August 2005

It does this and, it has and they are for ten thousand goodwill palpus う.

[Note the correction in red; see the update section for details on my mistake]

This is, of course, a bad translation of written Japanese, created by the SYSTRAN query tool supplied with Mac OS X Tiger. The original phrase was 「このはしは、もちのれんしゅうです。」, and it comes from the items shown below (the small white piece reads 「はしのおけいこ」, by the way, which is also the name of the complete product):

hashi no okeiko

The correct translation is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

Update: the correct transcription would help. I goofed. If you click on the picture, you’ll see that the eighth character is actually 方, not 万. This makes the sentence so easy to translate that even SYSTRAN produces something mostly comprehensible. (or not. I forgot that I’d converted れんしゅう into the correct kanji; without that, SYSTRAN’s effort is still pretty bad)

The reason I wrote the wrong kanji is that, as printed on the chopstick, it looks like three strokes rather than four, and the three-stroke kanji it most closely resembles is extremely common. I noticed the visual difference, but disregarded it when I couldn’t find a better three-stroke match.

Update: to make up for my error, here’s another pair of training chopsticks, that teach a different skill…

Training chopsticks

The Best Damn Keyboard You Can Buy

Friend and co-worker Jeff was an unhappy typist, suffering under the tyranny of mushy keyboards. Soon after I started my new job, he complained about the pain (both spiritual and physical) that these devices cause him. He lamented the passing of the Apple Extended Keyboard, code-name Nimitz, which reminded me that I’d blogged about its return more than a year ago. Jeff ordered one five minutes later. Ten minutes after it arrived, I ordered two. There was another suspiciously keyboard-shaped box sitting in his office today…

Pay no attention to the Mac-themed advertising for the Tactile Pro keyboard; it works just fine with “those other operating systems”. Pay close attention to the mechanical keyswitches that make typing a joy, and that fill the air with a reassuring clatter. My PowerBook isn’t bad, especially compared to the dreck Dell ships with their desktop PCs, but I’m seriously considering picking up another one for travel, even if I have to buy a bigger laptop bag to hold it. It’s that good.

We’ve been buying them straight from the manufacturer, but it turns out that SmallDog has them at a better price.

"Intelligent Design" vs. science

With Bush’s latest wishy-washy statement on the subject getting a lot of attention, I thought I’d repost my comment from the creationist “debate” over at Cold Fury:

Joe said: I see a building, and I can recognize that it was created by some intelligence, for some purpose. I may not know how it was built, or for what purpose, but the form and symmetry and structure (the sides are plumb and level, etc.) tell me it was created by intelligent design, and not a random occurance of stone and glass.

I answered: Setting aside the strawman nature of this analogy, imagine two men confronted with this building. One devotes his life to methodically studying what it’s made of and how it was built. The other guy sacrifices a goat in front of it once a month.

If you went to these men and asked them what they knew about the building, the first guy would show you his notes, explain his methods, and present the evidence for his claims. The second guy would ask if you had any spare goats.

Intelligent Design is what you get when the second guy pretends to adopt the methods and terminology of the first in order to talk you out of your goats.

The lesson that Jeff and I took away from this experience can be summed up as follows:


Sometimes, life really bites...

As a rule, I’m reluctant to contribute when bloggers seek donations; for the most part, I’m a “friends and family” giver. In the specific case of Kate’s teeth, however, it’s the timing that really makes her stand out from the crowd.

Sake cheat card

After trying out a few types of sake and doing a little reading on the subject, I decided to gather up all of the useful information commonly printed on labels and menus, and arrange it on a double-sided 3x5 card. It was as much an excuse to play with the new version of Adobe Illustrator as anything else, but it should come in handy the next time I try to figure out what to buy at Mitsuwa.

The Secret Truth

I hate Adobe Illustrator. I’ve always hated it. If the folks responsible for CorelDRAW! hadn’t turned it into crap by constantly shipping new major releases that didn’t fix crippling bugs that were in the previous version, I’d still be using it. On Windows, no less.

Oh, sure, they never really got on the typography bandwagon, severely limiting your ability to use features like ligatures, swash caps, true small caps, optical kerning, etc., but there were a lot of things I could do in Draw 4 that are still a complete pain in the ass in Illustrator 12. Some days, I still find myself writing PostScript by hand and importing the results, just to save time and energy.

