Interlude

Japan is Odd: The Government is Encouraging Youth to Consume More Alcoholic Beverages

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Many brands of beer in Japan

The growing sobriety of Japan’s young people is hitting the amount of revenue flowing into state coffers and has inspired the national tax agency to run a competition for ideas to encourage more drinking.

Tax raised from alcohol sales accounted for 5 per cent of total government revenue in 1980, dropping to 3 per cent by 2011 and less than 2 per cent by 2020.

While alcohol taxes still raised US$80 billion in 2020, Japan’s national debt to GDP ratio, at about 240 per cent, is worse than any country in the world except Zimbabwe’s. The government can ill-afford to lose more tax revenue.

Average alcohol consumption fell from 100 litres per capita in 1995 to 75 litres in 2020, much of that drop caused by drinking falling out of favour with a younger generation. Whereas junior employees were once expected to routinely accompany their seniors and bosses on boozy nights out after work, these days many young salarymen and women refuse to participate in such revelry or are completely teetotal. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation, as many Japanese fell out of the habit of going for drinks with friends. The tax agency campaign is looking for ideas to revitalise drinking culture, including those who choose to consume at home.

With its first round running until September 9, the Sake Viva! campaign is looking for ideas, which could include the promotion of imbibing using artificial intelligence and the metaverse. According to the campaign website: “The aim of this project is to appeal to the younger generation regarding the development and promotion of Japanese alcoholic beverages by having young people themselves propose business ideas, and to revitalise the industry by promoting great plans.”

Selected entries will progress to a final stage and an award ceremony for winners will be held in Tokyo on November 10. The winning ideas will be used by the tax agency for commercial campaigns.

Reactions to the campaign from the public have been mixed, with many online comments questioning the wisdom of a government encouraging its citizens to drink more alcohol.

Japan’s health ministry issued a statement saying it hoped the campaign would recommend that people drink alcohol in moderation.

Overseas applicants can enter the contest, as long as they submit materials and make presentations in Japanese.

Alcoholic beverage market in Japan

The market size of alcoholic beverage in Japan is about US$35 billion, according to the report of Japan’s National Tax Administration Agency. However, the market is shrinking little by little every year. The consumption amount of alcoholic drink also fell to about half of that in its prime. The number of people who drink in a bar or restaurant was decreasing during the years. On the other hand, the number of people who drink in a house was increasing.

According to consumption amount of types of alcoholic beverages, a beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan. However, the ratio of beer is decreasing every year. The ratio of liqueur and wine are increasing instead of beer. It is said many young Japanese people don’t like the bitter taste of beer.

There are three types of beers, which consist of normal beer, low-malt beer and the third beer in Japan. The amount of liquor tax of Japan increases by the amount of malt, so beer companies make low-malt beer called Happoshu to keep down the tax and sell it cheaper than normal beer. As a result, Japanese government raised liquor tax for low-malt beer because of fearing decreasing amount of liquor tax.

Beer companies made the third beer in response to rising liquor tax. The third beer has a taste similar to beer without malt. It belongs to the category of a liqueur in Japanese tax law because if does not have a malt, so the third beer is sold at a lower price than low-malt beer. It contributes to increasing liqueur consumption. Thus, the third beer has become the cheapest beer.  

It seems beer companies in Japan can find ways around taxation to offer the cheapest alcoholic beverage to Japanese consumers.

We should note that tax on alcoholic drinks are steep in most countries as a way of raising tax receipts for governments.

Good luck to Japanese government in your increased beer consumption campaigns!

Must-Read Reports

Will Centaurus Wreck Our Live?

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Malaysians travel outstations to savour king of fruits, the durians, leading to spread of Covid-19 virus.

