Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hardy Heron notes

  • Both Japanese IME (Microsoft) and Kanjipad (Linux) allow you to draw kanji on a graphic input area of the screen using the mouse. The big difference is, Microsoft recognizes your strokes immediately and accurately, while Kanjipad doesn't. Period. (Try entering 挑戦 — a challenge.)

    The difference between these two products is time and money. Open source software has neither in sufficient quantity to produce quality work without corporate sponsorship. I give Microsoft extremely high marks for their version.

    On the Mac side, Sergey Kurkin's JEDict graphical kanji input is just as good as Microsoft's. Linux is left swinging in the breeze, although there is some anecdotal evidence that Kanjipad works tolerably well with a $100 graphics pad (if that's ok with you.)

  • It turns out that Ubuntu is a member of the Debian tribe, which means if you install Apache 2.2 you will find nothing in their accustomed locations. There's a README.Debian.gz file which some moron gzip'd, but which explains a lot, especially the empty httpd.conf file.

  • Looking around this system after a few days of griping and late, latenight hours doing things I don't remember doing (I don't remember getting YouTube to work in Firefox, e.g., but it does), I find myself wondering where the killer app that makes me want to put Ubuntu on everybody's laptop might be. Mahjongg? Gjiten? Geany? If it's any good, it's already migrated to Vista or Leopard. Strange. Maybe it's just Ubuntu itself — absolutely secure, great handling and seaworthiness, but odd-looking, like a Chinese junk.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Japanese-English dictionary on Nintendo DS

Kanji sonomama DS rakubiki jiten (for Nintendo DS) is the most inexpensive way to get yourself an electronic Japanese-English dictionary. It's so popular among those who need it that there's already a more-or-less complete English translation of the Japanese-only controls.


Ubuntu 8.04, The Hardy Heron, continued

Carrying on, the biggest weakness in Unix-like OS's, Ubuntu included, is the distributed file structure of "standard locations" in which programs, libraries, documentation, etc. are democratically (and irrationally) stored for the benefit of ALL users.

Counter-intuitively, these good intentions pave a Yellow Brick Road to a tyranny of petty autocrats, from System Administrators, Wheel wizards, sysops and uncertified power users, down the ladder to mere peons like secretaries, CEO's and college presidents — Hell, in other words, if you have ever dealt with a rogue employee with access to systems you yourself do not understand.

Macintosh OS X — a species of OpenBSD Unix, after all! — solved this irritant once and for all, by stuffing the entire list of "needed to run" components into a folder which the OS recognizes as a single, opaque application bundle that can be fired up by ANY user, "qualified" or not.

It's the difference between object oriented (Macintosh, modern, sane, good) and static global (Linux, archaic, crazy, bad).

This is even worse when two programs you might like to run under Ubuntu rely on library elements that were written years apart. Thus, program A needs (say) Python 2.4, while program B requires Python 2.5. You'd think A could use the later version of Python, but no, it can't. So now, your global /usr files are bloated with multiple versions of the same libraries, and Heaven help you if old and new versions happen to contain similar files with different dependencies! Pause. Consider.

Package managers are supposed to help with this, but they're a kludge, a stopgap automation which only works by implied consent to "best" practices under a chaotic regime.

This is why Linux sysops tear their hair, and why casual users are at the mercy of the vagaries of history. Until Ubuntu wises up and implements something similar to the Macintosh application bundle, running Ubuntu is like running with the cave bears — a thing no modern man or woman should be forced to do without grenades.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04, The Hardy Heron, continued

Mac OS X and Ubuntu have one thing in common: You have to keep reminding yourself that that's Unix under the hood. Gnome is like Leopard, and both are to transparency what the Wizard of Oz is to hiding behind screens.

