“One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”

That’s the title of the eleventh episode of the second season of The Simpsons which originally aired in early 1991.

This article will instead be about the history and evolution of the blowfish image that graces the cover of my books that were published by O’Reilly Media. The following is the first paragraph of the Colophon of CJKV Information Processing, Second Edition:

I first proposed a book to O’Reilly in the latter half of 1992, and part of the process involved visiting their headquarters in Sebastopol, California during which my editor, Peter Mui, and I perused the Dover Pictorial Archive for suitable blowfish images. If memory serves, we found three candidates. The responsibility of selecting an animal for a book cover is usually left to Edie Freedman, who also designed the book covers themselves. Sometimes, when an author makes a case for a particular animal, that animal is chosen. That was the case for Understanding Japanese Information Processing (日本語情報処理 nihongo jōhō shori in Japanese), which was published in 1993.

Why a blowfish?

Back in the early 1990s, localizing software for non-English regions involved not only translating the user interface and documentation, but also dealing with various character sets and encodings. For regions such as Japanese, this meant dealing with three different encoding systems, ISO-2022-JP, Shift-JIS, and EUC-JP, along with a newcomer known as Unicode. There’s an analogy: If you don’t prepare blowfish properly, it will kill you. Likewise, if you don’t prepare your software to properly support Japanese, it will kill your market potential.

All three books, along with their Japanese (1995 and 2002) and Chinese (2002) translations, use the same blowfish image, because each subsequent book is either effectively or literally a new edition of the previous book. The first two books, published in 1993 and 1998, respectively, have the blowfish facing to the left. This was changed in the third and current book. Below are the cover images of all three books:


This blowfish image has become somewhat iconic, which is also true of the various animal images that appear on the cover of other books published by O’Reilly.

In closing, when Unicode announced its Adopt a Character campaign late last year, sponsoring U+1F421 🐡 BLOWFISH at the Silver level seemed like an appropriate thing to do, and it was for a good cause. And, did I mention that I really like my digital badge?

Edited on 2016-04-19 to add that Edie kindly pointed out on Twitter that T-shirts were made for my first book, and were quite popular. I even had a sweatshirt made. A former Adobe colleague, Lynn Shade, designed the T-shirt for my second book, and many were made, including a very small number of hooded sweatshirts. While I did prepare a T-shirt design for my latest book, only a handful of prototypes were made. The front and back are shown below:


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