Epic Win

As soon as I saw the “trailer” for Epic Win, it knew I had to try it out. This iPhone app is basically just a simple task manager, but with the added twist that you have a character, and checking off tasks is represented as the character beating up monsters, collecting gold, loot and experience points, and eventually levelling up. In short, task managements powers a simplistic RPG character. The key takeaway is that this app changes something boring (task management) into something mildly fun. In some way, this is childish, but this slight change made the difference between tracking tasks and not doing it.

The app is not without faults, the first is a text encoding bug, which means that non ascii characters in the name of the character will get mangled. One big missing feature is the ability to somehow synchronise the task list with the computer, there is little incentive to mark tasks as done on the computer, but creating them on the computer makes plenty of sense. If the task list could be somehow retrieved from the IMAP notes that would be perfect.

Being a role-player, I can imagine many ways the game part of the app could be improved, but I realise there is a fine line here. The app should be somehow fun and engrossing so that I’m even more motivated in tracking my tasks, but not give me any serious opportunity to loose time with the application itself. I think being able to see the progress of the character in its appearance would be nice. Maybe sometimes the loot could be new clothes or armor.

Still considering the price of the app, this is a nice little trick to keep me organised.

Pieds nus sur les limaces

Pieds Nus Sur les Limaces
Fabienne Berthaud

Or donc, ce week-end il y avait un festival de film à Zürich. Après avoir vu Micmacs avec six mois de retard sur la France, il n’était que justice que je voie Pieds nus sur les Limaces de Fabienne Berthaud avec un peu d’avance. J’ai trouvé le thème du film très intéressant : après la mort de sa mère, Clara se retrouve avec sa sœur benja­mine à charge. Celle-ci, Lily n’est pas tout à fait normale, et cela sème le trouble dans le vie bien réglé de l’aînée, qui a une vie de couple, une carrière.

Le première défaut que j’ai trouvé au film, c’était la qualité de la bobine qui a été passée, l’image tremblait et il y avait beaucoup de parasites et de lignes sur l’image. Si ce n’est pas dramatique, j’ai tendance à y être plutôt sensible et avoir un léger mal de tête à cause de cela ne m’enchante pas réellement. Si l’histoire est touchante, et le jeu des acteurs m’a semblé très juste, j’ai trouvé que le film trainait un peu, je pense qu’il aurait facilement pu être quinze minute plus court en coupant dans certaines longueurs au début et à la fin.

Je comprends que l’on veuille présenter la scène, la tension dans les personnages, mais j’ai trouvé que quitte à prendre son temps, plus d’attention aurait pu être donnée aux lieux importants de l’histoire, la maison des parents, et la remise qui sert de repère à Lily, et qui est un lieu central du drame. C’est un peu le paradoxe de ce film, qui tourne tout entiers sur le thème de la normalité, et l’univers riche de Lily, mais visuellement, celui-ci n’est présenté que de manière extérieure, détachée, normale…

Les prises de ses œuvres dans la forêt m’ont fait penser à des photos de catalogues d’œuvres d’art contemporaines, quand à la remise qui est son lieu secret, on n’en voit l’intérieur que de manière distance, ce qui fait que cela reste un endroit peu clair. Si cette présentation était naturelle au début, quand Clara est extérieure à cet univers, je me serais attendu à ce que le point de vue change durant le film. C’est partiellement le cas, vu qu’on découvre les outils, mais j’ai trouvé que visuellement le film était classique et un peu maladroit. Comme le scénario est somme toute plutôt prévisible, un peu d’inventivité visuelle aurait été appropriée pour le thème.

En conclusion, et malgré ces défauts, j’ai trouvé que c’est un petit film sympathique et émouvant et qui vaut la peine d’être vu.

Varekai

Varekai
Cirque du Soleil

Or donc, j’ai été voir le spectacle Varekai du Cirque du Soleil. Ça fait drôle de voir un chapiteau là où se trouvait auparavant le stade du Hardturm. Je n’avais jamais vu spectacle du cirque du Soleil, j’ai un vague souvenir d’une tournée du cirque Knie qui impliquait des artistes du cirque du Soleil, mais c’était en 1992.