I reiterate my chief gripe about Linux, and I've played around with Slackware and Redhat before coming back via Ubuntu, to wit — it's a geek toy, and not a place for conducting business. Only Windows has enough clout to make ordinary users jump through the "You need to install drivers" hoop. Macintosh wouldn't dare try to get away with that, not with their right-brained artsy crowd.

Ubuntu looks inviting — it has Open Office, Gimp and Firefox, after all. But things get passing strange rather quickly, and in my case, I'd fallen happily backwards and full length onto my old Linux toolbox experience without even noticing the back flip.

You find the Synaptics Package Installer, and sanity resumes, or rather, the comfortable feeling that endlessly, plangently twanging the guts of this hotrod† is the same as productive work reasserts itself with the calm words, "Sane? Yes, of course, perfectly sane. Why do you ask?"

In a nutshell, Hardy is fun, and you my friend are Laurel if you think so too.
E.g., partitioning my Dell Inspiron 1525 hard drive, discovering that my Master Boot Record is now totally flummoxed for the other members of my family, tracking down qgrubeditor and discovering how really, really easy it is to rearrange boot order whilst holding a tool capable of slicing your own ignorant head clean off, and so forth and so on...!


Friday, April 25, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04, The Hardy Heron

Hardy Heron, Ubuntu's latest stable release of Linux is eye-popping, but only in relation to everything that has come before.

The neat thing is, you install Hardy inside Windows, and thereafter the Windows Boot Manager gives you the opportunity to load either Vista or Ubuntu. (The Startup defaults to Vista after a few seconds.)

Then, and this is the real psychic zephyr (it doesn't actually blow my mind, because Windows can do this too), Hardy finds and recognizes all the standard Dell hardware so your system comes up looking cool instead of like a refuge from Windows 3.0. That is, your touchpad works, your HID mouse works, your printer works, your screen works (at its intended size and resolution), etc. Feisty Fawn couldn't do that, or maybe it could, but you had to play around with third-party drivers. The Heron is Hardy, after all.

But... It's still boring. And tedious. Not everything is user-ready, let alone user-friendly. Japanese input method (although the fonts are there) isn't even installed by default, e.g. You have to learn to use a package manager, which, despite hiding behind a friendly-seeming "Add/Remove Software" menu item is still a ... fershlugginer ... package manager! Bottom line, get friendly with the real, full-featured, Synaptic Package Manager as soon as you're ready to move beyond Open Office (documents, spreadsheets and presentations), Firefox (browser) and Evolution (email).

There was a time when Microsoft had more or less the same reputation for cheesy sass and aging sophistication, with the singularly aggravating factors of high cost and even higher maintenance. But these days, almost silently, Microsoft seems to have mended her fishnet stockings and developed a little quiet class. Vista SP1 is very nice. I wouldn't run Hardy Heron on top of anything else.

If it weren't sorta fun, actually, I wouldn't run Hardy Heron at all. But it is, and I do. The Japanese puzzle is solved by System -> Administration -> Language Support, and checking the Input Method box. Japanese IME is called "Anthy" for some reason, and it's part of SCIM. After that, use the Synaptic Package Manager (it's similar to RedHat's RPM) to install Gjiten. This installs Jim Breen's edict, Kanjidic and compdic files (!). There is also a separate utility called KanjiPad which is not sufficiently mature, evidently, to be included in standard Ubuntu; Synaptic can install it, but frankly, you can't draw well enough with a mouse to successfully conjure up the character you're looking for — you'll need something like a Wacom graphics tablet, and frankly it's not worth it. Microsoft's IME has almost clairvoyant kanji-drawing, by comparison.

SCIM is straightforward. Ctrl-Shift toggles English/Japanese input. Romaji input works just like IME in Vista or Macintosh.


Installed Windows Vista Service Pack 1

Just this minute, in fact. So far so good. No problems at all, took about an hour or maybe a bit less. This is a Dell Inspiron 1525 notebook.

  • Login is faster.

  • Firefox and Open Office load much faster.

  • ...


