Archive for December, 2004

Error 403

December 16th, 2004

I get lots of HTTP 404 error, which are Page Not Found errors. They’re easy to get. Just pick a site, and request some page that isn’t there. Practically everyone who does something on the Internet has seen a few.

What I’m not used to is HTTP 403 errors. Especially not ones that quote the RFC standard at me in such a manner.
Or, as Business Wire tried to tell me when running a simple search:

Error 403–Forbidden

From RFC 2068 Hypertext Transfer Protocol — HTTP/1.1:

10.4.4 403 Forbidden

The server understood the request,
but is refusing to fulfill it. Authorization will not help and the
request SHOULD NOT be repeated. If the request method was not HEAD and
the server wishes to make public why the request has not been
fulfilled, it SHOULD describe the reason for the refusal in the entity.
This status code is commonly used when the server does not wish to
reveal exactly why the request has been refused, or when no other
response is applicable.

How nice… I promise I’ll try not to do that again. Honest. And I won’t even call for an inquery into why a news source does not want to grant my request for news, refuses to divulge their reasons, and forcibly tells me to stop asking.
If this was the US’s Department of Homeland Security, I’d understand. But Business Wire??!


External Airbags ?!

December 16th, 2004

I originally saw an article about an actual major car manufacturer announcing they’ll install these sort of things, but I can’t seem to locate that link. So here’s a link to an announcement by someone that wants to make these external airbags.

I assume people must have run calculations, simulations, and tests, before going on with these things. Try as I may, however, I just can’t see how this would have a practical benefit.

The idea behind this is to open an airbag outside the car, so that if the car hits a person, the person will collide with the airbag. Like an internal airbag, but for the pedestrians. This is supposed to make for a softer impact, and reduce injury and risk of death from the collision.

But the cases are totally different. For a driver inside a car, that collides into something hard, the logic is simple. The car stops, the driver still has momentum so they will continue to move forward, and so collide with the wheel/windshield/whatever inside the car. So an airbag pops out, and the driver makes the collision with something soft, that gives a little under the pressure of the collision, thereby dissipating the driver’s kinetic energy over a longer time period. This results in the driver being less squashed and broken.

But for someone on the outside?!

First of all the car can’t detect the collision before the collision occurred (Special precognition chips? Surely if someone had those the first use wouldn’t have been for airbags…). This means that anything that would happen, would do so once the pedestrian was already partially hit, and pushed backwards.

If the airbag should touch the pedestrian directly, against the leg that hit the car’s front bumper, it must move faster than the car does. It may be softer, but it can’t stretch the total contact duration to more than it was without applying more force. If contact is to be with the bag and not the bumper, it must move faster, and keep moving faster.

This should result in the pedestrian being hit harder. So the leg will break more seriously, or they will fly backward faster and brake more bones on the road/sidewalk.

After all, if it could work for a car hitting a person, it should work just as well for a car hitting a car. Anyone manages to imagine to cars crashing headlong, spurting airbags at each other, and coming out less damaged as a result? Anyone manages to do that without bursting out in laughter? If so, start working on it, every car owner will want one installed to protect their cars from accidents… Darn, actually that could work… I should write a patent.

Or maybe it’s to prevent the initial head injury, then? When the bumper hits the leg, and the car keeps moving at a fast speed, the pedestrian will effectively tilt, until their upper body will collide with the front windshield or the engine hood.

This could be it, to some level. The damage here can be more dangerous. And the airbag actually has some time to deploy before coming in contact with the pedestrian. But from what I understand, the bag either comes out from near the bumper, or the car’s hood opens with an airbag popping out of it.

From the bumper, it again doesn’t quite feels right. The airbag comes from the point of impact, going up, while the pedestrian’s upper body goes along the car. It means that the person will not crash into the bag, but rather the bag will scrape them from the knees up and push them out. It may be better than impact on the car, but it can also be much worse. The person will again fly off of the car at a higher speed than they would have originally, only they will start the process being thoroughly bruised.

