23. June, 2008

My first unauthorized biography

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 14:22

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

At Asahi Nihongo in Fukuoka each Friday students must deliver a short speech/presentation for fellow students and teachers to show their Japanese has improved (or not ;-)) over the course of the past week. Last Friday Mikel opted to tell everybody and especially myself who I really am.

So, since Mikel does not have the Japanese character sets installed on his computer he actually drew all the characters with his mouse. Impressive! Also, he invested a fair amount of time to draw some nice images for the presentation in MS Paint. All this just for me…

Everybody in the audience was stunned. But see for yourself.


12. June, 2008

Thoughts about closeness and private space

Filed under: Japan 2008,Life,Travelling — frightanic @ 16:41

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

I think the Japanese have a split relationship to closeness and private space. Some thoughts:

  • It is rather uncommon for Japanese couples to openly demonstrate affection for each other in public. Teenagers walking hand-in-hand is about all you ever see – if at all. Of course, it’s a cultural “thing” that also manifests itself by not shaking hands for example. Maintaining private space is important.
  • On most train/subway rides during rush hour that very private space is obscenely violated. You stand chest to back or back to back with total strangers. The fact that some men abuse this closeness to get their hands on “female body parts that are taboo for strangers” is only the sick culmination of this development (there are designated women-only coaches now).
  • I recently visited a Toastmasters meeting in Fukuoka, Japan. One of the members, a young lady who works at Fukuoka’s international university, talked about her upcoming “Global Communication” speech. She complained about foreigners invading her private space when talking to her. Japanese keep a certain distance respecting each others private space even in a face to face conversation. That lady stated that foreigners often stood too close to her during a conversation or that they kept their face too close to hers. I can see that there’s indeed a need to talk about global communication. A very interesting observation; I wish I would still be around to hear her speech.
  • Also in Japanese Onsens there isn’t much privacy. While men and women are separated (except for family onsens) everybody is naked in an onsen. After all, one of its main purposes was to clean your body. That was back then when one didn’t have running water and showers in each and every household. So, a few or a few dozen total strangers share the same cubicles to wash themselves and relax in the same couple of pools with hot water – all naked. Where’s the desire for private space here?

8. June, 2008

Greasemonkey: focus first input field

Filed under: Web Authoring — frightanic @ 10:21

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

I always get annoyed when I end up at sites where the developer (deliberately?) forgot to set the focus to the relevant input field if there is one. IMDB, as great as its content is, for example fails to give that hang-on-to-your-keyboard experience. I assume that usually you don’t want to switch from keyboard to mouse first in order to put the focus in the search field before you can start typing again.

As a remedy a wrote a little Greasemonkey script that focuses the first “text” input field (text, password, textarea) in the first form if the field is visible i.e. inside the view port.

You may ask yourself whether there are no other scripts available that solve this issue. Sure, there are, but their limits were not acceptable for my needs.

  • Search focus will put focus on the search field regardless of where on the page it is, i.e. the input field could be outside the view port and the page will be scrolled down to it. That’s even worse than using your mouse! Besides, it assumes the input field to be named “search”, “q”, or “keywords” in the HTML source code. How can you make such an assumption?
  • Focus on the search does address the view port issue quite nicely, but also falls short on considering all types of input fields.

Tracking scripts vs. Adblock Plus

Filed under: Web Authoring — frightanic @ 04:55

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

Being a software engineer I of course have both Firebug and Adblock Plus (ok, this has nothing to do with being a programmer ;-)) Firefox extensions installed on all systems.

As one of its tasks Firebug dutifully reports all script errors. For quite some time I wondered why so many sites using Google Analytics fail with a
“urchinTracker is not defined” error. Turns out Adblock by default blocks requests to*…
Furthermore, like millions of others I’ve subscribed to some recommended filter lists. Among them is the Adblock EasyList tracking list. This, however, I had long forgotten; that’s the flip side of such fire-and-forget list subscriptions. Turns out one entry in the tracking list blocks access to URLs containing /js/urchin.

So far, so good. It doesn’t really matter if a single “standalone” call to Google Analytics fails. It’s much worse if the calls to a tracker are embedded in a JavaScript function with some real business functionality. Firefox for example preempts script execution in a function when it encounters a script error.
The Union of European Football Associations, UEFA, offers pay-per-view live video streams of all games at the EURO 2008. However, when you click the “Pay” button Firebug reports “_hbSet is not defined” and nothing else happens. UEFA uses HitBox to track their web traffic. Not surprisingly, EasyList’s tracker list contains two entries that block such requests: /hbx*.js|$~other,~object-subrequest and /js/hitbox. Since UEFA’s invocation of the _hbSet() prototype function is embedded right in the middle of their business logic inside the openVideo() function this fails badly. openVideo() is called, goes about its business, fails to find _hbSet() and stops the further execution of the rest of the code.

Oh, and all you webmasters out there trying to track our surfing behavior, would you be so kind and check the existence of an external JavaScript function first before calling it. Thank you.
if (window.urchinTracker) {

Or at least place all the tracking code at the very end of the business logic.

6. June, 2008

Craftsman, know your tools

Filed under: Apple & Mac — frightanic @ 10:29

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

By coincident I discovered a cool feature on my iPod Touch. When you double tap the home button, the basic music controls (forward, backward, volume, etc.) are displayed regardless of which application you’re currently running. This works even if the iPod is locked. Very handy…

MacRumors has a whole list of iPod Touch tips and tricks.

