Archive for January, 2015

The Stupidest Sentence I’ve Ever Read

The stupidest sentence I’ve ever read was not written by a child. Not by a religious demagogue. Not by a YouTube user. Not by a politician and not by a political opinion blogger. Not by somebody who discovered a fun folk etymology.

All such people are expected to write stupid sentences, but they are all understandable in their context. Even the religious demagogue. I just don’t expect anything smart there.

No, the single stupidest sentence that I’ve ever read was written by a Harvard Medical School professor.

“We all know that exercise makes us feel better, but most of us have no idea why.”

This is the opening sentence of a book called Spark!: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain by John Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

The rest of this book may well be good, but I just couldn’t get past this. Seriously? Seriously? Opening a book that purports to be scientific, even if popular, with a sentence that is so easily falsified is a complete non-starter for me.

Exercise doesn’t make me feel better. And I damn well know why. It makes me feel like I’m tired and bored. It makes my body hurt. If makes me think that I’m investing time and effort in something exceptionally pointless and negative while I could do something useful. It does not make me feel anything positive at all.

This book, which is supposed to convince me to do exercise, does precisely the opposite with its opening sentence: It makes me hate the thought of exercise even more.

I first read that sentence a couple of years ago. Today I saw the book on the shelf, and I am still convinced that it’s the stupidest one I’ve ever read. I don’t care about “setting the mood”. I don’t care that that’s how book marketing works. I like things that have meaning, and sadly this book throws meaning out the window right from the start.

Feel free to call me a lazy ass, but you’ll be missing the point.

Continuous Translation and Rewarding Volunteers

In November I gave a talk about how we do localization in Wikimedia at a localization meetup in Tel-Aviv, kindly organized by Eyal Mrejen from Wix.

I presented and UniversalLanguageSelector. I quickly and quite casually said that when you submit a translation at translatewiki, the translation will be deployed to the live Wikipedia sites in your language within a day or two, after one of staff members will synchronize the translations database with the MediaWiki source code repository and a scheduled job will copy the new translation to the live site.

Yesterday I attended another of those localization meetups, in which Wix developers themselves presented what they call “Continuous Translation”, similarly to “Continuous Integration“, a popular software deployment methodology. Without going into deep details, “Continuous Translation” as described by Wix is pretty much the same thing as what we have been doing in the Wikimedia world: Translators’ work is separated from coding; all languages are stored in the same way; the translations are validated, merged and deployed as quickly and as automatically as possible. That’s how we’ve been doing it since 2009 or so, without bothering to give this methodology a name.

So in my talk I mentioned it quickly and casually, and the Wix developers did most of their talk about it.

I guess that Wix are doing it because it’s good for their business. Wikimedia is also doing it because it’s good for our business, although our business is not about money, but about making end users and volunteer translators happy. Wikimedia’s main goal is to make useful knowledge accessible to all of humanity, and knowledge is more accessible if our website’s user interface is fully translated; and since we have to rely on volunteers for translation, we have to make them happy by making their work as comfortable and rewarding as possible. Quick deployments is one of those things that provide this rewarding feeling.

Another presentation in yesterday’s meetup was by Orit Yehezkel, who showed how localization is done in Waze, a popular traffic-aware GPS navigator app. It is a commercial product that relies on advertisement for revenue, but for the actual functionality of mapping, reporting traffic and localization, it relies on a loyal community of volunteers. One thing that I especially loved in this presentation is Orit’s explanation of why it is better to get the translations from the volunteer community rather than from a commercial translation service: “Our users understand our product better than anybody else”.

I’ve been always saying the same thing about Wikimedia: Wikimedia projects editors are better than anybody else in understanding the internal lingo, the functionality, the processes and hence – the context of all the details of the interface and the right way to translate them.