The hood springing open with an airbag beneath it can work. It’s closest to the original airbag scenario, which is proven as (mostly) working every day. I’m just not sure about the speed ranges in which it’s applicable. Popping and filling a bag at a high speed can be done. Popping a large metal plate at an extremely high speed is more problematical. And if it’s not very very fast, the poor person will get banged by the hood as it opens. They’ll get the original impact force concentrated on a smaller area (the point of impact with the hood’s edge), meaning more damage. And in addition they’ll get the damage from a metal plate going fast in a different direction. All that before the bag comes along and pushes them away.

I don’t know. Maybe my kinematic first impressions are wrong. If it can be done for certain speeds and reaction times, maybe it can be done for all of them. I’m still very uncomfortable with the idea. If a car hit me, I’d prefer it if it didn’t go on to continue attacking me further. It would be bad enough as it was.

Yahoo! Mail Problem Finally Fixed

December 16th, 2004

Looks like Yahoo! Mail finally fixed that annoying email filtering problem.

Everything seemed to work properly a few days ago, but given the rapid changes that went over there in the past I decided to give it some time. Well, some time has passed, and everything still looks fine.

I don’t know if they’ve solved what caused the problem, or just put in a proper workaround, but if I can’t see the problem I don’t have a problem.

Which means that as long as I don’t need any support from Customer Care, and don’t have any questions, they’re again my favourite webmail provider.

Signal Before Changing Lanes

December 14th, 2004

Just a short rant. Better to get it off my chest here than to let it build up until it becomes full road-rage, right?

The official and proper order is this:

  1. Signal that you want to switch lane using your blinker lights
  2. Observe that you can switch the lane safely
  3. Switch the lane

Easy to remember with the SOS acronym… ;-)
Well, sometimes the order of 1 & 2 is reversed, this is also acceptable.

It what most people do.

Except for those that start with step 3, ignore step 2, and then do step 1. It becomes a more and more common behaviour lately. So idiot pushes his (Sorry for the gender bias ladies, I do apologize, but I’m speaking of personal observations now, and am just trying to be accurate) car in front of mine, forcing me to quickly press the brakes, settles into the lane, then turns on the blinkers for a second to signal he wants wanted to switch into this lane.

The pushing into a lane without signaling bit I can understand. It’s stupid and dangerous, but that’s just the way some people drive around here (Amazing what one can get used to, eh?). The signaling afterwards really annoys me. It means the SOB is not just oblivious to the fact that he needs to signal. He knows he should signal, and chooses not to regardless. And afterwards he signals for a bit, since it’s the law or something. If he’d have just done this before turning, everyone would have been happier and safer, but that’s not cool and nonchalant enough for him.

Of course, there’s a good reason not to signal before switching lanes. There’s another type of people (No, scrap that, it’s the exact same type of people) that make it very difficult to get into a lane in front of them. They’ll quietly drive in a constant speed, but once you signal your desire to turn they’ll immediately speed up to prevent you, while pressing the horn – reproaching you for wanting to switch into a lane with a car in it.

There are so many people that need to be taken off the road… Please, anyone ?

Not Staying at Home Out of Fear

December 14th, 2004

Almost every weeks there’s a new study claiming people here are afraid of terror attacks,

and are staying home more instead of going out.

The same reports also keep claiming that this causes lack of clients for restaurants, making them close.

And they don’t recycle the same old news. These are newer studies showing people that

recently change their habits and stopped going out. And new names of places closing down

since they don’t have enough customers to keep themselves in business.

Overall, one can easily expect that a visit to the once teeming night-life centers of

several years ago will now reveal desolate ghost towns.
This would make sense. It would fit the theories. It would fit the studies. It would fit

common knowledge.

But it doesn’t work if you let minor things like facts confuse you:

  • The amount of areas hosting coffee shops, pubs and restaurants is growing.
  • The amount of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants overall in those areas is growing.
  • The amount of people wandering at night in those areas is growing.
  • The amount of cars trying to park at these places at night is growing, as evidenced by the

    fact that the amount of time it takes to find a parking place is… you guessed it.. growing.

