Tag: elsewhere


08

Aug 2009

Translation with a Conscience

Translation Party is a website built using Google Translate. The idea is to take an English sentence, translate into Japanese, then back into English, and keep going back and forth until an equilibrium is reached and the translation stabilizes.

I tried out various different sentences. Here’s what I got for “China and Japan will never get along“:

China and Japan, please get along.

I knew Google’s motto is “don’t be evil,” but I didn’t expect that to result in translations that lecture (politely). Still, pretty cool.

Anyway, I recommend you play around with Translation Party. It’s a very simple concept; would love to see it done in more language combinations (especially Chinese to English!).


22

Jun 2009

How to Pronounce nciku

The online Chinese dictionary everyone is using these days is nciku. Newbies and veterans alike all seem to dig it. The quality of the dictionary entries is a refreshing change from the deluge of unimpressive CEDICT clones. One common difficulty among nciku users of all levels, however, is that they can’t figure out how the hell to pronounce the name! Is it N-C-I-K-U, each letter pronounced like its name, or maybe N-C-I-koo, or something like In-see-koo? Just how do you really pronounce nciku, anyway??

By clicking on 简体 (or 繁體) in the footer to switch to the Chinese version of the site, you can see the nciku’s Chinese name: n词酷. So this should answer the original question: the “n” is pronounced like the name of the letter N, and the “ciku” part is pinyin cíkù.

nciku-name

But why?? What’s up with the name? Well, I have to say, it’s a pretty horrible name if your target market is foreigners. No one knows how to pronounce it when they see it. The name does make sense from a Chinese perspective, though.

First, the n. That’s the mathematical n, as in an unspecified number that could be really high. It might seem strange to bring mathematical variables into everyday conversation, but in modern Chinese it happens on a regular basis. In Mandarin when you do something n (n times), you did it so many times you don’t even know how many. Like we say “a million” in English, or, perhaps more appropriate in its ambiguity, “a zillion.” Rather than n, you can also say n, which also means a zillion times, but sounds quite similar to the beginning of the name n词酷.

词酷 is a concocted homophone for 词库, a somewhat technical word meaning “lexicon” or “word bank.” You can talk about a lexicon in terms of all the words of an entire language, or in terms of an individual’s own vocabulary.

So why for ? Well, is the popular transliteration for “cool,” and the character , appearing in such words as 数据库 (database), 语料库 (linguistic corpus), 车库 (garage), 仓库 (warehouse), quite frankly, isn’t very cool.

So there you have it: n词酷, a zillion word banks (but cool).


13

May 2009

Many Eyes on Language

The “Language Speakers” bubble chart image below was created as part of IBM’s Many Eyes project:

Speakers

It’s a really cool project which enables the creation of various types of visualizations given certain data sets. Language lovers will also be interested in the Phrase Net on the Many Eyes blog.


25

Sep 2008

The Last 7-Day Workweek?

It’s that time of year again: vacation absurdity time. Most people in China have to work this coming Saturday and Sunday in order to “make up for” the seven vacation days in a row to come.

Last week was only a four-day workweek (preceded by a three-day weekend), and now this week it’s a seven-day workweek. It’s like jetlag for workweeks; we’re going to need those seven days off to get over the messed-up schedule.

There’s talk of scrapping the October week-long holiday (and its accompanying seven-day workweek), just like the May holiday week disappeared this year. I’m really hoping it happens.


01

Aug 2008

DVD-selling Tenacity

From the SmartShanghai newsletter:

> This week’s newsletter goes out to my DVD lady, who not even one day after being told to shut shop by the filth, opened right up again and ripped me off on a shite copy of Hellboy II.

> That’s the kind of tenacity that’s going to make this the century of China.

I’ve heard about the “Olympic DVD Crackdown,” but I haven’t tried to buy any lately. With my computer in the shop, though (it was the video card fan that broke, causing the computer to overheat and shut down), I might try.


12

Jul 2008

Mini-Interview with The World

The World, an online public radio program from the BBC, did a brief audio interview with me last week, and it appeared in today’s edition. Here’s a direct link to the 4-minute piece [MP3 download].

To visitors from The World, the work I do on Chinese lessons is actually on a separate site called ChinesePod. Check it out; it’s the best way to learn practical spoken Chinese.

In the interview I talk about my struggles with the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, (basically very similar to what I’ve covered in my pronunciation section). There are other features of interest to the student of Chinese in the language section of Sinosplice.

