June 2013

Debito Arudou in a nutshell

"The recipe to an unhappy life in Japan is to want to be Japanese if you are not."

(Pico Iyer in WSJ, via Japan Intercultural Twitter feed)

What’s up with the yen?

And by “up”, I mean going from 103 to the dollar to 96.5 in a bit over a week. I was kinda liking the trend before Memorial Day…

AsoIku book 13, finished

This one took a while. Not because the story was as baffling and filled with nonsense as book 11, but mostly because a lot of characters talked funny. Lizard-girl Sawori’s accented Japanese is indicated with katakana and the occasional mispronunciation, much like American cowgirl CIA agent JACK, who’s also in this book, with more dialog than she’s had in the last six books put together. Then there are the various international spies and government agents pretending to be exchange students on the Catian ship, whose mostly-fluent Japanese tends toward the official, and the bonus pile of new vocabulary used to explain Gaavuru culture. Add to that the usual fun of figuring out the childlike writing of the assistoroids, and it made for a bit of a slog. There are sections where my comprehension was maybe only in the 60-70% range.

Much is accomplished, however, including the most significant plot development in the entire series: Kio finally stops addressing his junior girlfriend as Futaba-san and starts calling her Aoi-chan.


Installing fonts from the DynaFont collection

Let’s say that you have purchased a shovelware disc of Japanese fonts, such as this one from DynaComWare (discontinued, but it turns up occasionally; I bought mine at a going-out-of-business sale).

[Note that when I describe this particular disc as “shovelware”, I’m really referring to the collection of 3,000+ renamed ripoffs of Western fonts (from font pirate Bay Animation) that are thrown in; for Japanese, Chinese, and Korean fonts, DynaComWare is a legitimate foundry.]

The ripoffs (as well as the Korean, Chinese, special-effects, and kana fonts) are just stored on-disc with no protection, but the good stuff is hiding in files with the .t4 and .t9 extensions. The only supported way to install them is by running the included Windows program (which might not display correctly on non-Japanese versions of Windows, and of course doesn’t work at all on a Mac), but it turns out that they’re just encrypted ZIP files with a simple 8-digit numeric password, six digits of which can be inferred from the timestamp.

One thing to note is that the disc contains two sets of kanji fonts, in directories labeled JIS90 and JIS2004. The difference between the two is a subtle appearance change in a small number of characters, neatly described in this Adobe PDF file. A small number of fonts are available only in the JIS90 flavor, mostly pseudo-bitmap fonts of little real value; most people won’t notice the difference, and if you do, well, you’ve got both.

I highly recommend the disc, by the way.

iOS7 UI: designed by 20-year-olds with 20/20 vision

The quick side-by-side images here (note that the third image has the new crap on the left instead of the right) suggest that Apple has thrown out everything they might ever have known about accessibility. Tiny! Gray! Low-saturation! Low-contrast! The weather image is particularly hilarious, with the ever-so-thin white font on a light background.

Not that the old one was any great shakes when it came to font size, contrast, and color-deficiency-awareness, but they thought this was good enough to show off to the world, so it’s unlikely they’re going to make drastic changes before release.

Adobe Swatch Exchange file format

The only things I can really add to this excellent description of the format are:

  • the code for grayscale is actually "Gray", not "GRAY", although it's possible some software will accept either.
  • all values are stored big-endian.
  • numbers are single-precision floating point (in Perl pack() terms, "f>"), strings are UTF-16 with a trailing NUL word.
  • LAB colors are in the range 0-1, -128-127, -128-127; no adjustment is necessary.
  • Apparently none of the generated files he examined included the end-palette chunk, which has type 0xC0020000 and does not include a name field.
  • In actual parsing, Illustrator ignores the end-palette chunk anyway, though; all colors have to be part of some group when imported, so they're added to the most recently named group.

With those additions, my little Perl script is capable of reading everything that comes with Illustrator or is generated by the current version of the Kuler service. Piping the output of my ase2txt script into txt2ase produces identical files, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got everything right.

For fun, I even added the ability to sort swatches by lightness in the L*ab space, and merge in color names using the closest match in Aubrey Jaffer’s collection of color dictionaries (using the conversion and distance formulas from EasyRGB).

Combining the NBS/ISCC dictionary with the results of the XKCD color survey produces a quite reasonable set of names (except for the NBS-ISCC definition of “black”, which might be useful for surface colors, but is useless for monitors). The Resene paint colors offer excellent coverage, but the names are just too eccentric for general description (ex: jon, shark, zeus, cello, haiti, nero, merlin, etc).

AsoIku book 14, halfway point

This book returns to the main plotline, with the good guys working to advance diplomatic relations between Earth and Catia, the bad guys trying to sabotage them, and the author frantically trying to remember all the stuff he threw into earlier books as well as the things he forgot to mention in them.

In other words, it’s a mess of PoV changes, as-you-know-Bob, and whoops-forgot-about-this-bit, with the honest-to-gosh Pope in the middle of it all. When his interest in meeting the Catians was mentioned at the end of the previous book, I confess I was worried. The handling of Christianity in anime and light novels isn’t known for being particularly… “faithful”.

So far he’s only had one brief appearance in the book, since the whole point is for the bad guys to plot to prevent the meeting, but he was handled surprisingly well, coming across as a gentle, kind, sincerely devout religious leader. Also, when Antonia lectures the others about him and his potential to influence world opinion, it works; in this area, at least, the author has done a bit of homework.

