“Sometimes there just isn’t a side to cheer for, something progressives fail to get because they think history is sentient and has favorites.”

— Sarah Hoyt

Silly anime soundtrack feature


So I’m ripping the soundtrack album for Hand Maid May, and it’s got 62 tracks on it. Tracks 26 to 35 are short in-character messages by the lead voice actress, which isn’t unusual (I’ve been threatening for some time to put the answering-machine message from the Mahoromatic soundtrack on my voice mail), but tracks 36 to 60 consist of her speaking the complete set of Japanese phonemes, so you can create a “voice collage” that personalizes those messages. That’s new.

I was mostly just amused by it, and then I realized that I now had high-quality recordings of a native speaker pronouncing each phoneme, just the thing for language drills. Obviously I can’t distribute the results, and the truth is that I’m past the need for that particular drill, but I think I’ll build it anyway.

I will not, however, create a voice collage of May telling me goodnight…

Tough cops


Two police officers sent out to help stranded motorists deal with a flash flood were stuck by lightning. How did they respond? They got up off the ground and continued with the job, later driving themselves to a hospital to be checked out.

Tip for the day: never argue with a cop in eastern New Mexico.

I bet she voted for Gore


"She said someone should shoot you for defending the officer and lying to the public [and] that I should be hanging from a tree"

What was this caller angry about? The fact that agents of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shot and killed a runaway tiger. Apparently, she’s not the only Gore fan in the area, as the agency has received at least five death threats for their actions.

Because, as we all know, tigers are our friends, and want nothing more than peaceful coexistence with their human neighbors. Really, they’re just overgrown kittycats who would never dream of harming a human being. Just ask Roy.

Life with the Motorola V600


I like my new cellphone. The reception is much better than my old one, the MP3 ringtones are cool, and the built-in camera is… okay, the camera is pretty lame.

My biggest annoyance? Several times now, when setting a ringtone or alarm sound, I’ve paused on an entry in the list, and the phone starts playing it, and won’t stop until it’s finished! When this happens with a four-minute-long MP3 file, it’s a real pain in the ass. Even turning the phone off won’t work, because the music player refuses to shut down when the rest of the phone does, continuing until its buffer is flushed, which takes a while.

Not so bad when it’s, say, Cantina Band or The Shoggoth Song, but quite disturbing when it’s the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally.

No wonder BabelFish has problems with Japanese…


I mentioned in a recent comment thread that I had developed some sympathy for BabelFish’s entertaining but mostly useless translations from Japanese to English.

It started with Mahoromatic, a manga and anime series that I’m generally quite fond of. The official web site for the anime includes a lot of merchandise, and I was interested in finding out more about some of the stuff that hasn’t been officially imported to the US market. So I asked BabelFish to translate the pages, expecting to be able to make at least a little sense of the results.

It was worse than I expected, and it took me a while to figure out why. At the time, the translation engine left intact everything it had been unable to convert to English, which gave me some important clues. It was also possible to paste Unicode text into the translation window and get direct translations, which helped me narrow down the problems. [Sadly, both of these features disappeared a few months ago, making BabelFish a lot less useful.]

The clues started with the name of the show and its main character, both of which are written in hiragana on the site. BabelFish reliably converted まほろまてぃっく (Mahoromatic) to “ま top wait the ぃっく” and まほろ (Mahoro) to “ま top”. The one that really got me, though, was the live concert DVD, whose title went from 「まほろまてぃっく らいぶ!&Music Clips」 to “ま top wait the ぃっく leprosy ぶ! & in the midst of Music Clips”.

With apologies to Vernor Vinge, it was a case of “leprosy as the key insight”. It was so absurd, so out of place, that it had to be important. Fortunately, the little kana “turds” that BabelFish left behind told me exactly which hiragana characters it had translated as leprosy: らい (rai).