La première chose que j’ai apprécié, c’était l’ambiance avant le spectacle, très détendue et chaleureuse malgré un temps chagrin. Vendre l’eau gazeuse dans une bouteille à usage multiple (un clone de bouteille Sig) est aussi à mon avis une bonne idée. J’aime bien le fait qu’il se passe des choses sur la scène avant le début du spectacle à proprement parler.

Le spectacle était magnifique, les costumes et la chorégraphie très intéressants, et j’ai beaucoup aimé la majorité des morceaux, seul un numéro de trapèze était à mon avis un peu mou, et pas synchronisé avec la musique. Les clowns étaient un peu en dehors du thème d’insectes au raz du sol du reste du spectacle, mais j’ai bien ri, et le tout fonctionnait somme toute bien. Si la musique était très belle, j’ai regretté que la sonorisation était à mon avis mal réglé, un peu trop forte, peut-être un soupçon trop saturée.

En conclusion un spectacle magnifique, que je recommande chaudement, et qui m’a donné envie de voir les autres productions de la compagnie.

Kitchen

Banana Yoshimoto 
 Kitchen 
 Folio 
 Couverture © Cohwa International Ayako Kawahara & Gilles de Chabaneix

Kitchen de Banana Yoshimoto était le roman japonais suivant dans ma pile. Le livre contenait en fait deux récits : Kitchen et Moonlight Shadow.

Kitchen est le récit intimiste de Mikage, une jeune japonaise après le deuil du dernier membre de sa famille. Elle est recueillie par une famille un peu étrange, un père devenue femme et son fils. Comme souvent avec les romans japonais, le récit s’écoule, passionnant et délicat, sans que je puisse distinguer où il va arriver. La présentation au dos du livre parle de minimalisme flou, je trouve cette description assez juste.

Une histoire d’amour se cache quelque part dans les recoins des anecdotes de la vie de tous les jours. Kitchen est proba­blement le roman nippon avec le feeling le plus féminin que j’ai lu. Le ton délicat, hésitant et un peu détaché de la narration m’a semblé très approprié à une personne en deuil.

Moonlight shadow reprend le même thème du deuil, on retrouve aussi un personnage travesti, mais avec une touche plus légère, à la limite du fantastique.

Ce lieu où trainent des épluchures de légumes, où la semelle des chaussons deviennent noires de crasse, je le vois étrangement vaste. Un énorme réfrigérateur s’y dresse, rempli de provisions suffisantes pour tenir facilement tout un hiver, et je m’adosse à sa porte argentée.

Je tiens à souligner que par opposition aux années douces, j’ai trouvé la traduction très bonne, alors même que les traductrices semble avoir été des étudiantes au bénéfice d’une bourse. En conclusion, un petit roman très agréable à lire qui m’a beaucoup touché.

Livres de Référence Japonais

Un ami m’ayant demandé quel ouvrages de référence j’utilise pour étudier le japonais, voici une liste de liste du matériel que j’utilise.

Minna no Nihongo

Cela a été le cours de référence pendant toutes mes études. Une bonne méthode, je trouve, mais je n’ouvre plus les livres depuis que je les ai finis, les informations sont simplement trop dispersées.

Oxford Japanese Grammar & Verbs

Oxford Japanese Grammar & Verbs
Oxford Press
ISBN : 0-19-860382-7

Ouvrage de référence qui m’a été offert, intéressant à lire une fois, mais à mon avis pas assez synthétique. La grammaire y présentée de manière très scolaire, avec table, exemples, ce qui rend la chose assez verbeuse. Je ne l’utilise plus.

Japanese Verbs & Essentials of Grammar

Japanese Verbs & Essentials of Grammar

McGrawHill
ISBN : 0-07-143514-X

Autre ouvrage de grammaire, beaucoup plus synthétique. Au lieu d’être organisé d’après le sujets classiques (comparatif etc.) les explications sont organisées d’après la conjugaison du verbe ou de l’adjectif. C’est le livre que je consulte le plus régulièrement.

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Sentence Patterns

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Sentence Patterns

Kodansha
ISBN : 4-7700-2608-0

Un livre intéressant avec des échantillons des diverses formes de phrase. Bon exercice de lecture, vu que le texte s’y trouve dans trois formes : japonais en kanji + kana, japonais en roma-ji et anglais.

