Archive for Language and technology

Annals of incompetent spam: the weeding ceremony

A spam email I received this morning (addressed to me and three other addresses, no subject; the sender was “david mark” at davidmark0066@gmail.com) had the following text:

Hello this is david i will like to know if you can handle my weeding ceremony  and do you own the service ??

I actually never realized people had weeding ceremonies. I thought you just got out there with a trowel and a pair of kneepads and dug out those unwanted plants without benefit of any rituals of any sort. But some may have different traditions. We must be open to cultural diversity.

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Siri and flatulence

An acquaintance of mine has a new iPhone, which he carries in a pocket that is (relevantly) below waist level. He has discovered something that dramatically illustrates the difference between (i) responding to speech and (ii) responding to speech as humans do, on the basis of knowing that it is speech.

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Tracing lexical trends in Google searches

Google has released a fun data visualization tool that shows changes in search interest over time for a variety of trending words, particularly new slang terms. In “The Year in Language 2016,” you can see how frequently people searched for the definitions of words, in queries such as “selfie definition” or “define selfie.” By this metric, the top 10 words for 2016 are: triggered, shook, juju, broccoli, woke, holosexual, shill, gaslighting, bigly, and SJW. You can also plot the search interest for more than 50 words from 2013 to 2016.

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Portable air filter for North China smog

Ad in the Beijing subway:

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Hugh Jackilometresan

On Twitter, John Lewis shared a prime example of the perils of global search-and-replace: what happens when “km” gets expanded to “kilometres” in an edition of Trivial Pursuit.

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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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Telephone or telegraph?

There’s a controversy over whether President Xi Jinping called President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his victory in the November 8th election.  The problem is summarized in this passage from The Economist:

Chinese officials pay obsessive attention to ensuring the Communist Party’s line is reflected accurately by the country’s main media. But Mr Trump’s victory caught them in a muddle. Several outlets said Mr Xi had telephoned his compliments to Mr Trump. But Mr Trump said he had spoken to or heard from most foreign leaders—except Mr Xi. The phone call did not take place until six days after the vote. In most countries such a mistake would be insignificant, the result of sloppy reporting or ambiguous phrasing (in Mandarin, the phrase “sent a congratulatory note” can also mean “congratulate by phone”). In China it suggested that media overlords were not sure what line to take.

(emphasis added)

From The Economist, November 19th, 2016, “China” section, page 59 of British edition.

Weighing up Telangpu:  A victory for China?  Some Chinese see much to like in Mr Trump” (11/19/16)

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Kindly do the needful

A phishing spam I received today from “Europe Trade” (it claims to be in Wisconsin but its address domain is in Belarus) said this:

Good Day sir/madam,

I am forwarding the attached document to you as instructed for confirmation,

Please kindly do the needful and revert

Best regards
Sarah Griffith

There were two attachments, allegedly called “BL-document.pdf” and “Invoice.pdf”; they were identical. Their icons said they were PDF files of size 21KB (everyone trusts PDF), but viewing them in Outlook caused Word Online to open them, whereupon they claimed to be password-protected PDF files of a different size, 635KB. However, the link I was supposed to click to open them actually led to a misleadingly named HTML file, which doubtless would have sucked me down to hell or sent all my savings to Belarus or whatever. I don’t know what you would have done (some folks are more gullible than others), but I decided I would not kindly do the needful, or even revert. Sorry, Sarah.

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Clueless Microsoft language processing

A rather poetic and imaginative abstract I received in my email this morning (it’s about a talk on computational aids for composers), contains the following sentence:

We will metaphorically drop in on Wolfgang composing at home in the morning, at an orchestra rehearsal in the afternoon, and find him unwinding in the evening playing a spot of the new game Piano Hero which is (in my fictional narrative) all the rage in the Viennese coffee shops.

There’s nothing wrong with the sentence. What makes me bring it to your notice is the extraordinary modification that my Microsoft mail system performed on it. I wonder if you can see the part of the message that it felt it should mess with, in a vain and unwanted effort at helping me do my job more efficiently?

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Siege lions and procedural apes

Nancy Friedman came across the website of RippleInfo, a technology company in Suzhou.  Nancy doesn’t read Chinese, so she submitted it to Google Translate, whereupon she discovered a section titled “Suzhou Siege Lions Have Caused”.  That led her to a statement from the CEO that included this sentence:

If the siege lion apes and procedures are not happy, how to write perfect code?

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 5

Previous posts in the series:

As mentioned before, the following post is not about a sword or other type of weapon per se, but in terms of its ancient Eurasian outlook, it arguably belongs in the series:

Today’s post is also not about a sword, but it is about a weapon, namely an arrow.

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A megaphone that can translate

An article by Nick Vivian in USA Today informs us:

Tokyo’s airport is using this incredible megaphone to translate into three languages on the fly” (11/22/15).

The person wielding the megaphone speaks into it in Japanese and the megaphone amplifies her messages in three languages, one after another:  English, Korean, and Chinese.

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How English became such a dominant second language in China today

In a comment to “An orgy of code-switching” (11/6/15), I wrote:

In connection with the ABC Chinese-English dictionary database which they wanted to buy, I had some dealings with Microsoft in China about 15 years ago. Already then, their internal language in the Beijing and Shanghai offices was English. Around the same time, I also had contact with several other major companies in China where the situation was exactly the same.

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