all tags: japanese[52] education[24] travel[23] kanji[21] programming[15] MYJ15[13] NII17[10] research[10] website[8] linux[7] hardware[7] libertine[5] food[4] misc[4] time[2] games[2] movies[2] parkour[2] rant[2] self-reflection[2] manga[1] speedcubing[1] anime[1] books[1] translation[1] lego[1] i18n/l10n[1]

Japanese books on a Kindle 4

Five years ago I realized Amazon deems Japanese books incompatible with the Kindle 4 and suggested using 青空文庫 as an alternative source for e-books. While I wholeheartedly suggest you always search for DRM free sources for your e-books first, there are cases where Amazon simply seems to be the only available source.

In the following I'm going to show a viable way to handle Japanese e-books from Amazon, for people still holding on to a Kindle 4.

what does work

  • vertical writing with PDFs
  • Japanese file names

what doesn't seem to work

  • vertical writing with AZW3 files
  • highlighting text in vertical writing
  • links (e.g. from the TOC) in vertical writing
  • proper dictionary function

Before jumping right into the technical stuff, be reminded that if you're okay with reading on your PC or phone, the easy solution is to just get the Kindle app and have your e-book delivered to that. If it is to be the Kindle, here's how that works:

If you're on Linux, get a Windows 10 VM, install the Kindle app and load the books you want to transfer to your kindle from your library. Now, word has it there are ways to free books you bought from Amazon from their DRM. For the purpose of this explanation we're just going to assume you have a DRM free AZW3 file. If you prefer to read your book in horizontal writing, you're basically done at this point. Copy the file to your Kindle and curse Amazon for not allowing you to send it to the device directly. For verical writing there are a few more steps to go through.

If you haven't already done so, download Calibre and add a book (probably a AZW3-file) to your collection. To generate a PDF with vertical writing we're going to use 青空キンドル which takes plain text as input. Unfortunately, exporting a book as TXT in Calibre will mess with furigana (append them as normal text). To get proper furigana, export the book as HTMLZ and from the resulting archive extract the file index.html. To convert the HTML file into plain text while preserving furigana in a format 青空キンドル understands, use the script html2txt_ruby.py from this repository. Running python3 html2txt_ruby.py index.html will give you a file out.txt. Use this as your input for 青空キンドル (you will most likely want to edit the first few lines of the text to get a proper cover page).

Now, PDF file names. Five years ago I noticed problems with book names when just copying over PDF files with Japanese names. The Kindle takes the author's name from a PDF's metadata, but doesn't do this for the title. The title is taken from the file name and non Latin characters in file names can be a mess to deal with on FAT file systems. To get Japanese file names for PDFs properly displayed, mount your kindle with the parameter -o uni_xlate=1* and use the script uni_xlate_filename.py from this repository generate an encoded file name. Example: running python3 uni_xlate_filename.py 使用例 will give you :4f7f:7528:4f8b. Meaning if you name a PDF file on your Kindle :4f7f:7528:4f8b.pdf while mounted with the parameter mentioned above, it will show up as 使用例 on the device.

And with that you can enjoy Japanese books from Amazon in vertical writing on a Kindle 4. No need to abandon a device that's still working perfectly fine. :)

*See man page of mount (search for "unhandled Unicode") for details.



One month since I've arrived in Japan; short review:

Fun with power plug adapters
AC plugs and sockets used in Germany are IEC types F (“Schuko“) and C (“Europlug“), Japan uses types A and B — but actually almost excusively A. Now, if you own a device with a type F plug (let's say, a laptop) and want to get an adapter for type A sockets, don't even bother looking. F→B and C→A adapters are readily available, and because A plugs also work with B sockets, C→B is unnecessary. But since F plugs are earthed and A plugs are not ... no F→A adapters. And for the same reason you also can not find F→C adapters to build a funny F→C→A adapter parade.
The only option you're left with (to my best knowledge) for plugging in a laptop from Germany to a power socket in Japan, is to find a C→A adapter with unnecessarily large pin holes (type C plugs have 4 mm pins whereas type F plugs have 4.8 mm pins), remove anything put into place to stop people from forcing F plugs into the adapter and then do exactly that. Here's my take, on the unavailability of F→A and F→C adapters.