Thanks a lot to Dan Washburn for pointing The World’s reporter my way.


28

Jun 2008

China Alltop

The new aggregator in town is Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop, and it’s almost four months old. I really have to wonder if there’s still much of a future for aggregation sites, now that RSS Readers are so freely available. I’ll put that debate aside for now, though.

I became aware of China Alltop when Sinosplice was added to it. I don’t have time to read many blogs these days, but browsing over the various blogs and news sources aggregated on China Alltop, the big ones all seemed to be represented. It’s a good collection of China blogs.

One thing bothered me, though. Some of the most well-known and well-respected blogs (no, not this one!) were buried somewhere down the middle of the page. I started a dialogue with Mr. Kawasaki via Twitter, which led to an e-mail.

Specifically, I argued for higher placement of EastSouthWestNorth, Danwei, China Law Blog, and RConversation, and the addition of the China IWOM Blog (I should have mentioned Peking Duck too!). To my pleasant surprise, the changes were made within hours.

I’m still skeptical about the idea that a limited, static list of blogs can stay current and compete with individuals’ personalized feed readers in this crazy Web 2.0 world, but I’m very impressed with Guy Kawasaki’s willingness to listen and enthusiasm for his product. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops.


Related: The China Blog List is still going… Not long ago, all dead blogs were purged. It’s now in the process of collecting more new blogs.


19

Mar 2008

Saving on Eggs

Sam Flemming‘s latest tweet (message on Twitter) had me smiling:

> saw on old lady bring her own egg to the jian bing guozi seller to save money

Sam is talking about 煎饼果子 (pictures). They’re made by spreading a basic batter on a hot plate, and cooking an egg on top, and then spreading a sauce on it. The total cost (including the price of the egg), is usually 1-3 RMB (depending where you are in China). Eggs generally cost much less than 1 RMB each.


11

Mar 2008

Three Links for March

Some good things I recently came across:

1. Gladder: an auto-proxy addon for Firefox. Very convenient! Unlike TOR, it’s not either “always on” or “always off.” Just works for the sites you need it to work on. How did I not find out about this sooner?? (Via JP)

2. Olympic Game Piracy. Shameless. The best thing to do about this is to spread the word when it happens and turn up the scorn. (Via Dave)

3. The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail: a photo journey. Don’t let the use of Comic Sans fool you; this is one hardcore mountain climb. Make sure you see the pictures toward the end…


28

Jan 2008

Viewing China through PicLens

I’m a Firefox user, and one of the greatest things about it is its extensibility. PicLens, a full-screen 3D image viewer that works especially well with Flickr, has got to be one of the best extensions I have ever seen (even if it is almost too iPhone). I never blogged about a Firefox addon before because there wasn’t really a reason to. Now I never want to go back to boring HTML views on Flickr.

You have to see it in motion to really appreciate the addon, but check out these screenshots of PicLens views of some of my favorite (Greater) China-based photographers:

Poagao

Poagao's Photos as seen through PicLens

Raemin

Raemin's Photos as seen through PicLens

Life in Nanning

Life in Nanning's Photos as seen through PicLens

Shanghai Sky

ShanghaiSky's Photos as seen through PicLens

Mask of China

Mask of China's Photos as seen through PicLens

One great thing about the addon is that it’s much easier to skim quickly through a photographer’s collection and get a sense of the overall style. Give it a try.


09

Jan 2008

Chinese Torture in Pictures

I just discovered The punishments of China: illustrated by twenty-two engravings (note that there are two pages there). It’s part of the New York Public Library’s collection.

The rack. Digital ID: 1565316. New York Public Library

Hamstringing a malefactor. Digital ID: 1565324. New York Public Library

This instantly made me think of a Qin Shihuang (秦始皇, first emperor of China) museum of torture I once visited in Xi’an. It was full of displays with life-size mannequins being hacked, sawed, sliced, crushed, and torn to pieces. There was even plenty of fake blood. It was pretty bizarre. (Has anyone else been there? I can’t find it on the web, although one Italian site refers to a “Xiányáng Bówùguan” which could be it…)


19

Dec 2007

How Taiwan Became Chinese

So I’m caught up these days with an experiment (I hate humans!), work, and now even Christmas. So I decided to just throw up a link.

I found this interesting-looking online book: How Taiwan Became Chinese.

