Patches, Gothic, and the Royal Wedding

May Day again.

Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday this month took the record for the largest number of patches ever issued. Yesterday, when I turned my computer off at one stage, I’d had another six thrown at me, and then later in the day, a further three. Patchiest April ever? Quite possibly.

While we’re speaking of patches, the mechanic at the Giant bike shop told me the last time I went that the chain and rear cog on my bike needed replacing; and having plenty of time yesterday, I went back to the bike shop again. In the end, I had the whole drive train replaced and part of the drum brake. I’m now thinking about buy a new bike later this year, probably a Hunter 3.0. I won’t, though, be buying the carbon fibre racing bike they have in the window for ¥8,880.

I decided to add the Gothic alphabet to the font I’ve been working on, but ran into problems when I found that the encodings were being truncated so that $10330, where the Gothic block begins, was turning into $0330. I don’t fully understand the business, but in Font Creator, you need to use the platform manager to add UCS-4 (with UCS-2 imported), and then map the places in the font so that they’ll be correctly assigned.

Having dealt with Gothic, I thought I might add runes and Phoenician, and I suppose I should also add the IPA.

For a font which I drew in PaintShop Pro using a mouse, the result is actually not too bad at 12pts although it does need quite a lot of tidying up. The glyphs all have idiotically large numbers of points and there’s a distinct tendency for many of the points to be a little off the curve and beside on curve points. It’s a purely experimental effort as I learn how to do things with the program. My next step apart from adding other glyphs is to tidy up the glyphs and the serifs, which are rather chunky things, redolent of some rustic-style Roman letters.

To celebrate the Royal Wedding, the Empire has cunningly managed to get the May Day weekend to coincide with the nuptials so that loyal imperial citizens can join in the festivities. That probably explains why the workers are replacing all the kerbing stones here and at school: the places might look their best for Wills and Kate (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; should I as a former cit be saluting?). I’m sure there’ll be street parties tonight and I’ll see overexcited revellers, dressed as the Queen, staggering around the streets with their tiaras at a rakish angle. Of course, knowing what the locals are like, they’ll be wearing their royal-purple pyjamas.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Thunder, dust, and aphids

What else could get blown at me?

The weather has been very windy recently, which has coincided with a rise in temperature, dust and aphids. If dust isn’t being blown at me, it seems to be aphids so that when I get home, I find them all over my jersey.

We had another thunderstorm last night, which woke me and, it seems, many other people in the building. It sounded like stage thunder. The door to the annex seemed to rattle as well. My initial thought was that it was an earthquake, but there was no shaking and a little later there was a little more of the same odd thunder.

Then today, just as I was heading to Yamazaki to get something for lunch, it started raining, large drops but low density stuff. The sky then turned yellow while I was teaching the remains of AS2, the wind blew, and the rain came down. By the time I’d finished my double the rain had gone, but the cloud remained.

I’ve just finished listening to the podcasts of the R4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, which I got just in time before the Empire blocked radio on the Internet and podcasts. Quite why it did this, I can only guess and I haven’t checked to see whether the block has been lifted. (Have now; it’s back; time to grab the next episode of The News Quiz.) It might have been the fuss at the Κίrтй monastery, or the fuss about some al fresco Easter worship, or some other matter such as the naming of some new Тйβέтaν leader.

I see the Americans are going to have a chat with the imperial government about its excessive paranoia recently. Actually, that’s probably just an excuse. The Americans are really coming to ask if they can borrow the keys to the Empire’s spaceship now that the shuttles are being retired and the Americans have no way of getting into space. Or perhaps the Americans are sending psychiatrists. “Just because your mother didn’t let you watch DVDs doesn’t mean that no one should be allowed to watch YouTube.” It’s the old cycle of abuse. Will some people never learn?

Long weekend coming up, and then, hot on its heels, the exams. Scream now, children.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Would I be right in guessing?

a.) Danwei.

