Rogue Finnish weatherword intrusion

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Cameron M. sent in a screenshot of his weather report from a couple of days ago, in which the current weather in New York City is described as Pilvistä:

Google Translate thinks that Pilvistä is Finnish for "mostly cloudy".

In response to my questions, Cameron explained that

I've never set foot in Finland. And I hadn't been browsing about matters Finnish. Also, this was my Waterfox browser, which I have configured to drop all cookies and browsing history every time I close it. Thus I drag a pretty small tail, history-wise, at any given time.

 I realise it's tricky to run a truly internationalized website, but for one word to go rogue like that is pretty bizarre.

Refugees from Nokia on Accuweather's development team? An unusually subtle form of Waterfox-based ransomware ("Pay us or we'll translate random bits of your internet traffic into Finnish!")? Ideas?

 



27 Comments

  1. Paul Clapham said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

    I don't have any theory for why Pilvistä, but here's my "similar experience" description.

    I recently updated my computer to Windows 10. Having done that I noticed that there was a "Mail" app which claimed to support Gmail. Fine, I said, let's try that. So naturally it wanted me to enter my Gmail credentials. Nothing surprising there — except that all of the dialogs were in Hungarian.

    Now Hungarian isn't one of the languages in which I'm competent. In fact I can probably recognize a dozen Hungarian words but that's about it. However I could tell what the dialogs were trying to ask me so I did successfully get to my Gmail account.

    [(myl) The Finno-Ugric digital underground is everywhere! ]

  2. AKMA said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

    My wife just consulted AccuWeather for Oxford, and Accuweather assured her that the current conditions were Napos. We haven't yet figured out what language that is, or what weather it describes, except that we had clear skies.

  3. Sam said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

    Per Wiktionary, it appears that "napos" is Hungarian for "sunny". So maybe there's something to this Finno-Ugric digital underground hypothesis…

    But assuming those are both just random languages that happened to get selected, I'd figure it must be some glitch between two different bits of code (so that e.g. a parameter that's supposed to do something else is instead causing the vocabulary for current conditions to be pulled from random rows in the database). Alternatively, there could be some bit of leaky code that causes the server to serve that particular field in the last interface language specified by (any) user, instead of in the default language.

    FWIW, I'm not able to replicate the issue myself.

  4. unekdoud said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

    A wild theory: we've reached the stage of machine learning where our forecasters can pick up weather terms by correlating words used on Twitter with the photos they're posted with, and the algorithm has decided that English terms are inadequate for describing the precise cloudiness level in New York. (Okay, we don't actually have those applications yet. Maybe give it another five years.)

    A slightly less wild theory: somebody, probably Finnish, set up the system to return weather reports in Finnish, and then decided to fix it by running the results through a machine translator, which decided on a whim (just like the weather, some may say) to leave Pilvistä untranslated.

    Maybe "Refugees from Nokia" is a more plausible explanation.

  5. Hugo said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

    One theory, likely wrong: the Finnish company Foreca ("a leading provider of digital weather data for business use worldwide") let slip the wrong word.

    But likely wrong, as I think AccuWeather use their own data and are a competitor of Foreca.

  6. Adrian Bailey said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 4:08 pm

    (Sam) Who is this Per Wiktionary of which you speak? Maybe it's his fault.

  7. Hugo said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

    I'm in Finland and checked AccuWeather for Helsinki. Whilst the rest of the page is in Finnish (e.g. "Osittain pilvistä", partly cloudy; "Puolipilvistä", half-cloudy), a "Today's Weather" has leaked through.

    Oh, and not completely unrelated: there's a Finnish weathermen named Pekka Pouta, whose surname means "dry weather".

  8. Steve Politzer-Ahles said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 6:03 pm

    My browser has done something similar to me before, changing all the dates on a flight itinerary to Chinese (http://i.imgur.com/BMgTGIg.jpg). Different website, different circumstances (in my cases I am looking at Chinese text a lot, although this particular case wasn't a flight to China or anything like that) but possibly a similar cause, who knows. I never did figure out what caused it to happen for me.

  9. Zeppelin said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 6:37 pm

    I use a program called Fences to organise my desktop. I've got it set to German, but for some reason a number of menu options and tooltips are in Finnish.
    I'd thought nothing of it in the past, but now I'm starting to get suspicious…

  10. Zeppelin said,

    June 5, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

    Namely:

    One of the two right click tooltips — piilota työpöydän kuvakkeet, "hide desktop icons" — but not the other. One of the options menu headers — ulkoasu, "layout" — but none of the others. And one of the sliders for choosing colour, contrast, transparency etc. for the "fences" — väri, "colour" — but none of the others.
    And one entire paragraph on the "help" page, preceded and followed by paragraphs in German.

