Sunday, January 29, 2006

Google's China censorship

The effects of Google's decision to censor itself to the specifications of the Chinese Government:

A search for "Tiananmen" on images.
A search for "Tiananmen" on images.

Update: To be fair, Google has pointed out, and you can see it at the bottom left hand corner of the example page above, that it will always tell its Chinese searchers that it has filtered results, if Chinese policies or laws force it to do so. There was no such honesty in the Chinese Government's previous ad hoc censoring. The company writes, in its own defence, "This is not, to be sure, a tremendous advance in transparency to users, but it is at least a meaningful step in the right direction."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Turning the Pages

The British Library has got an online exhibition here called "Turning the Pages". Some of the Library's most beautiful books have been put on the web, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbook.

Probably shouldn't grumble but they are using specially commissioned viewing software that is supposed to simulate the feel of reading a book. It is flashy but it takes ages to download and then you have to fiddle about with a silly magnifying glass to see any detail. I suspect some company got paid a lot of money to make something flashy when a simple bit of html would have sufficed. Even something as basic and ugly as this does a better job of what is after all the purpose of the viewer: letting people see these beautiful manuscripts.

Anyway, the books are lovely.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A very long view on China and the internet

The news that Google has bowed to Chinese attempts to censor the internet and this podcast discussion of print culture in 17th Century England and Government attempts to tame it seemed related in a strange, tenuous sort of way. (Podcast is about 40 minutes long).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Yugawara onsen

Just took a one night break at a traditional Japanese inn called Fujitaya in the onsen town of Yugawara. Sitting in the morning in our room's balcony bath tub, brimming with a constant flow of volcanically heated spring water, and looking out over the forested hillsides flecked with snow was a very special moment.

They had calligraphy by the Japanese naval hero Admiral Togo in the room. Not sure what it means.

I'm using this this pic of the onsen water as desktop wallpaper. Just looking at it is relaxing.

The Slanket

Mmmm, looks toasty warm. $65 they may be, but living central heatingless makes one of these two armed blankets a seriously attractive proposition.

Krupp's Moving Castle


1 and 2.

More on 1 and 2 (plus 2 at work)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

It ain't over until the skinny guy wins

My friend J. and I went to the Sumo yesterday. It was the thirteenth day of the New Year tournament and we had fantastic seats, about five rows back from the front and facing the referee. We got there early and watched a whole day's wrestling. It starts off with the really junior wrestlers, like the rather portly gentleman above. The stands are almost empty. Gradually, the atmosphere builds and the fans begin to throng into the stadium until, between 5pm and 6pm, the big stars match up. We were really lucky because at about 4pm the Emperor made one of his rare surprise appearances. There was a real sense of occasion.

The crowd went bananas after the final bout, raining their cushions down onto the ring, because the Mongolian champion Asashoryu lost to my favourite wrestler, the small and nippy Ama [1, 2], leaving the tournament wide open for the Japanese Ozeki Tochiazuma to win. Tochiazuma beat the Bulgarian Ozeki Kotooshu yesterday.

There is a slideshow of our pictures here. Click on the photos at any time to get explanations.

Update: Today's bouts brought victory for Asashoryu over Kotooshu, another win for Tochiazuma and a great performance from the little Ama. We go into the final day with Tochiazuma on his own in the lead (13 victories - 1 loss), with only the Mongolian Hakuho within reach (12-2). Tochiazuma has the small matter of defeating Asashoryu between him and the Emperor's Cup, the first to be won by a Japanese wrestler for eight tournaments. Hakuho, who won impressively today, is up against Kotooshu (10-4).


Update: Tochiazuma did it. Hakuho managed to beat Kotooshu but Tochiazuma defeated Asashoryu. Here is the presentation ceremony.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Snow Country has been rather snowy

I think I mentioned that there have been record snowfalls in Japan over the past month or so. There have only been about three flakes here on the south coast but it has been crazy further north, with about 100 people dead and the army mobilised.

This slideshow gives a feel for it. I was a bit worried about my friends in Takayama, having seen that old haunt featured several times on the television, and phoned H. to check everything was OK. They are used to lots of snow there but she said this year had been "disastrous". Everybody is in good health though and her property hasn't been damaged. (The weight of the snow has caved in some people‘s roofs.) H. is making the best of it. She had just got back from snowboarding when I called.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Two fun new search engines

Tap out a song rhythm and find it. Variable reliability. Worked with the Wedding March though.