A few weeks ago, Danwei (Choose your flavour: imperial edition or real-world edition) was out of action for refurbishment. It’s been back for some time, but now seems limited to job adverts since the usual featured front page has made no reappearance. Would I be right in guessing that the imperial gangsters have leaned on Danwei even although the featured front page was fairly innocuous stuff and the alt. version of Danwei prevented comments from being posted?

b.) Book Antiqua and Palatino Linotype.

Alas, alack! My hand-drawn fonts do tend to end up looking the same. In an effort to make a more recent experiment look a little different, I thought I might start adding serifs, but wanted to survey a range of fonts to see what different styles of serifs there are.

While I was examining various serif fonts I have on my machine, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Book Antiqua and Palatino Linotype are. The former seems a little stouter, but the glyphs are, to my untrained eye, indistinguishable in isolation. However, there are slight, easily overlooked differences when two texts, one in each font, are placed side-by-side. Book Antiqua has a stoutness which Palatino Linotype lacks; there are some differences in the heights of letters (e.g. Th); and there seem to be some differences in the spacing. For the most part, though, you have to look hard to see such distinctions.

In addition, Palatino Linotype has a larger range of glyphs, including a full-ish set of Greek characters.

And probably there’s my answer. Linotype is owned by Monotype, the purveyors of Book Antiqua. Linotype GmbH, a Monotype Imaging Company, it says on the Linotype website.

The two fonts do contain different sets of characters, with Palatino Linotype having a full range of Greek characters.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

And the roads are paved with supercars

Latest sightings.

A few days ago, it was a silver Ferrari F430. Today, the first sighting was a red Ferrari 599 at the car washing place. The second sighting was on the way home from Carrefour, this time a yellow car, which I thought was the yellow F430 I’ve seen a few times, but I then realised it was a Lamborghini Gallardo. It must’ve turned off somewhere because I was expecting to see it pass me by and never did.

Mind you, what’s the point of cars like these in the Empire, a place where sluggishness and torpidity are the custom?

Speaking of sluggish and torpid, I’ve been landed with the reference for one of the most sluggish and torpid students in our programme, who is one of the unholy triumvirate. I was hoping to grab him today after class to see if I could get enough sense out of him to make the survey he completed a less comic and less foolish masterpiece, but he was, as usual, absent. I have no idea what I might say about this nitwit because there is nothing good to say about him unless it’s “His frequent absence from class has been most welcome”.

The sudden and unexpected news from the world of entertainment is the death from cancer of Elisabeth Sladen, who played the part of Sarah Jane Smith in Dr Who way back in the 70s, and then reappeared in the new version before getting a spin-off series.

I’ve been messing about with Font Creator again, having learnt a lesson or two from my first effort. I really need some sort of writing tablet since using a mouse to draw glyphs in PaintShop Pro is a wonky, wobbly business at best. However, I’ve tried using a thicker brush (50×25 units), which produces much more legible strokes in a 12pt font, and I’ve added guidelines to my canvas to try and make the glyphs more uniform. My natural tendency is to produce broad letter shapes, but I ought to fiddle with the guidelines to try squarer and more portrait-style glyphs.

I also learnt a little bit more about creating composite characters because in my world, a 26-letter alphabet just isn’t enough.

I’ve also found that it’s better to use Windows to install fonts because Font Creator seems prone to tantrums (it’s also quite slow), and it isn’t really inspiring to have it suggested, among other things, that if you can’t install a font, you should restart your computer. Nonetheless, font creation is an enjoyable pastime if you like mucking around with the shapes of letters or even just seeing your own handwriting on a computer screen.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

All grammar is universal

But some is less universal than other(s).

I assume that Language Log will probably pick up the story Language universality idea tested with biology method from the BBC and, no doubt, have much wiser things to say about it than me. However, it’s awhile since I had a tale for the languages and linguistics section, and when I see Universal Grammar (UG) questioned, I’m a little curious.

UG is the idea that the brain has some kind of structure which is configured when we acquire one or more languages as children. It’s been central to the theory of grammar for about 50 years or so, and how linguists describe language (all right, phonology since that’s my background) has changed from SPE with its linear rules, to non-linear phonology (with rules), to principles and parameters, to Optimality Theory. But UG remains the underlying assumption in all of this.

