Projects on Github

github

Just because coding is my job does not mean I don’t sometimes code on the side. There are two somehow interesting projects describe on this blog: the JavaScript library to load and display IFF/ILBM files and the small dæmon to route X11 keyboard notifications to Growl.

Yesterday I did a bit of cleanup and moved both to github with proper README and LICENSE files, so people can download the code and fork the projects at their leisure. For good measure I also added page about xkbgrowl so that the document could link back to something.

Github vector logo © Daniel Bruce, CC BY 3.0.

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Demo Days 2014 OHP composition

Demodays 2014

There used to be a small demo-party called Bünzli held in summer in Winterthur, I loved to go there, it was close the atmosphere was mellow and friendly, maybe because of the size. Then the party got renamed Demodays and moved to Olten, I got busy and did not go anymore.

Yesterday I finally went to this year’s edition, I could not attend the full party, only the saturday evening, but it was nice to go there, meet people, and see a few things. One speciality of Bünzli party is the OHP competition. While normal demo runs on computer and are projected on-screen, this one is about building a composition using an real overhead projector (hence OHP), no computer is involved in the actual rendering. Some do some pretty smart things using moiré and interference patterns, other just animate with papers or other random things. This year had some really good moiré effects.

There was also a presentation of this year’s best demos, typically presented at other parties. I was extremely impressed by Rift from The Black Lotus. This is an Amiga AGA composition, so a program that runs on a 25 Mhz 68K machine. This is the same group that had done Starstruck.

I wished I had more time to attend the whole event, maybe next year…

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Aikidō Pioneers – Prewar Era – Stanley Pranin

Aikidō Pioneers – Prewar Era

Aikidō Pioneers – Prewar Era – Stanley Pranin

One of the funny quotes in Angry White Pyjamas is an Israeli doing some aikidō training and asking who’s the rabbi when seing a portait of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikidō (generally called o-Sensei). While most of the dōjō have such a portrait in the shomen, the nature of the founder often remains quite vague: the fact that aikidō has a traditional feel and the analogy with christian religious icons make it easy to believe that it is an ancient art – in fact, when aikidō was created, there was already a railway on top of Jungfraujoch…

When people talk about o-Sensei, they typically talk about the postwar period: most of the teachers who learnt with him did so during that period. The post-war narrative is also nicer: the old teacher who retired in a farmhouse in the country-side teaching a martial art of energy and love with some bit of mystical philosophy.

Aikidō Pioneers – Prewar Era

Aiki News
ISBN : 978-4904464175

As I already mentioned in my review of The Shambhala Guide to Aikidō, the pre-war period is much more contrasted: the art practiced by Ueshiba was rougher, taught to the military élite of the country, and he was involved in a sect which was accused of lèse-majesté, i.e. claiming to be better than the emperor. I hoped that Aikidō Pioneers – Prewar Era, by Stanley Pranin would help me understand that period more.

The book is a sequence of interviews done with various people who were involved in aikidō before the war. Some famous, like Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the son of Morihei Ueshiba or Gozo Shioda, who founded Yoshinkan aikidō (the aikidō style referenced in Angry White Pyjamas), others like Takako Kunigoshi, unknown to me, who stopped training in aikidō. The interview center around training, the character of o-sensei, and Sōkaku Takeda, o-sensei’s teacher.

While it is interesting to get a perspective of people learning aikidō at that time, a large part of the interview is just the head of various faction pushing their vision of aikidō forward: Kanshu Sunadomari the relationship with Ōmoto-kyō, Koichi Tohei the importance of ki (ki-aikidō), Kisshomaru Ueshiba pushing for the unity and the strength of aikikai, berating twice Kenji Tomiki for using the name aikidō in his art. I found the interviews of the lesser known people much more interesting, like Yoshio Sugino who did the fight choreographies for Akira Kurosawa. Of course, there is also a good dose of old people complaining about younger generations.

While o-Sensei lived 86 years, most of the interviewee interacted with o-sensei between 1920 and 1950, many things that happened during this period cannot be talked around seriously in an interview: the two Ōmoto incidents, the occupation of Manchuria, the involvement with the military, the war itself, and it seems everybody feared and avoided Sōkaku Takeda.

Still these indirect testimonies paint a picture that confirms what a read elsewhere: aikido was only taught to a closed circle, with strong ties to the military. What I found interesting is that sword techniques were not common in these days. It also seems that many other ideas were circulating in these circles in those days, many people in particular complain about the brown rice mania of Futaki Sensei. It also seems that the Ōmoto-kyō religious movement sanctified Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof for creating Esperanto.

