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Category: Geekery

The Romajinator was tool I made for converting Japanese Katakana into romaji, i.e., roman characters. I’ve recently updated it so that it can also convert Hiragana into romaji. Any serious student of Japanese will have no more problems reading hiragana or katakana than a student of Chinese would have reading pinyin.

It’s mostly just for fun, but for people living in China or other countries in Asia, it might be useful.


さむらい   ->   samurai 
にんじゃ   ->   ninja 
いちご     ->   ichigo  ->  strawberry
いぬ       ->   inu     ->  dog


In general, romaji vowels are pronounced fairly similarly to pinyin vowels. The big exception is the “e”, which sounds a bit closer to a “short e” in English. The “o” sounds somewhat like an English “long o”. Vowels with a macron bar over them are voiced for a longer period of time. Doubled consonants represent a pause before the consonant. For example “kippu” would sound like “key”, followed by a pause, and then “poo”.

The above is obviously a very rough explanation. For a more pronunciation guide, I recommend the Wikimedia Commons: Japanese pronunciation page.

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 went to several local video game shops right before Chinese New Year. It had been long time since I’d bought or really played any console games, but the Wii was different enough and interesting enough that I decided to get one to play over my two week vacation. For new systems, here were the prices:

  • Standard Wii + 1 left controller + 1 right controller + localized version of Wii Sports: 7400NT
  • Wii with mod chip installed + 1 left controller + 1 right controller + localized version of Wii Sports: 8500NT
  • Extra left controller: 850NT
  • Extra right controller: 580NT
  • Wii Fit and balance board: 3600NT

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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.

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!