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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Manhole covers of Japan

This photo collection of 423 manhole covers in Japan is nowhere near as dull as it sounds. No, really. I’m being serious!

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WordPress login failures

Back in January I started noticing a lot of failed attempts to log into this website’s admin section, presumably in an attempt to hijack the website and use it to send spam, host illegal content or join some sort of botnet. It seems that many other websites are being affected in the same way. I’m not particularly worried about this. All of these attempts have so far used the default WordPress user name of “admin”, which doesn’t exist here, and nobody has yet realised that this website is configured to only accept logins over secure connections (i.e., https, not http). Even if they did get that right, it would still take about a billion years to crack the password by brute force. (Well, OK. Perhaps not quite as long as that. But still…) Anyway, I wrote a script to monitor these failed logins and disable logins altogether from repeat offenders. Since January it’s caught quite a few. Here’s the list of IP addresses that have tried 10 or more times to log in to the non-existent admin account. (Note: This [More…]

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Air hockey robot

Researchers led by Professor Akio Namiki at Chiba University’s Namiki Lab have developed an air-hockey robot that can hold its own against human players. Although it’s not the first robot to play this game, it has the ability to change its strategy based on the playing style of its opponent. (Previously)

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Translating names into Kanji

This summer’s David Bowie exhibition at the V&A museum apparently features several Japan-themed outfits designed by Kansai Yamamoto. The cloak shown here is decorated with the calligraphic characters 出火吐暴威, which represents the name “David Bowie” as follows: Kanji Meaning 出 de exit; leave; emit 火 bi fire (usually hi) 吐 to spit; vomit; belch 暴 bō outburst; rave; fret; force; violence 威 i intimidate; dignity; majesty; menace This translates roughly as “the one who spits fire with forceful menace” (or “one who spits out words in a fiery manner” according to the rest of the blogosphere). Regular visitors to this site are probably already aware that foreign names are normally written using the phonetic katakana syllabary, and not without good reason — kanji characters can usually be read in at least two different ways, so it’s almost impossible to achieve unambiguous results. For example, film director Yoshikazu Katō and human rights activist Giichi Nomura both share the same given name (義一) but with completely different pronunciations (Yoshikazu and Giichi). At least with Japanese names it’s usually possible to make an educated guess [More…]

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Space Invaders

Space Invaders — the original “shoot-em-up” video game — was released thirty five years ago this month. The game was developed almost single-handedly by an engineer called Toshihiro Nishikado (西角友宏) at Taito Corporation in Japan. For the aliens in the game, he drew inspiration from the octopus-like creatures in the 1953 film The War Of The Worlds. This led on to various other sea creatures: The octopus came first, so I thought, maybe I should try a squid and a crab. But then they didn’t look very threatening, so I kept trying to come up with something else. Here are some of his original sketches: If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, why not see how far you can get with this Flash version of the game. Use the left and right arrow buttons to move, and press the space bar to fire:

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False fingers for ex-Yakuza

Yubi-tsume (指詰め) — the practice of chopping off a little finger as an act of penitence — has been going on in the Japanese underworld for many years. Recent anti-gang laws have persuaded many of Japan’s Yakuza that life would be easier on the straight and narrow. However, it can be difficult for them to find an honest job. Their trademark tattoos (irezumi; 入れ墨) are widely frowned upon, and many establishments will refuse to serve — let alone employ — anyone bearing them. But at least tattoos are easy to cover up. Missing fingers are more of a problem. This has resulted in a flourishing prosthetics business. Here’s another news item on the same subject by the Australian ABC. You’ll have to click through for the video as they don’t allow off-site embedding. But here’s a nice screenshot:

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Kim Jong-Il’s sushi chef

Kenji Fujimoto (藤本 健二) spent eleven years living in North Korea, eventually becoming Kim Jong-Il’s personal sushi chef and confidant. GQ magazine recently interviewed him back in Japan. Here’s his extraordinary story. At a lavish Wonsan guesthouse, Fujimoto prepared sushi for a group of executives who would be arriving on a yacht. Executive is Fujimoto’s euphemism for generals, party officials, or high-level bureaucrats. In other words, Kim Jong-il’s personal entourage. And guesthouse is code for a series of palaces decorated with cold marble, silver-braided bedspreads, ice purple paintings of kimilsungia blossoms, and ceilings airbrushed with the cran-apple mist of sunset, as if Liberace’s jet had crashed into Lenin’s tomb. At two in the morning, the boat finally docked. Fujimoto began serving sushi for men who obviously had been through a long party already. He would come to realize these parties tended to be stacked one atop another, sometimes four in a row, spreading out over days. All the men wore military uniforms except for one imperious fellow in a casual sports tracksuit. This man was curious about the fish. He [More…]

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Header image: The three wise monkeys (三匹の猿) at Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō (日光東照宮), said to be the origin of the saying “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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