“The reason the first three Star Wars movies were so terrific, and the second three sucked so bad, is actually very simple. The first three were about rebels, shooting guns and driving fast, and speaking with American accents. The second three were about politicians, discussing treaties and holding court, and speaking with British accents.”

— Bill Whittle

Dear OSM™,

I tried to find out what your reason for existing is, but I’m afraid I didn’t make it past the “From the founders” letter. Quoting:

At OSMTM (Open Source Media), we believe that to be true—that freedom, openness and transparency in media is an inevitable result of the technological advances that have given every citizen the chance to breathe deeply of the news, thought and opinion that hovers in the ether between us.
  1. Note that HTML has a perfectly good mechanism for encoding a trademark symbol, ™. Using guarantees that cut-and-paste will transform your name into OSMTM.

  2. “A, B, and C are”, not “A, B, and C is”.

  3. every citizen” has been given this chance? Really?

  4. For that matter, “every citizen” has? Citizen of what, precisely?

  5. “…breathe deeply of the news, thought and opinion…”?!? Sounds like you’re trying to attract ads for bongs and hookahs.

  6. “…hovers in the ether between us”?!? Never mind, I see you already have enough bongs of your own. Did someone actually read this nonsense before posting it?

And where faceless, "objective" editorial boards once handed down opinions and endorsements, bloggers sound off, the numbers on their public sitemeters lending them unassailable credibility as voices for the rest of us.

I was going to point and laugh at the absurdity and awkward phrasing of the part I highlighted, but I simply can’t get over the juxtaposition of that line of bullshit with the scare quotes you put around the word “objective” in describing the sort of media companies you say you’re different from. “Editorial boards are just something to sneer at, but hit-counters are The Rock of Gibraltar, baby!”.

OSM’s mission is to expand the influence of weblogs by finding and promoting the best of them, providing bloggers with a forum to meet and share resources, and the chance to join a for-profit network that will give them additional leverage to pursue knowledge wherever they may find it.

I’m sorry, but this sentence simply doesn’t parse right. Is it “expand the influence by ‘finding and promoting weblogs’, ‘providing bloggers with a forum’, and ‘the chance to join a network’”, or is it “expand the influence by ‘finding and promoting weblogs’ and ‘providing bloggers with a forum and the chance to join a network’”?

[Mind you, I’m not at all sure how your network is supposed to give someone leverage (additional, no less) to pursue knowledge, much less ‘wherever they may find it’, but I’ll let that one go for now.]

From academics, professionals and decorated experts, to ordinary citizens sitting around the house opining in their pajamas, our community of bloggers are among the most widely read and influential citizen journalists out there, and our roster will be expanding daily.

Apparently your community of bloggers is missing some key knowledge about the difference between singular and plural nouns. Also, when one is addicted to lengthy sentences, mastery of the serial comma is essential for clarity.

[And who decorates experts, anyway?]

...but the next phase in the democratization of ideas has begun.

Only a phase, is it? Nothing to get excited about, then.

Flashcards revisited

A while back, I made quick and dirty hiragana flashcards, using the Mac OS X print dialog to print single-word pages 16-up. As my Japanese class moves along, though, there’s a need for something more sophisticated. Each lesson in our book includes a number of kanji words that will be on the test, and while my previous method will work, the hard-coded font sizes and word placement get messy to maintain.

If I’m going to write an honest-to-gosh flashcard generator, though, I might as well go whole-hog and make it capable of printing study words vertically, the way they’d be printed in a book or newspaper. Learning to recognize horizontal text might get me through the test, but it’s not enough for real Japanese literacy.

Here’s the Perl script (requires PDF::API2::Lite), a horizontal example, and vertical example. You’ll need to supply the name of your own TrueType/OpenType font that includes the kanji, unless you happen to have a copy of Kozuka Mincho Pro Regular around the house.

