mbarker: (Burp)
春風駘蕩 -- しゅんぷうたいとう -- shunpuutaitou

The dictionary explains that this means spring breeze (春風) peaceful calm (駘蕩). Warm and genial spring weather, balmy. I got it from one of those calendars of useful sayings that someone gave me. It seemed like a nice, possibly useful phrase as we started into spring. However, when I tried to use it, my wife and other Japanese friends just looked puzzled. Even when I showed them the kanji, this just got shaking heads. No. Not familiar at all. So... I guess we don't have to learn this one! Oh, well.
mbarker: (Burp)
貧乏暇なし
びんぼひまなし
Literally: poverty free time lacks
Better: poverty has no free time, poor people have no free time

generally used as a self-deprecating gesture
I'm poor, so I have no free time

(and my friend points out that there is a certain element of pride there, too. I'm so busy -- and undervalued -- that I have no free time)

So... 貧乏暇なし gotta go!
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
About 15 years ago now, I happened to be talking with a manager who really was not a software type at all. He was explaining a problem that really bothered him, having to collect a bunch of numbers and information, and then do some calculations on it. I listened to him complain, scratched my head a little bit, and said, "Would you like my group to put something together to help with that?"

At the time, I was leading a software development group. We were doing webpages, servers, all that kind of stuff. Frankly, what he was talking about sounded like an easy little project for the team. Probably a web-based form, a tiny bit of calculation, and then provide the results.

He glared at me and said, "No way. I know programmers, it'll cost a fortune!"

I said, "Wait a minute? Just how often do you do this, and how hard is it?"

"We do it every week, and it takes my secretary a day or two every time. But you're going to charge me a fortune to do it in software!"

Then he stalked away, offended that I had offered to take the burden of this job that he complained about, and apparently dumped on his secretary, and turn it into something that the computer would do. Even if it did seem tailor-made for a software solution.

I actually asked my team about doing this. They thought about it, and said the form would take maybe a day, the calculations no more than that. So probably two days of work, or as they put it, "In the worst case, one-man week."

Given that a programmer gets paid better than a secretary, it still doesn't make sense to me. Yes, the secretary can do it, but… 4 to 8 days a month of her time? Even if the programmer is paid four times what the secretary makes, in four months, we're even. And in a year? 52 to 104 days of secretary time versus 5 days of programmer time?

Of course, today, faced with that same problem, I would probably use a Google form, feeding into a Google spreadsheet. Two hours of work to put it together and test it? If that?

Yep, it costs too much. To keep wasting the secretary's time doing simple, repetitious work that a computer can do quite easily.
mbarker: (Me typing?)
I'm sure many people have similar stories. But about 35 years ago or so, our company was busily beginning to use Fortran to produce programs for our 8080-based systems. We had done lots of assembly language before. But this was an experimental time, changing over to rapid development using higher order language. When we started looking at what we needed to do, we noticed that there was a lot of string handling in the applications. However, the Fortran libraries that we had really didn't have very much to help.

As almost any good software group would, we immediately formed a committee to design our corporate standard string library. Needless to say, this included the chief scientist, a vice president or two, and sundry experts. As you might expect, discussions immediately started over string formats. Length delimited or end marker delimited were two of the major religions that I can remember, with several variations. The discussions grew heated. Meanwhile, the list of necessary, nice, etc. functions was another battleground.

After more than two months of this, there was no real end in sight. However, as a young project leader with some assembly language experience, I got bored with the endless discussions one day and pulled out my set of "standard routines." With just a little bit of tweaking, they interfaced with the Fortran code just fine.

Based on the meetings, I did run over the list and added a few twists that I had missed. I also tested everything thoroughly, and documented my "Temporary Working String Library (TWSL)." I turned this over to the project team that needed to get our product out, and went back to the standards meetings feeling better. I knew that at least my project could go ahead, and I thought that the eventual standard library would end up relatively close to the temporary one I had produced.

However, when the rumors about my temporary library leaked back to the committee, I was not terribly welcome for a while. I think it was the chief scientist who suggested that my valuable time might be better spent on my project, and he would let me know when they came up with the standard. I know that the meetings continued. For all I know, they may even still be going on.