I don't actually know why this update went so smoothly. The prerequisite, Update for Windows Vista (KB938371), refused to install at all for three or four tries a couple of weeks ago. I gave up on it, and came back to it yesterday. Installed without a hitch!

I have no idea why it finally worked, but there were some environment changes: I made a complete backup using Microsoft's own Backup utility (did this clean up a virgin restore points table or something?) I updated iTunes for my daughter (did Apple clean up some problem only it and Microsoft knew about?) I created my own system restore point (same issue as Backup?) I installed Apache 2, Perl and PHP (should be no effect on Vista, though). I installed about three updates preceding KB938371 that had not installed either (did these fix something, especially the XML fix? But it begs the question, since these were also recalcitrant updates).

At any rate, once KB938371 was onboard and working smoothly, the system seemed peppier and apparently more stable. Service Pack 1 went on, as noted, without a hitch.

I have permanently turned off UAC, completely uninstalled all Google Desktop and Google for Internet Explorer crap, found and disabled "phishing" scans (under Internet Options), and restricted Windows Update to informative messages only (any updates are done manually, case by case). Also, because Dell uses Trend's PC-cillin there are no crippleware messages about "insecure systems" (unlike Symantec, Trend has an option to turn off the Chicken Little panic attacks, which I took.) None of that was reset or disturbed by the Service Pack 1 update, seemingly.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


Been watchin' baitcasting seminars on YouTube. Baitcasting reels have been known to make grown men cry. I've seen it happen.

Not me, bub. I'm political. I use a spinning reel! Bluegill size.

Political? Ok. $4 gas changes the landscape. Put your money in railroads. Watch all your fancy bike trails get reconverted to railway rights of way. And nuclear power. There's no excuse not to, these days. (Just us, though. Don't you try it! Except Japan. Japan's ok. France, maybe. Yeah, Germany. New Zealand, fine... 'Stralia... Great Britain, yeh, yeh, yeh OK already! Russia... *gack*... 'kay... )


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Polls are Still Open: Obama Wins Pennsylvania

[Update: Clinton won after all. How's the ol' warchest holding up, 'ey?]

[FLASH: This just in!]

Hillary Clinton seems to have blown a fuse in the high-energy conclusion to the Pennsylvania Democratic primary when she threatened to obliterate Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel, placing her squarely in the debilitating Lieberman tumor of the Democratic party, not to say wing.

Aside from resurrecting Mutual Assured Destruction, the doctrine Reagan struggled so hard to retire to the scrap heap of history, Hillary's saber-rattling diatribe ignores the incontrovertible fact that, unlike Iran, Israel actually does possess nuclear weapons and is capable of launching its own preemptive thermonuclear strikes (referred to somewhat disingenuously as "second strike capability") without pausing for advice and consent from Yet Another Superfluous Clinton.

Voters nation-wide, let alone Pennsylvania, are not fond of madwomen in powerful positions. Maggie Thatcher's War was a teensy, weensy skirmish (apologies to the British Navy who lost a ship to an Exocet missile down there in the Maldives) with no impact on the rest of the world; who makes treaties with Argentina, anyway?

Hillary, now merged inextricably into the Bush mindscape as another Hawk At Any Cost, may now be the world's first lame-duck Presidential candidate, and not a minute too soon.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Alice the Goon

Larry King had an XQ Sleeve on his pot of billyboils last night — a young woman with hair more intricately braided than a loaf of French bread and a thick black Frida Kahlo-esque unibrow like a recumbent parenthesis lead a camera crew through her home at the polygamist's compound down there in El Paso, Texas.

Eerie, eerie stuff. It reminded me of nothing so much as a glimpse into Goon Island, of Popeye fame (the 1938 Max Fleischer cartoon), and the eldritch moment when Popeye realizes the Goon he's beating up on is a mother.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Charles Darwin, You're my Hero!

