Archive for February, 2011

Translating Wikipedia Interface Into Amharic

There is a Wikipedia in the Amharic language, but it is developing slowly. One of the reasons for this is that the interface of MediaWiki, the software that is running the Wikipedia website, is translated into Amharic only partially, so people who don’t know Amharic can hardly use the website. Completing the translation of the interface will make the Amharic Wikipedia much more accessible to people who don’t know English. This is relevant not only to people who read and write Wikipedia online, but also to those who don’t have Internet access, because the Wikimedia Foundation and other organizations distribute offline copies of Wikipedia on CD-ROMs, printed books and other media.

Translation of Wikipedia’s interface is done by volunteers at the website I know this website well and i am willing to invest my time and teach any Amharic speaker who can translate software messages from English or from Hebrew. Practically no experience is needed – anyone who can use a web browser, can do this, too, and i shall provide all the needed support, anywhere in Israel. Do you know anyone who would be able to do this? This can be a great chance to improve one’s skills in computer use, in Amharic and in English and to help millions of Amharic speakers get access to one of the most important educational websites on the web.

If you know anyone who can help with it, please let me know.


People Speaking – Save

— “How did you say that I can save a Word document as a MediaWiki file?”

— “You need to download an add-on for Microsoft Word. Google for ‘save microsoft word document as mediawiki’.”

— “I did. It brought me to a page about OpenOffice.”

— “Hmm… Great success!”

In LibreOffice, the freer version of OpenOffice, saving as MediaWiki is already available without installing any additional add-ons. It may be so in the latest version of OpenOffice, too. I used this feature to upload to Wikipedia dozens of articles that were written by people who can write well, but don’t want to learn the complicated MediaWiki syntax.

For Microsoft Word there is the “Microsoft Office Word Add-in For MediaWiki“. I tried installing it, but it didn’t actually work. Your mileage may vary.

Speaker for the Dead

I never meant to be a biologist or an advocate of Darwinism, but i just realized that it kinda bothers me that practically i learned all that i know about evolution from a Mormon science fiction writer.

A good writer, though: Speaker for the Dead is the first novel that i re-read in many years.


Looking at this Facebook ad makes me think: Was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine a failure or a success?

Kiev is a safe, cheap, foreigner-friendly city with a lot of history and culture. Enrol now - get 10% off on group courses. Learn Russian in Kiev.

Russian Immersion in Kiev

The Orange Revolution is presented in the Western Media mostly as an uprising against election fraud and for democracy and freedom. But to Eastern Europeans it was mostly about Ukraine’s relationship with Russia: Will Ukraine develop its own independent identity or will it remain little but Russia’s twin? The questions of nationality, language and identity were far more important than the questions of democracy vs. authoritarianism.

Yuschenko won the Orange Revolution, but lost the last election. Ukrainians, even those who supported his nationalist ideas, were disappointed: he seemed to do little but talk about how important it is to speak and write Ukrainian instead of Russian, proclaimed controversial figures such as Roman Shukhevych national heroes and promoted the Holodomor narrative, also rather controversial.

The Ukrainian language is going rather strong – it is the preferred language for many young people, it has an excellent music scene and it’s flourishing online. But it is not yet the language of an overwhelming majority – millions of people in Ukraine speak Russian for various reasons. As this advertisement testifies, Russian, the “occupier’s language”, is strong enough in Kiev to be used for marketing the city.

So, the nationalistic element of the Orange Revolution may have been somewhat of a failure, which can’t be too bad, but its democratic element is probably doing well. The government can, and probably should, force Ukrainian in documents and education, but it cannot stifle other languages in commerce. Yuschenko may hate it, but that’s the beauty of democracy.

Every now and then

Every now and then i listen to bad music. Every now and then i watch a bad movie. Every now and then i eat in a bad restaurant. Every now and then i read a bad book. And i love it. It reminds my that i do have a taste and that i don’t just think that everything that i hear, watch, eat and read is good.

Arab Inventors in Wikipedia

The famous provocative Russian designer and blogger Artemy Lebedev wrote in his blog today (my translation from Russian):

European (Christian) consciousness is built differently than the Eastern (Muslim).

The main unique property of the European culture is the ability to invent and create new things, technologies, items and products. Arab peoples are absolutely unable to invent something. Do we know anything Arabic? A television? A telephone? A car? At least one thing? My main complaint towards Islam is this – as a culture it is so egotistic, that I feel suffocated there.

Though very provocative in his use of language and in his criticism against ugly design, Lebedev is usually very secularist and anti-nationalistic. Sometimes, though, he does make some shocking and scathing remarks about ethnic and religious groups, such as this one.