Centaurus is not an alien but a new subvariant of Covid-19 virus. We note an alarming development in the Guardian today (July 13th, 2022), as reported by Linda Geddes.`
The report noted virologists have voiced concerns about the emergence of another fast-spreading Omicron variant, which is rapidly gaining ground in India and has already arrived in the UK.
The BA.2.75 variant – nicknamed “Centaurus” – was first detected in India in early May. Cases in countries like UK have since risen steeply – and apparently faster than those of the extremely transmissible BA.5 variant, which is also present in India, and is rapidly displacing the previously dominant BA.2 variant in many countries.
BA.2.75 has also since been detected in about 10 other countries, including the UK, US, Australia, Germany and Canada.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) designated it a “variant under monitoring” on 7 July, 2022, meaning there is some indication that it could be more transmissible or associated with more severe disease, but the evidence is weak or has not yet been assessed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also closely monitoring the new variant, although its chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said there were not yet enough samples to assess its severity.
In addition to its apparent rapid growth and wide geographical spread, virologists have been alerted by the sheer number of extra mutations BA.2.75 contains, relative to BA.2, from which it is likely to have evolved. “This could mean that it has had the chance to evolve an advantage over an already successful virus lineage, said Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds.
“It’s not so much the exact mutations, more the number/combination,” said Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, who was the first to identify Omicron as a potential concern back in November 2021. “It’s hard to predict the effect of that many mutations appearing together – it gives the virus a bit of a ‘wildcard’ property where the sum of the parts could be worse than the parts individually.
“It is definitely a potential candidate for what comes after BA.5. Failing that, it’s probably the sort of thing we’ll have come along next, ie a ‘variant of a variant’.”
Even if it does not take off in other countries, its growth in India suggests it is likely to be an issue there, at the very least, Peacock added. “It’s clearly growing pretty well in India, but India hasn’t got much BA.5, and it is still very unclear how well it fares against [that].”
Griffin cited it as yet another example of the virus’s impressive capacity to tolerate changes in its spike protein – the part it uses to infect cells, and which most Covid vaccines are based on.
“This time last year, many were convinced that Delta represented an evolutionary pinnacle for the virus, but the emergence of Omicron and the vast increase in variability and antibody evasiveness is a sign that we cannot as a population follow an influenza-like plan to keep pace with viral evolution,” said Griffin.
In addition to vaccines, longer-term plans should include variant-agnostic measures to prevent infections and reinfections. “This includes creating infection-resilient environments through improved ventilation, filtration, or sterilisation of indoor air, sensible re-provision of lateral flow tests, and appropriate and supported isolation periods that will actually reduce ongoing transmission,” he said.
In Malaysia, there have been growing cases of Covid-19 infections. The Government expect a spike in cases as there were many holidays and people were travelling to their home towns. Many of them travelled to enjoy the king of fruit, the durian, which is now in high season.
Centaurus subvariant will likely be arriving in Malaysia as we welcome a huge number of visitors from India and returning Malaysians from India. I will be wearing my mask and avoid crowded places.

Must-Read Reports

How does soil become fertile?

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Soil is an astonishing ecosystem

Some parts of my small garden are fertile where papaya trees are growing nicely. Why are they fertile and support healthy papaya trees? An article by George Monbiot in the Guardian, May 7th,  2022, would help explain this phenomenon. 

He noted that beneath our feet is an ecosystem so astonishing that it tests the limits of our imagination. It’s as diverse as a rainforest or a coral reef. We depend on it for 99% of our food, yet we scarcely know it. Soil.

Under one square metre of undisturbed ground in the Earth’s mid-latitudes (which include the UK) there might live several hundred thousand small animals. Roughly 90% of the species to which they belong have yet to be named. One gram of this soil – less than a teaspoonful – contains around a kilometre of fungal filaments.

When I first examined a lump of soil with a powerful lens, I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. As soon as I found the focal length, it burst into life. I immediately saw springtails – tiny animals similar to insects – in dozens of shapes and sizes. Round, crabby mites were everywhere: in some soils there are half a million in every square metre.

Then I began to see creatures I had never encountered before. What I took to be a tiny white centipede turned out, when I looked it up, to be a different life form altogether, called a symphylid. I spotted something that might have stepped out of a Japanese anime: long and low, with two fine antennae at the front and two at the back, poised and sprung like a virile dragon or a flying horse. It was a bristletail, or dipluran.

As I worked my way through the lump, again and again I found animals whose existence, despite my degree in zoology and a lifetime immersed in natural history, had been unknown to me. After two hours examining a kilogram of soil, I realised I had seen more of the major branches of the animal kingdom than I would on a week’s safari in the Serengeti.

That this thin cushion between rock and air can withstand all we throw at it and still support us is a dangerous belief.

But even more arresting than soil’s diversity and abundance is the question of what it actually is. Most people see it as a dull mass of ground-up rock and dead plants. But it turns out to be a biological structure, built by living creatures to secure their survival, like a wasps’ nest or a beaver dam. Microbes make cements out of carbon, with which they stick mineral particles together, creating pores and passages through which water, oxygen and nutrients pass. The tiny clumps they build become the blocks the animals in the soil use to construct bigger labyrinths.

