Archive for July, 2010

Lenin 55!

I am sitting in the library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The complete works of Lenin are on a shelf in front of me. Four shelves, to be precise: Fifty-five volumes plus a two-volume index and the selected works in English – in mere forty-five volumes. I wonder: Did the university actually buy it or did the children of a dead communist donate it to clear some space at home?

International Phonetic Alphabet WIN

You love the International Phonetic Alphabet, do you? I mean, everybody loves the International Phonetic Alphabet. You know, these funny weird letters that tell you that the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull is [ˈɛɪjaˌfjatl̥aˌjœkʏtl̥].

But seriously, if you didn’t study Linguistics or didn’t at least study in a school in Russia, where English pronunciation is taught using the IPA, then you probably hate the International Phonetic Alphabet. In fact, chances are that you hate the International Phonetic Alphabet even more if you did. It’s weird, it’s hard to read unless you practiced for many months, it’s impossible to type and common computer fonts don’t support it well.

But people in the world of Free Software don’t like to reinvent the wheel. That’s why the developers of Mozilla Firefox, for example, strive to support defined standards, unlike the developers of Microsoft Internet Explorer who (officially) try to play nicely with existing websites and “not to break the web”. And that’s why Wikipedia chose to write all pronunciations in the International Phonetic Alphabet – because it’s an accepted standard, which is in principle common to all languages. Prof. Asher Laufer of the Hebrew University, a member of the International Phonetic Association, praises Wikipedia for deciding to stick to the IPA in all articles in his textbook “Chapters in Phonetics and Phonetic Transcription”.

But there’s still the problem with the fonts. There are Free fonts that support the IPA well, most notably Charis SIL, but unfortunately it is not included with Windows, even though it is Free and beautiful. So if you use Windows to browse Wikipedia, you may see IPA pronunciations not as they should look. The fonts support in Windows XP is quite broken; it’s better in Vista and Windows 7, but still imperfect. So you should download and install Charis SIL. Until today, however, even if you would install it, correct display of IPA wouldn’t be guaranteed, because different browsers made weird and inconsistent decisions about the font selection.

So here’s the WIN: I opened a bug asking to make Wikipedia display IPA consistently in different browsers on Windows, and Derk-Jan Hartman, a.k.a TheDJ, very quickly fixed it! Thank you, Derk-Jan Hartman.

OpenOffice WIN

WIN: I sent a university paper as an OpenOffice odt file and the teacher accepted it! For great justice!

Unboxing – Forgiveness Rock Record

As i already wrote here recently, i love “Forgiveness Rock Record” by the Canadian band Broken Social Scene. I also love the way it was marketed: It was possible to buy a vinyl record and receive a code to download lossless CD-quality FLAC files with all the songs. The deal is great, because vinyl is big, black and cool, and it is great for listening at home and for listening in a car or on a digital player FLAC files are perfect. (Digital players that don’t support FLAC files are bad. Don’t buy them.)

So i ordered the vinyl+FLAC. On the day the album was released i received the URL to download the files and patiently waited for the vinyl to arrive in the mail. After two months it didn’t arrive, so i wrote an email to Gallery AC, the record company, asking them what happened. They apologized, saying that due to changing their computer system my order wasn’t processed properly, and said that they will send the package by air mail without additional charges and will add a CD of my choice to the package, also without additional charges. How nice of them! I chose Jason Collett’s “Idols of Exile”. The package arrived today, about eight days after the email.

So here’s my “unboxing” experience. Unboxing is usually for digital gadgets; i buy very few gadgets and care much more about music, so it should be more appropriate.

Miloopa in Unicode, ya mama

In my last day in Gdańsk i had a few Złoty left and there was a record store near the bus stop, so i spent the Złoty on CD’s. There’s only one Polish band with which i was actually familiar – Myslovitz, whose lovely song “The Sound of Solitude” was played quite a lot on MTV in the early 2000’s:

The original Polish version of the same song is just as nice:

After i got “The Best of Myslovitz” CD, i had money for a couple more. I didn’t have any time to search for anything in particular, so i just tried picking something with a nice cover and immediately came upon this:

the cover of the album "Unicode" by the band Miloopa. The letters in the word Unicode are made up of small symbols.

Miloopa - Unicode

A record with such a title cannot be bad, i thought, so i immediately got it. And indeed, it is very good. Miloopa‘s music strongly reminded of the Israeli band J.Viewz: a female singer with a nice voice, singing in English, mostly electronic beats, good for chillout. Probably every non-English-speaking country has such a band.

The last one i bought was a record named “No! No! No!” by a band called “No! No! No!“. It’s a rather conventional and good indie band, singing in Polish. The lyric sheet for one song literally cites the Wikipedia article Voight-Kampff machine – that couldn’t be more appropriate.

Swap languages

I returned from Wikimania 2010 in Gdańsk. Wikimania is the annual world convention of enthusiasts of Wikipedia and related projects. It was the first time i attended it. My reason to attend this time was that Wikimania 2011 is scheduled to take place in Haifa and i’m on the organization committee, but the event was so intense and fun, that i hope to attend it every year in the future.

The best part of Wikimania is meeting the people behind the Wikipedia accounts and the names on the mailing lists. One of the people whom i looked forward to meeting is Gerard Meijssen, one of the multilingualism gurus of Wikipedia.

Time permitting, i’ll write many more things about Wikimania, but i really had to reply to Gerard’s post about Google Translate. Gerard and i slept in the the same dormitory for the first days. The receptionists there, as well as at the other dormitory in which i slept later, didn’t know a word of English. Luckily, i know Russian, so Polish is not completely foreign to me, but for people without Slavic background it is indeed tough.

On the second day of Wikimania i passed by the receptionist on my way out. There was a Wikimedian who tried to explain something to her. And she didn’t understand. I offered my help. He said that he forgot his key inside the room. I explained it to her in half-Russian half-bad-Polish; she understood me, checked the room number and said that that room has a lock that doesn’t lock the room when the door is shut. I told it to the guy, but he probably didn’t quite understand me and tried to communicate with her again.

So she opened Google Translate on her desktop computer, carefully selected Polish as “from” and English as “to” and wrote something. He approached the computer, pressed the “Swap languages” button, so he would be able to write an answer in English and translate it into Polish; at that point the receptionist took the mouse from him and “helped” him: she selected English as “from” and Polish as “to”. She didn’t see that the “Swap languages” button already swapped languages. This ritual repeated several times. As far as she was concerned, she was an expert Google Translate user.

Eventually they succeeded at understanding each other and he found his key, but i was really baffled by this lesson in software usability.



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