It says here that 20,000 new items and over 90,000 images were posted to the online Darwin website today, including The Beagle and all six editions of Origins!


Saturday, April 12, 2008


I've been looking for this for months!

The. Absolute. Best. Japanese-English dictionary in the world is Jim Breen's edict, which resides at Monash University in Australia. That's a given, a sine qua non.

There have only ever been two decent user interfaces for this astonishing mass of information, Sergey Kurkin's JEDict for Macintosh OS X, and of course the excrutiatingly obscure cross-platform original from 1997, JavaDict, both now getting very long in the tooth. And nothing at all worth mentioning for Windows, especially Vista!

Until now... (Well, 2006 anyway. It's new to me!)

Rikaichan 1.01 is a humble-seeming Firefox add-on that blazes into the hungry eye like a flaming plum pudding of ridiculously sybaritic delight. (As you can see, it doesn't take much to make a hobo linguist happy!)

Rikaichan either translates Japanese text in web pages as you slide your cursor along, context-wise, or allows you to do fullpage dictionary searches from a small lookup bar. The information presented is Breen's Own Wordtrove, organized in comprehensive fashion on a clean, well-designed (and above all local) webpage. This magic it accomplishes in real time, instantaneously!*

This one applet, together with my totally unexpected and very happy discovery of the Japanese IME pad (you can draw the kanji you're looking for), has completely restored my faith in the future of free software. Bravo, guys! This is pioneering stuff.
*You can look up Japanese names, too! The trick is to press the Enter key once or twice. This feature is probably documented somewhere, but it seems a wee bit obscure.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Bush delaying decisions on Iraq?

I should hope to shout. Do you want Dubya making any decisions about the conduct of the quagmire in Iraq?

My only question is whether we'll ever root out the neocon shadow government he (or Cheney, or The Group) will be running after Obama takes over.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Yukari Umezawa's Easy Go in translation

梅沢由香里のやさしい囲碁, Umezawa Yukari no yasasii Igo, is a Japanese-language game for the Nintendo DS. This is a rough guide (hardly a proper translation) to its many features, mainly for the benefit of Go-playing Westerners who know little or no Japanese, but may still find some of the game's features accessible with a few hints, especially playing Go against the CPU.

Suggestion: Use the Firefox add-on rikaichan for mouseover Japanese-to-English language instant popups.

Note: At the bottom of many screens, there are labels for the B button (in red), and the A button (in blue). These mean, as you might expect, BACK and FORWARD.

Note: This game is aimed at Japanese 10th graders; i.e., high school sophomores.

Enter your name!

The first screen users encounter is the standard hiragana layout, and you are expected to enter your own name — in Japanese! After getting past this obstacle [Hint: Don't enter ぼく, boku, meaning "me" (boys only), or わたし, watasi, same meaning (esp. girls), then click the character third down on the far right to conclude. No, use your own actual name — Umezawa-chibi will sometimes address you by name during games and study], you advance to a screen with five main buttons.

Menu System
  1. Go Lessons 講座

    1. Rules of Go

      1. Play on the Intersections

      2. Surround Territory

      3. Taking Liberties

      4. Making Eyes

      5. The Ko Rule

    2. Capturing

    3. Life & Death

    4. Fuseki

    5. Joseki

  2. Play a game! 対局しよう

  3. Begin each game by selecting its parameters:
    • Your color (black or white)
    • Board size (9,13,19)
    • CPU Strength (Strong, Medium, Weak)
    • Handicap (Even, Sensei (no komi), or 1 to 9 stones)
    • Komi (None, Half, or 1 to 9)

    Buttons to the right of boards in play are, top to bottom: Hint, Take Back, Pass, How to End the Game (see below), Resign and Menu.