All in all Aikidō Pioneers – Prewar Era does not contain many information you could not get elsewhere, and some of the interviews are really rambling. It could still be worth reading if you are really passionate about aikidō.

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Bill Gosper's Glider Gun in action—a variation of Conway's Game of Life.

Game of Life

 Bill Gosper's Glider Gun in action—a variation of Conway's Game of Life.

I remember programming Conway’s game of life on my C64 after reading about the idea in a library of the Cycle d’Orientation (Geneva’s equivalent for junior high-school). The book contained some code expressed in a variant of Basic that was pretty different from the C64’s, so some serious adaptation was needed. I ended up staring at the patterns for some time.

Coding the rules of the game, and some display logic is a good exercise, and you can find various implementation on the web, including interactive, javascript versions. What is more interesting is that someone managed to implement the logic using the game of life itself, that is build a game of life configuration, that would, one level above, run the game of life. I think it is a nice illustration of complex systems, i.e. something complex simulated using a finite automata, or the fact on how we build complex system by composing simple ones.

Bill Gosper’s Glider Gun in action—a variation of Conway’s Game of Life. CC BY-SA 3.0

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Angelina Jolie as Maleficient

Maleficient

Angelina Jolie as Maleficient

I was very curious about the new Disney movie, Maleficient, so while we were in Novi Sad, we went to see it in a theatre. Basically this is Sleeping Beauty retold from the perspective of the Evil Fairy Godmother, although the movie tries to spin this as being the narrative of sleeping beauty at the end. I was not sure what the audience of the movie was supposed to be, but I felt the movie was pretty adult: the relationships and the motivations are certainly more complex, and more believable than the original animation.

The movie roughly follows the plot of Sleeping Beauty, with a lot of backstory: who is Maleficient, her relationship with the king. It somehow reminded me of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Sleeping Beauty happens in the background, and we are focusing on the evil fairy. Her crow becomes a real character, while the queen becomes pretty secondary, not that she was important in the original animation. I found Angelina Jolie pretty good as Maleficient, I loved Sam Riley as the crow, I was less convinced by king Stephan (Sharlto Copley).

Sadly I saw the movie was in 3D, which resulted in slight headache and did not bring much, I really wish Hollywood would stop with this idiocy. At least in Serbia they lend you the 3D glasses. The movie is not perfect, I found some of the battles tedious, and the three good fairies to cartoonish, they too could have used some more depth, still it was a good watch and a refreshing take on an old fairy tale.

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Angry White Pyjamas

Angry White Pyjamas

Angry White Pyjamas

The first time I heard of Angry White Pyjamas, I was still living in Japan, it was among the list of books recommended by expats to understand the darker side of the country, like Dogs & Demons. Someone was supposed to lend me the book, and then I forgot and left Japan. Recently I have started reading about aikidō, and this book appeared again on my radar, I ordered it and read more or less in one go.

Angry White Pyjamas tells the story of a british poet, who, stranded in Japan, decides to take the Senshusei course, a eleven month Yoshinkan aikidō training taken by the Japanese riot police apprentices. The first person narrative follows the narrator during nearly a year in which he undergoes the gruelling training with various other gaijin (more athletes and military types than poets) and the Japanese riot police candidates.

Angry White Pyjamas

Orion Books
ISBN : 978-0-7538-0858-0

The book is very well written and captivating, the Robert Twigger, the author won the Newdigate Prize and clearly knows how to write in an interesting and witty style. The story seems to be largely autobiographic, the only claims on the aikidō forums is that he either distorted the story or did not get the course. The latter is unsurprising because the book is pretty critical of the course, its military style teaching which the narrator both loathes and embraces, but also Japanese society and the way martial arts are linked to it.

Interestingly, the book made me more think of my army time than of the aikidō courses I’m taking, certainly because aikidō is for me a side-activity, but also because the aikidō I’m doing is under the Aikikai school, not the Yoshinkan, and quite distant from Japan. In a sense this is what makes Angry White Pyjamas so powerful: it is not really about aikidō, but about the struggle of a intellectual person who pushes himself and tries to survive in a militaristic training.

In any case, a very good read that I recommend to everybody, interested in aikidō or not.

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Picture of the Weird Wide Web Disk

Weird Wide Web 1997

Picture of the Weird Wide Web Disk

Last Sunday, I was cleaning up my pile of old computer CDs and DVDs. Most of them are drivers for devices I have long lost, or given away. Among them, various promotional disks found with magazines or attached to product. Most of them ended up in the trash, but among them I found a small gem: a production of AOL and Macworld entitled The Weird Wide Web.