It is true that restaurants keep closing down, but that’s due to the same reasons it has

happened for hundreds of years: Competition and the market. With more and more places opening, staying in

business requires something in the ways of quality, price, uniqueness, and plain luck.

All of which, while inexact and not very scientific, clearly indicates that people are not

staying more and more at home for fear of terror acts.

Whatever Bar

December 14th, 2004

Too many bars are popping around lately. Must be some new fad.

Once it was easy. A bar was probably a pub, where you had a counter, and someone behind it served drinks, mostly alcoholic. Some extra tables, and additions of foods to the menu, were also expected and usually found.

Then they started with the legal issues of smoking. You could freely smoke in a bar (Some people actually want to smoke, and so far we’re out of luck and there’s no death penalty for smoking). You couldn’t smoke in a non-designated area in a restaurant or coffee shop. And since those places want customer, and some customers smoke, they came up with a bright idea. Make it a bar.

Which started the trend of "Whatever Coffee Shop & Bar". You got the same coffee shop, with a small counter at the side having a barman someone that can pour drinks out of bottles. And people could smoke.

That was alright. Nobody really minded that coffee shops added "& Bar" to their names, or that some small restaurants did.

But for some reason the term gained a stunning popularity, and is now being used everywhere, despite it not designating the presence of a bar or having any other noticeable meaning whatsoever.

The Noodle bars came first I think. And stayed at it for a while. Sushi Bars were there also, but they’re somewhat legit, serving Sushi at the counter/bar is done.

But now? Now we have Chocolate bars, we have Falafel bars, we have Hummus bars, we have Burger bars, we have Sandwich bars, and more and more highly amusing, or highly tragic, bar combinations. Really, I’ve seen all of those.

Please stop. No, don’t stop, reverse. Free the Bar name! I can’t take it anymore. I was amused at first, but it’s getting too much. Soon there won’t be a single food serving place in the country that isn’t a bar.

Make More Free Parking

December 14th, 2004

The rising supply of restaurants, combined with their tendency to congregate, causes a
problem. Parking places get added in a pace that doesn’t match.

More and more people find their way to the same general areas on evenings (OK, the problem
is usually only on weekends), with their cars (There’s hardly any public transportation
after around 22:00, and public transportation isn’t that hot even on peak hours).

The only people that seem to notice are those who charge for parking. This is a good
business. Over time free parking areas are purchased from the municipalities and converted
to payment parking lots. And people pay money to park there.

What nobody seems to notice is that overall it’s bad for business. True, if you want to go
someplace specific, and there’s no free parking available, you’d get into the lot and pay.
But that’s not necessarily the usual case.
This complaint/suggestion is mostly relevant for areas that contain a concentration of restaurants, or
other places that attract people for social meetings.

Normally the procedure is not one where someone decides they want to go eat at place X, and
then try to get company. It’s that someone wants to meet with person Y (or more), and wants
a place to do it at.

Since you meet, you have to meet someplace. If you go out (Doesn’t happen much with some
people, but those are not relevant for this discussion) you need to go someplace, and
usually that would include food/drink/something-of-the-sort.

Obviously the decision on where to meet depends on the possible places. But since most such
places to tend to clump together in specific areas, on many cases the question isn’t a "Let’s go to X" one in which X is the name of an establishment. If many cases it’s the decision of what area to go to, and the specific X is selected only once you’re already there.

Why prefer one area over another?
Notice, I’m not talking about what X can do to make X more attractive to customers, I assume X either does this anyway, or X is a very transient thing and doesn’t matter.

One reason is the selection of establishments in each area. There’s nothing much an owner of X can do about that to get more clients. If X could encourage other attractive places in the area, this would bring more clients overall, but they won’t necessarily go to X. The same apply in the other direction, removing competition makes the overall area less attractive, since only people that originally wanted to go to X will come.

