Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Visiting the Yasukuni Shrine

To set a point straight: In my opinion, the Yushukan museum (the propaganda zoo situated next to the Yasukuni shrine) is an atrocity all unto itself. True, the Japanese have their own side of the story of what happened during WW2, but the stuff in that museum is exactly what the propaganda of the day was saying "it's all for the benefit of Asia, freeing it from colonialism!"... Ridiculous. The idea that promising young people here in Japan are falling for the exact same propaganda that cost so many young lives just a few decades ago is sickening.

Anyway, lets continue. Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.

If I (or the state, for that matter) was to visit a war-grave in the UK, noone would think a thing of it, I think. Somewhere (I assume) there are graves for the people that gave the go-ahead for the bombing of various cities in Germany, Japan, and a whole host of other cities across Europe that were under axis control. I imagine people still visit the cemeteries housing those graves, and I never heard of anyone complaining about it.

Yasukuni is a bit more complicated because the war-criminals and soldiers are all at the same complex. I'm not sure about the exact layout of the shrine, but needless to say, if you want to pay your respects to your war-dead, you might have your prayers overheard by a war-criminal or two. Evidently, if you're the leader of a country surrounded by past victims of said war-criminals, this is going to cause problems.

However, is this really a problem with the Japanese side? Or is this as much to do with our failure to understand what is going through the Japanese heads?

Freedom of religion is something we of the West are supposed to be pretty big on (not a fan of religion myself, but lets not go there today), and to tell anyone they cant worship somewhere because of events come and gone is supposedly amoral. But religion is just an obfuscation of what is really happening. The real reason Yasukuni has become such a controversy is because it has become a political tool. If the Japanese don't visit the shrine, domestically speaking they might look cowardly, and the government will weaken as a result. If they do visit the shrine, the surrounding countries will look cowardly if they don't protest. Its a horrible balancing act between Japanese public opinion and international politics, with religion acting as a pivot. If everyone just stood back and acknowledged the situation, and then moved on to the next issue, then the problem would disappear entirely. Unfortunately world politics always plays out like school-ground arguments.

Looking at the Japanese newspapers, it doesn't seem this latest visit the shrine went down too well on the Japanese side either, and perhaps this is a sign that visiting the shrine is no longer a viable way of increasing opinion poll ratings. If that is the case, then visits to the shrine by state officials might die off.

EDIT: Lets ignore the fact that Shinzo Abe is a Right-winger for the purposes of this discussion. It undoubtedly played a part in this, lets not kid ourselves that it wasn't desire for political support that really made him go, but his ideology. That isn't how most democracy works*.

EDIT2: Lets also ignore Shinzo Abe's possible ambition of nullifying the peace consitution. That is speculation, interesting and well-informed speculation, and possibly true. But for him to ever succeed he needs to come out of this affair with better public opinion than when he went in, which frankly doesn't look so certain.

*I say this with some considerable degree of hesitation.. Would love to discuss that with a politics graduate.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Aedict 3: big on version numbers, lean on features

So, as I stated previously, here, new versions of aedict are now paid-for. Now the big question, was it worth £3.50 to get it?

For the impatient, the answer is no. For any readers I haven't lost by now (that's assuming anyone even made it as far as "no"), I will elaborate. Aedict3, while being flashier and maybe even easier to navigate, is decidedly less functional than the free version. There are no more "advanced" options; you cannot restrict your search to "starts with", "ends with", or "exact match". To me, this is a big setback: if you're reading through a book and there is a word you've never seen before, there is still a very good chance you'll know what either the starting or the ending character is, and not being able to search on that basis is going to make reading books somewhat more arduous.

Additionally, the search is as accurate as before, typing 問 as a search term brings up words like 受け止める, even though the latter does not contain the former. I'm not sure whether that is an error of aedict or with the dictionary file itself, but either way it doesn't lend itself to quickly finding out what a word is, or to finding out about related words/phrases.

So, as suggested in the title, aedict 3 is a significant step backwards. But I'm not terribly worried about this, and I said before, I owe the author at least a beer for his previous efforts, the quality (or lack thereof) of aedict 3 wasn't a factor in my purchase.

I hope that future versions of aedict 3 will become as feature-rich as the freely available aedict 2, and while I wouldn't recommend it just now, I would say it could be worth signing onto aedict's google group, and keeping an eye on it.

EDIT: Aedict3 has continued to improve over the months following this blog article, and I'm quite happy to endorse it fully now. See this post.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Aedict goes paid/unpaid

Recently the author of the superb android Japanese dictionary app announced that future versions of Aedict would require a one-off payment of $5 (The existing version will be available free-of charge).

To be honest, while I was disappointed, the idea of buying a beer for the author isn't one I find objectionable, after all, I've used the software a great deal in the last 4 or so years. Having a family, I can also sympathise with juggling commitments, and I've laid down a number of my own hobbies (including programming, funnily enough) too, for the same reason.

What annoys me is that the payment is under the pretence that his family situation is affecting his ability to work on the project:
"Unfortunately, I have a family now and I can no longer afford to develop Aedict for free"
And yet, later in the announcement:
"I am currently preparing a new version of Aedict"
Finally the announcement terminated with the line:
"but the only other option I had was to abandon Aedict entirely"
Gods no! What about passing it on to someone? It's already open source, and is the most useful Japanese dictionary on the Android platform, someone will pick it up.

That said, if the features are good, will I purchase aedict 3? Yes, I think so. His app is so integral to how I've learned and enjoyed Japanese the last few years that I genuinely feel I owe him it. So sure, Martin, have a drink on me, but drop the pretence, eh?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting a bank account in Japan

I've seen posts for this sort of thing around, but things changed since the article I looked at, so here is the procedure I went through for getting a Japanese bank account:

When I went to register at the city office, I had my address written on the back of my residency card, and stamped. Apparently, this was sufficient proof of address (they sounded a little unsure, so where possible, I'd advise having an insurance card, but even so, I managed to get an account this way).

You'll then have to fill in the forms yourself, in Japanese. Apparently after some incidents or other it is now necessary that the person setting up the account actually do all the writing. Still, if you have brought the proof of address, then you can copy the characters off of that; however, you'll also need to be proficient at writing katakana, both for your name and for the pronunciation of the address.

A handy thing about getting a bank account with the post office is that you can register yourself at your address at the same time as making a bank account. I'm not sure how important this is, as I've sent things addressed to my daughter, and to my knowledge she isn't specifically registered with the post office, and I've never had anything lost in the post...

The other handy thing about a post office account is that they have branches all over the place in Japan, which is great if (like me) you don't know exactly where you'll end up.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book: "Visas for 6000 lives" 「六千人の命のビザ」

It's been a while since I posted. I've spent most of that time writing my PhD thesis, and preparing its defence. In my spare time, I've done a fair amount of reading, my main challenge being "Visas for 6000 lives" (六千人の命のビザ).

