Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

January 29, 2004

The good and the not so good

I now have a patched version of Mozilla which uses Pango to display difficult scripts. This is good, because now I can see lots of Hindi pages the way they are meant to be. It is also good (but not as much) because it has shown up a bug: Mozilla seems to regard Sanskrit as a language whose script is western. It’s easy to appreciate that this is not in fact the case.

But wait, you say, what about those times when I transliterate the Sanskrit in devanāgarī into the Roman alphabet (with accents)? Surely then the Sanskrit is in a western font? Well, yes, and there we see the problem with associating languages with scripts. Really, the two should be kept completely distinct, and the browser should keep track of what font you wish to use for which Unicode code range (say, for devanāgarī, or Arabic script). All solved, right?

Well, sadly, no, that wouldn’t do either. Unicode’s handling of Chinese and Japanese scripts uses the same code points for characters which are common to both. However, despite this commonality, they are meant to be handled differently depending on which language is using the character. Make sense? In short, it puts a big obstacle in the way of separating script from language, and that can’t be good.

That said, I make no judgement on the handling of CJK in Unicode, given that I know next to nothing about the languages, their native scripts, nor the Unicode treatment and history thereof.

The main thing, though? I can use that Mozilla build to actually see the Sanskrit I sprinkle around here displayed correctly (provided I set the right western font, which makes the English rather hard to read). That is a very good thing indeed.

Posted by jamie at 15:41+13:00 | Comments (9) | Permalink

January 27, 2004

I should be praying to this guy

It seems Saint Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of computers and the Internet. He has his own plastic figure (it glows in the dark). There’s a bit more about his writings and the basis for his appointment (or future appointment? It’s not entirely clear) as patron of computers, and some of the twenty volumes of his Etymologiae is available online.

Posted by jamie at 11:37+13:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

January 24, 2004

The books, the books!

In my continuing attempts to reduce the number of books I own, yesterday I bought a few more. Particular highlights include :

In case you think I showed no restraint, I did not purchase a coloured, large edition of the Ramāyāna, nor a grammar of the Dravidian languages.

Posted by jamie at 10:41+13:00 | Comments (8) | Permalink

January 19, 2004

Hut in the woods

Here’s a photo of the kuṭī (hut) I lived in for much of my time at Wat Pah Nanachat. It’s actually quite hard to see clearly, but it will have to do.

My home was a raised hut in the woods.

The white sign in the full image says “NO ENTRY”, with (I assume) the Thai equivalent above. It didn’t seem to deter the Thai workers from going to and fro in the course of digging a drainage ditch nearby, nor the dogs we temporarily gained at one point. Perhaps the Thai does say something else.

Posted by jamie at 14:44+13:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

January 18, 2004

Picnic!

Those of you who read this blog because I write it, rather than because you’re interested in the various arcana, lamentations over technology, and cave trolling I post, are invited to a picnic next Saturday (24 January) at the Soundshell in the Botanic Gardens, from 12:30.

Posted by jamie at 10:40+13:00 | Comments (3) | Permalink

January 16, 2004

Suspension of disbelief

The phrase “suspension of disbelief” (more fully “willing suspension of disbelief”) comes up a lot when people write about Tolkien and Middle-earth. Here’s what Tolkien himself had to say about that phrase, from his essay On Fairy‐Stories:

But this does not seem to me a good description of what happens. What really happens is that the story‐maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator’. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside. If you are obliged, by kindliness or circumstance, to stay, then disbelief must be suspended (or stifled), otherwise listening and looking would become intolerable. But this suspension of disbelief is a substitute for the genuine thing, a subterfuge we use when condescending to games or make-believe, or when trying (more or less willingly) to find what virtue we can in the work of an art that has for us failed.

This is serious stuff, and a critical element in understanding what Tolkien was doing with his Middle-earth writings.