It did make me think, however. Everybody knows that in the Middle Ages Arabs made many important advances in literature, medicine, astronomy, mathematics and other fields, but i really couldn’t think of an Arab inventor from the recent centuries. So i went to Wikipedia, opened Category:Inventors and descended to Category:Inventors by nationality.

There was only one Arab country listed: United Arab Emirates. Other prominent Muslim countries were Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. Hmm. So i went to the page List of inventors, hoping that it would be more inclusive and easy to search. It didn’t help much – i found very few Arabs there, and they were mostly medieval characters.

And then i recalled that it’s the English Wikipedia. So i went to Category:Inventors by nationality in the Arabic Wikipedia. There i found several sub-categories for Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt. There was no category for UAE, even though one existed in the English Wikipedia, and none of the categories i found in Arabic had an English counterpart; the one that existed for Algerian inventors was deleted a few months ago, because it was empty.

I went over the articles in these categories in the Arabic Wikipedia. Most of them didn’t have an English counterpart. There was an article in English about Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbah, a Lebanese engineer, so i created Category:Lebanese inventors for him and now there are two Arab countries under Category:Inventors by nationality in English.

There was also an article in English about Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian chemist, and a couple of other scientists. All of them are probably great people, but reading the articles about them in English it seemed to me that even though it’s correct to call them “scientists” and maybe “discoverers”, they probably aren’t inventors. Of course, it’s possible that i misunderstood something, but it may also mean that for the people who tagged these people as “inventors”, this word had a somewhat different meaning. This may or may not mean that the Arabic word used in the category name, مخترع, covers both inventions and discoveries. The Al-Mawrid Arabic-English dictionary, which i use most of the time, says that this word means “inventor, creator, originator, innovator, maker, author”.

So, there’s a little lesson in cultural divide to be learned here. No, i don’t agree with Artemy Lebedev – i am certain that Arabs can and do invent things and the existence of articles about alleged inventors from Arab countries in the Arabic Wikipedia probably means that this is true. But currently chauvinistic people can take a look in the English Wikipedia, see that it has almost no Arab inventors and keep being sure that Arabs are, indeed, stupid and incapable of invention. Since Wikipedia is so easily available, they probably won’t bother to search for information elsewhere.

Unfortunately, my understanding of the Arab culture and language is too small, but surely there must be an Arab who will take this challenge and improve the coverage of Arab inventors in the Wikipedia in English and other languages.

One way to do this would be to run the script that i wrote for finding and categorizing articles without interlanguage links; if you know Arabic and Perl, please contact me and i’ll gladly help you to set it up for the Arabic Wikipedia.



miriamruth11-hp; copyright: Google; based on the original illustration by Ora Ayal

Today the logo appearing at the top of honors Miriam Roth, the author of the famous Hebrew children’s book “A Tale of Five Balloons”. She was born on the 16th of February in 1910.

The Google employee who uploaded the image, made a mistake: the filename is “miriamruth”, but it should be “miriamroth”. That’s what happens when there’s no proper way to write the vowels: Her last name is written רות, which is how the Biblical name “Ruth”, still common in modern Israel, is written. But the German last name “Roth” is written the same way, because in Hebrew “u” and “o” are usually written using the same letter, Vav.

There is a way to differentiate the sounds: רוּת is “Ruth” and רוֹת is “Roth”. Notice the placement of the dot in relation to the letter in the middle. The sign for “u” is called shuruk, and the sign for “o” is called holam; i wrote the bulk of the articles about them in Wikipedia. Most people don’t type these signs; usually it’s fairly easy to guess the correct pronunciation, but people don’t use these signs even when it’s needed, as is the case with Ruth/Roth, because typing them on the standard Hebrew keyboard is very hard.

For years this made me very angry, so i asked the Standards Institute of Israel to develop a new standard keyboard in which it will be easy to type these signs. I was successful at convincing the SII to do it. The work is now underway, and i actively participate in the monthly meetings, together with representatives from Hamakor – the Israeli association for free and open source software, Israel Internet Association, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Google and other companies. I hope that the standard will be published in 2011; the technical implementation of the keyboard layout will take about ten minutes on each operating system, and shortly after that, i hope, it will be distributed to computers using some kind of an auto-update mechanism.

And then, i hope, we’ll start to see at least slightly richer Hebrew typography everywhere. I want it to happen, not just because it’s a nice tradition, but because this will simply make Hebrew easier to read – and will prevent silly mistakes, like pronouncing and writing “Ruth” instead of “Roth”.

See also: Maqaf.