Initially, I was quite keen (having been somewhat thrown by what I considered the difficult language in Natsume Souseki's "Bocchan") to read "Visas for 6000 lives" in English; however, I had read on the net that the translation isn't terribly good, and so I decided to get a Japanese copy and read that instead.

As it happens, I'm quite pleased I got the Japanese copy: for the most part the Japanese is not too hard going, and it was interesting enough to keep me going to the end (The most difficult part being a small telegram from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which I had to resort to getting a Japanese friend to read through for me, but besides this, the language was very accessible).

My main interest in the book is the act of humanity performed by Chiune Sugihara through which thousands of Jews were saved during the Second World War; however, the book somehow manages to condense this chapter of Sugihara's life into the first chapter (of seven). Despite this, I feel the scene was set sufficiently well, and there are a wealth of experiences and excitement through the following chapters.

As someone who knows very little of what civilian life was like in Europe during the Second World War, the book was a fascinating, sometimes heart-wrenching, glimpse of that era; albeit from the perspective of the exceptionally well-to-do.

I'd recommend the book to anyone who, like me, has little knowledge of life in Europe during that time, or is interested in finding out more about Chiune Sugihara.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lonely penpals (-_-)

The internet is full of people. But like the big city, it can be a lonely place...

I stand by my belief that getting an email friend or pen friend to practice your Japanese with is the easiest way to learn the language. However, it does have its downsides... I'm not sure whether its something about how I pick email friends or what, but it seems that everyone online is exceptionally lonely for some reason or another. Let me take a moment to exemplify with a list of some of my recent friends.

1) An enthusiastic Nagoyan (can you say that? I hope so, it sounds like something from a sci-fi!), with a significant other that they feel is weighing them down, but which they feel too responsible for to dump (in this case, possibly a good thing until the said significant other sees a psychiatrist, but that goes beyond our scope here).

2) A charming Toykonian hikikomori (from what I can tell) with apparently no friends, a possible inferiority complex, and no clear direction (as if you need a clear idea of what you want to do at university age).

3) A highly imaginative Yokohaman in a loveless marriage who is looking for "something to stir their heart"

4) I forget where this one was from, but having given them my LINE ID, they proceeded to send a shedload of pictures, some of which she was just in her bra... She can count herself lucky I'm not a stalker... In any case, not exactly the picture of sanity there.

Excepting #4, they're all definitely very nice people, and I've met plenty of normal people online. However, this accounts for about a fifth of my recent email friends, and it paints a rather depressing picture of these online penfriend sites.

It gets worse though: I read a post on Japan-guide.com's forum today of a guy whose email friend had supposedly killed themselves after the said guy stopped contacting them. Reading into it, it actually seems a bit suspect... But whether it is true or not, the poor guy (because it wasn't really any fault of his) felt terrible about this, and perhaps they'll bear that pain in some way or other for the rest of their lives.

Luckily I've only met lonely people so far, not suicidal ones, and frankly the lonely ones tend to reply more often. I'm happy enough, I guess, in letting them unload their worries seeing as we're both benefiting from it (and in any case, some of my email friends have helped me talk through some problems of my own). But, it is sobering, nonetheless.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gathering Japanese Penpals

So, in my last post I spouted some more bullsh-, I mean advice, about how awesome it is to learn Japanese from a penfriend/email friends.

I thought I'd also share some thoughts about which sites I have found useful.

I've had some good luck with http://www.japan-guide.com/local/. I think it was through that site that my wife first emailed me. But, in any case I've had a 3 or 4 long-lasting penpals because of that site, which I think is pretty good going. And additionally, this was a long time ago, and is definitely a good site for beginners of Japanese.

For those at the more advanced level*, I have a couple of recommendations. I've used Atmeltomo.com for a while now, I believe its one of the first hits if you do a google search, as is merutomopark.jp. But for those of you who haven't typed メル友 (email friend) into google before, I think its worth a bit of a summary.

Atmeltomo.com is good in that it has a pretty large user base, and there is always someone online (though I've not had a huge amount of luck finding these online people in the early hours of Japan Standard Time), and submitting a post usually gets a few replies. In addition to creating a profile, you can submit posts in one of several categories, which correspond to most things you might want to talk about. You can also post in different age categories if you'd prefer to find someone your own age, or in geographic categories (which consists of the different regions of Japan and "overseas").

I try not to to post in the overseas section, as that usually results in being inundated with messages from people wanting to learn English, but if your Japanese isn't so good, it might be a good place to start from, as a lot of visitors to that message board have at least some proficiency in English.

The site has its cons though. Firstly, it is riddled with some pretty ahem naughty adverts. As much as I'm fond of the female form, its not terribly conducive to level-headed conversation, and I use an ad-blocker on it these days. Maybe its because of this that there seem to be a lot of people on that site with dubious intentions... Also, I find that most of the people I come into contact with stop emailing quite quickly. Though, that could be a personality problem (-_-)

Merutomopark.jp covers atmeltomo's weak points pretty well: it has a filter to defend against the horny people (which actually caught me out when I was writing my profile... Though I've no idea what I wrote to make it do that), and the site is almost entirely ad-free. Unfortunately Merutomopark has a much reduced user base, but nonetheless, the two posts I made there have gotten a fair number of replies.

One slight problem with merutomopark is the lack of categories. You can post by age or region, but if you have a specific question or topic you want to go through, there isn't going to be a separate board for that. The other significant missing feature is notifications. When someone sends you a message, you wont know until you log back into merutomopark.

To summarise, if you're looking to chat to a Japanese person right now and don't want to use a chat room, atmeltomo is the place to be (once you kill the adverts), and it's sister site atskype.jp is possibly even better in that respect. If you're more patient and just want an email friend, I think merutomopark is a better bet.

That said, if you're a beginner, there loads of English-language penpal sites (which you don't need my help to find), some of which may have some Japanese people on, though I'll mention Japan-guide.com again, because I had some success** with it.

*or those prepared to use a dictionary to guide themselves through the registration process

**Not that I'm a big proponent of using penpal sites for finding spouses, but I'd say that a wife and child is a pretty big success

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Learn Japanese by Email! (and VOIP, IM etc.)

Learning Japanese by pen-friends/email-friends...

Pros:

  • Learn Japanese as it exists in its natural environment
  • Almost no previous experience necessary
  • Can pick up slang words
  • Meet truly interesting people from interesting places
  • Learn anywhere, any time


Cons:

  • Some pen friends may object to your spouse* 
  • May pick up words mismatched to your gender
  • Can pick up slang words


I've maintained a long time that getting a pen friend -or now we're in the digital age, an email friend- is among the best ways of learning a language. My personal plan for learning Chinese was basically: buy a book and audio CD that teaches the basics, then find mail-friends online.

To be honest, I never ended up learning Chinese all that long, but then Japanese has to take precedence in my life. Maybe when I've settled into Japan, I'll start up the Chinese again. I digress, but still, if you're interested, I feel I got on pretty well as a beginner with just those two resources: the beginner's book, and mail-friends**.