Love, Hate and Everything in Between

Love, Hate and Everything in Between

The Japan Page
ISBN : 4-7700-2608-0

Pas réellement un ouvrage de grammaire. Mais une bonne liste des expressions utilisées pour exprimer toute sorte de sentiments (ce qui est très important en japonais).

Le Japon présenté en français & japonais

Le Japon présenté en français & japonais

Soleil Manga
ISBN : 978-2849464779

Un petit ouvrage illustré avec le vocabulaire de base, il ne contient pas réellement de grammaire, juste du vocabulaire et des phrases types. Sympathique pour le tout début, avec un survol culturel et une présentation de la culture.

Méthode Assimil

Une des méthodes pour apprendre le japonais que j’avais trouvé très intéressante, c’était la méthode Assimil. Je l’ai reçue d’un ami, et transmis à un autre, je pense. La méthode proposait d’apprendre d’abord à penser en japonais, c’est à dire construire des phrases en français mais en suivant la structure grammaticale nipponne avant de commencer le japonais à propre parler.

Allemand & Latin

Cas Suffixe
Nominatif
Accusatif
Datif
Génitif
Ablatif から

Sérieusement. Si vous avez étudié l’une ou l’autre langue, cela vaut la peine de dépoussiérer vos connaissances, vu que les cas de ces langues sont relativement proches grammaticalement des suffixes japonais. L’approximation qui suit est naturellement fausse, mais c’est une bonne base de travail:

A-Team l’Agence Tout-Risques

There is no plan B 
A-Team 
 Movie Poster

On my flight back from California, I watched the movie A-Team. While the viewing experience is quite different from the what you would get in a cinema, you get the added special effect of turbulences, which is somehow appropriate for action movies.

I used to watch the TV show, which was called in French L’agence tout risques which could be translated as all risk agency and liked it a lot, in parti­cular the scenes where the team buildt stuff. The whole idea that some­body would adapt a TV show into a full length movie is still kind of strange to me. I know that batman was originally a TV show, but not one I saw. I selected that movie in the plane, mostly because I as­sumed that it would not require to much of a working brain.

I found the way the characters evolved fascinating. Com­pared to the eighties, they all look tougher, more grizzled and are more credible rangers. Murdock, which was called Looping in French, was very easy to recognise and close to the original. I found Hannibal had a weaker presence that the original character. One reason might be that in the french-dubbed TV-show, Hannibal had a really nice, deep voice. In the beginning I had a similar feeling for Baracus (balled Barracuda in French): filling in Mister T’s shoes is not an easy job, but I eventually got used to the new guy. I found that Face which in French was called Futé (Sly), was the most different from the original show, but at the same time I found him quite believable as a seducer.

The movie itself is a completely standard Hollywood production. The plot has all the mandatory twists, including the Scooby Doo end-reversal (spoiler, the arab is in the fact the general). While there are a few fun bits (most of them in the trailer, I suspect), the whole movies does not really hold together, it is literally all over the place. I found the idea of having Face do the plan intriguing, but the resulting plan did not seem to have any face specific aspect. In the end, I mostly felt the absence of the part I loved: the building sequence. There is a little bit of it, but as the plan has to remain a surprise for the viewer, you only see the building of small parts, and in those days of maker fairs, what they built felt very lame.

One thing that surprised me was the care taken in making things realistic. Many movies claim to happen in Europe, and in particular in Switzerland, but very often the details don’t match. The Bourne conspiracy had a sequence happening in Zürich, but the streets were in Prague, and the cops spoke with a strong north-german accent. In A-Team, they even got the Swiss car’s license plate right, so this is a welcome improvement.

In conclusion I had the feeling that the parts of the movie (acting, sets) were quite well done, but the whole just did not stick together. Hollywood needs to realise that if the twist is always there at the same time, it is not a twist. Given the care and probably the money which went into this movie, getting a proper script would have been a wise investment.

PGP signing

Mac GPG Logo

I have been using PGP encryption for my mail in a intermittent fashion for years. While I like the idea – it would really be better if e-mails where encrypted and signed – using PGP encryption is in practice really complicated: just adding encryption support to Mac OS X’s e-mail program requires installing a package, and a plugin which currently breaks japanese support. As often with communication strategies, it only works as far as people you communicate with are also using this technology. When a colleague organised a key signing at work, I joined. I was in fact more interested in the process than the outcome: having my key signed is hardly a priority for me.

