March 2007


Results for last December’s Japanese Language Proficiency Test are being mailed out now, and are available on the web site. I took Level 3, which is roughly “have finished two years of college Japanese” (something that will be true for me in July), and scored 80.5% (322/400). Lower than I expected, which means that I missed some questions I didn’t already know about, but still comfortably above the average for someone taking the test outside of Japan.

In particular, the listening comprehension section kills people who don’t hear Japanese every day, so I was quite pleased to get 78% on it. I think that’s largely due to the hundreds of hours I spent with the Rosetta Stone software a few years ago.

[Update: Here are the average scores in each section for the last three years for students outside Japan. Vocabulary (100): 64.7, 69.1, 63.7; Listening (100): 47, 45.2, 49.8; Grammar (200): 125.9, 118.6, 120.6. People who take the test in Japan average about 20 points higher on the listening section.]


I do not like IPSec. I do not understand IPSec. Sadly, cheap VPN routers purchased by external partners to whom we must give some access pretty much speak nothing else. [don’t get me started on packaged SSL VPN servers…]

Fortunately, our firewall runs a recent release of OpenBSD. Even more fortunately, there’s an excellent site on configuring OpenBSD as an IPSec server, including sample PF firewall rules.

I used a recent build of Parallels to set up a private, non-routed network with three virtual servers on it, put one of them on the real network as well, set it up as a firewall and router, and tinkered with a pair of Netgear VPN routers until they both could connect to one of the private servers without seeing the other.

Then I worked on the PF ruleset until I knew I could cut off either Netgear without affecting anything else, and transferred my configuration to our real-world firewall. Works like a charm.

It appears that the best way to use IPSec is to completely ignore all of its management features, set up a generic tunnel config, and handle all the access controls in your firewall. One less convoluted config-file syntax to learn, one less place to screw up and allow the wrong people to get at the wrong stuff.

Aargh! Java fall down, go boom!

I had a downright peculiar problem. Any Java app I ran on my Mac apparently painted the window in the wrong order, so that the content was overwritten by the canvas. In some cases I could drag or tab through and get to see the fields, but not reliably.

I tried logging in as another user, and it worked fine, but deleting every preference and cache file that mentioned “java” in the name didn’t help a bit. And so, the search began.

Binary search, that is, where I started by moving my entire home directory out of the way without rebooting, tested (worked!), and gradually narrowed it down. To make a long story short, it was ~/Library/Preferences/.GlobalPreferences.plist, specifically the AppleDisplayScaleFactor key, which was set to “1”. [note: use plutil to convert plist files back into the old XML format]

Why? Because long ago and far away, I once played with the under-development GUI scaling feature in Tiger. It wasn’t ready then, still isn’t ready now, and setting the value back to “1” is supposed to be the same as never having set it in the first place. One of the recent Java updates disagrees.

Nuke that pref, and instantly every Java app paints correctly.

WoW, look at all the time I've wasted...

So, the new World of Warcraft Armory is up….

Detailed data seems to come and go, even if all of the characters have logged in today, but that’s why they call it “beta”.

It’s interesting that someone, somewhere, has copied our Alliance guild name on another server. “Defias Rod and Gun Club” is pretty distinctive, and all we can think is that some of our friends have made alts there.

Most of my character names are unique on all the worlds. A bunch of other people have used Krina and Zenra, but of the ten who’ve used Ikariya, I’m the only one playing a Draenei. Since the only reason I picked the name was its association with tentacles, it’s surprising that someone would use it with another race.

I’m actively playing Zenra and Nishtir right now, and I’d be playing Komusume more if they hadn’t cut off the free server transfers to Arathor right before most of our Horde guild made it over. I’ll probably have to do a paid transfer back to Bronzebeard, because our petition to move the rest has been ignored.

Nyarne is mothballed due to the regular game of “nerf paladins” that the developers love to play; apparently the kids who enjoy ganking other players are annoyed that it’s hard to kill a paladin, so they whine until the devs respond with the nerf bat. Feh.

Harlaath is mothballed because I enjoy being arcane-specced, and they’ve found a new way to screw up Arcane Missiles while leaving the old misfire bug intact. Double feh.

Krina is viable, but if I’m going to play a pet class, I like warlocks more. Hunters occasionally have to stop and drink, while a good warlock never runs out of health or mana.

As for Ikariya, I enjoy the new Draenei quests, and killing Hogger and VC never gets old, but I’ve done the low-level quests so many times that I burn out easily. I can rip through Elwynn, Westfall, Redridge, etc at ridiculous speed, but it’s not as much fun as doing something new.

How Shell lost my business...

On the way home from work tonight, I needed to stop for gas. The most convenient location was the Shell station at Embarcadero and 101.

I will never stop there again. I will never stop at any Shell station that installs their new video screens that play LOUD COMMERCIALS while you’re filling up the tank. It was remarkably obnoxious, and distinctly audible even inside the car with the windows rolled up.