The disk was produced in 1997, and is promotional material for the eponymous book, which samples the weirdest sites on the web at that time. It contains the actual content of some of these sites.
Weird Wide Web Book Cover

The CD in your drive right now lets you explore the famous World Wide Web without actually being online — indeed, without even owning a modem! Not the entire Web, of course, but what we like to call the Weird Wide Web: the funniest, weirdest, bizarrest corners of human imagination. We love these twisted, hilarious Web pages so much that we wrote a book about them. It’s called, of course, “The Weird Wide Web.” It’s available, in paper form, at your bookstore, published by IDG Books and written by Erfert Fenton and David Pogue.

The purpose of this CD tour is to let you read parts of our book — and actually visit the Web pages we’re describing. This electronic tour works exactly like the real Web works: Just click any words you see that are in blue underlined type like this — and you’ll be taken to a new “Web page,” without ever leaving the comfort of this CD.

The actual web-content is pretty light: 80 Megabytes of disk space, mostly take up by a Quicktime time introducing the book (67 Megabytes). The remaining 17 megabytes is the content of a few web-sites which where hot at that time: Alien Abduction Insurance, AGD Antics and Mayhem Page (AGD was a division of Silicon Graphics), the Igg Nobel Prices. Many of the pages render well today – if one ignores the horrible quality of the graphics and the blinking logos encouraging one to download internet explorer – but many other were badly structured: Bad MIME types, wrong file names, etc.

What I found interesting is the fact that at this point in time, it was more convenient to deliver web content using optical media, but also the fact that the first word that got replaced in World Wide Web was not Wide, but World, this after all was an US book about US web sites. There is also not a single mention of copyright anywhere, no acknowledgement of the permission of the copied website’s owners. Today there would be at least one megabyte of legal disclaimers and licenses.

Most of the referenced web sites have since disappeared, even the link to the author’s web page at http://members.aol.com/Pogue/Weird.html is dead. While this is hardly surprising after 14 years, it still highlight how fragile url links are: the physical book has an ISBN 978-0764540042 and can be still found and bought even though the web content it refers has mostly disappeared.

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Blog blog blog. Soit c’est une le début d’une symphonie ou un test d’application, à vous de juger… Hors donc, comme un bazillon d’autres personnes, j’ai à présent un blog. Le but de se truc n’est pas de faire avancer la civilisation ou la culture, mais d’avoir un endroit ou exposer mes idées idiotes, que je pense avoir fort nombreuses. Dans quelle mesure cette initiative pourra être maintenue est une question ouverte, j’espère qu’elle ne souffrira pas d’être une initiative de janvier.

1300 posts…

Habeamus Blogum
Blog blog blog. Soit c’est le début d’une symphonie ou un test d’application, à vous de juger… Or donc, comme un bazillon d’autres personnes, j’ai à présent un blog. Le but de se truc n’est pas de faire avancer la civilisation ou la culture, mais d’avoir un endroit ou exposer mes idées idiotes, que je pense avoir fort nombreuses. Dans quelle mesure cette initiative pourra être maintenue est une question ouverte, j’espère qu’elle ne souffrira pas d’être une initiative de janvier.

More than nine years ago, I started this blog, today’s entry is the 1300th post. The first post, was unsurprisingly just a small introduction in french.

At that time, the blog was running WordPress version 1, provided by the french ISP free, since then, the blog migrated between multiple domain names and hosting providers, and changed the themes multiple times. Many of the old entries are about articles and pages that are no longer on the internet, others rely on technologies that have died out, or plugins I have meanwhile removed. In the long run, keeping a blog consistent is a pretty hard task.

The subjects I write about have not changed that much: role-playing games, technology, languages and things around me. Sadly I have stopped writing in Japanese as this has gotten too hard for me. The guiding principle of this blog was always to keep the flow going, not doing perfect entries, I kept true to the motto probablement n’importe quoi, which translated to probably random things.

This blog typically gets 50 visits a day, but there have been spikes when one or the other article was referenced in a high-traffic page. Interestingly, comments are not so much proportional to the traffic, I get most of the comments from a small circle of friends, typically on pages about general subjects (books, online article), while most of the traffic is on post which are more technical. Flattrs are also not correlated with traffic, I got most flattrs on blog entries that are personal. None of my high traffic posts ever got flattered, regardless of the language.

If one excludes spam-bots, comments were nearly always civil and to the point. In all these years, I only got one agressive comment when I wrote about gay mariage, again in French. This was at the time when the law changed in France. One more reason to be reluctant to talk about politics in public forums.

This blog was a pretty spontaneous thing, and to a large extend still is, as it acts mostly as a scratch-pad for my ideas and I have no plan for what I will write about next. This blog will go on as long as I have ideas for it, I hope this will for a few more years.

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