The great thing about email friends is that they cost you nothing (unless you end up marrying one of them... Whoops!), and even if they don't teach you, you're still learning.

In fact, as much as I want to like people for trying to teach me, its those email friends that correct me every sentence that I end up emailing the least often. I've taken a very 適当 (casual) approach that probably has more to do with passively absorbing what sounds right than actually putting in effort and being proper.

In any case, if you want to learn how to speak proper Japanese, you're going to want to read books, not chat to random people... If you can't read books yet, then its probably too early to worry about speaking properly, unless you want to do business in Japan, or ask your girlfriend's dad if its OK it to marry his daughter (shoot there's another thing I forgot to do!)...

But even so, email friends are helpful at pretty much any level of ability.

The only thing I would say against email friends is that I get a hell of a lot higher uptake from girls. I don't mind this (though my wife might), but it does mean that I'm not absorbing whatever language usage is more common amongst my own gender. The other thing, which I feel is related, is that many of these email friends will stop emailing as soon as I tell them I have a wife.

This lead me more recently to just omit that fact until asked... Certainly it means you can get a bit more practice in before it comes up, but in actuality I suspect its better to make it one of the first things to say so that you can find the email friends that are actually looking for friendship and save yourself some bother at the same time.

To close, I think its also worth pointing out that its never been a better time for gathering some email friends, with mobile internet as its current price, and email-capable mobiles, you can easily afford to do this anywhere. Free Japanese support, wherever you want, whenever you want, from native speakers of the language.



* if you're lucky, your spouse won't object to your pen friends ;)
   by the way, I'm interested in hearing if anyone else seems to find they lose a lot of email friends on account of having a spouse, because it seems very strange to me... Please comment!

** on second thoughts, I should add online dictionaries to the list of necessities, but online dictionaries are far easier to find than good pen friends or good books.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Not forgetting the East Japan Earthquake

I posted some time back about how the East Japan Earthquake is, quite rapidly, being forgotten. However, I think that when you spend some time to absorb the current culture of Japan (in my case, by listening to Japanese radio), it becomes apparent quite quickly that this isn't the case*.

Of course, without being in Japan, I feel that it is quite difficult to get an idea of how things have unfolded culturally, but even so, it seems telling that FM Hirakata is punctuated with references to the "Smile Again Project": a project where listeners compile messages to be broadcast every 11th by radio station(s) in the affected areas, with many of these messages also being broadcast sparsely through FM Hirakata's schedule.

In any case, while here in the UK the events of 11/03/2011 have been mostly forgotten**, it seems to have become quite a big piece of the Japanese cultural puzzle, which I guess is no less than anyone might have expected.


*In part, it shows that Google's statistics (like any statistics, I guess), should be used with a little more care before implying meaning. Supposedly I'm a scientist, of sorts; I really should know better.

**Leastways, I never hear people talk about it anymore.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Festival-man Daisuke

I was just reading the news about the local government coercion to prevent cheese rolling (it's for your own protection!), and なんと! who would you believe is centre frame in the second photo of the article but Daisuke "The Festival Man" Miyagawa!

I'm quite fond of Miyagawa's exploits, which include not only chasing cheese, but jumping into icy water, pole vaulting over rivers and all sorts of crazy stuff... I'm not sure how this qualifies him as a "festival man", but he's a laugh to watch in any case.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More gubenatorial stupidity?

Same s***, different governor? This time its comfort women, who were "necessary" according to the Osaka governer Toru Hashimoto.

I mean, that's just stupid, right? Comfort women aren't necessary! The American's never did th-- oh wait.. Yes, they did, actually. And they got the idea from the Japanese, at that.

Despite shooting down my own argument here, I'm still inclined to say that the comfort women weren't necessary. They might have acted as a "breakwater" between the troops and "regular" women and girls, but considering they recruited the women at exceptionally low wage from a newly impoverished* population does much to blur the lines between "regular" women and comfort women.

So perhaps some of the population at large was protected, but only by recruiting members of the population that likely had little choice.

That said, I never heard of Allied troops with comfort women available during the liberation of Europe. The idea of being shot at making you require a shag is somewhat alien to me**. Surely the best way of letting troops rest is to move them away from the front lines for a while?

So what is the point of this discussion? That Hashimoto is an idiot? Unfortunately, I'm inclined to disagree, no matter how stupid the above is, some of Hashimoto's other ideas are pretty good: he supports cooperation in the case of several island disputes, and tends toward a compromising stance on the Futenma air bases. On the whole though, Hashimoto's nationalist stance, and apparent eagerness to revert rape issues to prostitution ones isn't something I'm willing to overlook.

What really gets to me about this man is that he isn't one of the "old-boys" of Japanese politics, or really an "old boy" of any sort at all. He is the product of late post-war Japan. Born in the 1960s, he's seen Japan's economic rise without having witnessed the destruction that war wrought on his country. There are millions of Japanese who have been brought up in the post-war society, and some of these are becoming the political big-wigs. I fear that they don't have the perspective of their elders, and with the effective censorship of the war in textbooks, I don't see things improving any time soon. From my limited outside view, it seems as though pragmatism is the only thing keeping the right-wingers in check at the moment.

Naoki Inose's (the Tokyo Governor) has come out with some stupid comments, but Inose is pretty harmless. Indeed, Inose exudes an image of cutesy Japanese anime-style stupidity. But people like Hashimoto also exist, who are undoubtedly intelligent, but harbour very dangerous ideologies.


*ie, decimated

**indeed the idea of being shot at in general is alien to me, though I've been in the line of practice fire before (and through no fault of my own, I'll add)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Care for the elderly HTC Tattoo

So, a little while ago I complained that streaming radio through 3G, while pretty cool, ate my HTC Tattoo's ageing battery for breakfast (link).

I was considering getting a new phone, but since my main gripe is actually the ridiculous battery life, I thought I'd just get a new battery. That is when I found this beast. 2600 mAh, thats 130% more capacity than the normal battery, and is so big it needs an extension to the phone case.

I suspected that my phone would look butt ugly after getting its extension, but actually, the shape is OK. Also, since the phone was quite small to begin with, it remains very manageable, though its heavier now (though it doesn't feel any heavier than my old Nokia brick-phone).

My only concern now is that with its low £15 price tag that it might explode or set my pants on fire (lol). But hey, it would just give me an excuse to get a new phone (Android 1.6 gets tiresome, and it would be nice to have a phone that I can use to wirelessly tether my Nexus 7 to).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Top 5 Heroes of Imperial Japan

Toyohiko Kagawa

Toyohiko Kagawa was a Christian reformer and activist who deserves mention for his sense of humanity during the peak and fall of Imperial Japan. Despite his Christian background, he showed his Buddha/Orwellian side by abandoning the luxuries of modern Japanese life to experience poverty in the slums first hand.