But rai doesn’t mean leprosy. Raibyou (らいびょう or 癩病) does, but on its own, rai is one of “since”, “defeat”, or the English loanword “lie” (which should properly be written in katakana, as ライ). So where did it come from? Rai is the pronunciation of the kanji 癩, which means leprosy. Except that it doesn’t, quite.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Every kanji character has one or more meanings and pronunciations. Some came along for the ride when the character was borrowed from China (the ON-reading), others are native inventions (the KUN-reading), but neither is necessarily a Japanese word. There are plenty of words that consist of a single kanji, such as 犬 (inu, “dog”), but not all single kanji are words.

Our friend rai is one of the latter. It has only a single ON-reading, which means leprosy, but the Japanese word for leprosy is formed by appending another kanji, 病 (byou, “sick”). So while rai really does mean leprosy, it’s not the word for leprosy. BabelFish, convinced that anything written in hiragana must be a native Japanese word, is simply trying too hard.

So what was it supposed to be? That little leftover kana at the end (ぶ) was “bu”, making the complete word “raibu”. Say it out loud, remembering that the Japanese have trouble pronouncing “l” and “v”, and it becomes “live”. The correct translation of the title should be “Mahoromatic Live! & Music Clips”; neither of the words in hiragana should be translated, because they’re not Japanese words.

In fairness to BabelFish, the folks responsible for Mahoromatic have played a dirty trick on it. It’s actually a pretty good rule of thumb that something written in hiragana is Japanese and something written in katakana is not, and, sure enough, if you feed in ライブ instead of らいぶ, it will correctly come back as “live”.

I fell for this, too, when I tried to figure out the full title of the Mahoromatic adventure game 「まほろまてぃっく☆あどべんちゃ」. The part after the star (adobencha) is written in hiragana, so I tried to interpret it as Japanese. I knew I’d gotten it wrong when I came up with “conveniently leftover tea”, but I didn’t realize I’d been BabelFished until I said it out loud.

Isn’t Japanese fun? My latest surprise came when my Rosetta Stone self-study course threw up the word ビーだま (biidama, “marble” (the toy kind)). I thought it was a typo at first, this word that was half-katakana, half-hiragana, but switching the software over to the full kanji mode converted it to ビー玉, and, sure enough, that’s what it looked like in my dictionary.

A little digging with JEdict provided the answer. Back in the days when the Portuguese started trading with Japan, their word vidro (“windowpane”) was adopted as the generic word for glass, becoming biidoro (ビードロ). The native word for sphere is dama (だま or 玉). Mash them together, and you’ve got a “glass sphere”, or a marble. Don’t go looking for other words based on biidoro, though, because it fell out of fashion a few centuries back; modern loanwords are based on garasu.

Elton John: censorship in the US is soooo much worse now than in the Sixties


Dear Elton, with reference to your recent statement that, unlike in the Sixties where people like Pete Seeger were out there speaking truth to power, entertainers today are “frightened by the administration’s bullying tactics,” I call to your attention the documentary Smothered — The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Note that unlike current entertainers such as Michael Moore, the producers of this enlightening film actually made an honest documentary.

By the way, where do you buy your drugs, or is this the result of giving them up?

"There was a moment about a year ago when you couldn't say a word about anything in this country for fear of your career being shot down by people saying you are un-American."

Keep your powder dry…


…and away from your ex-wife. 18 grains of Unique in a pistol cartridge; shiver.

The author also admits that he missed several clear warning signs that should have prevented the accident, even setting aside the mystery of how the wrong powder got into the clearly labeled container.

CNN: all the news we like, we print


CNN has two stories today (here and here) on the Butler report of the investigation into British intelligence related to the war in Iraq. Neither story, not even the one headlined “Summary of conclusions,” includes any reference to yellowcake. Why not? Maybe it’s because the report said this:

We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." was well-founded.

But you can’t have people finding out that Bush’s famous “sixteen words” were true, or they might not vote for Kerry.

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