May 2007

back to Basics

The Microsoft Basic Mouse is USB.

The Microsoft Basic Keyboard is PS/2.

This is not obvious in certain online stores, and is a damn nuisance when you buy machines that have no PS/2 ports.

Best $25 we've spent recently

This is a remarkably useful gadget that’s paid for itself several times in the past month. What it does: connect an IDE or SATA drive via USB2 without putting it in an enclosure. It’s faster to work with the bare drive when you just need to grab some data from a failed machine or scrub a disk before reuse or service.

Harry's Matrix

Harry Dresden is a rather unconventional wizard, in a rather decent set of urban fantasy/detective novels. He has no significant connection to Japan, and indeed his magic is very strongly Western in origin.

So where did the glowing runes on his staff come from?

Dresden's Staff -- マトリックス

The paperback edition of Dead Beat doesn’t seem to name the cover artist anywhere, but whoever it was decided that the English loanword マトリックス (“matrix”) made a dandy set of runes.

[oh, and I just noticed that Amazon has a new “Amapedia” site…]

Adobe fucks up again

When Adobe released the CS suite, they added a revision control system called Version Cue. I had mixed feelings about it, but at least it was off by default.

When they released the CS2 suite, they turned it on by default, without any regard for security. I was less than thrilled:

The only nice thing I can say about it is that it doesn’t add a new rule to the built-in Mac OS X firewall to open up the ports it uses.

Care to guess what CS3 does? If you guessed “adds a new firewall rule”, you’d only be half right. It adds a new firewall rule, and then turns off the firewall. That part’s a mistake, obviously, but silently modifying your firewall settings to turn on an unsecured file server is unforgivable.

[Update: Adobe acknowledges their mistake in turning off the firewall, but does not apologize for silently turning your machine into a server and sharing your documents]

Dear Adobe,

Please stop embedding Reader in my browsers; it’s a horribly bloated application that renders PDF files a dozen times more slowly than, and frequently manages to peg the CPU and lock up my browser while failing to render a document.

Context is everything

The feature set of the Nintendo DS makes it very attractive for educational software that’s actually useful. The one drawback is that it’s all intended for local audiences, much like the Canon Wordtank and other portable electronic dictionaries.

A lot of it is intended for kids, so the language barrier isn’t too high, and over the past few weeks I’ve picked up three useful cartridges for my new DS Lite, all of which make excellent use of the touch-screen:

The first one is excellent for reviewing kanji you already know and can read and write quickly and reliably. If you’re relatively confident in your ability, you’ve been learning kanji in the standard school order, and you have a decent vocabulary, it’s quite useful. The one downside is that the kanji recognizer is very forgiving, allowing you to use both common abbreviations and incorrect stroke orders. In some cases, it’s a little too forgiving: I can’t write 言 correctly and have it accepted; I either have to write it on the left as if it were the radical, or abbreviate strokes two through four into a “Z”.

Kanji Sonomama has a less comprehensive dictionary than a WordTank, but the kanji recognizer is both good and patient, allowing you to look up unfamiliar words that you come across while reading. With a WordTank, I often can’t look up an unfamiliar word unless it has furigana. I know there are some high-end models that support direct kanji input now, but they cost a lot more than a DS and a copy of Kanji Sonomama.

The third one is the best kanji training software I’ve found so far. Reading and writing are in separate modules, so you don’t have the correct readings in front of you while you’re practicing shape and stroke order, but it has traceable sample characters and stroke-order animations,and will even animate your most recent attempt side-by-side with the correct version.

The only downside so far is that a few of the sample sentences require cultural context that stumps me. Here’s a simple example:

  五円玉   文字 九    

Since this was a first-grade drill, I knew what all of the characters had to be, but I couldn’t figure out what the sentence was supposed to mean. The grammar was simple, but what in the hell was a five-yen ball, and why would it have nine characters in it?

[pause for laughter]

This would have made a lot more sense if I’d ever been to Japan and seen a five-yen coin, which does in fact have nine kanji written on one side. If it weren’t for Google, I’d still be wondering about that one.

[note for people in the San Francisco Bay Area: all three of these cartridges are available at the San Jose User’s Side store.]

Dear Apple,

Thanks for pretending that I eagerly signed up to get email about the iPhone. This is, of course, a lie.

Subject: Thank you for your interest in iPhone.
Date: May 16, 2007 3:06:48 PM PDT

Talk to you soon.

Thanks for signing up. You'll be the first to hear the latest about iPhone--coming this June. That gives you just enough time to think of ways to break the news to your current phone.


Sometimes I miss the Eighties...

My latest Amazon order included the Duran Duran Greatest Hits DVD, which includes uncensored versions of several of their classic videos, including the not-safe-for-work Girls On Film. The menu system is a mess, which makes it all the more satisfying to rip the individual titles with Handbrake.

As one of the four different copies of Girls On Film ends, the camera pans up from the topless mud-wrestling scene to reveal this:


Rare, but common

More adventures in context. I was working through the 熟語 drills in Kakitorikun, grade by grade, and found a real stumper: 百出.

I knew the two characters well (“hundred” and “to leave”, respectively), and could guess the correct reading, but I’d never seen the compound, and my WordTank didn’t have a J-E entry for it. Neither did Kanji Sonomama. Neither did Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary, nor several other printed dictionaries that usually gather dust at home. My WordTank had a J-J entry for it, but it read 「種々さまざまに数多く現れ出ること」, and my attempt to work through this word-by-word did not produce much enlightenment.

