Stone rubbing of a Stele of Mount Yi cut in the year 993

The Magic of Characters

Stone rubbing of a Stele of Mount Yi cut in the year 993

The Rietberg museum has an exhibit called dedicated to Chinese calligraphy. I took advantage of a rainy Sunday to visit it. The exhibit shows a range of artworks, from classical paintings and calligraphies to modern pieces, somehow related to calligraphy.

What struck me is the tension between the classical style which literally lasted for millennia, and various artists trying to escape that classical style in some way, while still being very influenced by it. Besides numerous art-pieces, there is also a calligraphy lab and some basic explanations on the Chinese character set. While the exhibit is not that large, I found it very well done. I certainly recommend the visit, in particular if you have not yet seen the museum’s permanent of Asiatic art.

The other temporary exhibit in the museum is Akbar’s golden legacy, a presentation of paining for the Mogul emperors of India. I found the pieces very beautiful, but the exhibit lacks the tension and structure of The Magic of Characters.

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Shuhari and Computer Science


Shuhari is a term that describes the phases or learning in Japanese arts and is considered a part of some martial arts like Aikidō. Learning can be decomposed into three phases:

(SHU) – Conformance
Learning while conforming to the rules.
(HA) – Deviation
Developing one’s own style, breaking some rules
(RI) – transcendence
Building one’s own rules

While reading about the subject on the internet, I found an interesting blog post called The Fallacy of Shu-Ha-Ri, which discusses the application of that principle to computer science. It is not so much a criticism of the decomposition than a realisation that it cannot really be applied in a chaotic medium like computer science: what is the point of mastering some technique if you are not sure that said tool is the solution.

To me shuhari looks like a good model once you have accepted a given path. Unsurprisingly, Japanese arts are divided into ways ( []), early on, you choose a way and you follow it until you transcend it; not exactly the way things work in computer science.

Reflecting on my situation, there are a very few tools that have stayed around since I started dabbling with computers, having learnt the trade on Commodore 64 with BASIC and 6510 assembly. I learnt C programming in 1992, at the University of Geneva and I’m still coding in C++ these days, but the difference between the two languages is pretty large. In C++, I would say I’m at somewhere between SHU and HA: can’t say I’m fully mastering it, but sometimes bending some rules and using advanced features.

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Wabi-sabi electronics

wabi sabi electronics

There used to be a supermarket at the nearby tram station. Besides the obvious groceries, that place would also send random stuff, discounted wares of unclear origin. One day they sold a weird set of LED lamps, three soft eggs that could run off their own batteries, rotating between colours. The would recharge on a triangular support. Clearly this was cheap electronics, the switches to turn them on and off were hard, and the electronic controlling the colour shift was pretty imprecise, each egg would change colours at a slightly different rhythm. I bought them on a whim, as a prop for the end of year LARP we did that year.

While I liked these eggs, I would not turn them on so often. The soft shells have slowly turned yellow, somehow fitting it better in a room floored with tatami mats. During the last cleaning, one of the eggs fell off and the switch broke, it is always on, and rotates between colours until the battery dies. The charging board, like most of electronics in my living room, is slaved to the TV, so it only recharges when the TV is on. So I now have a ghost lamp that slowly dies after I turned on the TV.

侘寂 (Wabi-sabi) electronics…

Today’s Kanji:
Kanji Kun ON Signification Henshall
わび (wabi) (TA) Subdued taste, proud, lonely
さび (sabi) ジャク (JAKU), セキ (SEKI) Patina, antique look, loneliness, mellow 1345

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The Kanji of Aikidō Ⅸ – halvesLes kanji de l’aikidō Ⅸ – moitiés


Il y a deux manière d’exprimer la notion de moitié en japonais : la première au moyen du kanji (HAN), qui signifie simplement la moitié, la seconde au moyen du kanji (kata), qui signifie un de deux. L’opposé de kata est (ryō), qui signifie deux de deux.

There are two ways to express the notion of half in japanese: first the kanji (HAN), which simply means half, the second using kanji (kata), which means one out of two. The opposition of kata is (ryō), which means two out of two.

Le Kanji d’aujourd’hui :Today’s Kanji:
Kanji Kun ON Kun ON Signification Aikidō Henshall
なか.ば ( ハン (HAN) Half, odd, semiDemi, impair, semi The standard aikidō position is called 半身 (hanmi) (half body), a one handed grasp is called
片手取り (kata-te-dori): one hand (out of two) holding. A two hand holds is called 両手取り (ryō-te-dori): two hands (out of two) holding.
La position standard en aïkidō est appellée 半身 (hanmi) (moitié du corps), une saisie à une main est appellée 片手取り (kata-te-dori) : une main (de deux) qui tient. Une saisie à deux mains est appellée 両手取り (ryō-te-dori) : deux mains (de deux) qui tiennent.
かた (kata) ヘン (HEN) One out of twoUn de deux 969
ふた.つ (futa.tsu) リョウ (RYŌ) Two out of twoDeux de deux 411

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Html 5 Spring cleaning

HTML5 Logo by World Wide Web Consortium

I have done some spring cleaning on this blog, mostly simplifying stuff by using two nice html5 features: video and ruby. The first fixes a long standing mess in html, the lack of of standard way of putting video clips into web pages. There was a large debate about the codec to use, with Microsoft and Apple pushing for h264, Google pushing for WebM, and Firefox pushing for the OGG format. The dust has not settled on this issue, most video on this site are in h264 format simply because this is the format my mobile phone produced, and the format most mobile phones can render. While the current solution is not perfect, before I had to use a combination of embed and object tags, which was much worse.