However, my TWSL was used on that project. And others. In fact, there was a revision 2 that I helped with before it went into general use of the company.

For me, at this point, the interesting thing is looking at the process. Here were several experts, all of whom had done extensive software programming and development with assembly language, Fortran, and using various operating systems. Remember RSX-11M? Several people at the company had cut their teeth pawing through that source. But for some reason, given a chance, they got too busy trying for perfection to get the job done. We didn't need a string library for the ages, we just needed one that we could use today.
mbarker: (Me typing?)
Writing Excuses 11.49: Elemental Ensemble, with Michael Damian Thomas

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2016/12/04/11-49-elemental-ensemble-with-michael-damien-thomas/

Key points: Ensembles are more than just heist stories. Ensemble stories have a team of specialists, each with a different role and part to play, who get together to accomplish some important goal working together. Get people together, let them bounce off each other, and together solve a problem. Why do we like them? We get to see lots of different people, see them interact, and make friends with them. Multiple character arcs intersecting in unique ways. A team of interdependent specialists, hyper competent in individual ways, but holes as a team. How do you make one? Start with a cast of characters, but give each one similar emotional weight. Make sure your characters are specialized enough. They don't all need a POV, plot arcs can happen offstage. One of the keys is introducing the members of your ensemble quickly, usually in action. Make the scene do multiple things. Don't infodump! Think about your competency porn scenes, where you show us how good the characters are at what they do, usually while doing something else at the same time.

It takes a village to... )

[Brandon] Well, we have to stop here. We've gone like 25 minutes almost…
[Whoops! Laughter]
[Brandon] Yes, but you can tell we love this topic. We will be back to talk about it again in a few weeks. I'm going to give you some homework, though. When we were talking earlier, one of the things we realized is we love ensemble stories that aren't always just the obvious heists. But we do love the heists, obviously, as well. We want you to go look at some different professions, particularly ones that have some sort of front person leading the charge, and, like a chef, maybe on a show like that. We want you to identify all the rules that happen behind the scenes to make that person succeed. We want you to try to design a story that doesn't use the front person at all, and uses all of these different roles supporting them behind the scenes. Do that for a couple different jobs. See what you come up with. We want to give a special thank you to Michael Damian Thomas.
[Michael] Thank you for having me.
[Brandon] We want to thank the Writing Excuses cruise members.
[Yay! Applause]
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.
mbarker: (Burp)
Mitsuko and I were watching one of the TV shows common here in Japan, with the TV talents happily eating something or other, with extreme expressions of joy as they chew and swallow, followed by ecstatic declarations of how tasty it was... Which is when I realized that there's something wrong with us!

I mean, I enjoy eating, and I have my favorite foods, things that I really enjoy, but. I don't think I have ever made such a joyful face while eating. Nor do I erupt into lyrical announcements of how wonderful the taste is when I eat something I like. Watching the TV folks eat, it seems as if they have a whole different level of engagement with their food from what I get.
So I'm wondering if I don't have the right tastebuds, or maybe I'm just not chewing and swallowing the right way?

How do you get that ecstatic experience of eating that the TV seems to indicate is the norm?
mbarker: (Me typing?)
This morning the news had a short piece about a group doing their practice emergency drone flights. I missed the location, but this is an area that has had some kind of major disaster in the recent past. The guy was showing us pictures from that -- looked like a flood or mudslide, might have been an avalanche? And he was explaining that one of the problems they had then was just finding where the people were who needed help.

Which is what today's practice was all about. If I understood correctly, this is a volunteer drone squad, and they were practicing the three kinds of drone flights they have developed for emergencies. First, location -- using cameras, including IR cameras, they fly over an area and identify people waving, bodies, and so forth. So they can quickly direct emergency aid to where it is needed. Second, communications! They have drones with speakers, so they can fly over an area and make emergency announcements. Third, supplies. They have drones that can carry at least small medical packs and supplies, so they can deliver those even where emergency vehicles or other aid can't get in.

