Archive for Language and computers

Neglected email

Some charmingly reflective and sincere writing in the latest xkcd comic as Cueball types a reply to a long-neglected email correspondent:

Dear Kevin,
I'm sorry it's taken me two years to reply to your email. I've built up so much stress and anxiety around my email inbox; it's an unhealthy dynamic which is more psychological than technical. I've tried one magical solution after another, and as each one has failed, deep down I've grown more certain that the problem isn't email – it's me.

Regardless, these are my issues, not yours; you're my friend, and I owe you the basic courtesy of a response. I apologize for my neglect, and I hope you haven't been too hurt by my failure to reply.

Anyway, I appreciate your invitation to join your professional network on LinkedIn, but I'm afraid I must decline…

The mouseover alt text says: "I would be honored, but I know I don't belong in your network. The person you invited was someone who had not yet inflicted this two-year ordeal upon you. I'm no longer that person."

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Banned by Beijing

Just saw this great post by the editors of supchina:

"Here are all the words Chinese state media has banned:  A full translation of the style guide update from Xinhua, and why it matters." (8/1/17)

We can be grateful to the editors for their reliable translations, complete with Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin romanizations, with word spacing and tonal diacritics.

The list is divided into sections on "Politics and society" (including politically incorrect and vulgar terms), "Law", "Religion and society", "Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, territory, and sovereignty", and "International relations".  Specialists in all of these areas will have a field day examining these sensitive terms and analyzing their political, social, and cultural implications.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in contemporary China to avail themselves of this extraordinary opportunity to get inside the most fundamental level of the censorial apparatus of the Communist Chinese state.

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Attribution of the WannaCry ransomware to Chinese speakers

The notorious WannaCry malware infestation began on Friday, May 12, 2017 and spread rapidly throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands of computers and causing major damage.  Speculation concerning the identity of the perpetrators focused on North Korea, but the supposed connection was never convincingly demonstrated, and there were no other serious suspects.

Yesterday, Jon Condra, John Costello, and Sherman Chu published a stunning report which suggests that the authors of WannaCry — or someone they hired — spoke fluent Chinese:

"Linguistic Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware Messages Suggests Chinese-Speaking Authors" (Flashpoint [5/25/17])

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Similes for quality of computer code

I must admit to having enjoyed the series of savage similes about quality of computer program code presented in three xkcd comic strips. They show a female character, known to aficionados as Ponytail, reluctantly agreeing to take a critical look at some code that the male character Cueball has written. Almost at first sight, she begins to describe it using utterly brutal similes. In the first strip (at http://xkcd.com/1513) she announces that reading it is "like being in a house built by a child using nothing but a hatchet and a picture of a house." But Ponytail is not done: there is more bile and contempt where that came from.

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Veggies for cats and dogs

This video was passed on by Tim Leonard, who remarks, "real-time video translation at its best":

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The miracle of reading and writing Chinese characters

We have the testimony of a colleague whose ability to write Chinese characters has been adversely affected by her not being able to visualize them in her mind's eye.  See:

"Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye" (3/24/17)

This prompts me to ponder:  just how do people who are literate in Chinese characters recall them?

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Password nerdview

Steve Politzer-Ahles was trying to change his password on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University system, and found himself confronted with this warning:

You may not use the following attribute values for your password:

puAccNetID
puStaffNo
puUserGivenName
puUserSurname

Attribute values? This is classic nerdview.

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Why electronic machine translation services sometimes seem to fail

The inability of Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Baidu Fanyi, and other translation services to correctly render jī nián dàjí 鸡年大吉 ("may the / your year of the chicken be greatly auspicious!") in various languages points up a vital distinction that I have long wanted to make, and now is as good a time as ever.  Namely, just as you could not expect these translation services to handle Cantonese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, etc. (unless specifically and separately programmed to do so), we should not expect them to deal with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS / CC).

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Finding non-Roman letters and characters in an MS Word document

Somebody asked Mark Swofford to help her devise a speedy, easy way to locate all the Chinese characters in a book-length manuscript that she was working on.  Mark set to work on the problem, and this is what he came up with:

"How to find Chinese characters in an MS Word document" (12/10/16)

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Offal is not awful

My son sent me this wonderful, learned post called "The best bits" from the "Old European culture" blog (12/7/2015).  It begins:

Offal, also called variety meats or organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, which varies by culture and region, but includes most internal organs excluding muscle and bone.

The word shares its etymology with several Germanic words: Frisian ôffal, German Abfall (offall in some Western German dialects), afval in Dutch and Afrikaans, avfall in Norwegian and Swedish, and affald in Danish. These Germanic words all mean "garbage", or —literally— "off-fall", referring to that which has fallen off during butchering. However, these words are not often used to refer to food with the exception of Afrikaans in the agglutination afvalvleis (lit. "off-fall-meat") which does indeed mean offal. For instance, the German word for offal is Innereien meaning innards. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word entered Middle English from Middle Dutch in the form afval, derived from af (off) and vallen (fall).

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Mystery modal window error message

Almost every day, when looking through the headlines on Google News, I see one or two stories where what's meant to be a snippet from the first paragraph of the story contains not a single word from the story but instead says this:

This is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button. Close Modal Dialog. This is a modal window.

modalwin

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Chinese typewriter redux

We have looked at the Chinese typewriter again and again:

"Chinese Typewriter" (6/30/09)

"Chinese typewriter, part 2" (4/17/11)

"Chinese character inputting" (10/17/15)

By now we are thoroughly familiar with this unwieldy contraption.  Given that it has long since been consigned to the museum, where it properly belongs, it is strange that some folks continue to tout it as the wave of the future in information processing.

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How many more Chinese characters are needed?

I was stunned when I read this op-ed piece in the NYT yesterday (10/24/16):  "China's Digital Soft Power Play".  In it, the author, Jing Tsu (a professor of Chinese literature and culture at Yale), writes:

This month, the Chinese government plans to introduce codes for some 3,000 Chinese characters as part of a grand project, known as the China Font Bank, to digitize 500,000 characters previously unavailable in electronic form. Until now, only 80,388 characters have been encoded in the international computing standard, Unicode.

The project highlights 100,000 characters from the country’s 56 ethnic minorities, and another 100,000 rare and ancient characters from China’s written corpus. Deploying almost 30 companies, institutions and universities, it’s the largest state-funded digitization project ever undertaken.

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