A post from Shady Characters

It’s (traditional Chinese) paperback publication day!

The Chinese (complex characters) edition of Shady Characters, as designed by Chang Lien Hung and published by Rye Field Publications.
The Chinese (complex characters) edition of Shady Characters, as designed by Chang Lien Hung and published by Rye Field Publications.

Another day, another edition of Shady Characters! The handsome book on the right is the Chinese complex characters (also called traditional characters) edition, courtesy of Taiwan’s Rye Field Publications. The cover design is by Chang Lien Hung, aka elf-19, and I can promise you that it is far better looking in real life than my terrible photo makes it out to be. It is available now for ¥360. I’d love to hear what Chinese-literate readers might think of it — if you lay your hands on a copy, please leave a comment below or drop me a line via the contact form!


In unrelated but still exciting news, Oxford University Press recently named “hashtag” as children’s word of the year. Twitter says that it does not allow users under the age of 13, but it turns out that children, in Britain at least, are using hashtags in everyday language as a kind of intensifier or keyword marker. As The Guardian’s Mark Brown explains, “A child might write: ‘This is a wonderful day, #sunny,’ for example, or: ‘I have the best family, #fantasticfamily’.” This is the hash mark as a sort of front-loaded exclamation mark, perhaps, or an alternative to cumbersome parentheses.

Apropos of this, I was lucky enough to be asked to film a short video about the octothorpe for CBBC’s Newsround, a news programme for 6–12 year-olds, so I fired up my webcam and talked into it for a couple of minutes with only a moderate amount of self-consciousness. You can see the full item here. I must thank Newsround’s Ricky Boleto for giving me the chance to take part — Newsround has been on the air since 1972, and it was a pleasure to be able to contribute to a programme that I remember well from my own childhood!

12 comments on “It’s (traditional Chinese) paperback publication day!

  1. Comment posted by Dave on

    It always feels odd to me to see the word “Newsround” NOT preceded by the words “John Craven’s”, which perhaps is a sign of my age!

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      For me too! I had to stop myself from typing those very words.

  2. Comment posted by Zeissmann on

    A hashtag is like a keyword which informs other users of the topic of the tweet. So using a hashtag in this way seems to be like a summary, a kind of tl;dr for people too lazy to read less than 160 characters. But in reality they read the whole thing anyway, so it’s actually like a punchline of a message. And it’s not only kids these days. Just look at this John Oliver clip:

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      A punchline indeed! That’s a good way to put it.

  3. Comment posted by Jamsheed on

    Congratulations on the translation! I like the cover.

  4. Comment posted by Jon of Connecticut on

    Speaking of the octothorpe (hashtag, pound sign, number sig,) why did Bell Labs feel it necessary to add two keys? Does a 3×4 arrangement of keys look better than a 2×5 or 5×2 arrangement?

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Jon — the underlying dialling system used two groups of tones, divided into low and high frequencies respectively (as described here), and approximately equal numbers of tones in each group. Each button pressed sent one low tone and one high tone down the line.

      Bell Labs experimented with a variety of different layouts, including the ones you describe, but there was little difference among the top five layouts in terms of dialling speed and accuracy. I suspect that engineering considerations pushed them towards a square grid, where it would surely have been easier to assign keys to tone pairs — one group for rows, the other group for columns. Having assigned the numbers 0–9 to either a 3 × 4 or 4 × 3 grid, they would naturally have been left with two extra keys. These were blanked off at first, but were added later on to help control systems such as voicemail, telephone banking and so on.

  5. Comment posted by Jon of Connecticut on

    Thanks! 12 isn’t a perfect square, but it is more squaris than 10. I know a Doug Kerr. I wonder if he is the son of the gemtleman mentioned in the chapter.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Exactly. The underlying DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency) system provided for a 4 × 4 grid, though the extra column was reserved for more complex telephone systems such as intra-office networks and military applications.

  6. Comment posted by Jon of Connecticut on

    Ah, yes. Flash Override and what not. I recall those from my military days.

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