April 2006

Things you never want to see in a recipe

This looked like a reasonable introduction to Japanese-style curry, until I hit this “basic tip”:

Scoop lye on the surface.

I guess I wasn’t paying attention during those school field trips to Mostly Faithful Recreation Of How People Used To Live Town, because the only things that come to mind when I hear the word lye are “harsh soap” and “drain cleaner”. As a way of finishing off your curry, it strikes me as a way of finishing off your guests.

A disciplined mind

It’s looking like my Spring Quarter Japanese 3 class will be canceled. Actually, it’s all but certain at this point, and everyone who could has already switched their enrollment to the morning class.

This leaves me in an awkward position. The Rosetta Stone software remains useful as a supplement, but it’s been quite a while since it’s been able to really help me advance. I need interaction now, primarily conversation practice, but also occasional enlightenment when I get into trouble (have I mentioned that the Situational Functional Japanese series is crap? I haven’t? Well, it is. More on that another time).

While I wait for the class to be offered again in Summer Quarter, I need two things: someone to talk to (preferably someone familiar with the material I’ve studied), and a decent textbook to review. I’ll get some conversation practice in the Japanese Culture and Calligraphy course I’m taking, but the book is another story.

I could start on a new multi-volume series such as Japanese for Busy People or Genki (both of which I already own, actually), but our teacher suggested an alternative: a single book that covers all of the material usually presented in 4-6 books. They used it for many years at Foothill, and she stressed how much better it was at explaining things and presenting proper use of the language.

It is, of course, long out of print. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean what it used to, and I was able to acquire a copy of Japanese For Today within two days through Amazon.

While going through it and erasing the many penciled-in comments (and sighing over the few inked ones), I started to understand why she liked it, but it wasn’t until I read the “Organization” section that I fully appreciated the work they’d put into it: each of the 30 lessons is precisely 12 printed pages long, divided in exactly the same way each time, but there’s no gratuitous whitespace or obvious padding. The authors appear to have spent a great deal of time thinking about what to cover and how. I’m looking forward to reading it cover-to-cover.

Its only flaw is the extensive use of romanization, which is regrettable, but not surprising in a book written in 1973. The presentation section of each lesson does introduce the new material in proper written Japanese, with furigana, so it’s not all bad.

My other project for the Spring is kanji writing practice, but that’s another blog entry…

Boot Camp/Parallels

I have (shudder) Microsoft Windows running on my Mac Mini now, both virtualized and dual-boot, thanks to this week’s most interesting betas: Boot Camp and Parallels.

Both have significant potential. I have some Windows-only software that drives useful hardware devices, like my GPS and my camera, and the full dual-boot solution guarantees that they’ll work correctly. Inconvenient, but less so than trying to keep an actual Windows box around.

I also have some old, relatively lightweight Windows software that I’d like to use occasionally, like MasterCook and Streets & Trips. Those are usable on a G4 running Virtual PC, so a real virtualizer is more than sufficient, and preferable for handing off things like printing to the host OS.

The people who think this is “the beginning of the end” for Apple and OS X are smoking their socks (or less savory garments). This is the wafer-thin mint that has the potential to explode the current limits on home and corporate Mac deployment. Hell, just the dynamic partitioning that Apple included in the Boot Camp beta points to a bright future.

Last year I bought my dad a G5 iMac, to try to wean him away from his endless Windows problems. He has just enough third-party crapware that I have to send him a copy of Virtual PC to complete the job. If 10.5 ships with real virtualization, I’ll gleefully swap that iMac out for a new one and call it a bargain. Even the dual-boot may be enough, with its near-certain compatibility with every little USB gadget.

Update: forget “lightweight”; I was using Windows Media Player to watch large movie trailers in my Parallels session last night. The mouse is a bit jumpy, apparently related to propagating cursor changes between the Windows and Mac environments, but that’s the only visible performance issue. Even without taking full advantage of the Intel Core chip’s virtualization (off by default on the Mini, no hints on how to turn it on yet), it’s darn quick for 2D apps.

"What do you do with a B6 notebook?"