So, in the event of an emergency, look, up in the sky? Is it a bird, is a plane, is it Superman? No, it's the emergency drones! Looking at you, talking to you, even bringing you the supplies you need.
mbarker: (Me typing?)
Morning news had a brief piece about a new vending machine here in Japan.  Basically, it looks like a billboard, with the vendor or other information on it, until a customer gets close enough. Then it switches over to a display of the various offerings. You have to know enough to press the offering (I think they should have put clearly marked "Press here" buttons underneath, but... it's new!) but otherwise, it acts just like a normal vending machine. Except that as you walk away, it changes back to a display again.

Basically, they've replaced all those little windows and individual buttons with a big touch panel display. The sensor to detect a customer in range is kind of cute, and I'll bet people will have lots of fun coming up with "not in use" displays. I suppose you could even run the latest ads for your preferred vendors on it...

Of course, it does mean that spotting a vending machine just got a little harder. Look for the coin slots and delivery chute, I guess.
mbarker: (Default)
We're watching a retrospective about the Great Hanshin Earthquake. One of the points that they raised is that at least some of the fires that followed the earthquake were due to resuming electrical service! See, apparently when the earthquake hit, power shut down. And in many places, of course, lights, electrical heaters, and other gadgets got bounced around in the quake. But since they had no power, no problem.

But then the electricity started being restored, and... Now the heater laying in a blanket comes on and starts a fire. They are saying that several of the fires in the hour or so window after the earthquake can be traced pretty directly to restoration of electrical power.

Restore service and start fires, or leave the power off and subject people to winter weather without power? They didn't say, but I'll bet some of the power return was automatic, too.

Makes me wonder about building shake sensors into the breaker boxes.
mbarker: (Burp)

Barton Street Gym by Zoey Ivers and Pam Uphoff


One important point. When I finished reading it, I immediately looked for the next in the series (Chicago!) and bought that. Which should indicate what I thought about this book.


Who should read it? Everybody! It's a romp, basically following two young people (14 and 16 years old, so I suppose this qualifies as a YA, but I think adults can read it too -- I certainly enjoyed it!). One young woman, Alice, and one young man, Joe. Oh, and one young AI, Barton Street (yes, it's the building AI). The plot focuses on the three of them learning to deal with their world, which happens to be composed of dimensional bumps... except that when you open the door the wrong way, you actually go somewhere else. And in those extra dimensions, there are other AI who aren't so friendly. That's probably enough hinting. Read it, you'll enjoy it.


So, the book has several big ideas -- the dimensional bumps, which people are setting up housekeeping in, Alert, which removes the need to sleep, the bios, which are living dolls, the AIs... I think you'll enjoy learning about this brave new world (or is it this rabbit hole?). Don't worry, the author did not go the route of massive infodumps. But the big ideas do add savor.


What else can I say? I'm going to go read Chicago, and I hope you enjoy reading Barton Street Gym. Just watch out for what's behind the door!
mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
 Aha!

http://www.stuff.co.nz/motoring/news/68851173/the-automated-dilemma-how-to-keep-drivers-from-feeling-like-robots

There is an oddity. Apparently people are using the term "driverless" for automated cars, and most people are very nervous about that term. The aids -- automated braking, collision avoidance, lane tracking, and so forth -- they are very happy with, even eager to buy, but the whole package with that name on it, no.

Personally, I think I would change the name. Call it driver plus, and go ahead and add all the bits and pieces, including automated driving as a way to help the driver by removing the boring, tedious, repetitive bits and pieces. Emphasize the safety, emphasize letting the driver relax and enjoy the ride. Don't talk about removing the driver, do talk about letting them make the important decisions, where to go, which alternatives to take, where to stop along the way, while the car does the grunt work of controlling speed, watching for other cars, staying on track and so forth.

Heck, you could do a John Henry contest. Have a driver plus car take on a regular driver, with the question of who gets there and is well rested, ready to party? Do you really want to spend your entire trip making those tedious small decisions or would you rather make the big decisions and leave the minute-to-minute driving to the car?
mbarker: (Default)
One of the funny things about learning a language as an adult is that there are holes in your vocabulary. Yesterday, walking home, the kids in front of our apartment were all having fun with jump ropes. When I thought about it, I knew how to say, the children are jumping, but I didn't know what the word for a jump rope was. So I stopped and asked one of the mothers, who laughed and said, "nawatobi." Then she thought about it, and said... Nawa? Tobi means jumping, but nawa -- maybe it's nagai, which means long? She wasn't sure where the word came from, but she was sure it was nawatobi.