Dear Edward Trimnell,

In your book, Modern Japanese Vocabulary, the content seems to be quite reasonable. The layout and typography, however, sucks rocks through a straw.

There’s no index.

The handmade table of contents is set centered, with (usually) three periods separating the apparently-randomly-arranged section headings from their page numbers.

The actual content pages are covered in gratuitous horizontal rules (classic chartjunk), and set in a proportionally-spaced, slightly-condensed sans-serif kanji font.

Sub-section headers are honest-to-gosh sheep-stealing letterspaced lowercase. Also centered.

No running headers or footers to help the reader find a section in the book.

No obvious method for the arrangement of individual entries in each section.

The kanji column on the right-hand pages is hard to read due to the tiny margins and tight binding.

In short, you’ve self-published a reference book that’s hard to reference. Please hire an experienced book designer for any future products, including any revised editions of this book.

Sony pre-announces pro and semi-pro SLR bodies

Sony’s first Minolta-compatible SLR was the A100, which was a rebadged and slightly improved Minolta 5D. They’ve now shown off prototypes equivalent to the old 7-series and 9-series bodies, which is good news for people like me with a significant investment in Minolta glass.

Overheard on University Ave.

"We give free health care to the rich, but nothing to the poor."

"Sometimes you need to take a medication holiday."

Oddly enough, these statements came from different people, although both were likely Stanford students. The first came from a guy talking about someone he knew who had a bleeding ulcer, and who was just toughing it out due to lack of health insurance. The second came from a young woman on her way into Starbucks with a friend, discussing their Spring Break plans.

In a Parallel Universe...

[Peem] whispers: wiped in TIB, can u tank 4 us

[Ferendo] whispers: Maybe, what's up?

[Peem] whispers: need 2 clear 4 1st boss, u tank 6 whelps we dps

[Ferendo] whispers: That sounds easy. Go ahead and summon me.

Ferendo joins the party.

[Ferendo] says: Okay, where are the whelps?

[Peem] says: dead ahead, dood

[Ferendo] says: What, past that nest of elite dragonkin?

Peem points at Enraged Harbinger Whelp.

[Ferendo] says: Ah, right in the middle of the nest of elite dragonkin. That’s a problem.

[Peem] says: u said easy

[Ferendo] says: I said tanking six whelps would be easy. Nobody told me about the 18 elite dragonkin fireballing me and healing each other in the middle of the fight. All my fire resist gear put together won’t keep me alive for fifteen seconds in that, and there’s no way you can DPS them down before I die. And when I die, you die.

[Ferendo] says: Look, send a tell to my friend Akamai; he’s got a full set of Molten Core gear and some fire pots, and he could clean this room out with his eyes closed.

[Peem] says: tried, he said no pugs

[Ferendo] says: What’s your repair budget?

[Peem] says: ??

[Ferendo] says: Without the right gear, we’re going to wipe half a dozen times before they’re all down, and that’s going to cost me at least six gold.

[Peem] says: no cash, just got [Gaudy Shiv of the Poser] at AH

[Ferendo] says: Then you’re fucked. Sorry, guys, I’m out of here.

Ferendo leaves the party.

[Peem] whispers: u suck

Ferendo is now ignoring Peem.

Study materials...

With Winter quarter coming to a close, and only one Japanese class scheduled for Spring (well, two, but one will almost certainly be cancelled), I suddenly felt the need to acquire some fresh study materials to improve my spoken and written comprehension. Off to…

An atypical day...

Yesterday morning, I found a thank-you note attached to a bottle of 15-year-old Glenlivet on my desk at work. Some users understand…

Yesterday night, I found someone’s little kick-me dog in my back yard. It didn’t belong to a neighbor, and couldn’t possibly have made it over the fence, which means that someone opened the gate and let it in.

After I chased the noisy little monster out (and watched it make a beeline toward its home), I found a door tag from Clark Pest Control stuffed into the back door.

So, someone in the neighborhood lets their little dog run loose (which explains the occasional “present” in the middle of my front yard), and Clark has hired a new guy who not only forgets to leave the usual invoice on the front door, but also lets strange animals into the back yard and locks them in when he leaves.

Still, with a fresh bottle of scotch in hand, I couldn’t manage to get particularly upset about it.

Dear Microsoft,

Contrary to your claim, most web sites do not in fact explicitly specify their language setting in a fashion compatible with your auto-detection.

For instance, my site is carefully specified as UTF-8, and occasionally contains some Japanese text. Once someone activates the Windows features that let them see Asian scripts at all, IE renders the kanji on my site in a Simplified Chinese font, and the kana in a Japanese font, unless the first font in the CSS font-family list contains all of the characters used on the page.

Most browsers will fail over to the alternative font-family you’ve specified, but not IE. It goes straight to the options set in the Font menu in Internet Options. And it looks like crap.