Note that the above PDF files have been significantly reduced in size (by an order of magnitude!) by using Mac OS X’s Preview app and saving them with the Quartz filter “Reduce File Size”. The words in the sample are from the review sheet for this week’s lesson…

Update: One problem with my vertical-printing solution quickly became obvious, and I don’t have a good solution for it. The short version is “Unicode is meaning, not appearance”, so variant glyphs can’t be easily selected, even if they’re present in your font. Specifically, the katakana prolonged-sound mark 「ー」 should be a vertical line when you’re writing vertically. Also, all of the small kana 「ぁぃぅぇぉっ」 should be offset up and to the right, and good fonts include correct variants, but I can cheat on that one; I just need to move the glyph, not change its shape.

No one seems to have figured out the necessary font-encoding tricks to pull this off with PDF::API2. At least, it’s not turning up in any google incantation I try, which leaves me with one conceptually disgusting workaround: rotate and flip. Calligraphers and type-weenies will cringe, but at text sizes it will pass. The correct character is on the left:

vertical kana hack

Now to write the code for both workarounds…

[side note: Adobe’s premier software suite is remarkably fragile; I just got it into a state where I couldn’t run Photoshop. How? I started Illustrator, which opened Adobe’s software-update tool in the background, then quit Illustrator. When I started Photoshop, it tried to open the update tool again, couldn’t, and crashed.]

Why I don't trust anything posted at boingboing.net, reason #3125

There’s a certain gullibility in most boingboing posts. Often this is combined with eXtreme Technophilia or a hard-left anti-whatever slant, but my favorites are the pure examples.

Today, there’s a link to a story about a 30,000 calorie sandwich. The poster obviously read the linked article and looked at pictures of the sandwich, yet he completely failed to notice the fact that the ingredients list included two and a half quarts of canola oil.

Yes, fully 62% of the claimed calorie count was in the oil used to deep-fry several ingredients. I can forgive some random tailgater for just typing his shopping list into a calorie-counter and blindly accepting the results, but you’d think someone with Cory Doctorow’s alleged technohippitude would easily spot such a glaring error.

Sadly, he and his cohort don’t seem to be much better at spotting obvious flaws in tech-related stories either. I find that most of the actual useful links posted at boingboing come from places like Gizmodo and Engadget, so I tend to look there first for news, and only visit boingboing when I need to laugh. (“at, not with”)

My need for fluff and fan-service

On Tuesday, a server we rely on that’s located in another state, under someone else’s control, went poof. They have another machine we can upload to, though, so I changed all references to point to it.

All the ones I knew about, that is. A little-used script in a particular branch of our software had a hardcoded reference to the dead host, which it used to download previous uploads to produce a small delta release. The result, of course, was a failure Wednesday that left the QA group twiddling their thumbs until I could fix things. In the end, other failures turned up that prevented them from getting the delta release, but they could live with a full release, and that’s what they got.

That was my day from about 7am to 2pm, not counting the repeated interruptions as I explained to people that the backup server we were uploading to had about half the bandwidth of the usual connection, so data was arriving more slowly.

Things proceeded normally for a few hours, until the next fire at 4:30pm. A server responsible for half a dozen test builds and two release builds had a sudden attack of amnesia, forgetting that a 200GB RAID volume was supposed to be full of data. A disk swap brought it back to life as a working empty volume, but by that time I’d moved all the builds to other machines. I’ll test it today before putting it back in service.

Just as I was finishing up with that mess and verifying that the builds would work in their new homes, our primary internal DNS/NIS server went down. The poor soul who’d just finished rebuilding my RAID volume had barely gotten back to his desk when he had to walk three blocks back to the data center. Once that machine was healthy again, I cleaned up some lock files so that test builds would resume, and waited for the email telling me what was supposed to be on the custom production CD-ROM they’re shipping overseas today.

That, of course, was IT’s cue to take down the mail server for maintenance. Planned and announced, of course, but also open-ended, so I had no idea when it would be back. Didn’t matter, though, because then my DSL line went down. I’d never made it out of the house, you see, and was doing all of this remotely.

The email I was waiting for went out at 9:30pm, I got it at 10:45pm, and kicked the custom build off at 11pm. It finished building at 12:30am and started the imaging process, which makes a quick query to the Perforce server.

