Most psychedelic ad for a tea-based product ever

And it stars Yong-sama!


Love letter to H.G. Wells

Getting this in early, before the movie covers the entire blogosphere in choking red weed. War of the Worlds, as you all should know, starts like this:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

I love that passage, especially the phrase "vast and cool and unsympathetic". That's right up there with "of the people, by the people, for the people" and "Nor wintry leaves nor vernal/ Nor days nor things diurnal" and all the other gems that make me glad to know English. But what makes "vast and cool and unsympathetic" so awesome?

First of all, you've got the downwards spiral of meaning. There are intellects other than man: they're vast (i.e. intimidating), cool (i.e. not warm, not prone to the feelings we pride ourselves on) and unsympathetic (i.e. not inclined to care about our feelings, either). By the end of that triplet, doom is hanging in the air.

At a lower level, the construction is brilliant: vast, a long one-syllable word that almost sounds like mimesis (dig that long low back vowel conveying the vastness!); cool, another long, almost mimetic syllable; and then the kicker, unsympathetic, a sudden register shift to Latinate, a focusing of the lens and a tightening of the screws just as the danger these intellects pose to humanity is fully revealed -- and note, too, that the word ends in a spindle of voiceless obstruents and tiny vowels. That just sounds nasty.


Batman begun

Since I might be throwin' in some mild spoilers here, I'll put the majority of the post in a comment below for those five or six people in the world who want to see the movie but haven't yet. In the meantime, I'll be padding this post out with some linguistic Batman-related stuff.

First, an excerpt from Batman's self-introduction in the special manga Batman story by ASAMIYA Kia (麻宮 騎亜), Batman: Child of Dreams:

黒い闇が僕を変える / The black darkness changes me:
闇が街の闇を狩るのだ / darkness hunts [in] the city's darkness.
僕は長い間 / For a long time, I
闇と一緒に生きてきた / lived as one with the darkness...
I hope you caught all that stuff about darkness, because he's not going to repeat it. And what's Batman doing using boku?!

Anyway, in this story, Batman actually goes to Tokyo to fight an evil female version of himself that he later marries to stop drug dealers or something. Although he does meet up with a Japanese version of Catwoman. It's kind of complicated. The only sad thing is that since Batman's eyes are only visible as glowing slits anyway, he's not really "manga" enough to bother scanning. Just picture Batman with a bigger, pointier nose ('cause that's Asamiya's thing), speaking Japanese, and you'll be about there. (On the other hand, there are plenty of distinctly Japanese fanservice Catwoman poses, but you don't wanna see that.)

Point 2: An awful lot of Japanese folks grew up thinking that Battoman's name meant "Bad Man", not "Bat Man". This is because Japanese doesn't like consonants to be both geminated and voiced, and tends to devoice them. Thus, most people say bakku instead of baggu for "bag", for example. This means that batto is a quite plausible Japanesification of "bad", and since more people know the word "bad" than "bat" (in the animal sense), and Batman looks, well, bad...

Two pictures

"Why didn't you finish that graffiti?" I asked him as he left the classroom.

"I didn't know how to spell 'Luigi'."

The demographic implications of this slot machine billboard are terrifying.


Ningen Shikkaku

I suppose speaking as a fairly regular reader of "up to the nipple line, but never over it" girlie/gadget magazine Sabra I can't poke too mocking a finger, but it strikes me that these t-shirts are more or less an announcement of one's withdrawal from the human breeding pool.

The background is that Sabra recently celebrated its fifth anniversary -- and they said bikini photography would never take off! -- and so they're selling a bunch of commemorative items and so forth. These t-shirts are the most dubious example, though. Readers who are attracted to women, can you imagine wearing one of those suckers in public? Readers who are attracted to men, can you imagine dating a guy who wore one in public? (My hipster readers are excepted; irony doesn't count.)

The great thing is that the models, of course, know this. But at the same time, their income depends on being popular, and I think that they genuinely appreciate it when non-stalker people buy their merchandise. (The alternative is to assume that they're cruel, calculating ice maidens, which I suppose is possible but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.) Anyway, this whole dynamic makes the promotional videos of them wearing their own t-shirt highly entertaining. "My shirt comes in two varieties, so you can wear one by day and one by night!" Or, "Summer is coming up, so I'd love it if you guys wore this t-shirt a lot. Down by the seaside or whatever." Or "I'm a little embarrassed to wear this myself, but I'm going to use it as a pyjama top." Ah, celebrity.

