Monthly Archives: September 2008

How to convert web pages from TibetanMachineWeb to Unicode

For instance, the texts at are encoded in the TibetanMachineWeb font. This font relies on some arcane encoding to produce the proper stacks of consonants, etc. Because of this, the texts offered by that site cannot be used as-is if any kind of sensible information processing is going to be performed on them. It is possible however, to convert those files to Unicode or Wylie. Here’s the process. Unfortunately, it requires Microsoft software. I tried to find a procedure in Linux but my efforts were thwarted. (Also, I was not inclined to test every html2rtf tool available under the sun.) You probably need to have the TibetanMachineWeb fonts installed for this to work.

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The free market fallacy

A few minutes ago, I came across yet another AP news item about the current financial crisis in the US. The article reports that Barack Obama “said the final product must protect U.S. taxpayers and include a commitment to new regulatory reforms.” My first thought was “hell, yeah!” there has to be some sort of regulation to prevent this nonsense from occurring again. My second thought was “surely the free market advocates are going to come out of the woodwork to criticize this.”

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Random Things

A few random thoughts about my time at Dharma Drum Mountain…

Once in a while a meal at DDM turns out to be challenge. The only implements I use for eating are one metal bowl and one set of metal chopsticks. Now consider that all the food primarily goes into the bowl and that some food is soft, some hard, some heavy, etc. So sometimes the question which runs through my mind as I see what I have to put in my bowl is “how on earth am I going to organize all the food items to prevent ending up with some unappealing mush?” Then there is the small matter of handling the chopsticks. I can handle chopsticks fine as long as the food in my bowl is relatively thick. Otherwise, I’m having a hard time. So I’ve started using some bigger chunks of food as tools to corral those bits which are too small for handling. And half of the time, I wonder if my way of eating looks barbarous to others.

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Sinlaku, sinlaku, you will always be my first! My first typhoon that is. Taiwan’s weather is going to be interesting. A few days ago I felt a small earthquake. I asked my room mate whether there really was an earthquake or whether I dreamed. He confirmed that there indeed had been an earthquake. He said I would probably feel 4 or 5 of those during my time in Taiwan. Now people are bracing for Sinlaku. I’m not worried. Dharma Drum Mountain seems pretty stable. But I’ve had to cancel plans to go to Taipei this weekend. So now it is wind and rain for the entire weekend. Thanks Sinlaku!

VirtualBox and SCIM: problem with the “Host Key”

I’ve just started using VirtualBox. I quickly ran into a problem though. I quickly found that scim prevents VirtualBox from registering the “Host Key” (the right control key by default) which is used to prompt VirtualBox to stop grabbing the keyboard input. I’ve googled for solutions but all of them were either ineffective or unacceptable. Some people suggest to exit scim before starting VirtualBox!!

I’ve found a better solution: start VirtualBox with the environment variables which control input methods cleared out:

$ unset QT_IM_MODULE
$ virtualbox [...]

Executing the above prevents VirtualBox from communicating with scim or any other IM. How to convert this to a script is left as an exercise for the reader. It is probably not necessary to clear out all three variables but I’m not going to investigate which exactly VirtualBox uses.

Environmental Awareness at DDM

I am quite impressed with the degree of environmental awareness evident at Dharma Drum Mountain. Signs are displayed to remind people to turn off electric appliances which are not in use, to recycle, to minimize water consumption, etc. I was particularly happy to notice that rooms have independent heating and cooling controls. In this way, it is possible to minimize the use of heating and cooling to use only what is needed. For sure more could be done but it is still much better than what is going on at UVA. Because many of UVA’s buildings are older, there is no way to fine tune the delivery of warm or cold air so a good deal of energy is wasted conditioning rooms while they are not used.

The Meals on Dharma Drum and Jinshan’s sweet potatoes

At Dharma Drum Mountain, communal meals are provided by the monastics. So the food is prepared in accordance with monastic rules. It’s two salient features are that it is vegetarian and does not contain ingredients likely to incite passions (like garlic or onions). I have mentioned before that people warned me that the food would be bland. Still, I find it to my liking. One colleague who asked for my opinion about the food looked surprised when I told him I liked it. I’m not sure whether it is because he does not like it or because he did not think someone like me (i.e. a Westerner who has come to Taiwan for the first time) would like that kind of food.
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Site update

I’m going to be updating this site to the latest version of WordPress. It is likely that the site will be down for a bit and also it is likely that the theme will change. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the theme I’m using is very convenient to use. I had to fix several bugs in it to get it to work right and I doubt it has been updated to the latest WordPress version. Don’t be surprised if the location of the various interface elements changes.

Dharma Drum – Initial Impressions

I’ve arrived at Dharma Drum Buddhist College (法鼓佛教學院) in Taipei County in Taiwan on September 2nd in the evening. After three days here I think I’m getting over the jet lag. Yesterday was the worst. I napped three times during the day, went to bed really early and got up really early this morning. But I have not taken a nap today and I should be able to go to bed at a normal hour tonight.

I have to say that everybody here has been really kind and helpful. Especially Youru and Hsiu-Lan. They have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome at Dharma Drum. The place itself is also quite nice. The architecture and landscaping are delightful. People warned me that the food provided to the staff and guests is on the bland side but I find it tasty in its own subtle way.

There is more to say but the jet lag, while mostly gone, is still affecting me so I’m heading for bed now.

(Published some 9 hours after I wrote it. Oops.)