That might not sound like much, but Kagawa went through a good deal of persecution in Imperial Japan, both from the police and his countrymen. Despite this, Kagawa set up the Anti-War League, and publicly apologised to China for the invasion. For this, Kagawa was arrested and briefly imprisoned.

It's this kind of selfless, righteous* tenacity that epitomises true pacifism.

Chiune Sugihara

Chinue Sugihara was the ambassador for Imperial Japan in Lithuania for some time during the holocaust. Thousands of Jews fled to Lithuania to escape persecution by the Nazis, however they became effectively trapped there because obtaining passage through the Soviet Union was very difficult. A great crowd of refugees surrounded the Japanese embassy in the hopes of obtaining a transit visa.

Sugihara contacted Japan several times, and failed in all cases to obtain permission to provide the visas, but after some contemplation decided to write the visas anyway. With the visas in hand, many thousands of refugees were able to pass through the Soviet Union and Japan, undoubtedly saving their lives.

By numbers alone Sugihara should be at the top of the list, but I've given him the number two spot. Why? As much as he was a Japanese national, his only act of antagonism towards Imperial Japan was writing the visas, which you might argue was a dangerous thing to do; however I'd question the likelihood of Imperial Japan to go so far to persecute him. No, more than anything, Sugihara is a hero of Europe, rather than Japan.

FYI, here an essay of spectacular scope** regarding Sugihara: informative link.

Kijuro Shidehara

Shidehara was the foreign minister of Imperial Japan for two terms, and constantly pushed for cooperation and the expansion of cultural links with China, while making attempts to avert military intervention. Hats off to Mr. Shidehara, but the overpowering rise of the military essentially rendered him an impotent force.

Nevertheless, one might argue for Shidehara's heroism in the face of the assassination attempt on his contemporary by ultranationalists, and its this argument for which I include him in this list, even though there is much more to talk about regarding Shidehara.

Sokichi Takagi 

Sokichi Takagi was a Japanese Imperial Navy officer with powerful friends. It was because of his unique position within earshot of the "high and mighty" of Imperial Japan that he caught the attention of Shigetaro Shimada, who wanted a reliable assessment of Japan's trajectory in the war.

Takagi's ability to evaluate Japan's position in the war lead him not only to realise the inevitability of defeat, but to conclude that peace must be made with America, and that to do so the Prime Minister (Hideki Tojo) must be assassinated.

Knowing Tojo to have a great affection for open-top cars, Takagi planned to barricade, or block the Prime Minister's car, then open fire using a machine gun. The plan might have succeeded, considering Takagi's powerful supporters, however the plan was never invoked due to a mass resignation within the Tojo cabinet over the loss of Saipan. Takagi spoke later that "Had the assassination taken place, the resulting increase in tensions between the army and navy would have made peace-making difficult"***.

Unable to carry out the plans, Takagi still worked towards a peaceful end to the war, though as evidenced by the near-destruction of Japan, his efforts were not entirely successful. Nonetheless, I think Takagi's powerful resolve, which would likely have gotten him killed had it been exposed, earns him a place in the top 5.

Sanzo Nosaka

Sanzo Nosaka was a communist politician. In Imperial Japan, communism was fairly high on the list of "things not to do... Or else", and indeed, Nosaka was imprisoned more than once, and even tortured. Nonetheless, this appears only to have strengthened his resolve.

Nosaka joined Comintern and eventually was ordered to help China's resistance to Japan. This lead to Nosaka helping in the indoctrination of captured Japanese troops. Apparently, he was so successful that the Japanese army made attempts at assassinating him.

In this light, Nosaka appears the very embodiment of heroic resistance against Imperial Japan, but as the Wiki points out, there are a number of darker aspects to Nosaka's career.

Firstly, it was found that Nosaka had close ties to Stalin's regime, worse, it appears he used that position to exact personal vengeance on his friend after hearing they may have slept with his wife. In fact, the said adulterer was killed by firing squad.

Secondly, there is the fact that he was working under orders from Comintern. I'd like to think that Nosaka was working to mitigate the evils of Japanese occupation of China, but I wonder to what extent this was just to further the communist cause. That is to say, was Nosaka aiding the Chinese people, or just trying to impose his own world view?

Whatever the case, Nosaka highlights the fact that some Japanese soldiers, when educated on the evils committed by Imperial Japan, were happy to take up the cause of the Chinese. A fact that seems entirely overlooked in the popular memory of the war. In this light, even if Nosaka's own heroism is vague and tainted, I'd like to think that perhaps he produced a few heroes, no matter how they may have faded from history.

*I'd like to stress that I say righteous here without any invocation of mythical/theoretical beings


**at least in terms of what is freely available on the internet

***information from this paragraph can be found in Japanese here

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Paypal nonsense

It wasn't intended to be a rant. But it became one. You have been warned

My frustration demands some venting, so please excuse my tentative inclusion of this post as "technology" related..

I got an email from paypal saying I'd set up some automated billing with ebay, which was not the case. Presumably someone had gained access to my account and set that up "on my behalf", perhaps to make me a more generous person.

But, because I don't like to give money to thieves, I signed in to paypal and changed all my security details to something so unguessable I'll probably have to meditate to remember it. I also sent an email to paypal (was past call centre closing times) to find out what the hell was going on.

Luckily no money had been taken (I find that spectacularly strange, but hey, if the thieves are going to give me a running start, thank you very much...), but the next day I get an email saying (predictably) please phone us.

So, I phone, and explain the situation. They seem confused about the fact I was making an enquiry when clearly no actual transactions had been made, but they were helpful, and assured me that my precautions the previous night had made my account secure again. They also said an investigation would be filed to find out exactly what happened.

Two things greatly annoy me about this: 1) according to the call centre guy, paypal don't track IP addresses. Why not? It would be very handy to know whether the access attempt was made from another country or my own workplace or house. Because if its the latter, it means the security problem isn't isolated to paypal. 2) I get an email saying that my "claim" has been refused following investigation due to lack of evidence...

What? What do they mean my claim is refused? Its not like I'm claiming for an actual commodity, nothing was stolen, I'm claiming so you can investigate, which you say you've done, so what are you refusing?

Well, this is all very gods-damn Zen, isn't it. "If paypal refuses your claim to nothing, what have you lost?". Its so mind-blowingly nonsensical that my shell-shocked brain might just attain full-blown bloody enlightenment.

If someone had taken the time to write a proper email instead of dulling their brain on the problem of "Hmmm, which pre-made email best suits this situation?", then frankly we'd all be better off.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tokyo gubernatorial stupidity: Naoki Inose


Ah Japanese politicians. The outside world must seem so confusing to them. Yes, I'm thinking of Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose's remarks on Istanbul's Olympic bid (go ahead and click that link, the picture is great: looks like they're trying to use the mics to push him over backwards*).