Thai fiction

My friend K. speaks Thai. I once asked her, "How come I never see any Thai books in translation? It's not like I'm not looking. Isn't Thai old enough and South-East Asian enough to have a whole bunch of awesome epics about princes and evil priest-regents and stuff?" And she said "I don't know. I guess I spent most of my time there trying to help street kids." Anyway, now, thanks to Language Hat, I have a whole bunch of things to read, and a bitext corpus for when I'm feeling masochistic.


Public service announcement

It has come to my attention that (a) Cromartie High School is out in English translation, and (b) not enough people are buying it.

OK, sure, ideally you would have a fond and encyclopedic knowledge of 70s-80s tough-guy manga before you began reading CHS -- but you can enjoy it without one. The comic itself supplies all the context you need. This review is about right:

Once you get used to the fact that, yes, the characters are all sincere in being that dumb and badass, the rhythm kicks in. ... The art is full of dynamic frames, dramatic poses, furrowed brows, and action lines, but applied in such ridiculous scenarios (like Freddy trying to retrieve a banana from a string by bashing it with a large wooden crate), the over-the-top linework just pushes everything is a wonderfully ludicrous place. The clenched fists, profous sweatdrops, and melodramatic dialogue that would normally lead to incredible hand-to-hand battles here fizzle into "normal" conversations, grade-school reunions, birthday parties, and teaching math by porn (Chapter 19 - no, really!).
(No, not really. Well, porn gets mentioned, but that's all.)

Volume 1. Volume 2. Volume 3. You know what to do.

Also, I'd like to take a moment to laugh at the Booklist review on Amazon's site, which mentions "a Yakuza-clad rich guy". He wears Yakuza? Toughest guy ever!


Via Language Hat: Borgesian pronouns in Malay, including table rows such as "Malay commoner or raja to older raja" and "Persons to Chinese".

The Japanese radio alphabet! I thought it was weird at first that there were a few English (?) terms in there ("the ra of radio" (rajio), "the ku of club" (kurabu), etc.), but then I remembered: "alpha", "bravo"... d'oh!

Note that since there are no Japanese words that start with ん n, it's known as "oshimai no n", or "the n of endings" or "final n".

Other Japanese voice-only alphabets here! Semaphore here!

Via Emily: kanji with insanely high stroke counts. I've addressed this issue before, but the most complicated character from my dictionary was 䯂, which has a measly thirty-four strokes.

Commenters found bigger ones, including the triple dragon (龘, forty-eight strokes) and a quadruple dragon (sixty-four strokes), but Emily's discovery includes a Japan-made kanji so vast that I can only represent it approximately, by stacking other kanji:



Cloud, cloud cloud, dragon, dragon dragon. That's not a character, it's a lifestyle. It takes eighty-four strokes to write. That's more than it takes to write the entire Roman alphabet.

Its reading is apparently otodo, taito or daito, all of which mean some variant on "big city"/"important dwelling", and it is said to be used as a surname. (This is part of a much larger site entitled "Dictionary of Japan-made kanji", which looks like it could be very interesting indeed.)

However, no-one is able to confirm that this character definitely exists, which is why the site offers another candidate for largest kanji status. I'm not even going to get into that one. Let's just say it's an Edo-period joke about vomiting.


Childhood's end

I totally stole the lesson idea of "I like ______ because ______" from my friend M, and it's turning out great. Very revealing. One kid likes monsters because they're "scary and wild". Another kid went to Tokyo to shake hands with the new Morning Musume member because he "wanted to encourage her". And a third kid wrote "I like money because it makes me happy."

Unfortunately, she also wants to become a preschool teacher. It will probably be difficult to reconcile those two life positions.


And this is where I heard about .S

I more or less accidentally picked up the latest issue of video game magazine Continue the day after it was released. Turns out I did good.

