May 2008

Um, but...

A frustrated fan of post-racial Democrat candidate Obama says:

"Hillary Clinton would not even still be in the race if Obama was a white man."

If Obama had been a white man, he wouldn’t have been in the race at all, because he’d have made John Edwards look too good.

Kindle play

So, my mother has a shiny new Amazon Kindle, and before they continued on the next leg of their vacation, I helped fill it up with free e-books from Mobipocket’s web site. I also played with it for a while.


  1. Every time I picked it up, I hit a button by accident.
  2. There's no reliable way to void a pending button-press, and it keeps a queue at least five clicks deep.
  3. The "like a book" way of holding it with the cover makes the "previous page" button awkward to use.
  4. Western European/American font support only. I didn't really expect it to have kanji, but I was surprised that it was also missing things like "ō", affecting things like the English-language Wikipedia entry for Toshirō Mifune.
  5. Web sites that can't be rendered are falsely reported as down. I was all set to rush into the co-lo to reboot when I checked from my laptop and discovered that it was fine. The Kindle just refused to render it, because of the Japanese text.
  6. It always took a long time to connect to Whispernet, leaving me wondering if our hotel was in a cellular dead zone. No, it's just that slow.
  7. Frequent ghosting on the display, something that's less of a problem with newer e-paper displays and ones that do a full erase before a full redraw.
  8. Unlike the early photos they showed off of it, it's not hideous to look at. It definitely needs some work in the human-factors department, but it looks much cleaner than I expected.
  9. The sidebar-slider UI is a reasonable compromise between clarity and responsiveness, but takes some getting used to.

Net result: I’ll hold off until Kindle 2.0, at least.

Etoan Irshlu

We’re used to getting our laptops back in… “worn” condition. Usually just cosmetic wear and loose display hinges, but some of them get dropped or otherwise abused (our CEO apparently uses his MacBook Pro to stop bullets), and a few have been completely trashed.

The one we recently got back from our copy-writer when she left the company (“Hi, Sue!”) was special.


キノの旅:「わたしの国」 (excerpt)

[This quarter, I’m taking a class that’s focused on reading authentic Japanese text. Everyone finds something short to read, makes copies for the entire group, and prepares a vocabulary list. Well, we’re supposed to be making vocabulary lists, although so far I’m the only one to do so. Two of the pieces I’ve brought in have been from illustrated books, and it seemed wasteful to photocopy the whole things, so I typed them in and added some furigana.

The first one wasn’t really authentic Japanese, being from the ASK reader series, but the teacher really liked that author and wanted us to read it. The second is more contemporary, and I thought it might be of general interest. It’s the latest short story from the Kino’s Journey series. I’m just posting the first scene, since it’s both illegal and darn rude to reprint the whole thing. If you like the story, buy the book, which also includes a DVD of the second Kino movie.

I’ve added a lot more pop-up furigana (with English translations) than I need myself, to give more people a chance to work through it.]


Dear Fedora 9 developers,

Please tell me that the new GUI package manager is an early alpha, and that the dreadful performance, almost-invisible feedback, downright misleading “install security updates?” dialog box, and reduced functionality is a temporary aberration.

With that minor gripe out of the way, I just need to build the EEE wireless and ACPI packages on a VMware session, grab the updated RPMs that fix Japanese text entry, and then reinstall with a slightly-less-insane package selection, but out of the box, F9 has decent sound, video, and wired ethernet support for the EEE. I found it fairly easy to switch to a full Sun Java install, which got our Juniper VPN software working.

As a side note, while playing around with the new install, I finally confirmed that the furigana and vertical-text-layout features in OpenOffice interoperate with MS Word correctly; the UI is completely different, but it sucks in both, so that’s not necessarily a criticism. Given what an ugly hack furigana is in Word to begin with, I’d say one of the OO developers earned his lunch money on that one.

[this is mostly a theoretical issue for me, since a Word license costs me less than lunch at McDonalds, but it’s nice to know that people for whom Word costs a few burgers can get by for free]

[Update: to clarify a bit on one of the above points, when I turned on my EEE this morning, F9 popped up a dialog informing me that three important security updates were available. Unfortunately, clicking the “Update computer now” button silently installs eight updates, and I can’t even get a list of them without closing the dialog, clicking on the star-bang icon at the top of the screen, selecting “show updates”, and then selecting “review”. In addition to the security updates, it also updates libvorbis, the UpnP SDK, PPP, some Japanese bitmap fonts, and the OS release notes. Bad design.]

[Update: the pop-up window doesn’t have a scrollbar, either, so when I booted up a small-screen machine that had 21 security updates, I couldn’t even see the buttons.]

Needs more pylon

Marshall, Will, and Holly reunite to pretend they’re adapting Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. In 3-D. This doesn’t look like a winner.

Importing furigana into Word

Aozora Bunko is, more or less, the Japanese version of Project Gutenberg. As I’ve mentioned before, they have a simple markup convention to handle phonetic guides and textual notes. The notes can get a bit complicated, referring to obsolete kanji and special formatting, but the phonetic part is simple to parse.

I can easily convert it to my pop-up furigana for online use (which I think is more useful than the real thing at screen resolution), but for my reading class, it would be nice to make real furigana to print out. A while back I started tinkering with using Word’s RTF import for this, but gave up because it was a pain in the ass. Among other problems, the RTF parser is very fragile, and syntax errors can send it off into oblivion.

Tonight, while I was working on something else, I remembered that Word has an allegedly reasonable HTML parser, and IE was the first browser to support the HTML tags for furigana. So I stripped the RTF code out of my script, generated simple HTML, and sent it to Word. Success! Also a spinning beach-ball for a really long time, but only for the first document; once Word loaded whatever cruft it needed, that session would convert subsequent HTML documents quickly. It even obeys simple CSS, so I could set the main font size and line spacing, as well as the furigana size.

