miaoli County actually pretended to hold a meeting to discuss the historical preservation of the last three surviving kilns in what was a center of the pottery industry during the Japanese colonial period, but in fact never even convened the meeting. The claim that the kilns had “no historic or cultural value” sounds shaky at best, and it seems that they likely violated the Cultural Heritage Protection Act [文化資產保護法] to make way for an industrial development. Angry preservationists are filing lawsuits against the officials who cleared the kilns for distruction.

There were also three other stories of note related to historical topics I have discussed on this blog before.

  1. Chiang Kai-shek plaque to return to memorial hall – “Rectification of names” continues in Taiwan. I have discussed this phenomenon several times in the past, as committed by Chen Shui-bian’s DPP administration here and here, who was replacing China-centric names with Taiwan-centric ones, and then with the reveral of Chen’s Taiwanization moves by Ma Ying-Jiu’s KMT administration here and here. As of January 22, Democracy Hall nee Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is now once again Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. However, the new KMT administration has magnanimously decided to preserve the renaming of the area surrounding CKS Hall to “Liberty Square”.
  2. Descendents of ‘Orphan Army’ dream of home – I previously discussed the KMT/ROC army remnant of Southeast Asia here, noting in particular their fascinating historical association with the SE Asian drug trade, and the unlikely direct connection forged with 1970s Harlem druglord Frank Lucas, as portratyed in the film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington. As descendants of KMT soldiers, there are actually a fair number of “overseas Chinese” from Burma or Thailand who have gone to Taiwan to study using fake documentation, and although they are apparently not deported from Taiwan due to the tricky historical ROC links, they also find it difficult to obtain proper documentation that would allow them to travel back and forth. I imagine there is some sort of process by which they can apply for legal status, but it may very well require geneological or other documentation that is hard to come by. This is a story well worth checking into more.
  3. Study backs findings on Polynesian origins – Linguistic, genetic and archaeological research in the past has suggested that the entire Polynesian/Austronesian group of peoples, ranging from the Malays of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to the Maori of New Zealand and the native Hawaiians, are all descended from seafaring explorers that set out from Taiwan thousands of years ago. Although only about 2-3% of Taiwan’s current population officially belongs to these “aborigine” tribes whose ancestors were also the ancestors of the Polynesians, a much, much larger percentage of “ethnic Chinese” Taiwanese are actually at least partially descended from aborigines who became culturally Sinicized generations ago. This is of particular pride to proponents of Taiwanese independence who use it as evidence that Taiwan is not inherently Chinese. It is actually a popular theory (if not fact) that much of the “Han” population of southern China is actually descended from natives who became culturally Sinicized in a similar way hundreds or thousands of years ago, and have a noticably distinct genetic history from the northern Han Chinese.
  4. Descendants of victims mark ‘Taiping’ tragedy – Not specifically related to anything I have written about before, but the story of how over 1000 immigrants from China to Taiwan died in a shipwreck near Shanghai in 1949 is new to me, and well worth knowing. I am a bit skeptical of how one can wring out a 20-episode drama from this story though. James Cameron’s Titanic was long enough for me.

Uchronie – great word

As often happens, I was chatting with my French friend Cerise when she tossed in a French word that she assumed we also use in English, but in fact do not. And as is often the case, the French have a fantastic and specific word where we have but a clunky phrase. The word in this case is “uchronie”, which in English means roughly “the setting of an alternate history story.” The word is based on the Greek roots “u” and “chronos”, as in “utopia” (or un-place) and time, and therefore means “a non-time”. The concept is of course familiar to any reader of speculative fiction (generally thought of as a classier term for science fiction, but really a broader term that includes science fiction as well as things like alternate history, that never fit comfortably in the SF category) but our language lacks such an elegant word for it.

Note that the English form of this word would be uchronia, as utopia is utopie in French.

Big retail winners in Japan’s downturn

Here is my list of some of the few companies that have found success during the recent economic downturn. Note their domestic orientation and low-priced offerings:

Disneyland – Multiple upward earnings revisions. Popular as alternative to international travel.

Nintendo – Record earnings. Gaming as substitute for an expensive social life. Their strategy to expand the pie of gamers through educational titles and the like has paid off enormously.