Besides the all-important photo spread/game-centric interview with trackback queen MANABE Kawori (眞鍋かをり, and it's apparently her first glasses-clad magazine photo shoot, if that's your thing), there are neato interviews with (and slightly more subdued photos of) grizzled game-making legends like SAKAGUCHI "Final Fantasy" Hironobu (坂口博信) and NISHIKADO "no Wikipedia entry, even though he fucking invented fucking Space Invaders, people" Tomohiro (西角友宏). Ahem.

Everyone who cares knows by now that in the golden age of video gaming (generally defined as ending just before the person currently reminiscing pubesced) the line between "rival" and "teacher" was blurred and companies would liberally borrow from each other... well, uh, kind of like today, I guess. But it was different! Somehow! Quit harshing my buzz.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, everyone knows this, but it's still interesting to hear these guys talk about how they "learnt a lot", while coding Final Fantasy, from the way the Ultima series organised its plain-text save data (Sakaguchi)... or that Space Invaders was partly inspired by Breakout, specifically by Breakout's theme of punching through a wall composed of many smaller objects and advancing to a new stage (Nishikado)... or that their favorite game growing up was Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (whoops, that was Manabe).

Oh, yeah, and they also talk about upcoming projects, for folks who aren't living in the past and all.

Ruining the surprise for everyone on my Christmas list

May I present: .S. As in "Dots", the plural of "Dot" (as in pixel). Connectable 16x16 grids, designed for display, that come packaged with all the pegs you need to recreate your favorite 8-bit sprites.


Top 7 complaints my students have about my stylised drawing of convenience store shelves and their contents

  1. The chicken is next to the hats
  2. They don't sell hats in convenience stores anyway
  3. The model on the cover of Non-no has no hair
  4. The loaf of bread looks like a pineapple
  5. There is no such book as ENGLISH IS FUN (but they are wrong on that one)
  6. The word "yoghurt" is illegible
  7. The shelves are three times as high as the stick figure surveying them


Never let it be said that I am irresponsive to the needs of my readers

I got a search request for "janken words". This is what they are:

saisho wa guu, janken pon!
"First comes rock, jan-ken pon!"

The rhythm goes like this, with a little swing:

SAI - sho wa | GUU - - - | JAN - ken - | PON!*

You are supposed to throw your hand, either rock, paper or scissors, as you say pon, which is just mimesis.(Note also that you are supposed to throw "rock" as you say guu in the beginning -- this helps you and your partner get the timing down.) If you throw the same hand as your opponent, then you both say:

aiko desho (maybe)
"It's a draw, right?" or possibly "It's a draw, so sho!"
AI - ko de | SHO!

You throw your new hand down on the sho. If you threw the same hand again, you repeat the aiko desho part until somebody wins.

When you get really good at this, you can play a multiple-round, multiple-participant, repeated-draw version without stopping the rhythm:

SAI - sho wa | GUU - - - | JAN - ken - | PON! - - -
AI - ko de | SHO! - - - | AI - ko de | SHO! - - -
AI - ko de | SHO! - - - (etc.)

There are all kinds of regional variations, of course, but I think that around the Tokyo area that's pretty much how it goes down.< /p>

My students also play the あっち見てほい (atchi mite, hoi!) bonus round described here:

As a game between two people, it has another level - the initial winner says 'atchi mite hoi! (look there!)' and points up, down, left or right. If the other person looks in the same direction, they lose. It's more difficult than it seems.

And it is, too.

* Note that due to the moraic nature of Japanese, this can blur into something like "SA i sho wa | GU u - - | JA n ke n | PO n - -". I haven't actually got my recording apparatus out to check, but my intuition is that even the two-mora syllables (like sai) are compressed into a single forceful beat here.

ONO Mayumi: about to crack

"Someone who says ['[I] love all of you', a line in her new single] to me? No, there's no-one like that. Anyway, even if someone says that to you at first, they stop saying it before long, right?" Aww!

In Japanese, the 'I love* all of you' part in that sentence is 君を丸ごと好き, which is interesting because in "proper" Japanese, that を is incorrect. In real Japanese, however, my experience has been that people prefer the "correct" が in sentences like that but young people, at least, will readily switch to を if they want to be really clear about who loves who.