Guess what went down for backups at 12am, blocking all requests until it completed at around 3am? Nap time for J!

At 4:45am I woke up, checked the image, mailed off a signing request so it could actually be used to boot a production box, set the alarm clock for 6:45am, and went back to sleep.

This was not a day for deep, thought-provoking anime. It was a day for Grenadier disc 2 and Maburaho disc 4 (which arrived from Anime Corner Store just about the time the mail server went down). I considered getting started on DearS disc 2 and Girls Bravo disc 3, which also showed up, but decided instead to make a badly-needed grocery run.

Yumeria, disc 1

I can see why a lot of reviewers find it easy to pan this series. High-school loser hero? Check. Missing parents? Check. Dream girl who suddenly appears from another world and moves in with him? Check. Girl-next-door type who can’t confess her feelings about him? Check. More strange cute girls showing up? Check. Insane teacher? Check. Color-coded fighting team? Check. Based on a PS2 game? Check. Fan-service? Check, check, check.

If you’re looking for truly original ideas, compelling plots, and genre-breaking characterization, you’re in the wrong place. Yumeria is an ecchi harem comedy with a touch of sentai and a dollop of sci-fi, nothing more. It’s a fun show, though, with excellent character designs, good voice acting, and a story that’s just big enough to last a dozen episodes. And Mone.

Mone. Mone mone. Monene. Mone? Mone! Mone mone. Mone.

If her remarkably expressive one-word vocabulary doesn’t drive you insane, Mone will kawaii her way into your heart.

A few of the in-jokes are a bit forced, and the insane teacher is particularly gratuitous, but most of the humor flows quite naturally from the characters and the situation. I see no reason not to buy, and enjoy, the rest of the series.

ADV cleans house

ADV is closing out a lot of anime DVDs. Some are older series now available in box sets, but a few are recent releases, such as the first disc of Yumeria, which came out less than three weeks ago.

Daphne In The Brilliant Blue, disc 4

Let’s recap. Disc 1 introduced a spunky teen heroine, ruined her life, set up a plot, and began introducing the rest of the cast. Disc 2 followed her through her new life and finished introducing the cast, tossing out the occasional plot crumb. Disc 3 was stuffed with plot crumbs like you’d stuff a turkey for Thanksgiving, not entirely to its benefit. All three were amusing and entertaining, with the exception of one infodump that’s badly delivered by a throwaway character.

In an ordinary plot-driven anime series, self-contained episodes that don’t advance the plot are often regarded as filler. Sometimes they contain important character development, but far too often they add nothing, not even decent art. With Daphne‘s scattershot approach to plotting, at least 10 of the 16 episodes to date would count as filler, so it’s either a terrible attempt at a plot-driven series, or the plot is just a backdrop for the comedy. I’d prefer the former, since they worked so hard at the beginning to make me care about Maia and her problems, but with only two discs to go, it’s not looking good.

Disc 4 is a plot-free zone. It’s fun even when it’s predictable, and includes just enough plot crumbs to keep you wondering if they’re ever going to tie things together, but that’s it. Judging from the fansub reviews, this trend will continue until episode 21, after which it’s wall-to-wall plotty goodness until the end. At least one reviewer thought the ending made up for the show’s flaws, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

File under peculiar the fact that the box set for this series is sized for seven discs, but the series is being released on only six. My guess is that Geneon originally intended to put only three episodes on four of the discs, but market conditions and fan feedback led them to shrink it a bit. As good as the music CD is, it won’t quite fill the remaining space in the box, but I can’t really complain about a consistent 4-episode-per-disc release.

Dodge Caravan

I got sent to Denver (okay, Longmont) for a few days to do some setup work for our office here, and the folks at Budget begged me to take a free upgrade to a minivan, to help alleviate their shortage of smaller vehicles.

Anyway, it’s got a gutless engine, poor sound insulation, and a whopping big blind spot when you’re merging, but otherwise it’s actually a pretty nice travel-mobile. Very comfortable to drive, plenty of room for adult passengers, and decent handling for its size. It’s no comparison to my Lexus RX-300, but still, a lot better than I expected.

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