2011

Saturday 31 December 2011, 21:43

It's the end of 2011, and I'm writing this from my parents' home in Nanaimo, where I'm visiting over the year-end holidays. If you ask me how this past year has gone, I'd have to say it's been mixed. Some good things have happened; some not so good; and my current situation is what I'd call metastable.

Ideographic Description Sequences: some thoughts

Monday 19 December 2011, 15:14

I went through a bit of a crunch to get Tsukurimashou 0.5 out the door before my year-end vacation. With that done, and at least 99 kanji to do before the next planned release, I have a chance to sit back and think about some longer-term and spin-off projects. Here are some ideas on kanji searching.

UPDATE: A prototype implementation of the system described here now exists as part of the Tsukurimashou project, and you can check it out via SVN from there. Packaged releases will be available eventually.

Building a build for something weird

Monday 12 December 2011, 22:39

Here are some thoughts on the Tsukurimashou build system. You can find the code, and some documentation of how to use the build system, in the package, but this posting is meant to look more generally at some of the issues I encountered while building a build for something weird.

The thing is, Tsukurimashou isn't a piece of software in the normal sense, but a package of fonts. It's written sort of like software, using programming languages, but the data flow during build doesn't look much like the data flow during build of the usual kind of software package. As a result, although it seemed like using Make was the thing I wanted to do, the way I've written my Makefile doesn't look much like what we might expect on a more typical software project. Working on it has forced me to see the structure of the project quite differently from the way I'd usually look at software, and maybe some of the ideas from that can be applied to other things.

On begging

Wednesday 7 December 2011, 18:06

December 2011 on Earth, but it is eternal midmorning on the third layer of the Astral Plane. THOMAS OF AQUINO, NICHOLAS FLAMEL, and K'UNG FU-TZU sit at a card table, in that order clockwise around the table. At the fourth, otherwise unoccupied, spot sits an ominous blue-painted Chinese porcelain ginger jar.

Code refactoring by combinatorial optimization

Monday 5 December 2011, 14:56

I encountered an interesting problem on the Tsukurimashou project recently, and some inquiries with friends confirmed my suspicion that if anyone has solved it, they've done it in a language-specific way for ridiculous languages. It appears I have to solve it again myself. Here are some notes.

Air Canada's bug letter

Saturday 29 October 2011, 12:15

I got the bug letter from Air Canada in response to my complaint about the Typhoon Roke aftermath. They say they "regret" what happened, but they very noticeably do not acknowledge any wrongdoing at all on the part of any of their employees; they claim what was done was in accordance with their policy. They spend a few sentences chiding me for not giving them a cellular phone number - as if it were somehow my fault that they didn't keep me informed, and as if that had any relevance to the lack of announcements in the actual airport terminal - in the same paragraph where they explain that they would only have phoned me anyway if the cancellation were announced at least three hours in advance of the scheduled departure, which was not the case here. They conclude by offering me a discount code good for 15% off on a future booking. This isn't an apology because it lacks the critical defining features of an apology: it doesn't acknowledge that what was done was wrong, and it leaves open the possibility of doing it again.

Another thought on the Astrolabe copyright thing

Friday 7 October 2011, 08:54

It may have been inevitable that this or something like it would happen, because the astrological community has a long history of making extralegal claims on factual information. Many algorithms have been published in books with copyright notices claiming that if you implement the algorithms, then you can only use the resulting software for non-profit purposes. That's a transparent attempt to claim software patent protection (inherently questionable already) without having a patent at all, using copyright law as the basis instead, so as to get the much longer term and lack of review applicable to copyrights instead of patents.

Astrolabe announces change in business: was astrology, now copyright trolling

Thursday 6 October 2011, 22:13

The Unix time-zone database - necessary to the operation of Linux-based computers and many other systems around the world as well - has been withdrawn from distribution because of a lawsuit filed by Astrolabe Inc. I'm really saddened to hear of this, because I liked Astrolabe. They've been in the business of selling astrological software for a long time, and they make many popular products, some of which I have used and recommended. But now I can't give them any more money nor can I recommend that others do so, because they have attacked the basic infrastructure of global computing. The word "terrorism" is so overused now as to be practically worthless, but attacks on infrastructure are often mentioned when people try to define it. Shame on you, Astrolabe.

On being missed

Wednesday 5 October 2011, 12:15

I recently visited Seth Godin's Web log to dig out his item about yak shaving, and while I was there I saw this recent posting about being missed. He asks the question: if you didn't show up, if you suddenly went away, who would miss you? And he proposes that it might be a valuable goal to make it so that a lot of people would miss you. That's certainly an interesting and important question to ask, but I think it's really the wrong question to ask.

Regarding Billiken

Thursday 29 September 2011, 19:50

In my coverage of the Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka, I mentioned the Billiken shrine at the top. Wikipedia's article on Billiken is of some interest. Note that they refer to him consistently as "the Billiken," although the basis for doing so seems to be flimsy (some sources do it, and Wikipedians think that is the last word). He was always referred to without a "the" in the English-language materials I saw in Osaka, just with "Billiken" used in the normal fashion for a name, so I'm not going to add a "the" here.

Billiken apparently originated in St. Louis, Missouri, with a woman named Florence Pretz, who saw his image in a dream and designed and patented a doll based on it in 1908, predating Kewpies, which came out in December of 1909. Wikipedia claims (with a "citation needed" note) that he "sprang from the height of the \"Mind-Cure\" craze" and links "Mind-Cure" to New Thought, though I'm not sure how legitimate that link is. But it's certainly interesting to know that anybody thinks there's a New Thought connection.

Note that Pretz is also the name of a Japanese snack food made by Glico; it's basically a long pretzel stick, somewhat similar to the popular Pocky but without the frosting and salty instead of sweet.