The boys on Language Log don’t tend to have much regard for BBC science reporting, and since I have little or no knowledge about evolutionary biology, I can’t really assess the research from that perspective.

Early in the article I read

The results suggest that features shared across language families evolved independently in each lineage.

I’m not exactly certain how I should interpret this. For one thing, although it’s possible to identify the members of the Indo-European language family, I’m not aware of there being much certainty with respect to the interrelationships among the different sub-families. Each branch seems to be largely independent of every other branch.1 I assume that that’s because Indo-European was overlaid on different substrates.

The authors say cultural evolution, not the brain, drives language development.

This seems to be straying into sociolinguistics. I don’t disagree that some language change is driven by the society in which a language is spoken. An obvious one is, for example, prestige-driven changes, whether these are overt or covert. There’s probably a large amount of language change which has been purely ephemeral. Some changes are à la mode one moment and passé the next.2

“We show that each of these language families evolves according to its own set of rules, not according to a universal set of rules,” Dr Dunn explained.

The set of rules is particular to a language, but is drawn from UG. In other words, this is looking at language change from the wrong direction. When a child acquires a grammar, it formulates its own version of that grammar. By and large, it agrees with everyone else’s, but there are always parts that are different. For example, which and witch are homophones in my idiolect, but I’ve encountered people for whom they’re a minimal pair, and I know my parents distinguish the two (although the initial semi-vowel of which does not seem especially distinctive in their speech). Why didn’t I acquire this feature? I don’t know, but its absence is an aspect of language change in my own speech. Possibly, my brain filtered out the marked segment. In addition, I can see no cultural dimension to this change.

Whatever I was doing, it had nothing to do with UG, which is a mental framework and not some guiding principle for how languages ought to develop.

I am also a little sceptical about the particular focus of the paper, which was adpositions and their relationship to clause order. As a general principle, right-headed languages such as English have prepositions and VO clause structure, and left-headed languages have postpositions and OV clause structure. There are exceptions because in English, for instance, adjectives are pre-head modifiers (e.g. the fat cat) unless they’re modified themselves (e.g. the cat fat on cream). Here the BBC article is a little hazy on the exact details.

Steven Pinker, whose book The Language Instinct I’m reading at the moment, is left to say, “Er, well, maybe.”

Overall, paint me sceptical about this. Some parts appear to be nothing more than things that we already knew (i.e., the sociolinguistics of language change), while other parts seem (deliberate italics what with the English verb lacking the sceptical mood) to misunderstand grammar (namely, UG).

Addendum

Since I wrote that, I’ve found that Language Log does have an entry about this story (Word-order “universals” are lineage-specific?), which points readers to a summary of the original article here. I remain sceptical on two counts. One is that I can’t recall seeing any claims about the setting of the VO or OV parameter in a language unquestionably determining the settings for other parts of phrase structure, but I may be quite wrong about this. The other is that the tendency to harmonise the headedness of phrases would not seem to have anything to do with UG per se because, I would hypothesise, UG is platform neutral. In other words, headedness may be a consequence of processing efficiency or the inclination of the mind to observe patterns or even a little of both. Strictly idle speculation on my part, of course.

It’s also worth noting that languages have their quirks which cannot be related to UG. For example, the English vowel system appears to have been going around in circles since some time in the Middle English period. Low and mid vowels are raised; high vowels are diphthongised. The big change to the vowel system was the well-known Great Vowel Shift, and English seems to have got onto this vocalic conveyor belt as a result. This is not a UG thing, nor determined by UG, but the resulting structures can be accommodated by UG. Why the English vowel system apparently behaves like this, I don’t know, but I think it stands outside of UG myself.

Notes

1. It’s obvious, though, that certain groups of families do have a shared inheritance. The obvious one is the division between the centum and satem languages, the latter sharing at least one round of palatalisation. However, the satem languages were presumably a collection of dialects at the time, which would eventually become Indic, Iranian, Armenian and other language groups.