I looked it up, later, where I found out that nawa actually means straw rope! So apparently this is old enough that they were using straw ropes for jumping.

And now I know one more word of Japanese. So I can joke about a jump rope. Maybe.
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)

Another TV ad that I think is great.


The ad starts with the camera looking past someone's shoulder at a young man who is peering at a cell phone in his hand. He glances up and asks, "What's the difference between candy crush and candy soda?"


At this point, the camera pulls back, and we see whose shoulder that was. A tall man is kneeling on his white legs on top of the table in front of the young man. On the back of the tall man are translucent wings! From his head, two antenna rise in majestic curves, ending in orange ping-pong balls. His earlobes have dangling florescent green triangles. In one hand, he is holding a white scepter with a large green figure of some indeterminate kind on the upper tip. He looks down at the young man, unsmiling.


The ad then cuts to an animated game screen showing candy bits moving in a maze, and the logo for candy crush soda pops up on the screen.


That kneeling figure with the strange outfit is what makes this commercial. Even after you've seen it a couple times, when it comes on again, you watch for the humor of it.


And now they have at least two variations of the ad also running! In one, the kneeling figure sways a little bit, and his wings move, but he reassures the young man that his wings are moving by themselves. In the other one, he's actually kneeling on the seat across from the young man, with a table in between. I haven't caught what they are saying yet. Apparently they are in a diner or something? It looks like a diner booth, anyway.


Very eye-catching.


mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
There is a TV ad running now in Japan, by one of our cell phone companies, that I find very interesting. Here's what it looks like:

A bearded man looked out the window. He tugged at his vest, and adjusted his watch chain. The door behind him clicked and opened. Without looking, he said, "Watson?"

A man in blue jeans and a T-shirt came in the door. He looked around and said, "What year is this?"

The bearded man turned, stood up, and looked the man who had come through the door over, from head to foot. The bearded man shook his head and said, "1876."

Then the bearded man looked at the man in blue jeans and said, "What is that in your hand?"

The man in blue jeans chuckled. He lifted his hand. "This? This is a telephone."

The bearded man looked closely at it. He lifted the little box and said, "But where is it connected?"

The man in blue jeans shrugged, and pointed out the window. The bearded man looked where he was pointing and said, "A cloud?"

Just then, the door opened again. A slight figure stepped through, and looked at the two men. The short figure, silhouetted against the light, said, "What year is this?"

The bearded man said, "1876."

The slight figure stepped forward and said, "300 years!"

The bearded man and the man in blue jeans looked at the slight figure and said, "What is that in your hand?"

That's the end of the ad. From there, they simply go to the name of the sponsor, one of our large cell phone companies. But the thing that I love about this ad is the sequence. First we have Alexander Graham Bell faced with someone who stepped through time and shows him a cell phone. And then we have one more figure, who has something in their hand. That last little bit is the part that I really love about this ad. 300 years -- 2176? What will they have in their hand then?
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
Most of the time, being in Japan doesn't baffle me too much. However, right now I'm fighting a cold, and part of the treatment...

See, I have these little metallic foil packages. Open here, by tearing off the top, use your fingers to spread, and... pour the granules into your mouth and swallow.

My wife says it's easy, everyone knows how to do that! But despite suggestions -- get a sip of water in your mouth first, then pour the granules in, then swallow? Huh? I am still having trouble. At least I have gotten over my first reaction, which was to try to sneeze -- blowing medicine all over. But after swallowing I still find myself with granules in between my teeth, and I am far to likely to chew on them, and they taste terrible.

If you pour it in dry, that's even worse, and of course, if you sip too much liquid, trying to open your mouth to add the medicine can get messy... I don't think my mouth was designed for mixing medicine!

Pills, tablets, capsules, those I can handle without any real problems. But this loose granulated stuff, or the powder that some of the medicines are -- I suppose it does digest easily, but really, why loose?

How do you swallow it?
mbarker: (Default)
This morning, while I was fixing breakfast, I found myself chuckling over a memory from years ago. I was making toast, and deciding whether to have honey, or perhaps raspberry jelly and peanut butter. And I remembered one day in elementary school.