    1. Play Game with Commentary 手取り足取り
    2. Play with two small boards on the upper screen. These show your move on the left, and the CPU's move plus your predicted next move on the right, with territorial analysis. Umezawa-chibi comments, especially if your play is boneheaded or deviates significantly from the line predicted by CPU. If you don't speak Japanese, take heart and simply observe that most of this "commentary" is boilerplate. The visual feedback on the other hand is immediate and obvious — and of course you can take back a move!

    3. Play Against CPU  CPU対局
    4. Click twice to place a stone on the board.

    5. Play Against a Person 対人対局
    6. Use the Nintendo DS as a goban. This would seem to be the perfect place to put the standard DS wi-fi feature, but I haven't found it.

      Click twice to place a stone on the board, and pass the stylus.

    7. Replay Game Record 棋譜再生
    8. End your game (see above) by negotiating the "Save Game Record?" dialogs. These can be confusing or even frustrating if you speak no Japanese. Japanese kids breeze right through them ;-)

      If the two fields on the screen contain short words, the top word (はい) is YES and the bottom word (いいえ) is NO. IS YOUR GAME TRULY OVER? If so, click on YES. (If you click NO, you will return to your game board, with the opportunity to take back one or more moves.)

      The next two fields are also YES and NO. SAVE GAME RECORD? If so, click on YES. A screen with two slots appears. Usually, these contain a date in the form YY/MM/DD HH:MM, indicating when the stored game was played. Select one or the other. If there is no date (未登録), the slot is unused and available for storage.

      Only two game records can be stored at one time.

      Select the game you want to review. A blank board appears. Click the top right button, and your first move is played back.

      The buttons on the right side, top to bottom: Forward, Back, Forward 10 Moves, Back 10 Moves, Go to Beginning, Go to End, Resume Play, Menu.

  4. Umezawa-Sensei's Go Challenges 梅沢先生に挑戦

    1. Begin Challenges
    2. Work through a graded series of Go problems, from tenth grade (the hardest) down to first grade (easiest). These are simple life-and-death problems for the most part. The number in each grade seems to vary by your performance, and you may occasionally get a harder bonus problem; Grade 11 is the toughest I've seen so far.

      After you complete the entire series, a photograph of Umezawa-sensei appears briefly. If you did lousy, she avoids eye contact while congratulating you in perfunctory fashion. If you did better this time, she gives you an appraising, slightly approving look. The best I've seen so far is a rather excited "Omedetou!" with hand gesture. I don't know what the top end is like (haven't scored that well!)

      Umezawa-chibi's directions for each problem are straightford (although the actual Japanese terms are a titch more bloodcurdling):
      "Kill white."
      "Find a way for black to live."
      "Rescue the black stones marked with a triangle."
      "Remove the white stones marked with a triangle."
      "Reduce the size of white's territory."
      "Play black's single best move."
      Et cetera.

      The information in the box (top panel) gives the grade level, and suggests the number of moves required to solve the problem. Also tells the number of hints Umezawa-chibi may give, usually one or two, but sometimes none.

    3. Practice Mode
    4. The buttons on the right are, top to bottom: Hint, Give Up, and Menu

  5. Strength Certification !!
  6. Judging from the application form which you fill in and send off to Nihon Kiin, what you get back is a genuine official document certifying that you earned the rank of [your rank here] on a Nintendo DS.

    Official judgment is based on problems, not games against a CPU, so it may be fairly accurate; I'm not in a position to know for sure. This is probably a lot more fun than having igowin think you're a 4 kyu, huh?

    By "you," of course, we mean that only the first 500 Japanese kids who qualify need apply. Lighten up, it's only a Nintendo DS game!!

    1. B Rank Certification

    2. A Rank Certification
      You must pass B Rank before you attempt A Rank.

  7. Options

    1. Change name

    2. Background Music (on/off)

    3. Board click (on/off)

    4. Clear data (Challenge, Practice, ALL)
    5. Current user only.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Old war wounds?

Naw. According to the New York Times, John McCain's facial disfigurement is the result of melanoma surgery from back in August, 2000, eight years ago.