(Actually, if you go and listen to the sample at her webpage, it sounds more like at least in the first chorus she sings 君も丸ごと好き[だから], which is prescriptively OK -- I wonder if a later chorus has a variant on the line, or if the newspaper reporters just mangled it because they wanted to prod her as directly as possible about her relationship status. ('"Me, get married, you say? I hadn't heard anything about that," she smiled bitterly, brushing the question aside.'))

The greatest thing about her new single is that the title is 『アイノチカラ』, "The Power of Love". I hope Ono adequately addresses love's power to change one's heart to a little white dove. I have a feeling she may.

In a fantastic coincidence, UETO Aya just released a new single called 『夢のチカラ』, "The Power of Dreams". It's like they have really gentle and mellow beef with each other. If I was a TV producer I'd so get them both on my show and have them argue about which was more powerful, love or dreams.

* Warning: may just mean "like". May fall somewhere between and mean "like like". Demand confirmation in an impartial third language if unsure.


Court to Japanese: speech free, kinda

A couple of interesting "freedom of the press" stories have come to a close (or so it seems) recently. First: journalist cleared of defamation.

The Supreme Court overturned a high court decision Thursday, ruling that noted journalist Yoshiko SAKURAI did not defame a late hemophilia expert [Takeshi ABE] in her writings about the infection of hemophiliacs with HIV from tainted blood products.
... The high court had said the information from patients that Sakurai used was hearsay and Abe's statements in an interview in which he appeared to have acknowledged delaying clinical trials were unclear.
Therefore, the information could not be established as true, nor was there any reason for Sakurai to have believed it to be true, the high court said.
Before the Supreme Court, Sakurai's attorneys had argued that the high court's ruling meant journalists were required to have a higher ability to collect information than investigative authorities and that such a situation would discourage freedom of expression.

Second, the latest development in the neverending "obscene manga" Misshitsu case:

The Tokyo High Court on Thursday reduced the sentence imposed by a lower court on a comic book publisher who was convicted of distributing obscene comic books featuring graphic sex scenes. While the court upheld the conviction, it lowered Motonori Kishi's sentence from a suspended prison term to a fine.
... Presiding Judge Kenjiro Tao deemed that the comics were obscene, but added, "There is a considerable gap in obscenity compared with that in material of real images, such as DVDs."

So, uh, we can all look forward to more rape-centric manga in future. Whee. (Freedom of speech, freedom of speech...)

Related to manga but not really to free speech: standard-issue wire service article about otaku, which includes the passage:

Tetsu ISHIHARA, 34, a computer programmer whose three-room apartment in west Tokyo is filled from floor to ceiling with comic books, ... maintains a growing collection of 130 life-size pillows of female anime characters -- both purchased and self-designed. ...
"There are some people who do lose their grip on reality, but that is not me -- or most of us," said Ishihara, a chubby man with glasses who this year started dating a woman steadily for the first time. She's an anime artist. "For me, the pillows have been my source of unconditional love, a reminder of when I used to be hugged by my parents. There is nothing strange about it."

I'd like to know what word is being translated as strange here. I think even otaku are aware that by society's standards, it is strange to collect 130 life-sized anime girl pillows.* My guess is he said hen, and his actual implication was that there's nothing sexual about it.

(I know it's impolite to second-guess translators like that, but either the author or the editor of this piece silently translated the proper noun "Morning Musume" to "Morning Daughter" in this article, so frankly, I don't trust 'em.)

* I mean, sure, 110, maybe 120, you can see that. But 130?!


"Micropayments = Microincome"

The online comic Goats gave Bitpass-style micropayments a try and found their income shrinking like crazy. Bad news for Bitpass-style micropayments, I guess.

It is kind of astonishing to see so many people bitching about how even if they bought both Goats offerings, they'd still be left with $2.50 in minimum Bitpass investment that they couldn't spend. Come on! There are other online comics! Even if 90% of them suck, buy ten of them for a quarter each and you'll end up enjoying at least one. (The argument that this helps Bitpass artificially inflate their usage rates and so forth does have some merit, I guess, but it still seems kind of mean-spirited. What's the worst that happens? Bitpass fool themselves into thinking they're doing better than they really are, then eventually... fail, because it's an illusion? As far as I can tell, the only loser there is Bitpass.)

