Waning Crescent Moon (🌘)

Cultural Moon

One of the strangest features of Unicode 8.0 is ability to change the appearance of human faces, by selecting some skin color, as some perceived the default faces has having some cultural bias. It is pretty hard to design things without any bias, consider the characters for the moon phase: the shadow moves from side to side, which is what you perceive when you are far from the equator. The closer to the equator, the more the illuminated part of the moon is down, i.e. the more the crescent moon looks more like this: 🌙. Latitude has a big influence on what you see in the sky…

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Strava iOS Screen Capture with a map of Zürich and statistics for a ride


Strava iOS Screen Capture with a map of Zürich and statistics for a ride

When I was a kid, I remember my father buying some distance measuring counters to mount on our bikes. A pin fixed to one of the spoke would increment a mechanical counter. Of course these did not survive long. Keeping track of my biking has always been a goal for me, but I was always frustrated by the complexity: I had a bike mount for my old Garmin GPS, but getting the data to the computer was horribly complex, I needed a serial port to USB adapter and the software for OS X was non-existent.

Things improved with the advent of smartphones and I started using Runkeeper. The program was always plagued by issues, power consumption and crashes. Things go worse recently, when crashed became systematic, and at the same time the level of nagging for premium access became obnoxious, it was time to look for another app.

A colleague had spoken about Strava so I gave it a go and I have used the iOS app for a few weeks now. I found the interface much more polished and intuitive for the basic stuff (starting and stopping a ride) and it crashes and nags way less than Runkeeper, so this is definitely an improvement.

Generally Strava seems to be more focused on biking and running: you can specify which bike you used, and rides are cut into segments which seem to be algorithmically constructed. You can see on the web interface how you compare with other bikers (there is another Matthias W. going twice my speed on some) and more importantly relative to past rides. I find this feature nice, but just wish there was an easy way to fix their name (one of them has a localization bug / typo).

My main issue with Strava is the Healthkit integration, while it exists, it is extremely buggy: the data for each ride keeps disappearing and only re-appears when I look at the given ride in the iPhone app. I also wish there would be an easy way to automatically match give rides (typically my commute to work and the aikidō dōjō) with certain routes and name and tag them accordingly.

I really hope that the Healthkit bug gets fixed because except for it, this is really a great app.

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Screen Capture of the Unicode Symbol Quizz

Do you Symbol?

A new version of Unicode is coming, and as often people mostly talk about the new emoji. As usual, many people will complain about these symbols, that are no proper characters, but if you look at the Unicode repertoire, there are many symbols that are not letters, and most of them are old, some of them older that computers or the United States: if you have classical eduction you would understand most of them. So I built a small quiz for you to check you know-how of old symbols. None of these are emoji or even related to Asia, in fact people outside of Europe probably don’t understand many of these symbols.

Note that some symbols have multiple meanings, i.e. multiple correct answers. These symbols were commonly used on printed matters: newspapers, timetables, maps. There are, of course, many others symbols, I restricted myself to signs I have seen in use and which meaning I understand. There are some traps, i.e. symbols which are very close graphically.

What I find interesting is that this set of symbol is pretty diverse, and has very different origins: mythology, astronomy, electric engineering, games, etc.

You can leave your score in the comments…

Edit: the from now shows the correct answers when you calculate the score.

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Screen capture of the page displaying regional indicator flags

Unicode Flags

Screen capture of the page displaying regional indicator flags

One entry of this blog that gets some traffic is about emoji flags (in French). It explains how these flags are encoded in Unicode, instead of a single character per flag, there is a special range of letters, and when a region’s ISO 3166-2 code is written with these letters, the operating system’s font might replace the two letters of the code with a flag. As these letters have code-points above 0xffff, they are in turn represented by two chars on systems that encode text as UTF-16, like for instance Java, so a single flag will look to older code as four characters.

When I wrote the article, the supported national flags were basically those present in the proprietary encoding of Japanese mobile phone operators, as the whole emoji project was first about providing compatibility with these systems. So the French flag would display, but not the Swiss one.

Meanwhile things have changed and emoji has taken its own life and is increasingly adopted outside of Japan and the support in operating systems was greatly improved: on Mac OS X, the Swiss flag is also displayed. This led me to wonder to what extent flags of the regional indicator ranges were supported nowadays.

So I generated a page from the list of iso 3166-2 country codes with for each country the region code encoded using the regional indicator characters, that display for a given browser while flags are handled. On Mac OS X, Switzerland now has its flags, the Republic of Chad does not. Many micro-states (Vatican, Monaco) don’t have their flags yet. Taiwan is also missing; given Apple’s focus on mainland China, this is hardly surprising. Android has no such problem…

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View of Hof Waldenstein

Google Serve 2015

View of the Pasture above Hof Waldenstein

One of the nice perks of working for Google is Google Serve: once per year you can go and donate time for some organisation. This year, I joined a team who went to Hof Waldenstein, an organic farm in the Jura Mountains, north of the Nature Park Tal.

I did pretty standard farm-work: weeding in the morning and picking up the hay in the afternoon. The pasture where the hay had been cut is way to steep for regular machines, so we had to group the hay in vertical lines in places where a small tractor could drive vertically.

View of Hof Waldenstein

I was thankful for the cloudy weather, as picking up hay in the blazing sun would have been way more tiring. For me, it was a good day doing manual work outside. Hof Waldenstein is really in an idyllic and acts as a bed & breakfast, so if you are hiking in the area, it looks like a nice place to stay.

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Steam locomotive E 3/3

Schnaaggi Schaaggi

Steam locomotive E 3/3

Even though I have lived in Zürich for years, and I’m very interested in trains, I never took the Schnaaggi Schaaggi. This is a historical steam train operated by the Zürcher Museums-Bahn on the tracks of the Sihltalbahn, which in modern Zürich is called the S4.

So on this sunny Sunday we boarded the train at the Leimbach station to the terminus in Sihlbrugg. This was bit ironic because we managed to take the only paying train on the whole Zürich network: it was the 25thanniversary of the city’s public transportation association and so all regular lines were free.

This was really beautiful ride, even though the train was packed. The locomotive is a small 3 axle steam engine, that pulled five carriages, three regular passenger carriages, a restaurant carriage and a kitchen carriage. Maybe because of its speed (maximum 35 Km/h), the locomotive, the E 33 is called Schnaaggi Schaaggi, which basically means snail, snail. Ironically, this model was initially called Tigerli (small tiger) because of its small size, black colour with yellow stripes, also these locomotives were at some point considered very powerful.

Seeing the Sihl Valley at such a slow speed, which all people around the tracks smiling and waving is a very relaxing experience, although one young girl in carriage found the whole thing way to noisy. Sitting in the old style carriage with wooden benches, windows wide open, we could smell of the engine, hear its chugging. In the tunnel we could see the sparks against the dark wall.

One thing I had not realised is that the terminus station, Sihlbrugg is not used as railway station anymore, which is a bit strange because this is the connection point between the tracks coming from the lake side and the tracks in the Sihl Valley. On Sundays there is only a single bus stopping there every hour. Thankfully the friend we wanted to visit came to pick us up. So while it is ride I would recommend, it makes sense to either stay onboard when the train goes back to the city, or get of at Sihlwald, which is still a stop of the S4 line.

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