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2012 jottings and changes

Blog entry for February 2012

It's extremely unusual to see snow in Sano on the 29th of February! But here we are — it's the 29th, and it snowed until mid-afternoon, leaving a covering of 10 cm or so. But it's quite warm, so there is a steady drip-drip, and occasional kerphumpph! as another big lump comes off the roof. Of course there are regular news items about people being buried in snow, and all sorts of lesser misadventures, but more or less all of these come from the other side of the mountains, on the west coast of Japan.

Anyway, a belated welcome to 2012. About 2011, what can I say? Except for me being stuck overnight in Tokyo we were unscathed by the earthquake and tsunami disaster, and largely untroubled by the Fukushima nuclear accident. Although we get regular updates on the background radiation level, according to my calculations with some help from Wikipedia the level here at present is below the world average.

Economically speaking, last year was frankly grim. Japan must surely be the only country in the world where a natural disaster that killed nearly 20,000 people and hugely disrupted manufacturing can cause the currency to go up — although the financial experts came up with various stories to account for this, you will have noticed that economists are people who always have a good story, whatever happens. The effect is to increase our prices even more, making sales very difficult. We are not the only people struggling: the most recent jump in the yen value was "caused" by the Greek crisis, and Sony and Panasonic have just announced annual losses which appear to be equal to about 50% of Greece's annual deficit. For around ten years, the government has been borrowing about half of its annual budget, and now it plans to borrow even more to fund reconstruction in the north.

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel: there are signs that at last the yen exchange rate is turning the corner, so it's possible we may see more reasonable puzzle prices in the near future.

There was one event in the puzzle world last year which we only discovered later: from August 2011, Apollo became a subsidiary of Epoch. For the time being at least the two brands are distinct, though it is somewhat unclear where this is leading, because the Peanuts puzzles which were the mainstay of Apollo sales are now appearing under the Epoch label, while various Epoch series (450 small piece "Masterpiece") from various Epoch artists now appear under the Apollo brand. Another indication of how tough economic conditions are, particularly for smaller companies.

Late last year, I was also engaged in some mathematical proofreading, and I'm pleased to say that the result in now in available: Math Girls by Hiroshi Yuki is translated by Tony Gonzalez and published by Bento Books of Texas. It's the story of three high-school students: a (male) first person narration of fascination with two girls and with mathematics. There is some quite meaty mathematical content, but it assumes very little high-powered background, and introduces many interesting ideas from the discrete world of number theory. One minute we are grappling with Taylor series and the Basel problem, the next we are in the coffee shop with the mysterious Miruka.

Find more details on the Bento Books website.

Finally, an announcement: I have been suffering with arthritis for some time, and I'm now expecting to go into hospital on March 13th to have my leg "done". Keiko will be handling regular orders, but it's not yet clear how much I will be able to do during my two or three week stay, so there are bound to be some extra delays handling special requests and so on. Please bear with us.