I took advantage of the cleanup to fix a few links that were still pointing to the old site’s address, in one case there were still links to the address, from seven years ago. I also have been playing around with microdata those days, so I added the relevant meta-data to the video, I doubt this will have much of an impact, but I like the idea of embedding meta-data into the html, microdata is not a part of html5, by the way.


The ruby tags are more specialised, and bear no relationship with the ruby programming language. The tag is surprisingly old: it was first suggested in 1996, and implemented as an extension by Internet Explorer 5, the fact that it took 15 years to standardise that tag is quite depressing. Ruby tags allows the writer to add phonetic annotations to some html text. The classical use-case is adding furigana to japanese kanji, but it can basically be used for any kind of annotation, like for instance IPA phonetics. There are basically three tags: ruby which acts as a container, rt which contains the annotation, and rp which wraps the fallback code when ruby is not supported, that tag typically contains parenthesises. The source for the text in the box will look like this: <ruby>Zürich<rp>(</rp><rt>ˈtsyːrɪç</rt><rp>)</rp></ruby>

I have not back-converted all my existing content, the css tricks work, and it would be a lot of work, but I will use the standard tags from now-on.

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Beer and Wine


One japanese tradition that I rather like is that in the restaurant, one does not pour oneself alcohol, instead, this is the responsibility of the person in front of you, or on your side. This seems to be a good system to prevent people from drinking alone. What I learnt yesterday is that there are two verbs for the act of serving one another: 酌み交わすkumikawasu and 次ぎ合うtsugiau. The difference between those two is simple: the first is for sake, the second for beer. Important distinction.

Une tradition japonaise que je trouve plutôt sympathique c’est qu’au restaurant, on ne se sert jamais de vin ou de bière soi-même, c’est la responsabilité de la personne en face ou à côté. Cela me semble être un bon système pour empêcher qu’une personne boive seule. Ce que j’ai appris avec intérêt c’est qu’il y a deux verbes pour décrire l’acte de servir de l’alcool à l’autre : 酌み交わすkumikawasu et 次ぎ合うtsugiau. La différence entre les deux est simple : le premier verbe est utilisé pour le saké, le second pour la bière. Distinction importante.

Le Kanji d’aujourd’hui :Today’s Kanji:
Kanji Kun ON Kun ON Kun ON Signification Note Structure Henshall
く.みku.mi シャクSHAKU Bar service, serving, hostComptoire, service, hôte The left part is the sake radical ⾣.
The right part is ladle 勺.La partie gauche set le radical de saké ⾣.
La partie droite est une louche 勺.
かわ.す コー Mix, mingle, associationMélange, association 115
つぎtsugi JI Next, order, sequenceSuivant, ordre, sequence. The left part is ice ⼎ (historically it was two 二).
The right part is lack 欠.La partie gauche set le radical de glace ⼎ (historiquement il s’agissait de deux 二).
La partie droite est le manque 欠.
あ.うa.u ゴー Fit, suit, joinAdaption, joindre Le lower part is mouth radical 口.La partie inférieure set le radical de bouche 口. 121

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Proverbes japonaisJapanese Proverbs

Comme exercice, ma prof de japonais m’a donné quelques proverbes japonais basé sur des nombres à tirer au clair.As an exercice, ma teatcher asked me to look-up some number based japanese proverbs.

日本語 Traduction Signification
一を聞いて十を知る Une chose dite, dix comprises.One thing said, ten understood Il comprend rapidement.He’s quick on the uptake
二の足を Il piétine des deux pieds.Trampling on two feets Il n’arrive pas à se décider, il hésiteHe’s hesitating, procrastinating.
青二才あおにさい Bleu, deux ansBlue, two years Un bleu, un nouveauGreenhorn
石の上にも三年 Sur la pierre, trois année.On thé stone, three years. Il faut être patient.
Cent fois sur le metier, remettez votre ouvrage.One must be patient.
三日坊主みっかぼず Bonze de trois jours.Bonze of three days Quelqu’un qui commence beaucoup de choses, mais ne les termine pas.Somebody who starts things, but does not finish them.
四苦八苦しくはっく Quatre amers, Huit amersFour bitter, eight bitter Avoir beaucoup d’ennuisLots of trouble.
五里霧中ごりむちゅう Au milieu de cinq lieues (ri) de brouillardIn the middle of eight leagues of fog. Être complètement perdu.Completely lost.
六十の手習てなら L’apprentissage de la main de soixanteThe learning of the hand of sixty. Il n’est jamais trop tard pour apprendre.You can always learn.
七転八倒しちてんはっとう Sept rotations, huit chutes.Seven rotations, eight falls. Souffrir à l’agonieBeing in agony.
八方美人はっぽうびじん Une beauté, huit directionsOne beauty, eight directions l’ami de tout le mondeEverybody’s friend, nobody’s friend.
八つ当たり touche en huitHit in eight Passer sa colère sur autruiTo spill out anger.
九死きゅうし一生いしょう neuf morts, une vie reçueNine deaths, one life granted. échapper de justesse à la mortA narrow escape from death
十人十色じゅうにんといろ dix personnes, dix couleursTen people, ten colours. À chacun see goûts.To each his tastes.
五十歩百歩ごじゅぽうひやっぽ Soixante pas, cent pasSixty feet, hundred feet. Deux options se valent.Both options are similar.