Our Villain is of course Nirumea, evil-angel alien with a sweet tooth, whose failure in book 10 has left her with nothing but a burning desire for revenge and the remnants of former assistant Ryunnu’s super-special operational support and prediction computer. And junk food; the hikikomori lifestyle has turned her into a slobby little blimp, but nothing matters to her except wiping out Cats and Dogs. Some angels just want to watch the world burn.

Officially, both Nirumea and Ryunnu are MIA, with Ryunnu at least presumed dead since Dogs prefer death to captivity. In what will apparently be their last official meeting, the head Dog and Angel warily discuss the recent departure of the Lizards from their little alliance, and on hearing that the Orsonians are waking up, the top Dog starts making plans to abandon Earth as well, remembering what happened the last time the Orsonians caught them being naughty. (short version: their civilization was set back 300+ years in an instant, with ships destroyed and minds scrubbed of advanced knowledge, and “do it again and we’ll wipe your minds completely”)

Nirumea is using her computer to stir up all sorts of violent extremist groups, as well as manipulating at least one “christian” CEO into building a private army that will do her bidding. The good guys have noticed the uptick in anti-alien sentiment, but haven’t identified a specific cause. Ryunnu, however, has spent the last few months attempting to resurrect the core of her special system using primitive Earth technology bought in Akihabara, and has finally gotten it working well enough to spot the clues, and after a late night at their coffee shop, shares her suspicions with big sister Jens.

But none of that is important. If you go by page count, the single most significant thing that’s going on is that Manami is thinking about how much Kio has grown up into a smart cool guy, and how she feels like a fifth wheel, and how the presence of real pros supporting the embassy has her feeling unqualified, has started moping so much that everyone is noticing and wondering about it, and has now confessed to Aoi that as soon as this operation is over, she’s going to quit.

The fine art of Calling Bullshit

Fast Design magazine writes a puffy little piece on the decline of wood in consumer electronics design, filled with quotes about the mystical and spiritual qualities of this natural material that make it ill-suited to modern use.

Commenter Bradley Gawthrop calls bullshit:

Wood stuff hasn't been made at scale by craftsmen who whisper at trees in a very very long time. Go to a Thomasville factory and see for yourself. It's treated like any other industrial material, it's just more expensive.

The reason electronics engineers don't use wood is because it's poorly suited to the product. It's not rigid in thin cross sections, it doesn't hold tight tolerances well over humidity changes, it's expensive to procure (especially in China), and manufacturing with it is expensive, not because it requires hand craftsmanship (it doesn't) but because all wood manufacturing is subtractive. it can't be molded and cast and extruded the way glass and aluminum and plastic can be. It arrives in unpredictably sized slabs which have to be milled and milled and milled again until you reach the desired shape.

Also, we manufacture all this stuff in China, where they don't even have enough timber for their own domestic use.

Google HR solves for x, by brute force

Google doesn’t just take anyone’s word for it that wheels should be round; they try every other possible shape first.

On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don't predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.

Instead, what works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.

Along the way, though, they did discover a few things that many corporate HR folks still don’t accept:

One of the things we've seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.'s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless -- no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there's a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.'s and test scores, but we don't anymore, unless you're just a few years out of school. We found that they don't predict anything.

What's interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who've never gone to college.

Coming soon: Megatokyo porn

Officially, I mean. Fred Gallagher used Kickstarter to raise $20,000 to make a Megatokyo game, with a modest collection of stretch goals. Naturally, it was funded before he’d managed to write the announcement on his site, and has just cleared the $100,000 mark. There are only two goals left: Part 3 at $150,000, which advances the story beyond what has appeared in the comic (in a few years the boys may even overstay their 90-day visa!), and “Excessively Romantic Content” if they manage to reach the $500,000 mark.

Miho/Mugi? Miho/Ping? Ping/Junko? Perhaps he should write in some more “detailed” stretch goals…

Picking up on the clues…

This boingboing article attempts an in-depth analysis of the recent flap about a Kickstarter campaign for pick-up artists that contained some controversial—and in some cases unsavory—advice for men who can’t manage to score any other way.

It jumps the shark the moment the author uses the word “cisgender”. You don’t need to read anything past that point to predict everything he says.

Three hours of my life I want back…

“No, we just moved our office, we didn’t change anything except the external IP address. The VPN problem must be on your end. Did you set the new IP address?”.

“Okay, we did install a new NAT router. But the problem must be on your end. Did you set the new IP address?”

“Oh, yes, it’s running a newer version of the OS. But the problem must be on your end. Did you set the new IP address?”

“Here are screenshots of our config. But the problem must be on your end. Did you set the new IP address?”

“Yes, we set it up with IKEv2 instead of v1. But the problem must be on your end. Did you set the new IP address?”

It’s actually been more than eight hours, and they still haven’t fixed their problem, but I at least got some sleep in the middle. We’d still be arguing about what the problem actually is if they hadn’t sent me the screenshots.

Oh, and it was urgent for me to make the change on my end Friday night (which they told me about on Friday afternoon…), but no one at their end actually checked their router for connectivity until this morning. And it’s been nearly an hour since they responded to the message that they’re using the wrong IKE version, but they still haven’t fixed it.

[Update: to add insult to injury, I just got a recruiting email from WalmartLabs. Perhaps the fact that it’s raining in Northern California in late June should have been a clue that the week was going to be a little odd.]

Three weeks to T-Day

Twinkies return to the world on July 15th.

I plan to celebrate by buying exactly twice as many as I bought last year. So, zero.

Still, I expect there’ll be a large dish of Twinkiemisu at our next dojo party; the generic brand Chow used for the last party just wasn’t the same.

Learned helplessness

Via Althouse comes this Berkeley headline:

Firefighters use lid to put out kitchen pot fire in Berkeley

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