Today's great word: 御御御付

Not one, not two, but three "honorific" characters at the beginning of this word. It's pronounced omiotsuke and it's a polite way of referring to miso soup (served as part of a meal).

Start from the last two characters, 御付, (otsuke). This is an example of 女房詞 (nyouboukotoba), literally "wife words" -- euphemistic or polite-ified words for (mostly) food, cooking and related matters, invented by the women of the imperial court about half a millennium ago. They quickly spread to the general population, as "noble" language tends to, and some of them remain to this day: for example, ohiya for a glass of water (from the hi(y)- stem, meaning "cold") and onara for a fart (from narasu, meaning "make a noise").

There were also a lot of nyouboukotoba that ended in moji, "characters". This was more or less equivalent to the English "the (X)-word". For example, for sushi you could say sumoji -- "the su-word". These moji words could even take grammar-bearing suffixes: for "embarrassed" (hazukashii) you could say hamojii -- "the ha-word-y". Sadly, the moji words have all but vanished today.

So, otsuke is a euphemism for "soup that comes with a meal", by way of honorific prefix o- and the verb tsukeru -- "attach", "include with", etc.

The first half of the word, omi (御御), is -- if the same as the omi that is usually written with those characters -- a not-uncommon chunk which comes from ohomi (大御): "great" + mi, another honorific prefix. If this etymology is correct, then although 御御御付 is written "honorable honorable honorable attachment", it might come from a phrase that only means "greatly honorable honorable attachment".

On the other hand, though, some etymologists claim that 御御 are just ateji for this particular omi. Its real roots, they say, lie in the much more obvious omiso, i.e. honorific prefix + miso (soup).

I find this explanation more convincing, but at the same time I understand the impulse that led the first person to write the word 御御御付 instead.

Final notes:

  1. The o prefix itself is said to derive from ohomi or ohomu as well, which as far as I can tell makes m- the original Japanese "honorific sound". Although, to be perfectly honest with you, the etymology of these honorific prefixes is a fever swamp, and it isn't rendered any easier by the fact that the character 御 can represent virtually any of them, including go-/gyo-, which came from Chinese.
  2. The usual caveats about folks not consciously thinking all this "honorable" stuff, of course, apply.


At any convenient time

Oh no! I was wasting so much time trying to get OpenOffice to let me enter Japanese via the keyboard rather than cut-and-paste that I completely forgot Boushu!

Boushu 芒種, or "Bearded Grain Sowing", is the season after Shouman. It started a week ago today, although in modern Japan they start planting those bearded grains earlier than this. Japan's rainy season, Tsuyu or more rarely Baiu (梅雨, "Plum Rain") also starts right about now, though it doesn't make the official 24-notch Chinese calendar.

As usual, there are three sub-seasons. In Japan, they are:

  1. 螳螂生, Tourou shouzu -- Praying mantids are born
  2. 腐草為蛍, Fusou hotaru to naru -- Rotten grass becomes fireflies (sure it does)
  3. 梅子黄 Ume no mi ki nari -- Plums go yellow (in a good way)
Meanwhile, in China...
  1. 螳螂生 -- same as Japan
  2. 鵙始鳴 -- Shrikes begin to call
  3. 反舌無声 -- Nightingales stop calling
I guess they're just not that into you.

I translated 反舌 as "nightingale" here following Wikipedia's gloss, but as usual for old nature words, its actual meaning is difficult to pin down. It seems to literally mean something like "lying-tongued [bird]", and while my dictionaries agree that it can also be written 百舌鳥 ("hundred-tongued bird"), which means... shrike... other sources, such as this guy, firmly disagree:

Incidentally, 反舌 can also be written 百舌鳥. "Shrike" can be written 百舌, but 百舌鳥 are not shrikes.

I'm inclined to believe him, because otherwise we have two whole seasons named basically "Shrikes on/Shrikes off", which seems unlikely. But that doesn't solve the question of what 百舌鳥 actually are, and I'm too tired to dig any deeper.


