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Japanese pancakes

It’s pancake day today. If you want to try something a bit different, here’s a video that shows you how to make Japanese-style pancakes called どら焼き (dorayaki). The voice-over is in Japanese, but the essential points are written in the English captions.

Use L-size eggs, and ordinary plain flour — “weak” flour is a direct translation of 薄力粉, a term used to distinguish ordinary cake flour from the “strong” flour (強力粉) used in breadmaking. It looks like he’s using icing sugar in the video, but caster sugar should work fine.

An authentic dorayaki is made from two of these pancakes with some red bean paste sandwiched between then. Your local Asian shop might have some. Alternatively, try maple syrup and ice cream.

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Name translator issues

arigatoThank you to everyone who emailed in about the issues with the name translation tool. It looks like the problem was caused by an expired SSL certificate. Hopefully things are working properly again now. Please keep me updated if you encounter any more problems.

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Bulk text resizing in PowerPoint 2011

Original Japanese

Original Japanese

In-situ translation

In-situ translation

In-situ translation after bulk resizing

In-situ translation after bulk resizing

When Japanese is translated into English, the translated text generally occupies more space than the original. This can sometimes be a problem. For example, if you use a translation tool like OmegaT to perform an in-situ translation of a Japanese PowerPoint presentation, the English text is probably not going to fit properly. What you need is some sort of bulk text resizing tool.

PowerPoint doesn’t allow you to perform operations on all the slides in a presentation, like scaling down the font size of every text box. (As far as I can tell, it only allows you to select multiple text boxes and set them all to the same font size, one slide at a time.) However, it does support AppleScript, which can do the job for you.

The following script will adjust every text box in the entire presentation. It won’t do a perfect job because text boxes that contain text of different sizes will be resized to a single font size. However, it can save a lot of time when you have a large translated file with broken formatting.

You can run this script direct from the AppleScript Editor application, but if you think you’re going to use it a lot then you would be better off saving it in the PowerPoint scripts folder (~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/PowerPoint Script Menu Items/), from where it can be directly accessed via PowerPoint’s scripting menu.

The script below contains two variables that you can adjust to suit your needs: minFontSize (the font size below which no scaling takes place) and fontScaleFactor (the factor by which font sizes greater than minFontSize are scaled). Don’t forget to save a backup before running this script.

set minFontSize to 7
set fontScaleFactor to 0.65
tell application "Microsoft PowerPoint"
  tell active presentation
    set theSlideCount to count slides
    repeat with a from 1 to theSlideCount
      set numShapes to count shapes in slide a
      repeat with b from 1 to numShapes
        set sz to (font size of font of text range of text frame of shape b of slide a)
        if sz is greater than minFontSize then
          set sz to minFontSize + (szminFontSize) * fontScaleFactor as integer
          tell font of text range of text frame of shape b of slide a
            set font size to sz
          end tell
        end if
      end repeat
    end repeat
  end tell
end tell
Posted in Hacks, Localisation | Tagged | Comments Off on Bulk text resizing in PowerPoint 2011

Taking technology too far

There were two stories about Japanese technology in the news yesterday. One was about a remote control toilet. Yes, really.

The 21st century toilet

The 21st century toilet.

The Lixil Satis has a Bluetooth interface that can be accessed by installing an Android app on your smartphone. This allows you to control all sorts of functions, including opening/closing the lid, flushing the toilet, and operating the “wash/dry” system that seems to be a standard feature on Japanese toilets these days.

But yesterday a security advisory for this contraption was published online. It turns out that its designers had cut corners by making it unnecessary to enter a four-digit PIN when pairing an Android device with the toilet. (More precisely, they hard-coded the PIN to ‘0000’.) This means that anyone with an Android smartphone can control your toilet remotely, simply by downloading the free app. Oops.


In space … you don’t actually need legs.

The other story was that of Kirobo (キロボ), the talking robot that was dispatched to the International Space Station, supposedly to act as a companion to astronaut Koichi Wakata (若田 光一) who will be joining the ISS in November. I expect Kirobo will be staying in his box until then, as he only speaks Japanese.

According to Kirobo’s developers, this exercise is part of a study to see how machines can lend emotional support to people isolated over long periods. I suspect it’s more of a marketing manoeuvre. After all, Wakata won’t be alone on the ISS. And I’m sure they have Skype up there.

Cute little toy, though. I expect Kirobo will be appearing in the shops any day now.