2. Examples from English (if these are not myths) are the treatment of high-mid and low-mid vowels in London English in the 17th (?) century, and the reappearance of the velar nasal in the -ing ending which, allegedly, was a consequence of the vulgar mob aping the quality who then (so I’ve read somewhere) are supposed to have reverted to the -in’ form.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Dress rehearsal

Steady as she goes, No. 1.

When I went shopping this afternoon, the flotilla of boats was making its way down the canal in what I assume was a practice voyage for the festivities. When I had a look out of the window just before, there was a line of soldiers on this side of the canal, some school children in green on the far side, and a group of drummers, who have just resumed their drumming, outside the new building on the far side of the canal. I watched a small group of soldiers march westwards through the park on the island, but more curious is a group of policemen standing around in an area which has been cordoned off. They seem to have notepads or something and they’re all clustered around in one particular part overlooking one of the pool features.

The boats seem to have returned to this end of the canal in the course of the afternoon.

I’m only guessing that the whole thing is a dress rehearsal because there was nothing on the notice about today as far as I can recall. It can’t be a celebration of navatí glorious (say it with extreme sarcasm) years of the Party because it’s way too soon. It can’t be the 1st of May because although that’s closer, it’s still just a little far off, and that falls on a Sunday. I has a message from China Mobile saying that it’s 泼水节, Water Sprinkling Festival, but that’s peculiar to Yunnan. I need to look at the notice again and see if I can spot any key words which will give me a clue as to what this is all about.

The soldiers are now sitting down on the benches beside the canal, but a small group has just marched off. The policemen on the island have disappeared, and the school children have finished practising for the moment. The drummers have also fallen still, and have now gone. The women with lime green umbrellas, and dressed in light pink are back on the footbridge over to the island. There are some soldiers lined up against the cordon on the island. I wonder if their presence is merely to make sure they’re evenly spaced out for the Big Day™.

The police are now coning off one of the lanes on the 春申路 bridge. Congestion and inconvenience for everyone!

That’ll have to be it for the moment because teatime is nigh and I’m off to Blue Bar.

Later. I’m now told that the new buildings are some sort of tourist centre and the Spithead Review is part of the opening celebrations. Right now all the boats have their lights on (see picture above) and crowds, watched by the police, have been gathering on bridges along the route. When I got out this evening, I found that the police were all around the area mainly, it seems, to stop motorists jamming everything up by trying to park near the canal. Some of the boats were heading off up the canal as well. This is still, I think, a dress rehearsal in spite of all the song and dance that’s going on. I imagine that the rehearsals for the Music for the Royal Fireworks were much the same. Probably quieter.

It lights up

And it whistles.

Yup. That’s what the pearl phoenix boat looked like this evening. It wasn’t alone since all the other decorated boats were similarly lit up. It also plays music, which might not have been so bad if it hadn’t been mingled with the grating, overly loud racket that’s been blaring out.

I took the California out for a spin down at the Olympic Park which was far more peaceful than here in Cacophony Courts. There, it’s just traffic noise, which is part of the soundscape of any city, or the engines of the barges as they chug along the canal.

Scaffolding News

The people demand erections!

As a consequence of my adventures at lunchtime, I found that the scaffolding isn’t just obstructing pedestrians on the 春申路 bridge, but on other bridges further along the canal as well. The green gauze barrier alongside the canal is also being extended back towards the canal tours terminal.

When I got home this afternoon, there was a small flotilla of police launches moored just on the other side of the bridge. In the picture you can see one of the more outré creations on which the sinewy artisans have been working. On the pedestrian bridge over to the island, I could see a group of women wielding yellow umbrellas, who will no doubt be part of some grand celebration.

There are also notices up around the place which have me worried. This isn’t going to all be a one-off nuisance, but rather one which will span several days to maximise the amount of irritation, starting this Friday and annoying everyone until Monday. Actually, the irritation has already commenced as they test the sound system which I can hear all too clearly as I type.

Local area news

With your host, Mr Bamboo.