McDonald’s – Record earnings. 100 yen burgers for high school girls who want a place to chat and penny-pinching single salarymen who don’t cook for themselves

Fast Retailing – operators of cheap apparel seller Uniqlo, offering reasonably fashionable cheap clothes, plus a popular line of ultra-warm “Heat Tech” thermal underwear.

Nitori – cheap imported furniture, many convenient locations and no IKEA-style assembly requirements, no-pressure shopping experience (contrast with expensive, high-pressure Otsuka Kagu).

Tsutaya – is reporting surging new membership in their Internet rental service (similar to Netflix) is surging, while rentals-plus-online numbers have posted a sixth straight record year. People apparently spend their vacations watching the entire Sex and the City series instead of traveling to Hawaii.

Anecdotally, some of the supposedly high-end shops, such as the Caldee line of imported food stores, seem to be pretty popular. For one, the yen is strong, and for two, even relatively expensive items,  are still cheap compared to the overseas trip you’ve decided to skip this year.

Writing in INSIGHT NOW!, small-business M&A consultant Shin Satake identifies four lines of business that do well in economic downturns:

 1. Education services (people who have lost their jobs turn to retraining to make them more competitive)

2. Medical services (stress is a killer!)

3. Repair/maintenance (people decide to get stuff fixed rather than buy a replacement)

4. “Escapism” businesses – (the desire to escape everyday existence is a self-defense mechanism. Includes entertainment, etc.)

Stimulus or investment? Japan vs. USA

Ever since the start of our current financial disaster various economists and pundits have been comparing first the US banking problems with Japan’s, and then more recently the infrastructure-heavy stimulus program with Japan’s construction state. Today’s NYT has a substantial article that easily marks the most high profile comparison yet. I’m certainly no economist and I’m not even taking the time to look at numbers right now, but my quick take on the issue is that the comparison is being significantly overblown, but it is still a very worthwhile comparison to make, so that Japan’s various successes and mistakes can be absorbed as lessons. See the following summation of Japan’s massive pork spending:

Dr. Ihori of the University of Tokyo did a survey of public works in the 1990s, concluding that the spending created almost no additional economic growth. Instead of spreading beneficial ripple effects across the economy, he found that the spending actually led to declines in business investment by driving out private investors. He also said job creation was too narrowly focused in the construction industry in rural areas to give much benefit to the overall economy.

He agreed with other critics that the 1990s stimulus failed because too much of it went to roads and bridges, overbuilding this already heavily developed nation. Critics also said decisions on how to spend the money were made behind closed doors by bureaucrats, politicians and the construction industry, and often reflected political considerations more than economic. Dr. Ihori said the United States appeared to be striking a better balance by investing in new energy and information-technology infrastructure as well as replacing aging infrastructure.

Japan’s huge boom in public works spending was less a national stimulus program than a gigantic rural welfare program of pork-barrel projects designed to prop up the ailing LDP in its long decline. The money was largely directed not to the areas where it would benefit the largest number of people, but the areas where it would benefit the largest number of politicians. This was not done entirely out purely cynical political motives but also due to a genuine desire to arrest the decline of the rural regions themselves, in the face of continuing urbanization and a decline in Japan’s traditional and lionized (if anachronistic) agricultural lifestyle. Regardless of intent, a huge proportion (I won’t use words like “most” without looking at actual numerical research) of the spending was “stimulus” but not “investment”.

I am very, very wary of the general principal of “economic stimulus.” I am not opposed to government spending, or even large amounts of government spending, as long as it is being spent on something that is actually necessary or build further value in the future, i.e. services or investment. I think this attitude should be obvious from the mass transit funding letter I wrote and posted here a few days ago. In short, I worry that the discussions on spending currently ongoing in Washington may turn into a series of worthless boondoggle projects oriented at unpopulated rural areas, combined with random tax cuts and other expenditures poorly aimed at short-term (i.e. one election cycle) economic recovery, while continuing to ignore the trillions of dollars in outstanding repairs or upgrades as well as vital new investment that the country needs. I think it’s safe to say that politicians are going to spend this money. The question is, what will it buy us? Would we rather have a bunch of bridges to nowhere, vacant museums and amusement parks in virtually deserted rural towns, and paved-over mountain tops, or would we rather have a modern electrical grid, mass transit that at least meets late 20th century standards if not 21st century, a safe and reliable water system, bridges rated to not collapse, and maybe even an adequate system of public health care?