Two short Perl scripts: shiftjis2utf8 and aozora-ruby.

[Note that Aozora Bunko actually supplies XHTML versions of their texts with properly-tagged furigana, but they also do some other things to the text that I don’t want to try to import into Word, like replacing references to obsolete kanji with PNG files.]

I'm just saying...

There are several different ways to romanize Japanese. This is the wrong one.



[Update: Replaced the store link; I hadn’t realized that was now wholesale-only.]

One of my regrets from the trip to Japan was that I didn’t bring home more ginger-flavored crack(ers). I hoped I’d be able to find them in the US, but the only name I knew to call them by was a Kyoto cliché.

Today, I avoided the con crowd by heading up to SF Japantown, and while browsing through a grocery store, I found two different brands of Shouga Tsumami (“ginger pinch”). They’re a little thicker than the ones we bought in a Gion candy store, and not quite as fresh, but they’re still darn tasty, and they’re available online.

[concept] A tech blog that doesn't suck

  1. The use of marketing phrases to describe the release of a product shall be forbidden. In particular, the word "drop" shall be reserved for articles announcing that a product has been removed from the market.
  2. Press releases for objects which are not only unreleased, but nonexistent, shall be clearly labeled "concept art," "design project," "spec work," "wishful thinking," "investor pitch," "violates second law of thermodynamics," or some other appropriate, factual description.
  3. Press releases that contain neither release dates nor specifications shall be considered to fall into one of the above categories.
  4. Factual information contained in press releases shall be clearly presented above the fold.
  5. Embedded links to manufacturers and products shall go directly to the most appropriate page on the most official source available at the time. The practice of burying the source to generate additional ad impressions shall not be tolerated.
  6. Contributors shall demonstrate at least a grade-school grasp of English composition.
  7. Except when discussing products and services specifically designed for adult-only audiences, contributors shall write for a general audience, not a locker room.
  8. Contributors and editors shall not suffer a shill to live.

Non-Flying Motorcycles

In the Kino’s Journey short story we’ve been reading in class, the following line appears as Hermes the talking motorcycle is introduced as a “Motorado”:


Translated: “Note: two-wheeled vehicle. Refers only to non-flying ones”.

The origin of the word appears to be German: “motorrad”, as in BMW Motorrad, makers of fine motorcycles. All the Japanese search engines I’ve checked turn up lots of links to Kino, followed by a few to generic motorcycle discussions.

So why does the author feel compelled to point out that Hermes can’t fly? I just spotted the exact same phrase while skimming through the first Kino novel, in every story. Where’s the ambiguity? If motorado isn’t in common use in Japanese outside of Kino and motorcycle fans, why stress the fact that Hermes is a non-flying two-wheeler, every time?

After eleven novels, two spinoff novels, an anime series, and two OVAs, isn’t someone who picks up a special-edition Kino book going to be pretty clear about at least the non-flying part? The novels are really short story collections, originally published individually in a magazine, so I can see the first half-dozen or so introducing unfamiliar katakana words like モトラド and パースエイダー, but doing it every time is either an editorial standard or a stylistic choice, and just calling it a “two-wheeled vehicle” is somehow insufficient.

Rosy Pants

Following up on earlier discussions of the trainwreck that was the anime version of Rosario&Vampire, I recently picked up the latest issue of the magazine that’s running the manga, Jump SQ, and learned that:

  • They're hyping the light novel.
  • They're hyping the game, including its two new girls in a crowd scene, holding a DS Lite.
  • They're hyping the second season of the anime, which, if the pictures are to be believed, consists entirely of swimsuit scenes, and adds Our Hero's human cousin Kyouko and the second loli, Moka's little sister Cocoa.
  • In this episode, Nekonome-sensei kicks off a membership drive for the newspaper club. How to get attention? Cheerleader costumes!
  • Cocoa finds this incompatible with her dignity, and flees the fan-service, with Yukari chasing after her. Flying lolis in skimpy cheerleader costumes.
  • Chuu is in the manga cast now, and hangs out with Cocoa. I don't know if he was added because of the anime, or in spite of it; I'm not really following this series.
  • Our lolis go looking for another club for Cocoa, and get booted out of several for being too young. Cocoa doesn't handle frustration well, so Yukari offers her latest magical item: instant puberty candy.
  • Cocoa's a big hit with her new look, easily winning a brick-breaking contest at the karate club, and breaking dozens of hearts in the process. It doesn't hurt that her cheerleading costume didn't quite scale to match her new figure.
  • Cocoa is thrilled with the power in her new adult body, and the effect it had on all the boys. Yukari's thrilled too; not only did they win a lot of money, but she likes Cocoa's new body, too. Especially the boobs.
  • much so that she goes in for a squeeze, leading Cocoa to moan, "oh, what's this strange feeling?", and the lecherous Yukari shows no signs of stopping.
  • Fortunately, Cocoa's honor is saved by the dishonored karate club, who wants a private rematch to salvage their reputation.
  • Naturally the pill wears off just as she's about to kick their asses, dropping her skirt around her ankles. Full-frontal loli-pantsu!

I know there have been a few “serious” chapters in this second series, but they don’t seem to have advanced the overall plot significantly. No matter what happens, Tsukune won’t change in a way that will prevent his harem from glomping him at every opportunity. He can’t leave the school, he can’t stop being at least partially human, and he can’t commit to any one girl. Similarly, Alt-Moka must remain constrained by the rosario, or outer Moka will effectively die.

The mangaka might want to break out of this genre, even if he doesn’t have a real long-term plan for a serious story, but he’s trapped. There’s too much merchandise that focuses on the harem side of the series. Maybe he can work out some of those issues in the light novel, but I think the manga’s future is clear.

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