- Classes are interesting. I take 4 Japanese classes (essay writing[1], reading skills[2][3][4], mixed[5][6], oral communication) as well as 3 grad school classes (linguistics[7], sociolinguistics[8], intercultural communication: the Japanese experience[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]).
- The dorm is nice. Rooms are spacious, everything you'd need in terms of appliances and so on is present, people are nice — I'm the only European; actually I'm the only one that is not from either China, Taiwan or South Korea. :D
- I'm also happy with the canteen. Food tastes good and thus far a meal cost me ¥ 465 (3.45 €) on average.
- Staff and people in general are super helpful and friendly.
- Clubs (部活) are still kind of on my todo list. Visited two, but was too busy until now to look at more and/or join in on regular activities.
A difference to my previous experience with German universities, and actually a thing I'm not super happy with (though that's just a matter of taste), is the fact that the intended way of getting something done that may not be everyday business seems to be to go to a person in charge of that thing and ask them to take care of it. What I'm used to is informing myself and doing stuff on my own. Where I'm used to finding a guide for how to do something on a university's website I'm now finding a telephone number or description to which office I need to go. Same goes for information I would have expected to be readily available online (like e-mail addresses of professors). I'm curious whether or not I will, over time, get used to this default way of doing things. Or if I just misjudge the situation right now and all the university related exchange student setup procedures just were really out of the ordinary requiring an unusual amount of “office hopping“.

In the first weeks I've been exploring the city on my “mamachari“ quite a bit. Initially I was focussing on traditional stuff like shrines, temples and onsen. At the moment I'm more likely to look for either something recreational like public parks and sports facilities or utility oriented places like supermarkets.
What I've yet to find is a few cheap and healthy “base foods“ for the evening and especially morning. In Germany that used to be muesli, bananas, whole-grain bread with cheese ... most of which is pretty much non-existent here.
I'm okay with rice+ふりかけ and a small side dish, but cooking rice takes time. I've tried working with tofu, but haven't found an easy and quick way to make it tasty yet. What I'm pretty happy with are instant noodles. :D But I'd prefer something healthier.

All in all, I'm happy with my current situation. :) As mentioned in my previous post I was curious how much different it would be ... never having lived more than 100 km away from where I grew up, suddenly living over 9,000 (not even intended, it's 9,358) km away ... turns out if you're used to living in a student dorm in a city in Germany and move to a student dorm in a city in Japan, it's really no big difference. (I guess if I'm honest with myself I wish it were a bit more different. ^^)

In any case, I'm in a position where I can experience a foreign country by as little as stepping outside the front door and I've got plenty of opportunity to use and improve my Japanese. That's awesome! On to the next month!

 [1] 大学・大学院留学生の日本語(4)論文作成編 (アルク)
 [2] 中・上級者のための速読の日本語 (The Japan Times)
 [3] 大学・大学院留学生の日本語(1)読解編 (アルク)
 [4] 中上級学習者のための日本語読解ワークブック (アルク)
 [5] 読む力 中級 (くろしお出版)
 [6] 留学生のためのここが大切文章表現のルール (スリーエーネットワーク)
 [7] An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics (Routledge)
 [8] An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Longman)
 [9] The Japanese Mind (Tuttle Publishing)
[10] With Respect to the Japanese: Going to Work in Japan (Intercultural Press)
[11] Japanese Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity (Routledge)
[12] The Other Japan: Voices Beyond the Mainstream (Fulcrum Publishing)
[13] Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language (Routledge)
[14] Multi-Ethnic Japan (Harvard University Press)
[15] Japanese Culture and Communication: Critical Cultural Analysis (University Press of America)

Japanese books for your Kindle

Strange thing about Amazon: Japanese books (offered on amazon.com and amazon.de) are not available for the standard Kindle although it's perfectly capable of displaying Japanese content. This applies to all books in Japanese. Which sucks. So contacted support concerning that matter ...

Fortunately there are alternatives: 青空文庫 (Aozora Bunko) offers Japanese books for free and with 青空キンドル (Aozora Kindle) you can easily convert them to beautiful PDFs. :)
To do that, take a book from 青空文庫 (for example this), scroll down to the ファイルのダウンロード section and copy the URL to the zip file. In our example that's: http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000311/files/2762_ruby_8768.zip. Head to 青空キンドル, paste the URL, change settings if you want (I recommend setting the 文字 to 大), hit PDF化, copy the PDF file to your Kindle and you're done. :)
Beautiful Japanese on your Kindle. What you may want to avoid, however, is using Japanese file names. They won't be displayed as expected, which I presume it's due to the FAT 32 file system.