It was an interesting experience:

  • It is a complicated process, you print the hash of your key, read it aloud, people check it off their list.
  • You check the identity in the keys against some form of official document. This is in my opinion a weak point of the system. You actually check that John Smith is really a John Smith, but how are you sure that it’s the right one?
  • The supporting tools are really weak. Given how carefully the checks have to be done, having nice supporting tools makes it a smoother experience. The tool used to print the hash list could not handle utf-8 names. Phil wrote a useful script to help signing the keys afterwards, but I needed to modify it for it work on my machine.
  • The web of trust is is a social network, in some sense tighter that say facebook: I have never checked the identity of most of the people that are linked with me there, on the other hand, besides their identity, I don’t know much about the people whose key I signed.

All this lead me to think about the recent initiatives of states to provide their citizen with some key for their official businesses. As PGP keys signing is about proving that an electronic identity matches an official identity, state issued keys would solve the problem. At the same time, having a state signature is one thing, having a social network that vouches an identity is another, having both would be optimal. Identity is a social problem, so crowd-sourcing it seems like a natural solution.

I was at a church wedding last Friday, the witnesses dutifully signed the register. This ritual once was the way to certify the identity of people. The witnesses were the back-up in case the book-keeping system failed. Time has changed this process into a empty ritual. Still imagine that in a wedding, all the guests signed with their official keys that the two persons are who they claim they are and that they are married. This would give some substance to the ritual. Things should of course be more festive than the drab PGP signing party, but having something that forces the guest of the wedding to interact in formal way during the wedding would also be nice.

Interstices

Dans le monde germanique, la distance à laquelle un inconnu peut se trouver d’une conversation sans que la conversation s’interrompe est relativement longue probablement deux mètres. Pourtant il existe des discontinuités qui font que cette distance peut se raccourcir, les transport publics sont un exemple évident. Il semblerait que le bord de la route est une discontinuité qui peut aussi abolir cette distance.

Hier, en rentrant à vélo de l’aikidō, je me suis arrêté au feu à l’intersection de la Lagerstraße et de la Kasernestraße, c’était l’heu­re où les derniers cours à la haute école de commerce se terminaient, et du bâtiment s’écoulaient des jeunes gens par grappes. Certains s’arrêtaient à l’angle du passage piéton et du trottoir, entamant un dernier échange avant de se séparer. Eux dans l’univers piéton, moi, dans l’étroite piste cyclable, je n’étais qu’à une quarantaine de centimètres de la discussion, mais ignoré car dans un autre monde…

The City & the City

China Miéville 
The City & the City
© Anne Laure Jacquart / Arcangel Images

The second book I took on my last travel to the US was The City & the City by China Miéville. The book won the prestigious Hugo Award for 2010, was nominated for the Nebula, and even got a very positive review from my friend Alias on his blog. As I had really liked the previous books from the Perdido Street Station series, this seemed like a good use of my backpack space. I finished it in one go.

The book tells the story of inspector Tyador Borlú trying to solve a murder case, but the story is really about the two cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma which exist in the same place, but are separated by some social taboo. Of course, solving the murder case leads the inspector to unravel the mysteries of the two cities. Compared to previous books, the City & the city is way closer to classical literature: a murder case, a place between eastern Europe and the west-most part of Asia with characters from the US or Canada, the fantasy part is reduced to a thin sliver. In my opinion, this is what makes the book very powerful.

Rackhaus said something I ignored. As I turned, I saw past the edges of the estate to the end of GunterStrász, between the dirty brick buildings. Trash moved in the wind. It might be anywhere. An elderly woman was walking slowly away from me in a shambling sway. She turned her head and looked at me. I was struck by her motion, and I met her eyes. I wondered if she wanted to tell me something. In my glance I took in her clothes, her way of walking, of holding herself, and looking.
With a hard start, I realised that she was not on GunterStrász at all, and that I should not have seen her.

One weak point of previous books by Miéville was the characters, which I always had trouble empathising with. In this book, this was not an issue, maybe because his character building improved, but I suspect this is mostly related to type of story. When writing fantasy fiction, one expects flamboyant characters, in a murder case that starts in dirty suburbs, one expects a dogged cop, and this is exactly what we get. The cliché characters make the story flow, and do not distract the attention from the real center of the story: the cities.