Sweet words ease the pain

Finally getting around to Shitteru you de shiranai mono no yobikata (『知ってるようで知らないものの呼びかた』, "Ways of referring to things that you'd think you'd know, but don't") by the entertainingly named Word/Language Detective Group (ことば探偵団, Kotoba tanteidan) .

Like their last book, Ways of numbering things that you'd etc. (『知ってるようで知らないものの数えかた』), which I also enjoyed, it's not so much a reference work as a coffee table book, with breezy design and plenty of soothing drawings.

That needle on the cover is one of the entries in the book. Turns out that in Japanese, the eye (me, 目) of the needle is the pointy end. The hole end is the ear (mimi, 耳). Mimi can refer to a lot of other things in different contexts, including the crusts on a slice of bread and a very certain part of a hardcover book's binding. You can see in this diagram (from here) that 耳 points to the slightly bulging parts at the sides of the spine (se, "back"), which are joined to the covers (hira, "broad, flat [things]") by the mizo (one meaning of which is "gutter" -- and the part of a book referred to as a "gutter" in English is called the "throat" (nodo)).


It's all falling into place

No! No, I don't, OK?! Why must you taunt me?!

Exoskeleton: check. You can also see a more inspiring photo at Tsukuba University's Sanlab page, and there are movies and such (and English details) here.

My only criticism here is that in all these publicity shots and movies, the feats they demonstrate consist of (a) walking around, and (b) lifting a single woman. These are hardly superhuman achievements. I myself can lift a woman and walk down the street at the same time.

Perhaps they are implying that this woman is unusually heavy. I suppose no-one said robotics researchers had to be gentlemen.


And bonus points for difficult kanji

On a whim, I picked up an album by a band called Lamp today: Komorebi-doori ni te (『木洩陽通りにて』, On Light-Spilling-Through-The-Trees Street). Lamp is apparently a cloud of 70s-pop playing instrumentalists revolving around the nucleus of NAGAI Yuusuke (永井祐介, vocals/everything), SAKAKIBARA Kaori (榊原香保里, vocals/flute) and SOMEYA Taiyou (染谷太陽, guitars/songwriting).

Most of the songs comprise waves of strings-and-brass-and-soaring-vocals romance sweeping over a beach of unthreatening funk. Everything's driven (like disco) and dense -- most of the tracks include between two and four keyboards, and the absolute smallest number of instruments on any one song is nine.

What originally got my attention and inspired my purchase, though, was the duel vocals. Nagai and Sakakibara alternate lead vocals fairly evenly, but whichever one isn't in the lead is never far away with an "ahh-ahh-ahhhh" or even an answering line in the background ("I stop and search for your words, so I won't forget" / "I can't see, I can't see into your heart" -- well, it works better when sung.)

In summary, I like this album. I also want to give a shout out to their marimba player, whose name is OOHASHI "Erimba" Eri ("大橋エリ(erimba)"). Now that's dedication to your instrument.

(If you read Japanese, you might also be interested in this mildly informative interview with Lamp about the album and their evolution towards it [it's their third].)

For a crime they didn't commit

I have rigged it so that I can play whatever's on my iPod Shuffle through the Language Lab room speakers at school. So I normally do that during the ten minutes between classes while students are filing in and out, and sometimes if they need thinking music during class.

Yesterday the Shuffle coughed up "The Valiant Ones", track one of John Zorn's Xu Feng, which is a game piece featuring two guitarists, two drummers (including Dave Lombardo from Slayer) and two guys on electronics.

"What, is this your theme song?" asked a student coming in.

"Hell yes it is," I replied, because you could not ask for a theme song that kicks more ass than "The Valiant Ones".

Or so I thought. Because after school, when I plugged the regular earphones back in and listened to the Shuffle as I walked to the bus stop, I discovered that the very next track in the shuffled queue was the theme from the A-Team. So near, and yet so far...


And I thought I had a problem

There's one girl in the second year who has an ultra-cool, tough exterior. I've never seen her respond to any situation with anything other than a smirk. But this morning she was at the staffroom door looking deeply troubled, even distraught. I wondered what could possibly be the matter -- it'd have to be huge.

"I lost my cell phone," she explained (to her home room teacher, not to me). She was shifting her weight from one leg to the other. "I left it on the bus. They say it's at the depot. Can I go get it?"

