– Since my GFW Android Market rant, it looks like the Android Market may no longer be blocked. I’ve been able to access it again for the past few days on my HTC Hero here in Shanghai. Not sure if this will last, but it’s certainly a welcome development!
– Pleco for iPhone (beta) just went into Beta 4 testing. Michael Love says this will probably be the last round of testing (but wow, that team does an amazingly thorough job!), so that means it will likely be submitted to Apple for review very soon.
– Google recently released a pinyin conversion tool on Google Translate, but it’s super primitive. Mark at Pinyin.info details all the ways it sucks (via Dave), but they all boil down to this: the tool simply romanizes characters, without regard for proper spacing, proper punctuation, or multiple character readings that can only be determined with data-informed word segmentation. (Boo, Google! You can do waaayyy better!)
– Google also added a cool-looking new Google Translate Toolkit (via Micah), which looks like the beginnings of competition for translation software like TRADOS (the preferred tool of translator Pete).
– An over-the-top rant on the importance of reading Chinese (via Micah) serves as a good reminder to those of us who might be satisfied with our functional speaking ability and too lazy to improve our literacy (this is definitely me at times!).
– Speaking of reading material, ChinaSMACK recently reminded me that even when you’re too lazy to tackle 老子 or modern thinkers, there’s still less challenging but interesting material to read in Chinese, and reading something is certainly better than nothing.
– Finally, most of us have used character-by-character literal translation as a mnemonic for memorizing certain Chinese vocabulary, but now there’s a blog dedicated to just that, called “those crazy chinese.” “Sweet pee disease,” “hairy hairy balls,” “ear shit”… check it out.
My wife and I spent most of our time on Bei Luogu Xiang (北锣鼓巷) or Nan Luogu Xiang (南锣鼓巷). We stayed in a nice little 四合院 hotel in the area called 吉庆堂. Thanks to Brendan, we ended up at a bar called Amilal both nights, which was a pleasant 20-minute walk from our hotel.
We had a good time, and my Shanghainese wife is liking Beijing more every time we go.
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…
While some of us have been slaving away on a stupid never-ending masters thesis over the CNY break, others (David Lancashire) have been updating their “open source natural language processing engine for Chinese text” (Adsotrans).
Dave started up a blog for Adsotrans (again), and he’s got some interesting news to share:
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.
(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:
Thanks to David for introducing me to this website.
For a while now, the CBL has been suffering from massive spam attacks. John B, the original architect of the current version, had already helped me implement simple filters and batch delete functions, but I was still just getting bombarded by automated spam blog submissions. Recent additions of a captcha on the submission page and a “check range” greasemonkey script (which allows me to check hundreds of spam submissions for deletion at once) have enabled me to get the problem under control.
Being back in control inspired me to do the long-overdue layout update. Now that I am back in control, I also have a lot of blog submission approving to do. If you’re one of those people that submitted a while ago and you feel like you’ve been waiting forever, this is the explanation. And I will get to your submission.
I still have a bit of work to do on the layout. It breaks in IE. I’m not overly concerned though. (Do real web designers still care about IE??)
Oh, and while I’m on the subject of web updates, be sure to check out Dave Lancashire’s latest contribution to ChinesePod: the ChinesePod Dictionary. Very cool!
ChinesePod has recently been developing its “Extra” content. That refers to content that is not in a daily podcast lesson. One of the Extra features is one called Movie Madness, conceived by Dave Lancashire. The concept is this:
– You’re given an audio clip in Chinese.
– The clip comes from the Chinese dubbing of a well-known Hollywood movie.
– Based on the Chinese audio, guess what the movie is.
Here are the first five that we’ve recorded (each podcast is about 5 minutes long, even though the movie clips are much shorter):
This is actually harder than it sounds (maybe even slightly… oh, I don’t know… maddening??). The challenges are:
– It can be hard to find movies that are dubbed (especially movies that aren’t cartoons or that aren’t really old).
– The Chinese dubbing can fly by at incredible speeds, greatly reducing the chances of recognition even for really familiar scenes.
– Some really well-known movies don’t have any memorable lines.
– You pretty much have to take what you can get from your own Chinese DVD collection and what’s available in the shops around town.
More than just whining, I’m actually asking for help. If you’ve got audio movie clips from well-known movies dubbed in Chinese, send them in! (They’re pretty easy to record if your computer has a DVD-ROM drive and audio recording software like the free Audacity.)