Its almost embarrassing to read what he said, and it shows an outspoken ignorance of the outside world that would get you fired from most jobs in the public eye over here. I find it a bit funny that not so long ago he was warning against complacency over winning the Olympic bid.

Well, its obvious that Tokyo has now screwed its Olympic bid to Pluto and back, but I doubt that will do much to mar Inose's reputation at home, considering his predecessor was completely outrageous, and still was able to resign on his own terms.

But for my part, I'm not going to lose all faith in Inose-sensei. Even if he is a complete pratt, reading his wiki page (Japanese) gives the sense of a reformer, and if nothing else, he played a part in the rescue of several people in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

That said, the guy needs to get a bookshelf for that ¥4.5 million toilet of his. Perhaps he can then learn something about how Istanbul was a major seat of civilisation for hundreds of years (maybe thousands of years including the other civilisations that existed there. Hell, I need that book too)...

EDIT: Somehow, Tokyo managed to win the 2020 Olympic bid, though I suspect it has more to do with this person, than Inose.

* I hope you'll forgive my being light-hearted. As much as anything this post is just an excuse to use the word "gubernatorial"** which I can't imagine a single way of pronouncing that doesn't sound ridiculous.

** a word so strange to me that I initially thought it was a cute Japanese corruption of some other word that doesn't sound stupid. If only English were so sensible...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Google is reading my (Japanese) mind

Is anyone else seeing Japanese ads on YouTube? I don't mean a YouTube video of a Japanese ad*. I'm actually getting Japanese ads (given the previous link, ironically) for the Japanese coffee brand Georgia (a Coca cola brand).

At first, I thought that maybe YouTube has erroneously got my language as Japanese, but no, its still English. OK, and I still get English ads too. And to top it all, the Japanese ad preceded an English video...

My guess right now is that it has something to do with my posting Japanese into a video I uploaded**, which apart from having a Japanese title, also has Japanese in the subtitles and description (it took far more work than it was worth to make that).

So, of course, YouTube isn't reading my mind, but it damn well feels like it sometimes. I'm kind of impressed that Google's system can (to some degree) be aware of my fluency in Japanese***. On the other hand that is seriously wasteful advertising, given that I'd have to be really, really determined to get hold of that coffee over here... And anyway, my loyalty is with Boss, and that has nothing to do with the taste!


*Gotta love Tommy Lee Jones

** its completely irrelevant here, but here's a link if you're that inquisitive...

*** Or this is happening to everyone, and I don't know it yet. Or it really is a bug.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Heroes of Imperial Japan?

So, I was thinking earlier in the week about the apparent tendency for Japan to brush the evils of World War II under the carpet, and wondering about the lack of Japanese war heroes.

When I say Japanese war heroes, I don't mean "inflicted n amount of damage on his adversary", what I'm thinking of is Japanese people who risked their lives to stand against the evils of Imperial Japan, first hand.

Doing a Google search on "Japanese world war 2 heroes" doesn't really return a lot, though it does necessitate a -american because it turns out there were lots of Japanese american war heroes, and since they were almost all military this kind of falls under the "inflicted n amount of damage on his adversary" kind of heroism.

Perhaps the problem here is that I'm imagining some sort of Oscar Schindler character; an ordinary person who rises above his surroundings, transcending the pragmatism of his character to keep the dark at bay...

But then again, why shouldn't there be someone like that in Imperial Japan? The Japanese are equally capable of doing good, example: Chiune Sugihara. But while he opposed Japan's actions in Manchuria, he didn't help there in the same way he saved lives in Lithuania. That said, the work he did in Lithuania was spectacular, that link is really worth the read.

Trying a different tact, I tried to find out who Imperial Japan's domestic enemies were. Being a highly militaristic society in WW2, I reasoned that the kind of people getting tried for treason were probably the same people trying to stop Japan's aggression in China.

As it turns out, I had more success than I'd expected with that train of thought, and pulled up the name Sanzo Nosaka. Nosaka heavily criticised Japan's involvement in China, and even went so far as to help setting up a spy network in Japanese-occupied China. The idea of heralding this man as a hero seemed not too far off, until reading that he effectively had his (adulterous) friend murdered. Then there are his links with Stalin's regime... Hmm, perhaps not a brilliant example after all.

But if nothing else, this did introduce me to the fact the Japan's (underground) communist party was opposed to Japan's role in China, and supported the independence of Japan's overseas colonies.

I'm not overly keen on communism myself, it reeks of schoolboy naivety that somehow that 1% of greedy people will stop seeking power (what I like to think of as "floater" politics*), or that the greediness inherent in all of us will just disappear with a change of government. However, it is somehow endearing, and the thought of a hero that wants everyone to be equal in society is poetic, if nothing else.

*Yes, its toilet humour!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Atmospheric effects in openGL

And now for some programming...

Long story short:

Here is a technique for drawing an atmosphere, which is especially useful if you want something that is quick but you're not planning on the camera moving around. Enjoy.




Anyway, some considerable time ago I wrote about making the world in 7 days using openGL and java. Of course, in reality, I'd only synthesised a tiny region, not even the size of an English county... What I'd really love is to have a whole planet to look down on.

Actually, this is a much, much simpler task, so long as you don't want to visit anywhere on the surface, as from 300km up, everything looks flat anyway (approximately).

The real trick to making a planet look lovely is the atmosphere (and bump mapping*).

Lately I've been using libGDX for my graphical work (I'm a softy for portability, and when I adopted it, it was probably the most portable graphics library around), but hopefully what I attempt here will be fairly universal.

The basic layout for me is like this:

1)Earth = sphere with earth texture in centre of screen
2)Starmap = sphere centred on camera with star texture
3)Clouds = sphere surrounding earth with cloud texture
4)Atmosphere = cone extending from the horizon of sphere (1) to behind the camera

And now for a pretty diagram:

... What can I say... I'm a biologist.

Long story short, the key is to have the cone completely transparent, but draw it with fog. You end up with something that looks a bit like this:



Which is (I think) a reasonable approximation of Earth from ~300 km up. OK, so this is a bit hacky, but it is really quick and conceptually simple**.

If you want more detail, here are the components in more detail:

1)Earth

Since I personally never plan to leave orbit, instead of using a sphere, I've cheated and used a convex shape to reduce the number of triangles rendered. Thus, instead of having a sphere rotating, I've had to move the texture coordinates instead. But honestly, that is simple enough. It also means that I don't need to have the whole earth texture loaded into memory, I only have a thin strip for a texture that corresponds to the area over which the viewpoint travels, assuming that I always pass the same terrain***.

I use a night (city lights) texture too, which is only visible when the sun starts sinking below the horizon.

2)Starmap

You can't see it so well in the screenshot, but at night I make the stars more vivid by increasing the brightness. The stars are another NASA freebie (I love NASA). There's not much else to say here

3)Clouds

Just a png texture of clouds mapped onto another convex shape with a slightly different speed of rotation, so that the same area isn't always covered by the same clouds.