"You have class now," he said, quite reasonably. "You can go get it after school. It'll only be a few hours." Which is true, because this is parent-teacher interview week and school lets out at midday.

But it was as if he'd said "Well, you'll still have one leg" to her. The look in her eyes!

I didn't actually check up or anything, but I bet she cut class anyway.

Koushien posters

Also from Victor: an archive in posters of almost two decades of Koushien baseball tournament sponsorship. It's amusing that they lasted exactly one (1) year of cartoon characters* before the move to high-school girls was made.

You can see, too, that it took them only a couple of years to settle down into a pattern (medium close-up of a wholesome girl in a school uniform), but since about the year 2000 they've been trying different things -- sexing the look up a little, romanticising it back down. Pimpin' ain't easy.

* Who are, by the way, Tatsuya and Minami from arguably the most popular Koushien story of all, Touch.



I was going to write a post about the greatest tanka ever, but then I discovered that someone had already beaten me to it. IZAAAK!!!

I will go ahead and post the Japanese original, just because I can:


The poet was Kabocha no Motonari (加保茶元成), and you can find this poem collected in the 徳和歌後万載集 (Tokuwakagomanzaishuu).

Vast, cool and unsympathetic

Jeff Russell's STARSHIP DIMENSIONS is awesome for many reasons, but to pick just one, it's awesome because the image of the Martian tripod it uses is taken from the cover art of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds concept album.

(via The Tensor)


I don't wanna dance... I wanna scare you!

Japan takes the lead again, literally, by inventing a giant pink robot that can dance. Now at last men can safely waltz without coming into contact with terrifying girls. I predict that this will be a huge hit at junior proms worldwide.

(Don't worry, ladies, a male version is under development. They're probably ironing out the complaining-about-having-to-wear-a-tux circuitry.)

Seriously, it seems that ballroom dancing here is being used as kind of a sandbox for more general problems:

The Partner Ballroom Dance Robot -- or PBDR in robot talk -- has a woman's face, a sensor around its waist and can move in all directions on its three wheels hidden underneath an evening gown.
As its partner takes steps, the robot analyzes his movements and figures out how to accompany him with its shoulders, elbows, waist and neck. ...
The robot was unveiled last week in Chino in central Nagano province after six years of research by a team led by Kazuhiro KOSUGE, professor of the Department of Bioengineering and Robotics at state-run Tohoku University.
He acknowledged the robot did not yet have movements as sharp or as wide to match the dancing steps of humans. But PBDR is a step in another direction -- developing a robot that can care for the elderly.
Kosuge said good caregivers needed, like PBDR, to be able to guess what the elderly want them to do using the limited information available.

I for one don't see how giving robots the ability and inclination to extrapolate "what humans want" from limited information could possibly turn out badly!


Etymology of 相棒

相棒 (aibou) is a word I learned long ago from a J-E dictionary. It means "partner" (or "accomplice") and it's one of the words that the robot dog Aibo's name is supposed to evoke*.

The first kanji, 相 means "together" or "mutual", which makes sense; the second, 棒, means "pole", which doesn't, but I always figured it was ateji for the chummy "person, guy" bou you see in words like 風来坊 (fuuraibou, "come-with-the-wind guy", drifter) and 吝ん坊 (shiwanbou, "stingy guy", skinflint).

This, of course, might be the same bou as the one in words like 坊や (bouya, boy) and 坊ちゃん (botchan, "young master"), and there might well be some connection between all these bous and the word 坊主 (bouzu, monk).

But I digress. The point is, I was wrong. 相棒 isn't ateji: it really is supposed to read "mutual pole [person]". This is because the word 相棒 originally referred to the guy at the other end of the palanquin (etc.) pole you were holding, with whom you obviously needed a pretty good rapport. Hence the metaphorical and in these sadly palanquin-free times far more common meaning of "partner" that I mentioned right at the top.

That's what I get for (a) assuming, and (b) using half-assed J-E dictionaries, I guess. Well, at least I've given up one of those vices.

* The other ones are "AI [artificial intelligence] + bo(t)" and "eye + bo(t)", just for the record.