(note: for some reason, my brain keeps trying to replace the last two words in the subject with “drunken sailor”; can’t imagine why)

Kyokuto makes some very nice notebooks. Sturdy covers in leather or plastic, convenient size, and nicely formatted refill pages. I found them at MaiDo Stationery, but Kinokuniya carries some of them as well. I like the B6 size best for portability; B5 is more of an office/classroom size, and A5 just seems to be both too big and too small. B6 is also the size that Kodansha publishes all their Japanese reference books in, including my kanji dictionary, which is a nice bonus.

[This is, by the way, the Japanese B6 size rather than the rarely-used ISO B-series. When Japan adopted the ISO paper standard, the B-series looked just a wee bit too small, so they redefined it to have 50% larger area than the corresponding A-series size. Wikipedia has the gory details.]

I really like the layout of Kyokuto’s refill paper. So much so, in fact, that I used PDF::API2::Lite to clone it. See? The script is a little rough at the moment, mostly because it also does 5mm grid paper, 20x20 tategaki report paper, and B8/3 flashcards, and I’m currently adding kanji practice grids with the characters printed in gray in my Kyoukasho-tai font. I’ll post it later after it’s cleaned up.

Why, yes, I was stuck in the office today watching a server upgrade run. However did you guess?

On a related note, am I the only person in the world who thinks that it’s silly to spend $25+ on one of those gaudy throwaway “journals” that are pretty much the only thing you can find in book and stationery stores these days? Leather/wood/fancy cover, magnet/strap/sticks to hold it shut, handmade/decorated (possibly even scented) papers, etc, etc. No doubt the folks who buy these things also carry a fountain pen with which to engrave their profound thoughts upon the page.

Or just to help them impress other posers.

0 * 6 + 0 + 0 * 6/8 = 31?

I haven’t blogged about the specifics of why my doctor ordered me to work out more, but when that information is combined with his other order to cut way back on sugar (and, to a lesser extent, all carbs), it should be pretty obvious.

Mind you, I’d already cut back a lot on sugared soda a few years ago, just as part of a general desire to lose some weight and get in shape, and I’d found a few low- and zero-calorie drinks I could tolerate, but I didn’t go cold turkey. Now I have. [and things are going quite well, by the way; down from an average 250 mg/dL to ~125]

Not long before the doctor forcibly changed my lifestyle, I had acquired a taste for Arizona Iced Tea’s Arnold Palmer. While this is significantly lower in calories than the Lemon Tea we used to buy in massive quantities, it’s still filled with sugar. (I’ve never seen their Splenda-sweetened diet drinks in stores…)

So, armed with my New Best Friend Splenda (note: unless you’re a biochemist, please don’t send me any links about “the dangers of Splenda”; I’ll just point and laugh), here’s a pretty decent “zero-calorie” Arnold Palmer:

Mix, chill, serve.

Note that I’ve put “zero-calorie” in quotes because I cannot determine how many digestible calories are actually present. All three of the powdered ingredients contain maltodextrin, but the serving sizes used allow them to round the calories down to 0 on the Nutrition Facts label. (see update below)

Basically, if each of the three powdered ingredients contains the maximum amount of maltodextrin that can still be rounded down to 0 calories, then an eight-ounce serving of this “zero-calorie” drink could contain as much as 31 calories, or nearly 8 grams of sugar. I’d like to think it has less, but I honestly can’t tell. The USDA Nutrient Database has data for Splenda packets (which also contain dextrose), but not the granular variety, and they’ve got nothing on the Lipton mix. The Kool-Aid mix is fine, at only 0.6 calories per serving, but it’s by far the smallest contributor. I think I’ll cut the Splenda in half for the next batch and see how it turns out.

While I’m on the subject, Lipton Iced Tea To Go is sweetened with Splenda (and maltodextrin…), and the Lemon flavor is pretty good. I don’t know who thought Green Tea with Mandarin and Mango was a good idea, but it’s at least drinkable, unlike the incredibly nasty Green Tea with Honey and Lemon. The other three flavors are apparently too new to be in wide distribution, but I’m not interested.

