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Cat’s ears

The latest invention from Japan is a headset that monitors the wearer’s brain activity and moves a pair of furry cat’s ears to reflect what the wearer is thinking.

The product is called necomimi, which translates directly as “cat’s ears” (猫耳; ねこみみ). Its developers hope to have it on sale by the end of this year. Their website has all the latest news.

I have to admit I thought this was all a hoax when I first heard about it, but a recent news article on the BBC website has another video that shows the product being tried out by ordinary members of the public.

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Moving house

I’ve just sold the house on Hamllin Lane where I was living for the last few years. Hopefully I will be buying another place in Exeter some time soon. In the meantime, I will be renting a property at the following address:

20 Commins Road

The phone number has also changed. Assuming Virgin Media are able to hook us up tomorrow as planned, the new number will be +44 (0)1392 678269. (2/Jun/2011: The phone line is now operational.)

Please update your address book.

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Exeter Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Appeal

I recently set up a new website for the Exeter Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Appeal, which is a fund-raising effort that will form part of this year’s Exeter Respect festival in Belmont Park over the weekend of 4th-5th June 2011. Preparations are still under way, but there should be something for everyone, including plenty of Japanese food. There will also be a performance by Kagemusha Taiko (Saturday 6:15 – 7 pm).

Please come along if you are able. Entry to the park is completely free. Here’s the link:


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On May 26th 2011, a half-baked piece of EU legislation called the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 is going to become part of UK law. This means it will essentially become illegal for a website to set a cookie in your browser without your explicit consent.

Unfortunately, the only reliable way for a website to store visitor preferences is by setting a cookie. So if you don’t consent to these cookies, then every time you visit a website that uses them, you will be shown a message asking you to enable cookies in your browser. This message will most likely appear on every single page, and the nagging will not stop unless and until you give permission for the site to set cookies. You may even be completely denied access to some websites until cookies are enabled.

The legislators also seem to have overlooked the fact that it’s already possible for users to control the use of cookies within their own web browsers. If you need help with that, click the name of your browser in the list below:

The U.K. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has vowed to go ahead and ensure that this law is enforced, but with just over two weeks to go until the deadline, his own website is still setting cookies without permission:

~ phil$ curl --head http://www.ico.gov.uk/
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store
Pragma: no-cache
Content‍-Length: 22898
Content‍-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Expires: -1
Server: Microsoft-IIS/7.5
X-AspNet-Version: 2.0.50727
Set-Cookie: ico62#sc_wede=1; path=/
Set-Cookie: ASP.NET_SessionId=jyszcua2f02nrz455i23ro45; path=/; HttpOnly
X-Powered-By: ASP.NET
Date: Tue, 10 May 2011 15:02:50 GMT

The ICO also uses the popular Google Analytics toolset to monitor traffic through their website. It’s no surprise really. About half of the web’s most popular sites also use Google Analytics. I’m using it on this website too. But it won’t work without cookies, so that’s another thing that will become illegal in a couple of weeks.

This website should work just fine without cookies (unless you want to comment on blog posts), so go ahead and disable them now if you like. I won’t nag you to turn them back on again. But after May 26th I might have to.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of Japan-related information in this post. Here’s an interesting thing: fortune cookies weren’t invented in China, as most people assume, but were actually invented in Japan.

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Totnes Japan Day

Are you looking for something to do on Easter Saturday (April 23rd)?

If you’re anywhere near Devon at the time, you might like to drop in at the Totnes Civic Hall, where a Japan Day has been organized to raise money for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The event runs from 10 am until 4 pm, and will include authentic Japanese food, workshops, tester therapy sessions and music.

More details are available at the Creative Community Devon website. Here’s a map:

View Larger Map
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Channel 5 documentary

This evening Channel 5 showed a rather depressing documentary following a British search & rescue team as they looked for survivors in the debris left behind after the tsunami and earthquake.

They didn’t find any.

It’s been estimated that there are now half a million homeless people in Japan. Please donate to the relief effort if you are able.

Donate to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal

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Trade and Investment for Growth

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills recently published a white paper on the subject of Trade and Investment for Growth (download PDF file; 997 kB) that stresses Japan’s importance as one of the key markets for new business opportunities as the world emerges from the global recession. To help things along, the UK Government is hoping to set up an EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement that could potentially “deliver €43.4 billion additional EU exports to Japan”.

However, the document raises concerns about the lack of language skills among UK businesses, an issue that was also mentioned by Baroness Coussins in a House of Lords debate yesterday:

Another figure worth quoting, given the explosion in online sales, is that over 70 per cent of consumers require information in their native language in order to make an online purchase, while people who do not have good English are six times less likely to buy from an English-only site. It is self-defeating and inaccurate to think that English is enough. Only 6 per cent of the world’s population are native English speakers and 75 per cent speak no English at all. The relative amount of internet content in English is declining but that in Chinese is rising and there are more blogs in Japanese than in English.

Do you need help getting your website translated into Japanese? Contact me for a free consultation.

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New website


... and after

Regular visitors might have noticed that this website started looking a bit different this afternoon. Underneath the shiny new exterior, it is now running on the WordPress content management system. Hopefully this means I’ll be able to update the site a little more often than before.

A few things have broken:

The “portfolio” section of the old website has gone away, but I’m planning to reproduce the content of these pages as blog posts, so they will be back here soon.

I’ll also get the site map back online soon.

The sudoku solver tool hasn’t yet been integrated into the new site, but in the meantime I’ve set up a temporary page that you can use instead. The sudoku tool is now available at /home/sudoku-solver/.

Users of older browsers like Internet Explorer 6 might experience a few problems with the new layout. Unfortunately I’m unable to run IE6 on this computer, so it’s difficult to test these things properly. If the site looks completely broken, try using a newer browser instead.

If you can see anything that needs putting right, please add a comment to this post. By the way, if you see a message to the effect that newcomers to the site aren’t allowed to add comments, then take a quick look around the site and come back tomorrow. You should then be able to fill in the comment form. (I know it’s inconvenient but blogs attract a lot of spam.)

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Help for earthquake/tsunami victims

If you haven’t done so already, please consider making a donation to the British Red Cross to help with the relief efforts.

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Header image: Maple leaves and bamboo stems in autumn at Tenryū-ji garden (天龍寺庭園) in Kyoto. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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