Dai-ichi survey says: Economic concern a factor in decisions on marriage, third children

Speaking of juicy bits, last week the Nikkei evening edition ran a feature in its “Living” (seikatsu) section, reviewing the results of some of the recent research coming out of Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

During a “monitor” survey (which polls a pool of pre-registered respondents who match a desired profile) conducted in summer 2008, the institute noticed some starkly negative comments in the free answer sections, such as this unmarried, 30-year-old male: “My income is not sufficient to get married. At my current income, I could not even pay my children’s school expenses” or this married woman aged 33: “I want another child, but I am very uneasy in terms of the economy, such as rising prices.”

Noticing that they had never bothered to gather data on how many people think this way, in late September (in the panicky period just after the Lehman collapse) Dai-ichi polled a nationwide sample of 800 men and women aged between 25 and 39 on their attitudes.

The results indicated that an economic downturn had a bigger-than-expected effect on young people’s attitudes toward getting married and having children.

Two thirds of unmarried respondents felt that it will become economically more difficult to get married, and that figure grew among those who felt the economy will worsen over the next few years. More than 90% of married respondents felt that a weaker economy would make raising children more difficult. Most strikingly, married people with two children who feel uneasy about the economy overwhelmingly felt it would be harder to have a third child in a weak economy.

While the above study sounds like front-page material for Duh Magazine (sounded way more interesting when I read it on the train last week), it’s an interesting indication when you consider that Japan’s birth rate (measured using the total fertility rate) closely tracks the rate of economic growth, only the birth rate lags GDP growth by about two years. Also, there is a negative correlation between the unemployment rate and the birth rate.

As might be deduced from the above findings, the government’s ongoing measures to fight the declining birth rate (which focus heavily on daycare subsidies and work-life balance policies), while important, may not succeed without ensuring stable employment and a reasonably bright future.

Interestingly, the article closes out with a warning to the mainstream media – overly dramatizing stories on layoffs of vulnerable temp workers and wage cuts may be “heightening average people’s sense of alarm more than necessary” even though most people’s jobs and life plans are more or less intact.

Google Reader shared items meets the Adamukun blog!

Now my shared items are easier to view than ever — check them out as the top post on the new and improved Adamukun blog! I have also beefed up my sidebar.

As always I will keep my juiciest tidbits for the MFT audience (and occasionally Neojaponisme), but for right now I am having fun messing around with the Blogger settings and posting complete randomness.

While I am here, allow me to place the unqualified Adamu seal of approval on my new favorite band, Mates of State. I’ve been annoying my colleagues by humming this same tune for the past week or so:

Also, just curious: anyone else going to see Death Cab next weekend?

New Joyo Kanji

The Kanji subcommittee of the national language study committee of the culture commission has announced an addition of 191 kanji to the list, which brings it to a new total of 2131. Looking at the full list of the now officially common kanji, I am actually struck at how common so many of them are. In fact, I went through the list and did a quick count, and I saw at least 125 for which I knew at least 1proper usage in Japanese (i.e. reading plus definition or place name), and a couple more I decided not to count because I only know them in Chinese. If I know this many of the 191, with still well under a decade of study of Japanese as a foreign language, I think it’s a safe bet that pretty much any native-speaker high school student knows almost all of them, plus a LOT more. If nothing else, I think we can safely put to bed the myth that “you only need to know about 2000 kanji to read Japanese fluently” because there are only about 2000 on the list of kanji that high school students are officially required to know. The joyo list really is a joke, and while I’m sure in reality you don’t need to know nearly as many characters to be fluent in reading Japanese as you do in Chinese, the numbers are probably not as far apart as is commonly believed.

Interestingly, 5 were also removed from the list, and the one example they give, 銑, I have no recollection of every seeing before, although I’m going to guess it is some sort of farming implement.

Thanks to Curzon for mailing me the article.