The City & the City
China Miéville
Pan Books
ISBN : 978-0-330-49310-9

As with previous books, the urban setting is brilliant, but here it is well anchored in the real world. The Kafka-crazy situation is introduced as the story progresses and feels natural. The way the city, its history and its germanic sounding language is slowly and artfully built up reminded me of Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. While the story feels very classical, the story had just the right amount of twists to make the story gripping. I also felt that behind the story about cities lurked some interesting insight on social distance as opposed to physical distance, stigmas and taboo. I found interesting that the duality that is omnipresent in the book is not build along the religious lines: christian versus muslim.

In conclusion, a extremely good book, that I heartily recommend reading.

Travel tips

Open Crumpler Bag

While I can hardly claim I’m part of the jet-set, or an adventurer who has sailed the seven seas, I realised that I travel regularly on trans-continental flights and a gotten to the point where I have my ideas on what to pack, and how to minimise the hassle of air travel. The following tricks are clearly optimised for me, but they might still be useful for others.

Good hand-luggage

If you fly economy and you are a man, you only get one piece of hand luggage, so you should make the most of it. As you will put a lot of stuff into it, it will probably be heavy, which means it can hurt your back. So want something sturdy, convenient, and comfortable to wear for long times. A good bag tends to be expensive, but it protects your back, your stuff and it will probably last longer that your laptop. Currently, I travel with my second crumpler back-pack. I discarded the previous after using it for all sorts of travel (including hiking) for more than four and a half years.

The bag features good back-padding, lots of pockets, it can be opened to take out the laptop (which is mandatory a security checks), and has second interior bag to keep your stuff from falling. The bag is designed in such a way that it cannot be opened if it is on my back.

Good Clothing

A standard trick is to travel with your heaviest shoes to save on luggage weight. I usually travel with a pair of light hiking shoes. I think this not only a good weight strategy, airport are a place where you walk a lot, and if you luggage gets delayed, you can still walk. As you are going to need to remove your shoes anyways and you will have plenty of time to remove them.

For the clothing, I recommend light and soft clothing. At the same time, in my personal experience, I get bothered way less by officials when I’m not wearing a t-shirt – the only time I was upgraded spontaneously to business was when I was wearing a suit. So I tend to wear sport chic clothing (my hiking shoes are dark coloured) so I don’t stand out to much.

Stuff to take on board

Besides my laptop, I take the following things in my back-pack:

  • Camera, mostly because it is delicate and some people might think it’s worth stealing. I store it in separate pouch (also from Crumpler) that can be attached to the back-pack.
  • Laptop accessory kit: power-adapter, some small cables, memory card adapter, etc. I also have set of USB powered devices: ethernet hub, wifi access point. I won’t need them in the airplane/airport, but it can be very handy in hotel rooms.
  • Spare battery, I usually don’t use it, but this means that if I’m stuck somewhere I can use my laptop.
  • Some light food. You can usually get water to drink in both airport and airplanes, but in case of delay, having some snack can be useful. I tend to take tried fruits, swiss chocolate is also nice, if you don’t eat, it makes a nice mini-gift.
  • Warm socks. I take off the shoes as soon as I’m seated to be confortable, but the plane tends to be cool, so I take an old pair of wool socks my grand mother did for my while I was in the army. Given their colour, I’m not really afraid if they get dirty.
  • Eye cover, inflatable neck cushion and ear-plugs. I actually use in-ear earphones as ear-plugs.
  • A small silken sleeping bag (a gift from my mom), I can use as additional blanket.
  • Some books
  • A paper copy of all important travel documents.
  • Some pens, there are always forms to fill in.
  • A foldable bag – if you somehow end up with to much stuff, and you don’t want to go around with airport shopping bags.
  • A carabiner, to hook the keys I will get (rental car, corporate apartment).

The stuff I avoid taking in my hand luggage: toiletries (security control hassle, and easy to buy if luggage is delayed), spare clothes (clothes are generally cheaper than in Switzerland), hat, umbrellas. I sometimes also pack a pair of swimming trunks. I love swimming, and so the fun/volume ratio of swimming trunks is quite good. Swimming trunks are not so easy to get by, but there are many places where you can swim. Also you can use themas emergency underwear.