Soil is fractally scaled, which means its structure is consistent, regardless of magnification. Bacteria, fungi, plants and soil animals, working unconsciously together, build an immeasurably intricate, endlessly ramifying architecture that organises itself spontaneously into coherent worlds. This biological structure helps to explain soil’s resistance to droughts and floods: if it were just a heap of matter, it would be swept away.

It also reveals why soil can break down so quickly when it’s farmed. Under certain conditions, when farmers apply nitrogen fertiliser, the microbes respond by burning through the carbon: in other words, the cement that holds their catacombs together. The pores cave in. The passages collapse. The soil becomes sodden, airless and compacted.

But none of the above capture the true wonder of soil.

Let’s start with something that flips our understanding of how we survive. Plants release into the soil between 11% and 40% of all the sugars they make through photosynthesis. They don’t leak them accidentally. They deliberately pump them into the ground. Stranger still, before releasing them, they turn some of these sugars into compounds of tremendous complexity.

Making such chemicals requires energy and resources, so this looks like pouring money down the drain. Why do they do it? The answer unlocks the gate to a secret garden.

These complex chemicals are pumped into the zone immediately surrounding the plant’s roots, which is called the rhizosphere. They are released to create and manage its relationships.

Soil is full of bacteria. Its earthy scent is the smell of the compounds they produce. In most corners, most of the time, they wait, in suspended animation, for the messages that will wake them. These messages are the chemicals the plant releases. They are so complex because the plant seeks not to alert bacteria in general, but the particular bacteria that promote its growth. Plants use a sophisticated chemical language that only the microbes to whom they wish to speak can understand.

When a plant root pushes into a lump of soil and starts releasing its messages, it triggers an explosion of activity. The bacteria responding to its call consume the sugars the plant feeds them and proliferate to form some of the densest microbial communities on Earth. There can be a billion bacteria in a single gram of the rhizosphere; they unlock the nutrients on which the plant depends and produce growth hormones and other chemicals that help it grow. The plant’s vocabulary changes from place to place and time to time, depending on what it needs. If it’s starved of certain nutrients, or the soil is too dry or salty, it calls out to the bacteria species that can help.

Take a step back and you will see something that transforms our understanding of life on Earth. The rhizosphere lies outside the plant, but it functions as if it were part of the whole. It could be seen as the plant’s external gut. The similarities between the rhizosphere and the human gut, where bacteria also live in astonishing numbers, are uncanny. In both systems, microbes break down organic material into the simpler compounds the plant or person can absorb. Though there are more than 1,000 phyla (major groups) of bacteria, the same four dominate both the rhizosphere and the guts of mammals.

Just as human breast milk contains sugars called oligosaccharides, whose purpose is to feed not the baby but the bacteria in the baby’s gut, young plants release large quantities of sucrose into the soil, to feed and develop their new microbiomes. Just as the bacteria that live in our guts outcompete and attack invading pathogens, the friendly microbes in the rhizosphere create a defensive ring around the root. Just as bacteria in the colon educate our immune cells and send chemical messages that trigger our body’s defensive systems, the plant’s immune system is trained and primed by bacteria in the rhizosphere.

Soil might not be as beautiful to the eye as a rainforest or a coral reef, but once you begin to understand it, it is as beautiful to the mind. Upon this understanding our survival might hang.

World Unique Innovation

Everyone should have this appliance from Cana

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Every beverage we drink is mostly water. Beer, soda, juice, coffee, tea – all are at least 90% water, plus a little sugar, alcohol or flavor compounds.

Scientists at a Californian company Cana Inc. have figured out how to identify and isolate those molecules that drive flavor and aroma to recreate thousands of drinks – without moving bottles filled mostly with water around the world.

Cana rebuilds each beverage at the molecular level using hundreds of ingredients — all within a single ingredients cartridge. The sugar and spirits cartridges complete the system, and all are automatically shipped to consumers.

Cana says it is the world’s first molecular beverage printer that combines all-natural ingredients with novel technologies that dispense compounds at the milliliter level of accuracy. The result is an infinite variety of chilled and carbonated beverages in under 30 seconds.

In addition, a beverage can be customized thanks to a 7-inch touchscreen, or from a mobile phone. Over-the-air software updates also ensure latest updates on beverages formulated  by celebrities.