Draw a picture and find similar images. Pretty good. Make sure you use the colours as well as sketching the form.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Things you can do in seven minutes fifty seconds

Theories about fundamental differences between Japan and England are mostly a load of cobblers. However, there is one difference between these two island nations I will accept:

It takes a hell of a lot longer to boil an electric kettle in Japan.

I just timed it. It took seven minutes and fifty seconds to boil one litre!

Things that can be done in seven minutes and fifty seconds

1. Travel more than 8700 miles through space just sitting here on the earth.
2. Run 3000 metres and have time for a TV interview ... if you are good.
3. Box for two professional rounds, with time for a bit of a rub down.
4. Cook a crab.
5. Travel the width of the United States in the Space Shuttle.
6. Fall asleep and snore a bit ... if you are average.
7. Do the washing up.

Actually, I've never tried that last one. Reckon it could be done though! So now you know, I am mostly sitting here on the other side of the world waiting for the kettle to boil.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Rat Boy

Nezumi Kozo, or Rat Boy, is a Japanese folk hero similar to Robin Hood. He seems to have been a real historical figure (in that sense a bit more like Dick Turpin, perhaps), a thief who lived in Tokyo at the start of the 19th century and became known for stealing from the rich samurai lords and giving to the poor.

He has had a strange afterlife. Because the Rat Boy was so good at getting into places, a superstition has built up that a piece of his grave is an excellent lucky charm for anyone wishing to gain entrance to anything, especially students taking entrance examinations. Which is the point of this post really. This popular belief might have been expected to cause a major headache for the keepers of Nezumi Kozo's grave, similar to the constantly disappearing Abbey Road and Penny Lane signs. So, what did the grave site people do? Ban people from entering? Put up dire warnings everywhere? CCTV? An armed guard maybe? Or has his grave been reduced to a few shavings of dust by now?

None of these. With admirable common sense they simply outfitted the grave with an extra stone for those desperate schoolkids to chip away at. I suppose guarding the grave of a famous thief inspired creative thinking.

[Via Mari]


It is rare to find a fantasy writer who is not a racist. I don't know how much that has got to do with why I find Terry Pratchett's novels so fun and relaxing. I have just read his latest novel, "Thud". It was like a hot cup of tea and a chocolate digestive.

Strange to say it but Pratchett, an author who fills his novels with trolls, golems and harrowingly bad puns, is also probably one of the most political novelists writing in Britain today.

If you want to read a novel about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and racism you could do worse than to reach for "Thud". The one before that was about the Post Office, privatisation and public service. If you are a journalist, a good way into Pratchett is "The Truth". If not, try "Small Gods". All these books are in the "Discworld" series but they don't have to be read in any order. In fact, the very early ones are not as good in my view.

I feel I ought to stop blogging politics at people but ...

... this.

This morning's cartoon

It took me ten seconds. Woooah!



[A funny and rather icky music video made completely within the online game of the moment, World of Warcraft. Well, I found it funny.]

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Brown Shirts versus Black Shirts

The voting is over and will shortly be announcing its prestigious Front Page of the Year award. Rather shockingly, it seems those discredited Brown Shirts at the Daily Express are set to snatch the prize from under the noses of the Daily Mail Black Shirts. What could possibly beat this?

Everywhere you look, it is just perfectly formed.

Update: It won. Here is today‘s contribution from the Express. Now that is what I call news.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How to write about Africa

The rules. And a few more tips.

"An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these."

[Via Matt. As he says, "Don't even get me started about books about Japan."
Geisha, salarymen with prominent homogeneity, soiled undy machines: use these.]

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Slug and salt

At last, some good sense. David Letterman proves that a bit of common sense is all that is needed to destroy a political platform built on burning straw men and fighting paper tigers: the humiliation of Bill O'Reilly.

Most non Americans will have no idea who these people are (Letterman is a hugely popular chatshow host and Bill O'Reilly is a very prominent right wing TV man) but I found it interesting just because when Letterman applies a bit of common sense salt to O'Reilly's "PC gone mad" diatribe it just shrivels.

[Via TV squad]

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year Quiz

I believe it is customary at this time of year to do a New Year Quiz.

So, here goes with the Buyo exam. Some of the answers were given in the blog during the year, some were not. I think the usual procedure with this type of thing is to test the reader's general knowledge. This is one is more of a test of your intimacy with the strange syncopated rhythms in my head .