    Everything else is in sensible, idiomatic German, so it doesn't seem like an automatic translation hiccup.

  11. Tor Lillqvist said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 1:07 am

    Guerrilla marketing?

    They got you blogging about their site, and quite possibly there has been threads in various social media, too, and now thousands of people have visited the site to check for themselves, and might remember it in the future when they want to check the weather forecast, instead of some other site.

  12. pj said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 5:11 am

    @Tor Lillqvist
    You may be right: I'd never heard of them but I'm on the site now… No Finnish or Hungarian to report, but an unusual value judgement on the weather in London today: 'Beautiful with clouds and sun'.

  13. bratschegirl said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 9:34 am

    How long until we see an article on how many words AccuWeather has for snow?

  14. Jo-Anne Andre said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 10:07 am

    I'm not sure about the Finnish, but the precision forecasting is impressive: "a break in the rain in 11 minutes"!

  15. JW said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 10:40 am

    Probably the same reason Apple Maps shows the San Francisco Asian Art Museum in French:

    http://s33.postimg.org/62oc3191r/IMG_1046.png

  16. Roger Lustig said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 12:22 pm

    My 10-day forecast is full of eels.

  17. Rebecca said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

    I notice the accu-weather app has a crowd-sourcing feature for their weather map. Maybe in implementing that, they untethered interface language, data and input language in some non-helpful way. Or perhaps that somehow enables bored, teen-age weather-nerds in Finland to overload the input with weather reports in Finnish

  18. David Eddyshaw said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 6:04 pm

    Various apparently unrelated websites seem to have gained the impression that I am French. It happens on different machines and with different browsers and for the life of me I don't know how this came about. I can't even come up with a plausible theory.

    On the one hand it's spooky to think that out there in the cloud somewhere may be the information that I am French; on the other hand, it's reassuring to think that They have got it wrong. Hopefully all the other information they're keeping on me is also wrong …

    I can read French. Seems like I should be counting myself fortunate not to have been tagged by the gods of the intertubes as Hungarian. Though the learning experience might prove interesting.

    Sziasztok!

  19. David Eddyshaw said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 6:15 pm

    It's Linus Torvalds. Somehow, he's doing it all. Easter eggs in the Linux kernel on the server …
    (He's actually Swedish-speaking. But perhaps it's his Finnish patriotism.)

  20. DaveM said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

    I suspect it's just the Internet beginning to catch up to Ray Bradbury.

  21. DWalker said,

    June 7, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

    "… English terms are inadequate for describing the precise cloudiness level in New York."

    How many words for Cloudy do we have in the English language? Too bad we're not speaking Inuit!

    :-)

  22. Kenny Easwaran said,

    June 8, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

    Steve Politzer-Ahles – When we use the American Airlines website, it's in English for me, but in Korean for my partner (whose closest visit to Korea was on changing subway lines in Koreatown in Los Angeles).

  23. John said,

    June 9, 2016 @ 12:16 am

    I don't mind erroneous language switches as they give me the opportunity to learn some new words. The problem I have is that one of my web-based email accounts puts me in the wrong timezone, so any emails with meeting or transport times as a "calendar entry" file get changed to the timezone it thinks I am in. This happens regardless of where I actually am in the world or which computer I am using to access the site. I had to stop using that account for anything serious and it is now a spam collector. Meanwhile an account with a second username on the same site has remained problem-free.

  24. Sili said,

    June 9, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

    Commenting on the right post this time (I hope):

    How does versioning work? Is it reasonable to think that a file tagged US was mistyped as SU for Suomi?

  25. Boursin said,

    June 9, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

    Based on my experience in the field, the relevant language codes used in localization work are pretty much universally FI for Finnish and EN for English (regional variants being indicated by suffixes: EN-US, EN-UK and so on).

    And that pilvistä there, by the way, means just 'cloudy' and not 'mostly cloudy'. That would be enimmäkseen pilvistä.

  26. Riikka said,

    June 11, 2016 @ 8:54 am

    I'm a Finn in Finland; however, for a longish while Google was under the impression that I lived in Mosul, Iraq. Every time I opened the Google Maps I saw Mosul, and got a little button with an option of showing Google search engine in Arabic.

    I think someone is fighting back.

  27. Jan Schreuder said,

    June 11, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

    @Riika. I hope someone is fighting back. And I wish them godspeed .

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