Cana’s beverage appliance

The machine builds each beverage at the molecular level using hundreds of ingredients, all housed within an ingredients cartridge. And unlike pod-based systems that make a single drink per pod and generate lots of waste, Cana’s cartridge system can make thousands of drinks before being replaced (and recycled). The ingredients cartridge works with a separate sugar cartridge, spirits cartridge, water reservoir and carbonation cylinder to make the magic happen.

According to the company, it can serve an infinite variety of drinks, including cold brew coffee, tea, soda, juice, hard seltzers and specialty cocktails. Apparently, this thing can even make wine, although it’s hard to know if we’re excited or scared of that fact. It can also update its beverage catalog with new brands from partners and creators around the world, so that tally should only increase.

The drinks catalog can be tweaked per individual preference, and through the touchscreen  elements like sugar and alcohol content, caffeine level and flavor intensity can be altered. .

It has an interesting pricing system. The cartridges, which last about a month, are free and automatically shipped to consumers when one is running low, so one never has to think about replacing them. Rather than paying per cartridge, similar to pod-based coffee machines, a consumer pays per drink. For example, sparkling water is 29 US cents, iced tea is 79 US cents, and a cocktail costs US$2.99.

According to Cana  a patent-pending cartridge holds small amounts of 84 essential flavoring ingredients that are precisely blended with tap water, sugar, alcohol and carbonation inside the machine to create the drink you select from a Roku-like touchscreen interface.

Are Cana’s beverages tasteful?

Cana says our perception of taste relies on a small subset of compounds, not unlike the way a high-res video stream removes most of the original video information but doesn’t look like it did. Cana also relies on the fact that, to some degree, we taste what we’re told we’re about to taste: The color screen on the device brings each drink to life with a vivid description and thematic video clip while it’s being made.

Clear drinks will be offered first; Some traits such as viscosity, opacity and pulp will be harder to achieve until future versions of the device arrive.

Drink creators will earn a cut of the price of each drink made from their formula, not unlike the stars of social and video platforms.

Potential applications other than at home

Many food outlets in many countries, such as Malaysia, are having problems to recruit drink makers. They move from one establishment to another to seek for higher salaries. I believe  more up-market restaurant would need Cana’s appliance to offer a wide variety of beverages for their customers. 

This appliance is a great idea!

Coca Cola, Pepsi and F&N (a big brand in Malaysia), “Are you watching?”

Source: Cana.com

Malaysian Innovators

Basic: What is a NFT?

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An illustration of a NFT

Recently, the media has seemed to catch on the new invention—NFTs. NFT is a unique, non-interchangeable digital asset basked by blockchain ledger technology. Non fungible characteristic of these tokens or assets refers to the unique and non-replicable nature of this digital-crypto assets, compared to, for example a Bitcoin or a US$1 bill, where each unit of the asset is interchangeable and is the same.

Examples of NFTs range widely from digital art, domain names, games, and collectibles to are audio and video recordings. NFTs are created    (i.e., minted) on a blockchain, such as Ethereum, which authenticates the ownership and the NFT asset (i.e., where it comes from, where it originates, and who is the owner).

In the physical world, a tangible example would be Mona Lisa’s painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. Although there are many replicas, there is one original Mona Lisa in the world, and this piece of art is unique, creative and indivisible.

Similarly, NFTs are creative works of art that, for the most part, do not allow for fractional ownership. Some NFTs can be very expensive, with a price tag of millions of dollars.  

Some trace the origins of the NFTs back to 2012-2013 when colored, small denominations of bitcoins were created. These coins represent different assets with different uses, ranging from collectibles to access tokens. These colored coins were “unique and identifiable from regular bitcoin transactions. “

In 2014, Robert Dermody, Adam Krellenstein, and Evan Wagner founded a peer-to-peer financial platform, Counterparty, which was built on top of the bitcoin blockchain. In 2015 and onward, trading cards and memes became prevalent. Various video games popularized the creation of digital assets to be stored on blockchain technology; these included swords, shields, and even digital parcels of real estate.  Crypto kitties became famous in 2017, launched by the Vancouver-based company Axion Zen.

In 2021, NFTs have gained more momentum and have started to permeate the mainstream economy in some unexpected ways. The NFTs are poised to create a brand-new aspect of the  digital.        

In fact, we are launching our own NFTs based on a series of paintings by a famous Sabah artist, Dato’ Sri Wilson Yong, who called himself the Borneo Art Creator.    

Please note this article also appeared on my special blog, nft.datodranuar.com/wp