4)Atmosphere

As mentioned earlier, the atmosphere is just a transparent cone that extends from behind the camera to the horizon. To make it appear as the atmosphere all you do is enable fog, then draw the cone. Finally, you draw the planet in front of all that.

The density of the atmosphere can be changed by modifying the opengl fog density/fog start parameters.

If I recall correctly, the draw order was important: stars, then atmosphere cone, then planet.

Of course there are major caveats with this method:
1) if the camera moves relative to the planet, the cone has to distort accordingly
2) if the camera moves, the fog density/fog start parameters must be adapted otherwise the atmosphere will appear to grow as you move away from the planet

Which is one reason why I haven't bothered allowing the camera to move! But it makes a lovely background ;)


*Sorry, I won't be discussing bump mapping as I don't use it yet. I have reasons for this, but I advise that you use bump mapping if you can, because it looks great! But anyway, bump mapping is a fairly standard practice nowadays (here's what google thinks is the best site on the matter, but because I'm too busy to see if it actually is, here is what it thinks is the second best site on the matter. In the very least I've used NeHe's site before, and liked it...)

**Bearing in mind this is all designed to run on mobile phones...

***Yes, I've cheated and have my viewpoint make the impossible orbit along a constant longitude in the Northern hemisphere. I should have put the orbit around the equator. Sorry about that. I like the Northern hemisphere.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hanwriting reevaluation

Having used hanwriting for android a little more extensively, I've decided that its physical keyboard support is terrible after all. I was already dubious about it, but what really kills it for me is the way it provides suggestions.

For English, hanwriting's suggestions are OK, and although a bit fiddly, you can kind of get around stupid suggestions by simply dismissing them.

For Japanese however, you need the suggestions to convert your hiragana into kanji, and the only way to do this is to either accept the default suggestion, or physically press the kanji that you want to use. In other words, there is no way to select the kanji using a physical keyboard.

In essence this means that writing Japanese text will sound like "hack hack hack - tap - hack hack hack - tap - " etc. Not that the noise annoys me, its the constant flipping between typing and poking that I can't get used to. After all, once you've taken your fingers off the keyboard to poke the screen, you've got to get your hands back into the typing position by finding the F and J buttons, which somehow feels like a huge impediment to the fluidity to writing something.

For the sake of being able to actually write an email to my wife without going insane, hanwriting is no longer my default IME.

That said, if you spend much time looking up complicated Japanese characters, hanwriting still has its handy kanjipad.

EDIT: Got an email back from the developer, apparently the next version will be clear of these bugs! On the other hand, that means I might be obliged to write a rereevaluation post... I've really done it to death already.

Looking forward to that update though!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Forgetting the East Japan Earthquake

I was thinking the other day that you don't hear much about the East Japan Earthquake any more. This makes sense, in that as the immediate danger has subsided and other things happen in the world.

You can even graph the international sentiment ebbing away:



Above is a graph of UK google searches for "Japan earthquake". Below is the same for Japanese searches for "日本 地震":


You can see that, even in Japan, the public eye has wandered onto other issues a surprisingly comparable amount. Us people are great at forgetting about things, but the next time something like this happens, bear in mind that the situation is constantly unfolding, and when you remember it n years from now, it will still be unfolding. Remember that, and how lucky it was you weren't involved.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ignoring Japanese war atrocities

Having read this news article about the recent visit of Japan's PM Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni shrine, and the corresponding conversation with my dad, it reminded me of a strange conversation I had with my wife some time ago.

First, some context, if you're unfamiliar with the Yasukuni shrine, you should in the very least know that it houses the "spirits" of a number of World War II war criminals, I also recommend reading at least this section of the almighty wiki.

A year or two ago, I was watching the film "City of Life and Death" (or "Nanjing! Nanjing!"), on the recommendation of a Chinese friend. The film is centred on the life & death struggle of people caught in the infamous "Rape of Nanking".

My wife asked what I was watching, and I tried to explain it to her. I wasn't entirely surprised (considering the infamy of the Japanese history education) that she didn't seem to know what the Rape of Nanking was, so I explained that to her as well. To me, her response was astonishing:
"Yes, but you can't really know these things, since you weren't there"

To be honest, I was so taken aback by that response (and kind of still am) that I forget how I responded. I think the thing that surprises me most is that there is absolutely no reason at all anyone should come up with an answer like that. You can't simply "fake" a horror on the scale of the Rape of Nanking, but then how the hell do you respond to a statement like hers? Its not like I'm in a great position to start rummaging through the evidence and prove it to her, all I can do is say "I've read this and that", and explain that its the prevailing view of events through the rest of the world...

Having been to Germany and seen plaques honouring those who defied the Nazi regime, a kind of solemn celebration that even in the midst of a terrible regime there exist those willing to fight Evil. It seems very strange then, to see the Japanese brushing events under the carpet. Where are Schindler's lists of Japan?

The closest example I know of is Admiral Isoroku, but as much as he didn't want to go to war with America, he still masterminded a good deal of it... No. I don't have a good example, and it worries me that Japan doesn't seem to have it's own heroes who fought against the Evil of the Japanese Empire*.

If Japan isn't going to educate about its war atrocities, its people aren't going to understand properly why its neighbours are so cold towards them, and if they don't debate the Goods and Evils that occurred, what is to stop them making the same mistake in the future?**

*Although, my knowledge of Japanese history is still very lacking.

**Though I doubt things will escalate enough to really warrant this fear..

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Japanese kanji with Hanwriting, again

So, I've had a good long while playing with hanwriting  now, and I think its worth mentioning a couple of points:

First, a little tip on hard keyboards:
It can be annoying when using a hardware keyboard to type, when hanwriting decides to autocorrect the word you typed in (hanwriting will become "handwriting"). However, you can circumvent this problem by pressing an arrow key instead of the spacebar or punctuation, and this immediately dismisses the suggestions.

Secondly a new gripe of mine:
I've noticed that, despite hanwriting's superb ability at recognising complicated characters, there are some face-palmingly easy characters that it seems to have trouble with:

千 柔

perhaps unsurprisingly the first of those was quite easy in aedict's kanjipad, though there is something about the second one that I just can't seem to get right in either program.

Also, for a program that professes to be a handwriting app, its pretty appalling at hiragana.

That said, hanwriting is STILL my default IME at the moment; to me, the advantages still outweigh the drawbacks, and by a fair margin too.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Katanas: were they any good?

I've often spouted the virtues of the katana (just how I got into those conversations to start with is something of a puzzle, now I look back on it): the dedication of its craftsmen, the sharpness of its blade, and its ability to cut through all sorts of unlikely things...

However, apart from what I've heard on the TV and radio, it turns out I'm not really all that clued up on the "mighty" katana.

It wasn't until I happened upon this video that I realised the limits of my education in sword-crafting (which, as you might imagine, are very limited).