And it keeps getting slower. Photoshop is still pretty snappy on my 1.25GHz G4 PowerBook with 2GB of RAM, but Illustrator gets sluggish well before I start trying to get fancy, and it doesn’t have Photoshop’s scriptability, so I can’t easily automate a complex task and walk away while it runs. There’s no real competition out there today, though, so I’m stuck with it.

Sigh. Done ranting for the day, off to cook and kill murlocs. (note that these are separate activities…)

Putting all your eggs in two baskets

When I was getting ready to switch jobs back in June, I decided it would be a good time to consolidate all my backups and archives, sort out my files, and in general clean up my data. The vehicle I chose for this exercise was a pair of LaCie 500GB Firewire 800 drives.

The idea was to copy everything to one of them, then clone it all to the second one, which would be kept offsite and synchronized on a weekly basis over the Internet. My many other Firewire drives could then be used for short-term backups, scratch space, etc. One thing led to another, though, and I didn’t unpack the second drive until Tuesday night, and it was DOA.

LaCie’s online tech-support form didn’t produce a response, so I called them this morning. Ten minutes later, a replacement was in the mail, due to arrive tomorrow. They charged the new one to my credit card, and they’ll refund the money once I ship the dead one back (using their prepaid label). Because the price has dropped since June, the refund will be about $30 larger than the charge.

While I’d have preferred to have a working drive the first time, I like the way they handle problems.

6Sense, podcast edition

A Japanese-language online radio show I like, 6Sense, is published in an annoying way. They keep more than a month’s worth of archives online in MP3 format, but each episode is split into 60+ audio files, accessed through a Flash interface.

Examining the Flash app told me very little. Examining my Privoxy logs gave me the regular-but-unpredictable naming convention for the audio files, and a little more digging turned up the URL that the Flash app calls to get the list for a specific day. After that, I simply used wget to download the complete show… as 60+ MP3 files.

Knowing that someone had to have written a Perl script to concatenate MP3 files, I googled and found mp3cat, part of Johan Vroman’s mp3cut package. Making the results into a podcast required the use of another Perl script, podcastamatic, and a web server to host the results. I just turned on web sharing on my Mac, moved the files into ~/Sites, and typed the appropriate URL into iTunes.

With the latest version, iTunes supports podcasts directly, but the integration is kind of peculiar, and carries over to the iPods. Both correctly track what you’ve listened to, and where you left off in the middle of an episode, but otherwise they’re not treated like regular audio tracks.

In iTunes, if you finish listening to one episode of a podcast, instead of moving on to the next episode, it skips to the current episode of the next podcast. On iPods, there’s no concept of “next” at all; when a podcast ends, it just stops playing. If you’ve set it to repeat, it repeats the episode you just heard. Unfortunately, not all podcasts are an hour long; some are quite short, such as ナナライフ, which averages about 90 seconds.

Ironically, the least sophisticated iPod handles podcasts the best right now. The iPod Shuffle just treats them as sound files, and syncs up the play count when you connect it to your computer. When you delete an episode from iTunes, it’s deleted from your Shuffle. Not perfect, but better for long drives (and I’m driving 150 miles a day right now, as I settle in to my new job…).

Dear FedEx Driver,

When delivering a package to someone’s house that requires a signature, do not gently tap on their front door, wait 12.7 seconds, and then leave a little note. Doorbells were invented for a reason, and if you’re unable to locate them, it’s possible to put a little oomph in your knocking. Done properly, the customer who’s spent the entire day at home waiting for you will not be forced to drive 20 miles to your depot to claim his package.

I might be more forgiving if this were the first offense, but you’ve done this to me several times this year, and the only suggestion you’ve offered is “sign a waiver so I can leave packages without a signature”. Not being a fool, I refuse to consider this a viable solution.

Besides, I remember when you pulled the same stunt a few years ago, and decided to deliver my expensive new computer to a neighbor across the street whom I’d never met, without leaving a note on my door…

Love, J

PS: the formal complaint is in the mail.

[update: after all that hassle, the item being shipped turned out to be bad, and now has to be returned. Sigh.]

Naked propaganda

By golly, the collected propaganda of the North Korean news agency really does sound like the stuff you hear from the American Left. Sample quotes:

The South Korean authorities will face a stern punishment of the nation for their flunkeyist deeds.
Minju Joson today exposes an ulterior intention of the crafty Japanese reactionaries to legalize overseas expansion for aggression under the pretext of "coping with emergency on the Korean peninsula."
As already reported, the U.S. State Department in a recent "annual report" on the world human rights slandered the DPRK again. The "annual report" does not deserve even a passing note as it is full of absurd view on value and logic reversing black and white. Because the United States is not qualified to say anything about the human rights situation in the world.