Another reason is specific tastes. If someone desires a certain type of food or entertainment, the preference would go to the areas providing more of these. Nothing much to do here either, for similar reasons.

Another one is variety. Someone that likes familiar things will stick to the same area. Someone that likes to diversify would check their less popular areas occasionally. Nothing (much) to do about the former, but the later are a specific case of the general problem, either how to make them go to X’s area, or how to make them stick to X’s area despite it being familiar.

Another is ease of getting to the area. This includes nearness to the starting point (homes or offices) which X can do nothing about. But this also includes parking. And that’s something that X can do something about.

Does parking matter? Yes, very much. It matters on two separate levels.

The first level is for the one-time visit.
Let’s assume that people who already drove to the area, and are synchronizing the meeting with other people, will not leave but stick to the same area.
If there’s easy and free parking, the people will get someplace, maybe X, do what they want to do, and buy what they want to buy.

If the parking costs money, some people will consider that as a cost to be taken out of the budget for the evening. If the parking was cheap, it’s not a real issue. If not, it can even go as far as create an attitude of "How much more could I spend on one evening for one meeting? This is too expensive". Resulting in them buying less. If they go to X, they may order cheaper courses than they would have ordered otherwise. Or skip dessert, or the extra drink. This is bad for X.

If parking doesn’t cost money, but is hard to find, the effects can be similar. Instead of getting near X and parking, people drive further and waste time driving over and over in the area looking for an empty spot. They will get to X annoyed, and in a sour mood (or at least somewhat less happy than they would have otherwise). It can go either way, since they may order more to cheer up, or order less since they’re pissed off.
The stronger effect would probably be to the order less direction. If there’s a time-limit, they’d get there sooner, so may skip the latest purchases. The time wasted can be considered in similar terms to money paid for parking. And they may arrive in a bad attitude thinking about the effort they’ve already made to arrive to X, so X should better be worth it, meaning that X will suffer due to the increased expectations.

The second level, and the more serious one, is what happens next time (and all the times after it, of course).

Overall prices tend to roughly even out for similar places, so establishments on the same business as X in other areas will charge similar prices. The exact offers, food, drinks, and such would also be roughly similar.
So when deciding on which area to go and look for places to hang out, someplace that would offer the same things with less cost would be better. Between two similar areas, with similar establishments, one where free parking is available, and one where parking needs to be paid for, the choice will become obvious.

It won’t happen overnight. Variety and habits have a strong role. But it will happen.

Except for those rare cases where X is specifically sought after, people will go where they don’t need to pay for more than what they wanted to buy. And where they don’t need to work hard and waste time for it.

It makes a lot of sense, both common and economic.

In addition that, it also seems to match actual facts from the real world. On a busy evening, areas with free parking have more cars than the paid parking lots do.
This not only goes for two lots one next to the other, this works across city boundaries. Amount of cars per parking-spaces where parking is free is higher before the peak times. And there’s more movement, since people don’t feel that they wasted their parking money if they go away someplace else once they’re done. Overall there are more people around in areas where parking is free.

So providing more free parking places will get more people before the rush hours. At the maximum peak this effect is smaller, since people may prefer to pay instead of wasting time searching for a place to park. And since people know that there’s room at the paid parking lots.
Notice, this is because there’s room at the paid parking lots after the free places get crowded. People prefer to park for free. And they therefore spend their money in areas that provides this free parking, since that where they are.

In addition to that, on the really busy times, weekend evenings, some parking places manage to get filled regardless. If there’s no parking at all, people will go elsewhere. If they can’t get into X’s area, then X won’t have them as customers. So more parking places overall is anyway a good idea, free or paid.

Personally, not that I’m representative or anything, but if I observe where is it that I spend most of my meetings-with-friends time, and what causes me to move to other areas, parking is a major issue.

There are a few areas I’m not longer getting to, despite some really nice restaurants there, since I refuse to go around 30 minutes in my car hoping to squeeze into a tight parking space.
There’s another area I don’t get to since it’s impossible to park there for free.