Unfortunately, the latin alphabets in most kanji fonts are significantly less readable online than Verdana and Georgia, and the Simplified Chinese fonts not only don’t look good alongside them, they might be the wrong character entirely. That’s why CSS is supposed to do this sort of thing for you in the first place.

Why start poking at this problem now? Two reasons: first, I have Vista running on my MacBook to test it out for corporate deployment. Second, Vista is finally capable of anti-aliasing (some) kanji fonts, and they supply a very screen-readable Japanese Gothic font called Meiryo (also available in Office 2007, apparently). I’d like to have Meiryo used to render kanji and kana on any machine that has it installed, but continue using Verdana and Georgia for everything else. Safari and Firefox, yes; IE, not a chance.

And here I was all set to say something nice about IE7 for a change, after I discovered that the new page zoom feature actually does The Right Thing, scaling the entire page layout up with high-quality font rendering. The wrong fonts, but nicely rendered!

[Firefox’s font rendering quality is crap, but it’s consistent cross-platform crap, so I suppose that’s okay]

Buying Windows laptops for work...

Rory has ranted a bit about our recent laptop troubles. After giving up on those two companies, and not being able to fit ThinkPads into the budget, we looked for an alternative. These days, we’re also constrained by the desire to avoid becoming a mixed XP/Vista shop, so I went to the vendor who likes us the most, PC Connection, and sorted through their offerings.

The first “fix me now” user really, really wanted a lightweight machine, and had a strong affection for Bluetooth, so we bought him a Sony VAIO SZ340P and bumped the memory to 1.5GB. He loves it, and I was pretty pleased with the out-of-the-box experience as well (including their new packaging). There are only three real problems: it takes half an hour and three reboots to delete all of the crapware that’s preinstalled, you have to spend an hour burning recovery DVDs because they don’t ship media, and the default screensaver plays obnoxious music on a short loop.

The second user liked the SZ340P, but wanted something even lighter, so we bought her the SZ360P. It’s a quarter-pound lighter, uses the same docking station (which ships without its own power supply, but uses the same one as the laptop), and is also a really nice machine.

The downside of 4-pound laptops is they’re not as sturdy, so for the next four new-hires in line, I looked for something a little bigger, and ended up choosing the BX640P, with RAM bumped to 2GB. Different docking station (nicer, actually, with room for an optical drive and a spare battery to keep charged), different set of crapware, and not a widescreen display, but a better keyboard and a sturdier feel, and I’m equally pleased with its performance.

The only serious negative: it looks like the BX series will be discontinued, so when they run out and I need to start buying Vista machines, I’ll have to switch series. At the moment, I’m leaning a little toward the FE890 series, but PC Connection doesn’t stock the full range yet, so I can’t get the CPU/RAM/disk combination I want. With luck I can put that off for a few months, though.

With the previous brand, 2 of five had video and wireless problems. The five VAIOs I’ve set up so far have been rock-solid, and I expect the same from the other three that just arrived.

Sadly, while we’ll be able to put off the Vista migration for a little while (hopefully until Juniper gets their VPN client working…), Microsoft Office 2003 is a dead product, and starting Monday we’ll have users running 2007. On each user’s machine, I have to open up each Office application as that user, click the unobtrusive button that looks like a window decoration, click on the “{Word,Excel,PowerPoint} Options” button, select the Save tab, and set the “Save files in this format” option to use the Office 97-2003 format. Or else.

[Update: Actually, if you like ThinkPads and you’re willing to buy them right now, PC Connection has some nice clearance deals. If we were a bigger company, I might find the “buy 15, get one free” deal attractive…]

[4/17/2007 update: okay, one of the Sony BX laptops just lost its motherboard, after locking up at random intervals over a week or two. That still leaves 9/10 good ones, which is better than we got with Dell and Alienware.]

Dear Sony,

I own a Toshiba SD-K700 DVD player. It’s a nice DVD player, and it’s never given me any trouble. Until tonight.

Tonight I attempted to watch Casino Royale, and it wouldn’t load. So I switched to Stranger Than Fiction, and that wouldn’t load, either. Then I tried The Prestige, which worked fine. All of my other DVDs still worked, too. (and yours worked in another player)

Three brand new releases, and the two that don’t work say “Sony Pictures” on them. Hmm…

[Update: the story has finally hit Slashdot]

Favicons are evil, but I have one anyway

Why? Because if I have one, each visitor will request it once and cache it indefinitely. If I don’t, they’ll ask for it again and again (with some browsers, every time they load a page), crufting up my logs.

Dear Apple,

Why did Spotlight suddenly stop indexing my email, and completely lose track of all previously indexed email?

mdfind, mdutil, …

Ah, I see; it spontaneously disabled indexing on the entire drive, and masked this by continuing to report file-name matches. That’s nice.

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