And — a coincidence, you think? — I have just noticed that the author of the criticism of the films I mentioned yesterday is not willing to hang, draw, and quarter her belief, a phrase Tolkien used later in that same essay.

Posted by jamie at 16:13+13:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

January 15, 2004

I have to laugh

Some people, after posting in endless threads about the Lord of the Rings movies, virtually singing paeans to their greatness, are upset about another’s viewpoint that the films are a poor adaptation of the books.

And despite what it says on the criticism site, someone in the thread still posted this:

The point is - no movie will ever be the same as a book. You just have to accept that, and then weigh the movie on it's own merits - and faithfulness to the book isn't one of them.

It would be wrong of me to comment on the misuse of the apostrophe, wouldn’t it? Okay, in which case I ask how many people were excited about the films precisely because they were The Lord of the Rings. So what exactly is important to these people in the books, which they find also in the movies? That is an honest question, because I really don’t know. Where would they draw the line in terms of faithfulness, since it must in fact be an issue for them?

Posted by jamie at 12:04+13:00 | Comments (8) | Permalink

January 10, 2004

Weekend plans

The weather is lovely: sunny, fairly still, warm. Perfect for listening to the cricket, sitting in the sun, and the like. The reality: submitting bug reports about a package that was working when I last used it a couple of months ago, but on upgrade is broken (I’m demonstrating it on Monday), and contemplating switching Archæology to use PostgreSQL as the database.

Surely, you might ask, the latter is hardly pressing? Perhaps, except that one recent comment which has non-ASCII characters in UTF-8 comes out as gibberish. Not surprising, since the version of MySQL I have installed is so old that it doesn’t recognise that encoding. So I can either stop using UTF-8 or I can use PostgreSQL.

The second option is of course the preferable one, but is not without its problems. By using MySQL IDs in the URLs of my entries, portability is made difficult, even when there is only one blog in the database (there are gaps in the sequence). Oh well, at least I can listen to the cricket.

Posted by jamie at 14:46+13:00 | Comments (2) | Permalink

January 04, 2004

Punctuated delight

I have kindly been given Lynne Truss’s Eats, shoots & leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation, and am dipping into it in between lengthy stretches trying to finish Red Mars, which isn’t nearly as funny. Try this:

In this chapter I want to examine punctuation as an art. Naturally, therefore, this is where the colon and semicolon waltz together, to a big cheer from all the writers in the audience. Just look at those glamorous punctuation marks twirling in the lights from the glitter‐ball: are they not beautiful? Are they not graceful? Ask professional writers about punctuation and they will not start striking the board about the misuse of the apostrophe; instead they will jabber in a rather breathless manner about the fate of the semicolon. Is it endangered? What will we do if it disappears? Have you noticed that newspapers use it less and less? Save the semicolon! It is essential to our craft! But their strength of attachment is justified. Taking the marks we have examined so far, is there any art involved in using the apostrophe? No. Using the apostrophe correctly is a mere negative proof: it tells the world you are not a thicko. The comma, while less subject to universal rules, is still a utilitarian mark, racing about with its ears back, trying to serve both the sense and the sound of the sentence — and of course wearing itself to a frazzle for a modest bowl of Chum. Using the comma well announces that you have an ear for sense and rhythm, confidence in your style and a proper respect for your reader, but it does not mark you out as a master of your craft.

Good stuff. Of course it’s almost inevitable that there will be a punctuation error somewhere in the book. I have already found a mistake in the text, on page 133, where “question mark” is written when “exclamation mark” is meant.

But what is really sad is that I rather wish the book were also a history of punctuation, with footnotes and digressions into languages and scripts other than English. I don’t think there’s much hope for me, and the dust jacket blurb is surely understating the matter in my case:

If there are only pedants left who care, then so be it. “Sticklers unite” is her rallying cry. “You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion — and arguably you didn’t have much of that to begin with.”

Posted by jamie at 10:15+13:00 | Comments (1) | Permalink