By the way, it would be nice to try sweetening with pure sucralose, the truly-zero-calorie active ingredient in Splenda, but I can’t. Unless your middle name is “Pepsico”, it’s unlikely that you can afford one of the 10 kilogram cartons that they ship the stuff in. Why not? Because the stuff is so ridiculously sweet that a carton is equivalent to more than six tons of sugar (if I’ve calculated correctly…), and priced accordingly. They cut it with maltodextrin and dextrose to bulk it up to a size that can be divided into consumer-friendly portions. There are some syrups available that are sweetened with the pure stuff, but they’re either expensive or a bit dodgy.

Update: ah, Google; the amount of maltodextrin in granular Splenda adds up to a total of 96 calories per cup, reducing the maximum possible calorie count per glass from 31 to 15.6, and establishing a lower bound of 12.7. Not bad at all.

Dear netpbm maintainers,

I hope I am not the first to point out just how pompous and wrong-headed the following statement is:

In Netpbm, we believe that man pages, and the Nroff/Troff formats, are obsolete; that HTML and web browsers and the world wide web long ago replaced them as the best way to deliver documentation. However, documentation is useless when people don't know where it is. People are very accustomed to typing "man" to get information on a Unix program or library or file type, so in the standard Netpbm installation, we install a conventional man page for every command, library, and file type, but all it says is to use your web browser to look at the real documentation.

Translation: We maintain a suite of tools used by shell programmers, and we think that being able to read documentation offline or from the shell is stupid, so rather than maintain our documentation in a machine-readable format, we just wrote HTML and installed a bunch of “go fuck yourself” manpages.

On the bright side, they wrote their own replacement for the “man” command that uses Lynx to render their oh-so-spiffy documentation (assuming you’ve installed Lynx, of course), but they don’t even mention it in their fuck-you manpages. Oh, and the folks at darwinports didn’t know about this super-special tool, so they didn’t configure it in their netpbm install.

A-baka: “Hey, I know what we’ll do with our spare time! We can reinvent the wheel!”

B-baka: “Good idea, Dick! No one’s ever done that before, and everyone will praise us for its elegance and ideological purity, even though it’s incompatible with every other wheel-using device!”

A-baka: “We’re so cool!”

Update!: it keeps getting better. Many shell tools have some kind of help option that gives a brief usage summary. What do the Enlightened Beings responsible for netpbm put in theirs?

%  pnmcut --help
pnmcut: Use 'man pnmcut' for help.


Understanding Zen, Bad Haiku edition

seeker of wisdom
finds inside fortune cookie
cheap bumper sticker

Okay, now my brain hurts

It would be polite understatement to say that most of my friends do not understand my affection for such things as anime and Morning Musume. Yea, though I walk through the hallway in the shadow of Chacarron, I shall fear no evil, for kawaii art with me; Mini Strawberry Pie and fan-service comedies, they comfort me.

That said, I think this goes too far. Click on the streaming audio of track number 3.


Dear Rubbermaid,

In future, when you advertise a beverage container as having a half-gallon capacity, would you be so kind as to test it with precisely one half gallon of liquid? This would prevent sudden demonstrations of the hydraulic power of iced tea.

Not quite half-gallon jug

Update: PS: please design a spout that doesn’t leak as much as it pours after a few days of light usage.

I, I, I!

Later, I’ll be making a major revision of my translation of the Dirty Pair theme song Russian Roulette, but there’s something I want to get in writing before I forget it.

When I started going through the lyrics, I felt very strongly that the omitted pronouns should be “I”. Discussing it last night with my teacher, we disagreed on a few of them, but I still believed that I was right.

While working out this morning, I realized why: the singer is speaking for Kei and Yuri; she’s a woman pursuing a man romantically, but the life she leads forces her to describe the chase in terms of a secret agent hunting an enemy. Everything in the song is about her; her life, her risk, her heart, expressed to him the only way she knows how.

He’s the listener, addressed directly – “anata” – but never the subject.

You've been a sysadmin too long when...

…while walking to the restroom in search of relief, you:

  1. spot a printer with a paper jam,
  2. fix the jam,
  3. wait to see if it's fixed,
  4. clear the second jam,
  5. diagnose the problem,
  6. solve the problem,
  7. reload the paper tray,
  8. verify that it's printing correctly.

Then you resume your trip to the restroom.


Hokusai -- The Big Wave

A common complaint among older generations is that the youth of today has no respect for culture and history. I’m pleased to see that this is not an issue in Japan.


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