Rural wilding

[Update: Cox & Forkum agree…]

What could possibly go wrong?

Scientists are proposing reintroducing large mammals such as elephants, lions, cheetahs and wild horses to North America to replace populations lost 13,000 years ago.

My favorite line is this one, which tells me that they’re shoveling elephant dung disguised as “science”:

Reintroducing the modern relatives of the Late Pleistocene losers to North America could spark fresh interest in conservation, contribute to biodiversity and begin to put right some of the wrongs caused by human activities.

No mention of the fact that elephants are incredibly destructive to the environment, and that their populations are exploding in parts of Africa that forbid hunting.

No, wait, I lied. This is my favorite line:

"Free-roaming, managed cheetahs in the southwestern United States..."

Sounds like they’re really trying to manage the ecotourist population. :-)

Haibane Renmei on DVD for $30

If you’re wondering where the DVDs of Haibane Renmei went, they’re being closed out in anticipation of the box set release in October. So, if you don’t want to wait six weeks for the $120 set ($90 at Amazon), and you haven’t already bought most of the discs for $30 each, you can currently get the entire series at Anime Corner Store for $30 plus shipping.

Me, I’m stuck looking for disc 2, because I already have the others…

Spam that almost works...

Got three of these today so far:

Subject: Best prices for complete Thundercats and more
Subject: Sabrina the Teenage Witch DVD giveaway
Subject: Whole series of transformers on dvd

They’re selling bootlegs, obviously, but there were no concealed URLs, no viral attachments, no embedded images. For junk mail, they’re positively wholesome; the closest thing to obnoxious porn was that they listed “The Nanny” as an available series…

Tentatively, Haibane Renmei

I’ll be watching it through again once I’ve recovered from the first time, but meanwhile I can’t help thinking about it. Much of my speculation is sure to change as I watch again and argue with others (coughcough), but this is where I’m going with it now.

Beware! Spoilers abound.


History is written by the winners moonbats

While in the book store last week, I picked up A History of Japan, by Conrad Totman. I didn’t make it past the preface before the bullshit was too deep to wade through. Quoting:

Today we find ourselves at a point where the level of human exploitation of the ecosystem appears to be throwing the entire global biome into crisis. The Earth is now home to well over six billion people, but in fact this small planet's current biological production is not remotely capable of sustaining those people in the manner to which they are accustomed, much less the manner to which they aspire.

This, he says, is why he decided to write a book about Japanese history. Skimming ahead and checking the reviews, it appears his “ecological” approach to history taints the contents from cover to cover, coloring both which facts he chooses to include, and how he interprets them.

I have rarely felt the urge to return a book to the store based on its content, but a historian who so thoroughly injects his personal politics into the material simply isn’t worth reading.

Kill Bill, Part 1

Saturday, a friend was flipping through channels and left this running. I’d never gotten around to seeing it, since I generally consider Tarantino an overrated hack. After a few minutes, I was mentally apologizing to George Lucas for the things I’ve said about his ability to write dialogue. Fortunately, we were soon able to get back to something more interesting.

Last night, I got bored and found it on cable again, and watched some more. I felt like I was slowing down to watch a train wreck. I didn’t enjoy it at all, but a question just kept running through my mind: “has it hit bottom yet?”.

The answer was always “no”.

Foothill Follies

I’ve made a lot of progress learning Japanese with the Rosetta Stone software, but I decided that it’s time to work on the area that it helps least with: speaking. Since I’m working in Palo Alto again, taking a class seemed like a good idea, and Foothill College seems to have a good program, with flexible hours. Sort of.

Their first-year class is offered in evenings, which will work great for me. The second-year class appears to only be available at 8am, three days a week, which is not so good. Even without taking into consideration the fact that I live 75 miles from the campus, I’m not much of a morning learner.

Worse, the Intermediate Conversation class that can be taken alongside the second-year class starts at 8pm on the same days. If this isn’t an error in the online course catalog, it’s pretty stupid. They don’t have the schedules for Winter and Spring online yet, so I suspect I’ll have to talk to someone in the department to find out if this is typical. If I can continue their program in the evenings, or even later in the morning, I will; otherwise, I may have to drop it after the first year.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”