The kitsch float for the Party’s big birthday celebration (or Gay Pride march) seems mostly finished, but there’s still work of some sort going on beneath the bridge. Alongside the canal which separates Jinma from the island, a gauze barrier has been erected, and there’s balustrade-high scaffolding along the bridge which seems intended to prevent people from congregating up there. At the moment, it’s in the way and is forcing everyone to walk on the road. Safety first in the Empire as always.

As to the style of the decorations on the floats, I’d say there’s extensive Buddhist influence with lotuses and that traditional stalwart, the dragon. No sign of the proles at all. Actually, I was thinking about the style and came to the conclusion that it’s less camp than it is childish.

Meanwhile, further over, work has started on the site beyond the two buildings which were under construction last year. This larger site is dotted with machines which seem to be injecting concrete into the ground to stabilise it. The huge piles of blocks seem to have been laid down as a foundation for all that.

I don’t know what’s going to be being built there, but I’m expected to see more buildings like the original two, and at the moment, my prediction is an area like 文殊 or 宽巷子 in Chengdu. The original ancient street remains unused as far as I’m aware, but I haven’t been over there in quite some time. The third building in the set, which is on this side of the canal, has finally been uncovered and looks like nothing so much as an office block in a kind of occidental style. Again, I can’t say what its purpose is.

The swimming pool at school still seems to be under starter’s orders with one corner of the building which used to stand on the site remaining as a short-lived monument to the past. I don’t know why the whole thing wasn’t demolished at the same time, but being a well-hard cynic, I wouldn’t be surprised if that last part remains as some scam which saves the school money.

On 五爱路 work seems to have started on some other part of the Wuxi metro system. The area in the middle of the road is fenced off and people who appear to be trying to park between the computer centre and 永和大王 often end up blocking the traffic. The buses, in particular, sound their horns as if that’s going to make anyone else go any faster when the traffic cannot move at all. What a bunch of 瓜娃子.

Unseen Academicals

By Terry Pratchett. [That’s Sir Terence to you. –ed.]

The wizards of the Unseen University find their selection of cheeses is under threat unless they participate in a game of football – without the aid of magic.

They are aided by Mr Nutt who is not just a polymath and from Uberwald,1 but also an orc (and quite clearly a metaphor for something).

There’s also Trev Likely whose pretty, but dim girlfriend, Juliet, and her boss, Glenda Sugarbean, get caught up in the world of high fashion and dwarves.

Can the wizards win a football match and save their cheese selection? Will Mr Nutt prove that orcs have been misunderstood? Will Trev and Juliet get it on? Er, yes.

I haven’t read anything from the Discworld series since the late 80s or early 90s, but little seems to have changed and the characters were mostly familiar. Mustrum Ridcully is still the Arch-chancellor of the Unseen University, and Lord Vetinari is still the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork. Rincewind and his Luggage lurk in the background, and even Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler makes a brief appearance.

Unseen Academicals does, unfortunately, tend to ramble much of the time, and I found my patience tried because I wanted Pratchett to get to the point – if there was one. This was exacerbated to some extent by Pratchett’s tendency to suggest that there’s much more happening in Discworld and Ankh-Morpork than he’s ever going to tell us. It was clear that Mr Nutt was special and that there was a little more to him than we were initially told. The book is another instance of an Author™ who needs to be reminded that brevity is the soul of wit. I assume that the publishers were more interested in upping the number of words so that Pratchett would cost them less overall.

I assume that Mr Nutt is meant to represent some sort of underclass such as NEETS2 or any other group (of males) vilified by society. There is also a touch of Cinderella in Nutt’s story in his relationship with Glenda, an element which (if memory serves) is quite common in Pratchett’s work.

Overall, Unseen Academicals rambles just a bit too much, and readers with less perseverance (or little interest in football) may abandon the book altogether or skip large parts (which they could) without really missing out on anything.

Notes

1. I don’t know whether Uberwald should be familiar to me or not, but I stopped reading the Discworld series around the time of Men at Arms. I think I might’ve read Lords and Ladies. Whether Uberwald was a place of note in those days, I can’t recall.

2. NEETS – Not in Education, Employment or Training; or something like that.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)