The guy makes some excellent points; most of the dirty-work on a Japanese battlefield would have been done with the spear or other weapons,  and the functional aspects of the craftsmanship that went into the swords was in no way unique to Japan.

The first point I should really have been aware of from Jansen's "The Making of Modern Japan", and other things I've read. As with Europe, technological advancements often came in the form "if we've got a longer spear than the enemy, we'll be able to hit them before they can hit us", and alongside firearms, the spear was a staple of weaponry as the warring kingdoms period drew to an end.

That said, I'm certain that if you're a foot soldier with a massive pike, and concentrating on hitting the enemy in front of you, several hundred men in heavy armour wielding katanas running into your flank is going to ruin your day.

What confuses me about historical Japanese warfare is the failure to adopt the shield. Even a katana is going to stop against a well made shield, and while you block the blow, you could be eyeing up your opponent for somewhere to stick your own short-sword. A quick search on internet forums suggests that the lack of shields was down to 1) lack of supply of metals, 2) the historic preference of samurai for horse archery [which kind of precluded the use of a shield], 3) the possible lack of honour associated with hiding behind a shield, 4) the Japanese armour plating, particularly on the shoulder (the sode), was functional as a small shield. 5) "shield? You must be referring to the peasants"

which of those reasons are actually relevant, I've no idea. number 4 seems somewhat dubious to me, as I've never seen a sode large enough to be really protective; there always seems to be an opening in the armour around the elbow joint. Plus how are you to deflect blows below your waist? You'd have to use your sword, which makes counter attacking more difficult...

That said, my weapons of choice would be the firearm with a katana as back up. Or, if I'm lucky the commander will decide to simply not fight.

EDIT: Oh, and for what its worth, I actually own a katana. Considering I only paid 70 quid for it, I'm guessing its not authentic, but it looks cool, and lets face it, that's the only reason you're going to own a sword these days... I hope...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Japan Radio Review: FM Hirakata

So I mentioned some time back how I'd been fiddling with getting internet Radio working with Android, but I've also been doing some tinkering and made a website with links to live stations in japan. More on that another time, perhaps.

Principally I've been listening to FM Hirakata. My goal here is to learn Japanese while doing other things (usually work, programming or translating*).

FM Hirakata is a fairly good mix between talk and music, and here in the UK, my listening times often coincide with the Hirakata top 30, which generally airs from about 1pm GMT and again at around 7pm GMT, but check the link for the exact JST times if you're interested, as it varies.

You might be thinking that if you're keen on learning Japanese that picking a station so heavy on music isn't terribly helpful... To an extent, you'd be right, music is a terrible, terrible way of learning Japanese. Obscure language and concepts that you're almost never going to use in conversation litter music.

What I would argue (and this may well just go for me) is that I really can't passively take in that much Japanese in one go. After a few minutes my brain has completely blocked the radio out. Its at times like this I switch over to FM hirakata, and like pickled ginger cleansing the palate, my brain is able to take on Japanese again.

With that in mind, the fact that I find most J-pop pretty... Well, terrible... Doesn't really matter all that much. Though I can imagine there are lots of people out there who would be totally horrified by the idea of switching over to a Japanese chart show**. Then, I also quite like to have an idea of what is going on culturally in Japan, which also takes an edge off of it.


*You might be thinking that it is strange that I differentiate between "work" and "translating"... Ironically, the reason for this is that I get paid for freelance translating, whereas my "work" is my PhD, for which my funding has run out.. Nevertheless, I spend far more time on my PhD than translating.

**Indeed, even for me, the very mention of AKB48 is enough to warrant a scramble to change station, find the mute button, or failing that, run screaming from the room.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Handwriting with "Hanwriting"

Summary of hanwriting with multiling for the impatient:

Pros
  • handwriting function has very good specificity!
  • reasonable dictionaries
  • switching between languages is easy
Cons
  • some minor, infrequent bugs with inputing strokes
  • compatibility with hardware keyboards not that great
  • compatibility with hardware keyboards is terrible! (See edit)
  • setting up for the first time requires some patience (if you have the patience to read the rest of this article, I'm guessing you'll do fine, however)

The weather was lovely yesterday evening, so I used that as an excuse to go outside and open up "二十四の瞳" (or "24 eyes". Incidently, amazed that it was for sale on amazon.co.uk), thus I had the opportunity for a good play with Hanwriting yesterday, while translating the book.

That said, 二十四の瞳 isn't the hardest going of books, with most difficult words written in hiragana (its somewhat a refreshing change from Natsume Soseki's Bocchan, which had me stumped pretty much every couple of lines). And so it is that I didn't really get to test out hanwriting's kanji pad very much. However, I got a good feel for its other functionalities.

To start, let's talk hardware keyboards! I love my bluetooth keyboard, and use it more often than I use the software keyboard. However, multiling (which Hanwriting plugs into) is pretty poor at integrating it. Setting hardware keyboard to ON in the Android input method menu turns the software keyboard OFF. That's all fine and dandy, but there is no way of switching multiling's language quickly between English and Japanese when the software keyboard is off.

Fortunately there is a work-around (at least for my setup): I find that by turning the hardware keyboard OFF in the Android input method menu that I can still use the hardware keyboard, but because the software keyboard doesn't disappear, I can also swipe the software spacebar to change languages quickly. I'd still rather have a handy "あa" button like on Google's Japanese IME though...

I also found that set up was a bit arduous. Nothing too taxing, but it is necessary to download multiling, the Japanese plugin for multling and the hanwriting plugin, and I also decided I'd need the English dictionary plugin too... 4 packages to set up a keyboard? Seems a bit much, but then again, I think multiling needs this modularity. I did find, however that its best to install all those plugins BEFORE running the multiling program, or setting the keyboard to multiling, otherwise the plugins aren't recognised.

As for the dictionaries themselves, they don't appear to be as comprehensive as Google's (which are pretty spectacular, I think). However, I think the multiling dictionaries are passable.

In my opinion, these issues are all adequately offset by the handwriting function, which is really invaluable. Though it is worthwhile to be aware that (somewhat infrequently) the kanji pad will not recognise when your finger has moved, and the next time you press the kanji pad a straight line will be drawn from your finger to where your previous swipe started. This is pretty annoying, but you can usually tell it is about to happen, and just redo your last stroke.

Overall then, multiling & hanwriting has some pretty rough edges, but it is definitely functional, and I get the feeling that I will be using it extensively from now on.

EDIT [25/04/2013]: Having used this IME more extensively, I've come across some major usability issues, see here and here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Android: Writing Japanese Characters (esp. Kanji)

Up until now I've not made much use of Nikolay Elenkov's Kanji Recognizer. I've had the general hunch that it was better than aedict's stock drawing recognition. However, since I primarily use the Japanese dictionary on the way to work, or otherwise wifi-less, I've not gotten much use out of Nikolay's WWWJDIC dictionary.