It certainly didn’t produce “arise in great numbers” (courtesy of The Compact Nelson, although Edict also has it). More significantly, I was still in the dark as to why a word that young kids are expected to know isn’t considered common enough to put into a variety of J-E dictionaries.

The answer seems to be 議論百出, which is a saying with the rough translation “diverse arguments arising in great numbers”. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I’m satisfied with its presence in the drills now. There are a lot of four-character compounds that would be well-known to someone growing up in Japan, but that wouldn’t come up often in translation.

Speaking of rare...
LogoThere are
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

This site does acknowledge the existence of one person running around with the name “Jay Greely”. I know from experience that he lives in Boca Raton, Florida…

[my father and brother are a bit less unique; I still remember the day I was shocked to hear a familiar name announced on the news as a wanted criminal in a nearby county]

Who knew?

Back in August, my car was damaged in a hit-and-run. I got the guy’s license plate before he escaped, and filed a police report that included a statement from a witness. I paid my deductible and my insurance company paid the rest.

Last week, I received a letter from my insurance company announcing that they’d lost in arbitration, and since the other insurance company hadn’t paid up, I wasn’t going to be getting my deductible back. I have, in theory, really good insurance, such that if I hadn’t gotten the plate number or the other driver hadn’t been insured at all, they’d have paid. I called my agent and asked “WTF?”.

Today, they explained why the arbitration failed: because my insurance company didn’t submit a recorded witness statement. This was less interesting to me than why I wasn’t getting my money back, so of course they made sure to deliver it through a neutral third party who couldn’t give me anyone higher up to contact.

So I’ve gone back to my agent, and suggested he find someone to give me a damn good explanation, before I find a new company to insure my house, car, and motorcycle. Farmers is no longer my friend.

Dear Microsoft,

I just had a user complain about not being able to delete files in her Inbox in Outlook 2007. When I tested, I got a dialog telling me that the outlook.ost file buried six folders deep somewhere was corrupt, and I should run scanpst.

It didn’t tell me where to find scanpst. When I found it, and tried to navigate to the folder containing the corrupted file, it didn’t exist. So I opened a cmd window and it didn’t show up for the dir command, either. I blindly cd’d to it anyway, and it existed, but the next folder in the path wasn’t there, either.

To make a long story short, the hidden file in the hidden folder in the hidden folder had to be located by searching the drive and then pasting the complete path into scanpst’s open dialog. Then all I had to do was exit every application that so much as mentioned the concept of email (including Google Desktop), and the tool quickly repaired the file.

In Office 2003, this entire process could be accomplished by selecting the “Detect and Repair…” menu option from inside Outlook. Hurray for usability improvements.

Okay, now what?

There’s a set of sample images over on No, Dave, it’s just you that, in theory, will help you determine if your Apple laptop display has 24-bit or 18-bit color. I can detect no banding in the 24-bit image, so I must have one of the (allegedly few) good MacBooks, right?

Wrong. Before trying this test, I used SwitchResX to determine that my MacBook has an AU Optronics B133EW01, which is definitely an 18-bit display.

I suspect that all Apple (and most other) laptops have 18-bit displays, and the real news here is that Apple bought some lemons.

We, uh, "fixed the glitch"

I hate it when fixing one problem breaks something else, especially when it’s subtle.

A few weeks ago while testing our new IPSec VPN connections to external partners, we discovered that I could ssh/scp through the VPN from my Macs, but none of our Linux boxes could, and another Mac running allegedly-identical software had horrible performance issues.

The fix was a change in the OpenBSD firewall that also served as the IPSec endpoint: scrub reassemble tcp. The problem went away like magic.

Today, we found out that there’s a single external partner we have to post some data to via an HTTPS connection, and it worked fine from machines outside of our firewall, but failed about 50% of the time from all the machines inside our firewall.

…except for my Macs, which worked 100% of the time. I fired up a CentOS 5 Parallels session on one of them, and it failed 50% of the time. Surely it couldn’t be…

It was. Remove the scrub line, and the HTTPS post worked from everywhere, but now my IPSec VPNs were hosed again.


scrub from any to $IPSEC1_INT reassemble tcp
scrub from any to $IPSEC2_INT reassemble tcp
scrub in

The root cause appears to be the partner’s IIS server failing to properly implement RFC 1323, causing some of the fragmented packets to be rejected during reassembly.

Technology put to use...

While browsing the newly-updated iTunes store, I stumbled across the following podcast: 女の子の写真スライドショー/Japanese Cute Girl Slide Show. It’s exactly what it sounds like.

Of course, you could download the same photos at higher resolution from someplace like Zorpia, and you wouldn’t be limited to this person’s taste in music and girls. But then it wouldn’t auto-download a new one to your iPod every week, which I guess counts as a feature.


Please point the download link on your site at the stable Mac client (4.4.1), not the CPU and memory-hogging “beta” (4.27.2) that not only clobbered my machine, but didn’t actually download anything to the directory it was pointed at.

Not a good day to shop at the iTunes store...

Whether I try to upgrade some of my music to the new iTunes Plus format, or buy something new, I just get this:

iTunes Store glitch

It can wait.

[update: I can’t buy anything at all; my account is now thoroughly confused in their database.]

[update: okay, it took a week, but they figured out which Dean Martin album shouldn’t have been trying to upgrade to iTunes Plus, and with that out of the way, I could determine that the season pass for The Dresden Files (not as good as the books, but not bad) was also broken]

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