Has anyone read it? Any good? The title smacks of propaganda, but I’m willing to eat a little propaganda every now and then in the name of good education…


06

Dec 2007

LaoZi Academy Podcasts

From the site:

> Audio recordings from formal training. In these recordings, Master Dong Yang talks about different aspects of Dao and Daoist cultivation through the refining and growing of the internal elixir and how to prevent physical damage in the process.

Hmmm, I think some things were not meant for podcast format.

What do you think?


04

Dec 2007

Suckers for Math

One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of Chinese citizens (especially the college-age-ish) have great pride in their math skills. They have heard time and again that their math skills are superior to most other nations’ students’, and they believe it. This can be sort of fun to mess with.

I recently stumbled across the World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem. After working on it for about half an hour and realizing that it really was pretty tough, I decided to see if I could entice my wife to try it.

Now, my wife is intelligent, but she’s no math person. She earned her degree in law (and not the mathy kind). To be honest, I can’t remember her ever showing much interest in math or geometry. But I decided to tempt her with the problem.

She ended up spending the rest of the evening working on it. Ah, pride is a fun thing.

(Anyone got any other deceptively difficult math bait?)


08

Sep 2007

Cross-cultural Honesty Catalysis

I recently read an interesting and provocative article about a movement called radical honesty. The founder posits that everyone would be better off–that we’d be taking the steps to true communication–if we would all just say exactly what is on our minds. It’s not meant to be hurtful; you don’t insult people and walk away. After you speak your mind you stick around for the fallout, because radical honesty tends to beget radical honesty, and once you strip away the white lies and false smiles, revealing true emotions, you have a basis for a genuine human connection.

I’m not saying I’m a convert, but the ideas are worth thinking about. And it makes for a very entertaining article.

It also got me thinking about whether this could ever conceivably be tried in China, and about some people in my life who might be considered unknowing practitioners. It seems to me that the ones who come closest are certain English-speaking Chinese women, in their dealings with foreigners.

The standard explanation is that due to cultural differences, even if you speak another culture’s language, you can come across as very forward or overly blunt in the context of another culture. This could happen to a Chinese person trying to emulate the brashness of characters she sees in Hollywood movies. But then, maybe she’s trying to carve out a piece of radical honesty in her own life, and the microcosm of foreign culture seems the best place to do it. Maybe she wants to be blunt and direct, because ordinarily she never can be.

It makes me think back to my early days in Japan and China, struggling to make conversation. I could be remarkably direct back then, because I didn’t know how to say a lot, or I simply couldn’t think of much to say and I wanted to keep the conversation started. And it’s true… radical honesty begets radical honesty. Interesting things are said. I think that’s one reason some people like talking to foreigners that don’t speak the local language well… they’re refreshingly blunt in their views.

I am even reminded of a friend who was told by a taxi driver that he was going to commit suicide. Why would he tell a foreigner?

Society will never have that degree of honesty, but I do believe people are looking for it outside their own cultures.


OK, this post is a little over the top… but I think that’s exactly what you should expect of something inspired by radical honesty.

Related Link: Radical Honest homepage


08

Aug 2007

nciku

There’s a new Chinese online dictionary called nciku. Oh, wait, excuse me… it’s “more than a dictionary.” The service may have a pretty bad English name, but the site itself looks well designed.

Anyway, I’m very impressed with the handwriting recognition. The interface is a very slick blend of Flash and javascript that puts other online handwriting recognition attempts to shame.

It’s great because it can recognize fluid handwriting where the strokes run together. Yes, you may have seen that kind of software before, but keep in mind that this is a free online dictionary.

Below are some examples of horrible handwriting being correctly recognized.

nciku-1

(Each character to the right displays its pinyin when you mouse over it.)

One of the really cool things about the handwriting recognition is that it keeps going in realtime as long as you write, and it always guesses. I’ve used programs that reach their recognition limit and just say, “nope, can’t do it.” Well, not this one. It gets an A+ for effort.

This, of course, leads to some fun experimentation. Here are a few of mine:

nciku-2

Thanks to David for introducing me to this website.


30

Jul 2007

China: Worth the Trip

I found this brief review of China pretty amusing:

> Pros
Lots to see, Beautiful historical buildings

> Cons
Run-down areas, Communism

> The Bottom Line
Definitely worth the trip!

No mention of the people… perhaps because the pros and cons of the people cancel each other out?



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