I'm not sure which recognition engine aedict uses, but Kanji Recognizer apparently uses the Zinnia engine with the Tomoe dataset, which is something that I've fiddled with in the past.

My hunch that Kanji Recognizer is superior has been kind of muted by the fact that with my old HTC Tattoo, changing applications was a bit tedious. Now I tend to use my Nexus 7 for translating (its so much faster!), which has a much quicker switch windows function, the idea of switching app every time I come across an annoying character doesn't put me off like it used to.

I thought I'd further test Kanji Recognizer by pitting it against aedict's drawing recognition. Using aedict as the benchmark (because I love that app), any character aedict failed to reproduce, I would attempt in Kanji Recognizer. Here is a list of some characters that Kanji Recognizer managed that aedict failed at*:

頸 腕 割 適 堅

OK, so that's not a particularly big list, which actually goes to show that aedict still fares pretty well, because I tested an awful lot of characters.

Now that I think about it, I also talked about an app called Hanwriting some time back. It was pretty awful for Japanese when I tried it, but it appears to have developed a lot since then. Now it is the hanwriting plugin integrated in the the multiling keyboard.

I tried all of the above characters without any trouble, and it even came up with some that neither aedict or Kanji Recognizer could manage*, such as 梟.

Since I've only just tried this, I'm not going to rave too much about how great that is, but it could be nice to have an IME like this that means I don't need to switch apps, and can stay in aedict for my dictionary needs, even when writing complicated characters. My first impression is good, but I also noticed that its significantly more difficult to draw characters in the smaller space they give you (though, of course, this is less of a problem now I'm using a Nexus 7).

Its nice to see such a broad range of support for Japanese getting well established on Android. I'm interested to see where it will all go from here!

*(or rather, I failed to input correctly into aedict that Kanji Recognizer identified regardless)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Japanese Radio & Android (AKA My Tattoo is Getting Old)

Lately I've been listening to a lot of Japanese radio. Not only does it alleviate some of the tedium of work, but it also helps improve my Japanese simultaneously. Brilliant.

Of course, support for doing this on Android is excellent. I believe I only downloaded a couple of programs before settling on TuneIn (that's not to say that TuneIn is the best... Just that it took me almost no time at all to find a decent internet radio program). The internet radio has a search function which can be very quickly used to identify Japanese radio stations (I primarily use FM Hirakata and BanBan Radio, perhaps a discussion for another time).

My rapidly ageing HTC Tattoo, however, was an altogether uglier case. The HTC Tattoo still runs Android 1.6, and virtually no one makes apps for it anymore (myself included, for the most part). I downloaded a variety of music players and other apps in the hope of simply being able to stream from the station's URL...

Eventually I settled on mediaU, which has all the functionality that I use with tuneIn (station search and favourites). It's a bit ugly, but it works on my elderly Tattoo, and that's good enough for me!

Unfortunately, I'd intended to use this set up to listen to the radio on the way to Southampton over the weekend, and didn't realise how much mobile network eats the Tattoo's battery (which, by the way, tends only to last a day after a couple of years of use). I think I got about 30 minutes of radio out of it before deciding that I'd best conserve the battery... But it was a good 30 minutes with only occasional cut-outs, and better quality that I'd expect considering I was travelling by car. This really is a testament to the stability of mediaU and the HTC Tattoo... And to some extent the network coverage Orange offer in Dorset...

Much as I've enjoyed my Tattoo over the last couple of years, it seems it is reaching the end of its useful life... Android 1.6 is becoming increasingly neglected by developers, and I wonder how long it will be before I lose some "critical" functionality like aedict.

That said, I'm more inclined to get a new battery than dispose of it. Then, perhaps when it finally does die, I'll frame it to show my grandchildren...

"Back when I was a young'n, we had to lug these bricks around! The batteries only lasted a coupl'o' days and you couldn't even plug them into your brain!"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Flyjin

I was thinking about something I heard about the word "gaijin" supposedly being offensive, and happened across the term "Flyjin". Needless to say it tickled me sufficiently to write this post...


"Never believe everything you read in the newspapers"... Is that an excuse to leave, or to not leave? I guess it depends on perspective.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Japanese on the Google/Asus Nexus 7

If you're reading this, you're probably already aware of aedict and ankidroid (my two favourite apps). Kudos to the development teams of those programs for keeping Android 1.6 compatibility so my old HTC phone is still useful!

I think its probably also worth mentioning that Japanese support is much better in Android 2+ (including the version on the Nexus 7). I use the built in Japanese IME, which works spectacularly, except that my UK keyboard buttons aren't mapped properly in it see edit below.

One thing I did find strange is that the built-in document viewer doesn't allow the selection of words in documents. This is a real pain if I want to read a Japanese document on the train, as I have to manually type the word into aedict... Assuming I know the kanji involved.

To fix this, I downloaded a number of document viewers and editors, but the best by far was Kingsoft Office. Japanese input works perfectly in it, with the exception of when you do go to select a word to copy it, the whole line can get selected, because the app only recognises spaces and punctuation as delimiters for words... Unfortunately, this makes the process of copying words from Japanese documents a bit cumbersome, and in that respect, I've failed in my original goal, but at least in the process I've found an excellent word processing app*.

*If you're wondering, yes, you can do word processing on a Nexus, it doesn't take long for the fingers to adapt to a keyboard the size of the screen. Try and get a keyboard with a tab key, though!

EDIT (15th April 2013): Regarding mapping of UK keyboards in Google Japanese Input, go to the "Language & input" menu, then hit the settings button beside "Google Japanese Input". Then tap "Preferences for hardware keyboards". Setting it to the system default worked wonders for me!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Anki woes

For years now, Anki has been my go-to-app for learning Japanese vocabulary. Now, however they have pushed the upgrade to version 2. This sounds just fine, but my largest deck failed to import from the previous version of Anki, and now (despite the fact it exists on both my tablet and phone) I can't use it. I downloaded the 2.0.3 client for windows, which gave me an error telling me to use the 1.2 client to try rectify the problem. What kind of stupidity is that? Backwards compatibility, guys. Yes, its not always easy, but yes, it is necessary! It shouldn't be necessary for a user to download an old, and likely soon-to-be unsupported version of a program to rescue 5-6 years worth of hard work. The data of the cards must still be intact, because the decks were working fine with all my devices just hours ago.

Anki 2 had better be eye-wateringly spankingly good. Either that or bin 6 years of diligent deck-making and start a new one.. Though if it comes to that, I'll use the competing apps.

EDIT: After experimenting with Anki 1.2 and Anki 2.0.3 on windows, and getting nowhere, I've given up with this. Anki 1.2 still happily reads the deck, but refuses to do a database check to completion, and the old Android and web client was perfectly happy with it too. That just leaves me wondering, do I dare continue using Anki after it corrupted several years of work, or do I try something different? Or is Anki 2 sufficiently different to warrant experimenting with? Either way, its now installed itself on both my android devices, it would seem defeatist to not give it a go.