Oh, statistical deviancy

Inspired by this entry of Roy's, I dug up a simple and ever so slightly bilingual statistics primer which explains:

The notorious hensachi (偏差値, deviation value) used for judging your ability in schools (in Japan) is nothing but a transformed value from this standardized normal distribution; change 0 into 50 points, and change the unit 1 into 10 points, and the resulting value is the hensachi.

So, unless I am about to embarrass myself (and I am sure my better-informed commenters will correct me if so), a hensachi of 40 would mean that 84.15% of the other students in your sample achieved better results than you.

Yeah, that is pretty bad.

Third nerd post in a row

I finally got around to reading volume 10 of Tsubasa, in which the concept triangulation between Quantum Leap and Sliders is more or less perfected.

Also, they finally escaped that stupid Shara/Shura plot. Now they're in a country where everyone dresses like a Mod. It's actually a relief.

Sakura and Syaoran's stiff-upper-lip hero schtick has gotten old, and I hated Mokona the moment it appeared, but I still dig Fai and Kurogane. How are they translating those nicknames F. calls K., anyway? Is there anyone reading the English verson who can tell me? Call it professional curiosity.


Don't worry... that's a file photo.

The writer and artist of 『名探偵コナン』, "Super-Detective Conan" a.k.a. Case Closed, AOYAMA Goushou, has married TAKAYAMA Minami, the woman who does Conan's voice in the TV series.

I've never liked Conan much. It creeps me out. And this isn't helping one bit.

Forgive me

I've tried not to get involved in these meme things, but I got tagged by Julie and I think it's a toile faux pas to ignore a fellow internaute.

  1. Total number of films I own on dvd: Hmm, let me see... one, two, three. I have three. My mind boggles at all y'all with your 50- or 100-title collections! I can only think of three or four other movies I seriously even want to own.
  2. Last film I bought: 2046. A two-disc Japanese edition that I found secondhand. It came with a bunch of oversized glossies that at first you think are cool but then you realise have no utility at all. Like that 20th anniversary edition of Dark Side of the Moon.
  3. Last film I watched: 『ルパン三世 念力珍作戦』 (Rupan Sansei Nenrikichin Sakusen, "Lupin III and the Weird Psychic Operation/Strange Telekinetic Strategy/etc."), a live-action Lupin III movie that was actually totally awesome, and not even in an ironic way.
  4. Five films I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me: Two of the three that I own (I'll let you guess). Tonari no Totoro. Uh... this is hard. I don't generally feel that attached to movies any more, if I ever did... I guess I'll always have time for The Heroic Trio and Ghostbusters.


Interesting translation

Today's Japan Times has an article about a symposium of Japanese journalists unhappy with the recent upward trend of defamation lawsuits in response to uncomfortably probing journalism.

The Japanese name of the symposium, visible on the banner behind the sympositing journalists in question, was "PRIDE・闘うジャーナリストたち". Literally, "Pride -- Journalists Who Fight".

The Japan Times translated that as "Pride -- Fighting Journalists". Which is shorter and punchier than my version, but what it gains in punch it loses in specifity. That is, "Fighting Journalists" would work just as well as a name for an anti-journalism symposium. "We must fight the scourge of journalists before they journal our children as they have journaled so many other children before, etc."

The Linguistics equivalent of a Jerry Lewis movie

OK, I knew that the Academy Fran-say were crazy, but I didn't know they were this crazy.

They have an "official uniform embroidered with green and gold olive leaves". Their "pure" French alternative to World Wide Web is "toile d'araignée mondiale", which, you'll note, completely obliterates the whole point of the phrase World Wide Web -- the acronym. But best of all:

Few mortals have ever witnessed the academy at work. The privilege is reserved for monarchs and heads of state, and "no more than 19" have been so honored in the academy's nearly 400-year history, Mr. Druon said.

They're not just misguided lexicographers -- they're a sinister cabal, accountable to less than half a monarch/head of state per decade!

When asked if a journalist might attend one of the working sessions, he threw his head back and bellowed, "Never!"

That works better if you imagine him saying "Nevair!" instead. But I suppose the interview itself was conducted in French.

(via LanguageHat, who is back.)