In those days, I usually carried a lunch to school. Almost every day, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And one day, for some reason, I decided I was bored with peanut butter and jelly.

So when I got home, I told my mother I was bored, and that I wanted something different. She listened to me, and said, "All right."

As I remember it, the very next day at school, I unwrapped my lunch. There was a sandwich, and it looked like peanut butter. But when I bit into it! Wait, what is this? It's not peanut butter and jelly.

In fact, it was peanut butter, brown sugar, and raisins. And I enjoyed every bite.

When I got home, I thanked my mother.

And from time to time, after that, she would slip another different sandwich into the daily routine.

But I still remember the taste of peanut butter, brown sugar, and raisins. And some mornings, when I feel like it, I make my toast with peanut butter and brown sugar.

Maybe I'll get some raisins this week.

In honor of my mother, who taught me to appreciate having a little something different now and then.
mbarker: (Default)
Akemashite omeditou gozaimasu! Otherwise known as Happy New Year, except...

That leaves a lot of the juice out. Let's look at the words. First of all, akemashite actually means, roughly, the light has come, or it is lighting up. Punnily enough, it also sounds exactly like the verb for opening, unlocking, unwrapping. Omeditou gozaimasu is a very polite congratulations, which you also use when someone has a baby, or for graduations, weddings, those kind of life achievements. So it's congratulations, the light has come, or if you prefer the pun, the new year is opening.

And just at midnight on New Year's Eve, people everywhere in Japan turn to their family or friends and exchange this cheerful greeting. For the next few days, when you talk to someone on the phone or meet them somewhere, if you haven't congratulated them on being enlightened by (or maybe started) a new year, you use this greeting.

Often followed immediately with a plea. Kotoshi mo douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. Which is a polite way to ask them to treat you with favor this year, too.

Anyway, akemashite omeditou gozaimasu. As I said, I used to think it meant the new year has opened, but it really is the light has come. Enlightened or opened, it's a good sentiment to start the new year with, I think. That new year, glistening and shining with possibilities lies in front of us. What are you going to do with it?

Something to think about. And then do something about.

Write!
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)

I think that's a mistake. There's a new movie coming out here in Japan, apparently from Warner Bros.


If I understand correctly, the movie is based on a book called Sasara Saku. In this case, Sasara is a town, and Saku is the woman who has just moved there with her child after her husband died. But apparently from the teasers, his ghost is hanging around, trying to help out by possessing people.


However, the title of the movie is Twilight Sasara Saku. I'm guessing that Warner Bros. is trying to cash in on the Twilight name, but there doesn't seem to be any connection. I mean Twilight was all about teenage love and sparkly vampires, right? I never saw it, but I certainly heard a lot about it. This one is about a single mother and the ghost? I don't see the connection... And I don't see any other reason to call it Twilight.


Of course I'm not in the target audience in any case, but I wish they had just called it Sasara Saku...

mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
Ever wonder what a story looks like before all the polishing? Wen Spencer is busily writing bits and pieces from a story that grabbed her, right over there on Facebook. So go take a look! Be aware -- no nitpicking, spelling, typos, grammar and continuity come LATER. Right now, she's exploring, writing by the seat-of-her-pants and finding the story. So relax and enjoy the ride!

Go over to https://www.facebook.com/wen.spencer/posts/700537503370547 for the start of the story. Look for Black Wolves of Boston and all the other pieces in Facebook under Wen Spencer.

I think you'll like it!
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
Interesting! Have you ever seen a baby planted in the sand? A recent TV show visited New Caledonia, and among other things, showed us a baby planted in the sand. Up to about his waist, I guess, and he was quite happy, waving his arms and smiling, with his legs buried in the sand.

His father explained that the local belief is that putting babies in the sand this way helps them to walk sooner. He showed us how you do it. Dig out a deep hole, stand the naked baby up in the hole against the side, and then pack the sand in around his legs. Keep shoveling until the sand is over his hips, about waist high, and pack it down.

The baby certainly seemed happy, reaching for his father, then waving at things around him.

I guess this is kind of a sand version of those frames with ropes and an oversized plastic pair of shorts for the baby to sit in, with legs dangling below.

I wonder if anyone has looked at whether this really helps babies walk sooner or not?

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