Deutsche Bahn ticket machines - hidden buttons

A few weeks ago I noticed something strange about the ticket machines of Deutsche Bahn. Normally, if you miss to hit a button, a red dot on the touch screen indicates where your "click" was recognized. But when viewing the Verkehrsverbund* section and "missing" on certain spots on the upper left and upper right corner of the screen, you saw an hourglass cursor for a short moment.
Being in curiosity mode I had to test if I could provoke a feedback of some kind. And in fact, rarely the screen was like flashing as I was rapidly clicking on both spots simultaneously.
After playing around a bit more I found out that there are two "four click combinations" that will bring up a screen with some information: left, left, right, right gives you the application and system version; left, left, right, left a hole bunch more version data, the location of the machine and whatnot.
At the point where I had found the first working combination and began trying out others I kind of felt like in a good old point and click adventure. :D Thanks for the entertainment, Deutsche Bahn. ^^

Here's a video of each of the screens:
left, left, right, right
left, left, right, left

*An association of public transport authorities.


Raspberry Pi + Lego Case :3

Maybe not that interesting, but I felt like this had to appear here. I got my RPi in July and recently started to build a Lego case for it. The one you see on the picture (fullsize) was initially just "find as much red parts as possible and use the other colors to create a prototype".
After a while I started to replace strange colors (brown, green, pink, etc.) and black as well as grey bricks in my prototype with similar parts in blue, white or yellow. What you see is how far I got ... a few flat parts and a bigger "window" for the LEDs are still to be found. The completely red version is far from complete. I'd need 9 1x1 flat bricks with a flat surface on the top — not sure if we have that much.

Anyway — the Pi is up and running, serving mostly as an IRC client at the moment; guess it'll have the honor to take care of one or the orther cronjob in the near future and offer some web based "services" for me.

Miscellaneous information: I got the idea to build a Lego case from Biz's LEGO case. I used pants for my case because they leave a bit more space inside. Everything located above a slot is fixed to the lid, so the Pi can be taken out once the case is opened withough the need to take it apart. I noticed that my case might not leave enough space for an RCA plug but I don't plan to use it anyway. I use Arch Linux ARM. Here's a picture of my Raspberry Pi next to a raspberry pie.


Time-lapse photography for less than 2$

A few weeks ago I thought it would be nice to try out time-lapse photography. I searched for ways to trigger my DSLR in given inverals and found, that the plug for wired remotes was some proprietary Nikon thing and timer remotes cost 40€ upwards.

Fortunately, DSLRs can also be triggered using an infrared signal. I already owned an Nikon ML-L3, a normal IR remote compatible to my Nikon D80. So what I did (and what you can also do to have fun with IR devices) was this.

Simply connect an IR LED to an audio cable and use it to record and send IR signals. It's that easy. : )

If you're interested in further information on this topic have a look at the following links:
Jim Watters - Nikon D70s MC-DC1 remote
www.doc-diy.net :: camera remote release pinout list
DIY Infrared transmitter for iPhone, iPod
Arduino – IR remote/ intervalometer for Nikon D80 DSLR (that means timelapse photography yarrr!)
bigmike.it - infrared remote control for Nikon


Arch and Wacom

Arch Linux! Wacom! W00t! <3 :D

Okay ... one thing at a time ... After a good year of using Ubuntu I now switched to Arch Linux. The reason being that I'll be forced to build a system fitting to my needs.
Thanks to the great beginner's guide on archlinux.org I managed to set up a basic system pretty fast and I didn't even run into that much problems. ^^ At the moment I'm using awesome as a window manager — which, btw, is absolutely doing justice to its name —, emelFM2 as my filemanager (also a great component), sxiv for viewing images and apart from that the common stuff that I already used before ... Firefox, VLC, GIMP, XAMPP, etc.

The thing that caused the most problems so far and, additionally, the second topic in this blog entry, is my new Wacom Bamoo Pen tablet. I chose a Wacom tablet because I knew about the Linux Wacom Project. Unfortunately the tablet I got is a relatively new model and isn't yet supported by the standard linuxwacom package you get from the repositories. Thus I had to use a package from the AUR, patch it and manually change some stuff — which I managed to do because of the great help I got from some guys from #archlinux.de. : )

So ... I now got a new, awesome system and a nice drawing tablet. The only thing I'm missing now is drawing skills. :D But that's fine, I got the tablet mainly for postprocessing of photos and doing stupid things on imageboards. ^^