5. June, 2008

Funny battle of the sexes in Japanese

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 15:56

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

When learning kanji tutors usually explain the real and assumed meaning of the series of strokes. In more sophisticated kanjis you’ll find a number of individual radicals combined. Each of them has a meaning of its own. This sometimes makes for funny twists. Here’s one such hilarious sample:

The kanji for cheap/convenient

consists of house and woman 女. Meaning: having a woman in the house is cheap and convenient.

Then the women, however, stroke back. The kanji for (ex)change

consists of twice the kanji for husband 夫 and one kanji for day/sun 日. Hence, changing the husband twice a day…

Why do Japanese live so long?

Filed under: Japan 2008,Life,Travelling — frightanic @ 10:10

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

Up until now I was more or less convinced that electro magnetic fields/radiation (EMF/EMR) do no good to “living creatures” (humans, animals, plants). I couldn’t fully justify this believe with rational arguments only, though – bad for an engineer like myself. The internet is full of EMF/EMR articles for example at WHO, Wikipedia EMF, or Wikipedia EMR.

Living in Switzerland I’m not used to seeing a lot of electrical wiring hanging above people’s heads in cities. Most of it is nicely tucked away in underground channels and tubes. Whether they’re isolated is a different question of course. I want to believe so…

Should EMF/EMR indeed harm your body then why is life expectancy in Japan so high? Buildings in their cities span a tense net of wires that seem both chaotically arranged and unstable. Shouldn’t the Japanese all be fried alive with so much bad energy around them? Does the fact that they’re not suggest that EMF/EMR is harmless?

The following picture was taken from right outside my bedroom in Fukuoka, Japan …

4. June, 2008

Dead tired brains can fool you

Filed under: Life — frightanic @ 14:01

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

Here’s a nice picture of how your brain can fool you when you’re dead tired.

In April a late software project forced me to work four weeks in a row without a single day off. Each day I spent some 11 – 13 hours “closing the feature gap”. Of course, more and more I felt like toast each night when I came home.
One night, just before inserting the tooth brush into my mouth I realized that I had applied the tooth paste on the wrong side of the brush. The plastic material is somewhat transparent…

Tooth paste on the wrong side of the tooth brush

Blending-in in Japan

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 11:10

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

Blending-in in Japan? Well, you don’t; you can’t. Even in major cities, you don’t get to see foreigners all too often. You still might get starred at by kids. They either giggle at you because you seem to be funny looking for them or they just stare with their mouths wide open.

Ridding the subway or local express trains in the morning is a wonderful time for philosophical thoughts about this culture – I won’t reveal mine here. Why time for philosophy? Because the wagon is so jam-packed that there is simply no room for anything else but standing there, arms tight to your torso. Then you try to sleep as the Japanese do, stare out the window if you can (might not see a window at all), or let your mind and/or eyes wander.
During the brief stop at the next stop there’s some shuffling among the passengers, but one thing is for certain: there’s always room for one more person, and another one, and yet another, … After all, that’s just how you yourself got washed aboard.

This morning I tried to capture with my small digital camera how it is to arrive in swarms at the terminal station. First this:

Fukuoka, Tenjiin station during the arrival of trains

Then two minutes later after a train has just arrived:
Fukuoka, Tenjiin station after the arrival of another train

1. June, 2008

Japan, here I am again

Filed under: Japan 2008,Travelling — frightanic @ 15:25

This blog now resides at It will be discontinued here…

This is the first in a series of posts over the next four weeks about my language studies in Fukuoka, Japan.

Some eight months ago I decided that in order to really push forward my somewhat limited Japanese skills I needed to spend a few weeks in Nippon without my wife – she’s Japanese. Besides, giving each other a lot of room unconditionally is in our opinion a key ingredient to a healthy relationship. Nonetheless, as happy as my head felt on departure day as sad my heart was. After all, I’m not “just” married, but happily married to the core.

So, here I am again. Immersing myself in a culture that is so fundamentally different from what we westerns are familiar with.

As always, flying to Japan from Central Europe was a nightmare. Not only does it take painstakingly long, but worse, the jet lag really does kick in. Flights leave Europe in the early afternoon and arrive in Japan roughly 12 hours later with the time difference being eight hours in my case. So, when you get off in Japan in the morning hours your biological clock is a eight hours behind and your tired body aches for some rest. You have an entire day ahead of you, though. Of course, you cannot just crash down on some hotel bed and let the day pass as check-in usually is not before 2 p.m.

This time I arrived in Tokyo Narita just before 8 p.m. with my connecting flight to Fukuoka due to take off at 11:30 a.m. For the first time so far, the usually very efficient but inflexible way the Japanese deal with large masses of people had a negative impact on me. Dozens of foreigners lined up in front of the only two immigration booths that were occupied. Right in front of me was an American who looked an experienced traveler. After 30 minutes and only slow progress in the queue he called upon an official: “Sir, can’t you open some of the booths reserved to local residents for us? This is very sad, you show no respect for visitors. Very sad”. Then he added: “In Korea and even China this was much better”.
If you know the Japanese and their pride only a little you know that the American hit Bull’s Eye with that comment. Don’t ever tell a Japanese that a this or that be better in Korea or China. How can you overlook that Japan is the best country (if not in the world then at least in Asia) ;-)? They usually look down to those communist peasants in China.
Anyway, soon thereafter I was waved to an immigration both that said “Local residents” above the counter. Thank you anonymous American!

While waiting for my connecting flight I fell asleep at an airport for the first time. I set the alarm on my iPod touch, plugged the headphones in, and stretched out over three hard seats in front of the gate. It felt well deserved.

In Fukuoka I was picked up not only by my host family but also by an Asahi Nihongo school official. I was impressed.

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