As long as there are alternatives, these places just lose me, my friends, and likely a lot of other people.

If for some crazy reason the trend will continue in the direction of not providing more parking, but taking payment for previously free spaces, we’ll go more to the areas with cheaper parking, or those where search times are lower. Or meet at one of our homes instead.

To conclude, what can X (be X a restaurant, pub, coffee shop, or anything of the sort) do to get more customers?
Help build parking lots, and help make them free.
It’s worth it for businesses in an area to pay for the creation of parking lots. And to pay for those to not charge customers.


December 8th, 2004

I turned on the radio this morning on a channel I usually don’t listen to. I got in just in time for the last part of a somewhat amusing (In a usually low-humor kind of way) show. They were in a part of the show where they try and help people come up with old things they forgot. I got the last few sentences of someone trying to decide about the name of a character on some cartoon. And then I got a whole new question and answer.

The caller explained that there’s a song he’s trying to find. His sister used to play and sing it for him when he was little, and he’s been trying to find out what song it was for years. According to him he asked a lot of people he knows, but everyone just said that it sounds very familiar yet they can’t place it.

He started to sing the song. It took me about five seconds to recognize the music as Greensleeves.

But they lyrics, the lyrics were something else entirely. Something totally unrelated that probably his sister came up with on her own. The two anchors of the show started to hum the music, telling each other that it’s indeed familiar. Guessing it may be from some musical or something…

They told him that they don’t think his words are the originals, and maybe his sister made them up. He replied that no, these are the real lyrics, his sister wouldn’t make up words for songs.

Apparently the usual mode of finding answers in the show was to ask listeners to phone in, send SMS messages, or to send emails. So there was a delay of about two minutes when they kept humming Greensleeves trying to guess what it was, and the caller insisted on singing it with his words.
It was so maddening I almost considered phoning in myself. Not a good idea while driving, though.

The caller also said that he tried running searches through lyrics search engines, and posting the lyrics on newsgroups, but nobody recognized it… Small surprise, since these aren’t the real words, or even close. The anchors tried to tell him that, but he was adamant that his sister couldn’t come up with such amazing lyrics. The idea that maybe she copied them from someone else that made them up didn’t occur to him.

Eventually someone managed to SMS in the word "Greensleeves". One of the anchors exclaimed that he knows it, and that it’s a well known song that has a lot of different performances. Which is absolutely true.

He than continued to say that if he remembers correctly there’s one performance by Loreena McKennitt, so the caller can try and find that. He then continued to spell Loreena "L-o-r-e-n-a"… Almost… He also claimed that’s the best performance of this song he knows. It’s a matter of taste, but while in general I like McKennitt a lot, this particular performance is too slow for my taste.

He also said that he’s not quite sure if this is the first version of the song. I nearly chocked. McKennitt isn’t such a young lady anymore, true, but I’m pretty certain she’s not even a hundred years old, not to mention the several centuries since Greensleeves became popular.

Then the same guy who sent the SMS called in, since they asked on the air if someone could provide more details. This wasn’t just a random listener, but a repeating one, apparently their music expert. The anchor asked him if indeed there was a version by Loreena McKennitt, and he answered that it’s possible (I assume this meant something like: "I haven’t the foggiest, what the hell do you want from me?!").

The anchor than came with another extra info "And if I’m correct, it’s from her album The Visitor". Again, almost. It’s called "The Visit".  A bit later on he also decided to refer to the song as "Green Leaves" and was surprised when the other anchor told him it’s Sleeves and not Leaves, "…at least according to the SMS".

They asked the expert what’s the origin of the song. On this he gave a certain and definitive answer. It’s an old American folk song. American. Let me repeat that in case someone missed it: he said American. I got that nearly-chocking thing again. America is even older than Loreena McKennitt, true, but not that old. At least not the English speaking parts with the cultural background needed to make sense out of Greensleeves. Maybe he thought it was originally composed by some Indian tribe? Lot’s of "Lady Greensleeves" were surely wandering around Indian tribes once.

