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Tag: Geekery

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been learning a bit more of the Taiwanese (AKA Minnan) language. One interesting thing I’ve recently discovered is that Minnan is one of the many languages included in the spaceship voyager’s greeting message.

I was listening to the greeting message NASA sent out of our solar system to see how much I could understand, and was very surprised to hear something understandable as Minnan at about 2m50s into it. After a quick check at NASA’s website, sure enough there was Amoy, the prestige Minnan dialect! Below is the Amoy clip from NASA’s page.

I never would have guessed this would be one of the languages we sent in our greeting, though in terms of the number of native speakers, I suppose it makes sense.

There are two customizations I always perform when I install Firefox on a computer.

First I merge the location and search bars into a single bar that can be used for either. This is especially useful if you ever have problems with the bars getting too scrunched up when you’re not using the whole screen for your browser.

The second customization is setting up search bookmarks. These time-saving shortcuts that let you do searches on a specific site without going to the site first.
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I don’t think I ever saw Joel look so pleased with Taiwan as when we took him to guānghuá shāngchǎng. Oh, the computer goodness!

Unfortunately, our guest had little appreciation for Acer, a local Taiwanese brand. Not even these energetic Acer girls’ pitch about the “super super thin laptop line” had much success in repairing the damage all the crappy desktops they made in the 90’s did to their brand.
Acer girls
Acer girls by Mark on Zooomr

There was one bad-ass touch screen on display that gave him pause though:

Over the past month as made my way through the phenomenal guide Remembering the Kanji, I’ve learned some interesting things. Not only am I writing all the Joyo kanji with an accuracy I could only have dreamt of before RTK, but I’m starting to recognize some of the systematic aspects behind the post WWII Kanji simplifications. Some are fairly mundane, but one is a more abstract sort of simplification than I had realized existed.

Simplifications of radicals and other components

The PRC simplified a large number of radicals and other character components components after the second world war. Very few Japanese radicals were simplified, though some of the less manageable ones such as “turtle” (龜) were. In complex components of radicals that are not radicals, the Japanese and Chinese simplifications were often the same.


Nothing in the above table was anything very new or interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to be able to remember those kinds of systematic relationships between the different writing systems. But they’re not the kind of thing to make me say wow.

Simplification via the “tripler” component

This was, though:


I love that. Any time you see something tedious to write repeated three times, there’s a good chance that it can be written once with four sparkles under it, instead. It saves time, and unlike Chinese simplifications, it preserves all the original information. It’s like writing a function.

Notes: 渋 is a bit problematic.

I’ve made a Firefox extension that converts pinyin with tone numbers into pinyin with tone marks. The specifics of the conversion process are identical to those of the online pinyin converter I wrote earlier.

After installing the extension, a blue square will appear on the right side of the status bar at the bottom of your Firefox web browser. To use the tool, type some pinyin with tone numbers into any plain text field on any web page. Then highlight the text and click on the blue 拼 on your status bar. It will convert the tone numbers into the appropriate marks over the appropriate

For example, if you type in “zhong1wen2”, highlight it and hit the button, then it will be converted into “zhōngwén”.

Thanks to John for feedback on the design, and to Wayne and Andrew for testing on Mac and Linux machines.

Go to the download page to get it.

This is a few links. Last week, Seth Godin put to words something I’ve felt for a few years:

Here’s a trick that’s as old as the web: Run a popularity contest with public voting. It could be anything from a listing of the top blogs to a creative contest for best tagline or ad.

The nominees run around like crazy, hoping to get their friends to vote. Which of course brings you more traffic.

My feeling is that most of the time the cause is too thin and the prize is too lame. If your blog gets picked as the most popular woodworking blog by some other blog, it’s really unlikely that you’ll find many benefits other than a nice smile for your ego.

Traffic Magnets

Coincidentally, I came across an older piece on Dreamhost about sites that “rank” the best web hosting services… entirely based upon how much money they can extort for their publicity. Like Seth’s piece, the topic is serious, but the writing is very amusing.

Now it’s all clear. Our $97 affliate payment is small potatoes but they’re eager to work with us! Let’s earn their trust by showing up on that Editor’s Pick page. $299 for a month? Whateva! We’ll pay you $349 to show you we’re serious.

May 1st rolled around and we set our sights a little higher. We asked what it would take to appear in the coveted front page Top 10 list.

Web Hosting’s Dirty Laundry

I love Dreamhost. I really do. Not only has the service been great, but the various update announcements they sent me look like they were written by a bunch of San Fransisco techno-hippies.

And finally, I came across this gem on Joel on Software, talking about the frustration on modern programming frameworks. Benji uses the task of building a kitchen spice rack to illuminate just how ridiculous some frameworks get.

So I go to the hardware store to buy the tools, and I ask the sales clerk where I can find a hammer.

“A hammer?” he asks. “Nobody really buys hammers anymore. They’re kind of old fashioned.”

Surprised at this development, I ask him why.

Why I Hate Frameworks

This last article continued so far past the point of absurdity that I laughed my head off.

Until last week, I had never realized how difficult uploading large files to a web site can be. HTTP isn’t really that well suited to it, and PHP has a couple of glaring weaknesses that make it nearly impossible. It all started when I ran into a minor problem at school…
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Light-bot is a pretty fun, if simple flash game that I wrote about last year. At that time, I realized that by giving the robot recursive solutions, it was possible to reduce the commands needed to win from the previous bests of 160 or so down to 132.

Recently, Mark Beyers has found an even more compact solution.

Already a lot of people have worked on improving their score for this game. I wanted to either beat the best known score (132 commands) or prove it to be minimal by trying every possible solution for every level and seeing if it completes the level.

To cut a long story short, the solver managed to beat the best known solution for level 8, reducing it from 10 commands to 9 commands. The solution is complex and I find it difficult to imagine how a human could discover this solution without assistance from a computer.

Mark Beyers: Light-Bot in 131 commands

Here is my old video for level 8 (apologies for the sound):

Here’s Mark’s solution, which uses one fewer command. Level 8 starts 45 seconds in.

Byron of texturadesign emailed me this weekend about a group of US tech bloggers hosting a meetup in Taipei.


We’re bloggers based in the US coming to Taiwan to cover the Intel Developer Forum and would like to meetup with Taipei bloggers on Sunday 10/19 for drinks and apps (on us).

They’ll be at in House (台北市松仁路90號), and Byron says they have “goodies” to give away, too!

I’ve been playing some flash games recently. Here’s one I kinda like. It’s called light-bot. The goal is to program a robot to move around and light up certain squares. The only things the robot can do are walk forward, turn left, turn right, jump and toggle the light (for whichever square it currently occupies). You can make two functions, but there’s no branching, and the robot has extremely limited memory.
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