Posted in inventions, Robotics | Comments Off on Taking technology too far

Domain registration scam

Back in March I mentioned a domain registration scam originating from a Chinese domain called picweb.net. It looks like the scammers have now relocated to ygitech.com, which was re-registered just a few weeks ago.

If you receive any emails that look like the following, then please ignore them. Their claims are completely bogus. Don’t visit their website either; their emails may simply be an enticement to visit their site so they can install malware on your computer.

(Please forward this to your CEO, because this is urgent. Thanks)We are a Network Service Company which is the domain name registration center in Shanghai, China. On July 22, 2013, we received an application from Taisheng Limited requested “japanesetranslator” as their internet keyword and China (CN) domain names. But after checking it, we find this name conflict with your company name or trademark. In order to deal with this matter better, it’s necessary to send email to you and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner in China?

Kind regards
Kenny Cheng

Kenny Cheng
General Manager
YGITECH (Headquarters)
B06, Yujing Building, No.1 Jihe Road,
Shanghai 201107, China
Tel: +86-21-6191-8696
Mobile: +86-182-2195-1605
Fax: +86-21-6191-8697
Web: www.ygitech.com

This e-mail contains information (including any attachments) intended only for the use of the individual or entity named above. If the reader of this e-mail is not the intended recipient or the authorized employee or agent responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, any dissemination, publication or copying of this e-mail is strictly prohibited and may be illegal. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender. Thank you for your cooperation.

Update: 17th October 2013

They’re at it again. I just received a similar email asking me to visit dunic.org:

(Letter to Head of Brand Business or CEO, thanks)

Dear Sir or Madam,

This is a formal email. We are the auditing department of a professional domain name registration and dispute solution organization in China. Here I have something to confirm with you. We formally received an application on October 17, 2013 that a company claimed “MAX Holdings Ltd” were applying to register “japanesetranslator” as their Brand Name and some “japanesetranslator” Asian countries top-level domain names through our firm.

Now we are handling this registration, and after our initial checking, we found the name were similar to your company’s, so we need to check with you whether your company has authorized that company to register these names. If you authorized this, we would finish the registration at once. If you did not authorize, please let us know within 7 workdays, so that we could handle this issue better. After the deadline we will unconditionally finish the registration for “MAX Holdings Ltd”. Looking forward to your prompt reply.

Best Regards,
Victor Yang
Tel: +86.7395266069 Fax:+86.7395266169
Address: 124 Changjiang Road Hefei 230001 Anhui, China

The URL at the end of this email was actually displayed as a JPEG image instead of being typed at the end of the email. This is an old trick used by spammers to get past spam filters that trap links to blacklisted websites.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged | Comments Off on Domain registration scam

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 list is updated live, so it will probably keep growing for a while yet.)

List of rogue IP addresses

Total number of failed logins: 27944

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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.


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Translating names into Kanji

Cloak decorated with kanji characters (1973), designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour

Cloak decorated with kanji characters (1973), designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour (© The David Bowie Archive)

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
de exit; leave; emit
bi fire (usually hi)
to spit; vomit; belch
outburst; rave; fret; force; violence
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 of the most likely pronunciation. But with foreign names and words, it’s much harder. This is precisely the sort of ambiguity that katakana was designed to eliminate.

If you really do want to translate your name into kanji, there are a few things you need to bear in mind:

Linguist Jack Halpern writes his name as 春遍雀來 (Harupen Jakku), but with a furigana pronunciation guide (ハルペン ジャック) to avoid confusion. (From the Japanese title page of the New Japanese-English Character Dictionary)

Linguist Jack Halpern writes his name as 春遍雀來 (Harupen Jakku), but with a furigana pronunciation guide (ハルペン ジャック) to avoid confusion. (From the Japanese title page of the New Japanese-English Character Dictionary, 1st edition)

  • Kanji characters are ideographs, so you have to consider the meaning as well as the pronunciation of each one. (Try to avoid characters like “vomit”!)
  • Katakana offers a better range of pronunciation. For example, デイヴィッド (deividdo) is much closer to the English pronunciation of “David” than debito.
  • Unless you’re already well known, you’ll still have to explain to Japanese people how your name should be pronounced.
Posted in Translation | 1 Comment

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:

This version of Space Invaders is hosted by flashgames312.com

Posted in Games | 1 Comment

Header image: Cherry tree blossoms (さくら). Photographer: Scott Bauer. From a public-domain photograph at Wikimedia Commons.

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