The whole Shanghai vs. Beijing debate is somewhat tired, I know, so I’m not interested in rehashing it. I’m not going to bash or gush over either city. Rather, I’ve had sort of a change of heart about Beijing, and I’d like to tell why. To be honest, the more time I spend in Beijing, the more I like it. But I doubt I’d ever voluntarily relocate to Beijing.
Still, if I found myself in any of the following scenarios, I’d definitely choose Beijing:
– If I were a student of Chinese enamored with the Beijing accent or couldn’t stand hearing other dialects (there are many such students, I know)
– If I were a student of Chinese that insisted on only the very best in Chinese pedagogy that the mainland can offer
– If I were a student of Chinese enamored with xiangsheng
– If I were really interested in Chinese politics
– If I were really into the Olympics (this one has a shelf life of only a little over a year, though)
– If I were an artist or musician of any kind
– If I were really into Beijing’s hutong and siheyuan culture
– If I had a love of baijiu, that vile white rice wine
– If I liked big cities but couldn’t stand the pressure of living in a very fast-paced city
– If I were rabidly anti-corporate (I’ve noticed that international chains like McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut are much more widespread in Shanghai than in Beijing)
The only one that comes close to describing me is the last one. I’m not real happy that the restaurants which surround my apartment near Zhongshan Park are nearly all chains; it’s hard to find a good, privately-owned restaurant around here. I noticed about Beijing this last visit that there are so many little cafes and bars still. (One of the things Dave misses about Beijing most, it seems.) The only bar in Shanghai I’ve ever really felt comfortable in is the old Tanghui, and it’s long gone. None of the others have that vibe, and most aim for a bigger, “higher class” crowd.
Another thing that does make a difference to me is the fast pace of Shanghai. I don’t like it. It gets under my skin and in my bloodstream. I can feel it happening, but I can’t seem to prevent it. Hanghzou was totally relaxing, and Beijing is a lot closer to Hangzhou in that respect. And yet, in that easy, relaxed atmosphere I feel like I could float along forever and never do anything with my life. One of the main reasons I choose Shanghai is closely related to the fast pace, I think: Shanghai is a better place to get into business. And because I’m in China for the long haul, I’m very interested in where work prospects are best.
I’m not the kind of person that makes a huge deal about where I live. I feel that I could be happy in most environments, if I’m there to do something I want to do. The bottom line is that I choose Shanghai because my wife is here and my work is here. I’m happy here. But every time I go to Beijing I see more reasons to love it, and I think that in another life I could easily see myself in the Beijing camp*.
*Worth mentioning: I’ve never been in Beijing in the winter or during a dust storm.
I mentioned last week that David Lancashire of AdsoTrans came to Shanghai on a visit. The “big secret” was that he was here on a mission. He was checking out ChinesePod HQ before considering a job offer. But all that is old news; as David has already revealed on his blog, he will be working for ChinesePod starting in January.
This is cool for many reasons. David has done a lot of amazing work on AdsoTrans (and News in Chinese), all as a hobby. He’s only one guy, but he’s one really smart guy, and he’s managed to put together a very impressive web app, as well as lots of other learning materials, all under the guise of “hobby.” He’s been translating in Beijing to pay the bills, but it’s clear where his passions lie.
Now he can get paid to do the same “fun stuff” at ChinesePod, but on a larger scale. At the same time, ChinesePod’s rather unimpressive “glossary” component is about to do a lot of growing up.
There are so many possibilities that I can’t go into, but let me just say that it’s really an exciting time to be doing what we’re doing. To the rest of the world we might appear to be just geeks into Chinese, but I think that a year from now we’re going to be able to look back and see that in 2007 online Chinese study got a whole lot better.
David Lancashire of AdsoTrans fame is in town this weekend. He wrote a little about Shanghai in his new blog.
My roommate Lenny is leaving Shanghai for Taipei tomorrow (with his new t-shirt!). I’m moving out of this apartment in early January. It’s been a great place, and I really like having the extra room for guests. These past few months we’ve had lots of visitors, like Mark of toshuo, Poagao, Alf, Greg (house guest extraordinaire), Lenny’s sister, and now David.
This “free hotel” business isn’t going to last much longer, but until I move into my new place, I don’t mind it at all. With Lenny gone, this three bedroom apartment is going to seem quite empty.