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報寿図 / Chart for a long life / Carte pour une longue vie



One and half year ago, I bought a hanging scroll from the lost property shop. I found it gorgeous, but could not read the kanji on it, so I asked my teacher in Japan, Yamamoto-sensei for help. He sent me some explanations. The big characters are “報寿図” those are simplified chinese characters and the meaning is “a map to lead a long live”, the traditional characters would be “報壽圖”. I definitely needed such a map, a good thing I bought it even though I could not read it.

Il y a un an et demi, j’ai acheté une peinture murale au magasin des objets perdus. Je l’ai trouvée magnifique, maps j’étais incapable de lire le texte inscrit. J’ai done demandé à mon professeur au japon de m’aider. Il m’a envoyé une explication. Les grands caractères sont « 報寿図 », c’est du chinois simplifié, l’équivalent en chinois traditionnel serait « 報壽圖 ». La signification est « une carte pour avoir une longue vie ». J’avais clairement besoin d’une telle carte, heureusement que je l’ai achetée, même si je n’arrivais pas à la lire.

Le Kanji d’aujourd’hui :
Kanji Kun ON Signification Note Henshall
Report, News, Reward
Rapport, Nouvelles, Récompense
The left part is happiness 幸.
La partie gauche est bonheur 幸
寿 ことぶ.く
Longevity, Congratulations
Longétivité, Congratulations
The traditional form 壽 is also valid japanese.
La forme traditionelle 壽 est aussi valide en japonais.

Map, Drawing, Plan
Carte, Dessin, Plan
A square sheet with some marks. Old form: 圖
Une feuille carrée avec des marques. Forme ancienne : 圖

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Below station

Somewhere in Japan, there is a railway station. There are many of those. Sprawling around it, a maze of alleys and tunnels running in the building, under the tracks. There are many of those. As one goes deeper in the corridors, there are less shops, more toilets, drink vending machines and old machines that hum, their purpose half forgotten.

Some arcades are closed, the posters on the windows faded by the old neon light. There are many of these. One arcade is still open, maybe a shop, maybe a small shrine, it is not clear. There is a man in a suit, he does not look young, he is not. He does not look that old, more like someone who saw his best days in the 70s, maybe before. There are many of them.

Some say he is chinese, they would be technically correct, but nobody verifies those things, it does not make sense. Nobody ever checked the fat guy in the dark corner, the one that holds a big fish. No, that would be inappropriate, everybody knows Yebisu was the only japanese on the ship. The man here has been there as far as anybody remembers, maybe as long as Yebisu, so nobody asks. Those who look carefully see that he is not happy: he looks sad, or angry, it is difficult to say. Even landlords and yakuza will not bother an angry god, it is bad for business, so he stays here.

He is sad because people have forgotten him, they do not trace his sign on paper, on the bright displays of shops or on the bejewelled displays of mobile phones: he was replaced by simple hiragana, phonetic signs who have lost their soul. He is a forgotten kanji. There are many of those.

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The Kanji of Aikidō Ⅷ: Les Kanji de l’Aikidō Ⅶ : Suwari-waza, Tachi-waza

Le Kanji d’aujourd’hui :Today’s Kanji:
Kanji Kun ON Kun ON Signification Aikidō Note Henshall

Sit, SquatÊtre assis, accroupi A sitting technique is called 座り技 zuwari-waza. A standing technique is called 立ち技 tachi-waza. The small round cushions used in Yoga are called 座蒲 zafu – the first kanji is the ON reading of suwari.
Une technique assise est nommée 座り技 suwari-waza. Une technique debout est appellée 立ち技 tachi-waza. Les petits coussins ronds utilisé en yoga s’appelle des 座蒲 zafu – le premier kanji est la lecture ON de suwari.
Two persons 人 under a roof ⼧.Deux personnes 人 sous un toit ⼧. 870
StandSe tenir debout 79

Technique, craftTechnique, art The left part is hand ⺘ the right part is the kanji of support 支.La partie gauche est le radical de la main ⺘, la partie droite est le kanji pour supporter, aider  支. 644

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