He than sung some of the words. And the original caller burst in saying that they’re not the right words, they’re different from what his sister sung. This guy just refused to accept his sister put the wrong lyrics to the tune.

Great fun all around.

Education is a Waste of Time

December 5th, 2004

This bit was started by a radio show I heard on my drive back home from work today. The show was one playing mostly contemporary music by caller’s request, with an overly chirpy host.

This kid called in, and introduced himself.

host: "And how old are you?"
kid: "I’m sixteen"
host: "Oh. And tell me, what do you do when you’re not at school?"
kid: "Study"
host: "What, are you trying to tell me that you actually study even while you’re not at school ?!?!?!"

Good to know how well appreciated education is nowadays. Imagine that, a schoolkid is studying while at home, without a teacher hovering over him! The youth of today… tsk! tsk! Just shocking….

At least the kid had the decency to be embarrassed about it. He immediately started to reply in a highly apologetic tone, explaining that soon there are the end-of-year tests, so he really have to study and doesn’t have a choice.
The radio host seemed somewhat mollified by this, and accepted it as a possibly legitimate excuse. Though I could still hear the lingering doubts in the voice.

On the bright side, a few sentences later I got a new insight. There’s a relatively new figure of speech that became popular in the recent years, despite being totally stupid. Basically, the phrase A Waste of Time (Free translation from the Hebrew "haval al hazman") is being used as a compliment. I didn’t bother to ever check the etymology but I suppose it may have come as a short from saying that something is so good that it’s a waste of time to try and find something better. In any case I really don’t like this phrase in this context, have never used it, and have broken contact with the only friend of mine that started to use it regularly (That’s not the reason, of course. Just seemed like an appropriate place to mention it).

So I pretty much enjoyed it when the kid was offered the opportunity to dedicate the song he asked for. He dedicated it to various classmates, and then told the host that he also wants to dedicate it to this radio show, because it’s really a waste of time.

I think I’m going to use this phrase a lot more now. It has some genuine possibilities. Much better than my school days when I occasionally "complimented" some idiots that they’re so smart they must have a brain as huge as a dinosaur’s.

Computer Power

December 5th, 2004

Main power control for personal computers come in two basic configurations/standards. AT and ATX (Well, there’s a lot more to those than the way the power supply works, but that’s the part I care about here).

AT is the way the older computers were connected. The power switch is a physical connection. You have a two-way switch, with an ON state and an OFF state. You move it to on in order to turn the computer on (surprised?), and to off in order to turn the computer off. The main advantage of the system is that you have full control of whether power is on or off. The disadvantage is that you have to press a switch in order to turn the computer off once you’re done with it. This never seemed problematical to me, but since they later developed a solution, I guess it was a problem.

ATX is the newer type. The switch is electronic. You only have a single button on the computer, which is used both to turn it on and to turn it off. This allows you to turn the computer off by software, so your computer’s operating system can provide a shut-down option that actually turns the computer off. No need to press buttons or anything tedious of the kind. The disadvantage is that it sometimes doesn’t get turned off due to a variety of reason. And then instead of flicking a switch, you have to press the stupid button for about 8 seconds until something realizes that you actually want it to turn off.
Way of the future…

We’re upgrading a system for a client. One of the changes involved is an upgrade to the computer. This is an industrial system, and we’ve ordered a new board that will fit the existing chassis and have enough extension slots for all the cards we need on it.

Before replacing the board in the chassis, we took a look at all the connections. Next to the power connections there was a jumper used to choose between ATX and AT modes. The existing button and power supply are AT. Next to the jumper there was a mode printed on the board. The jumper should be open for ATX and closed for AT. So far so good, we need to close the jumper.

Well, surprise. Instead of a jumper, there were two holes in the board where a jumper could be fitted, but no actual jumper. If we want one, we need to solder one in ourselves. And since not having a jumper means it’s effectively open, we want one.

It’s a real nice feeling, to take a brand new computer board, and start soldering stuff into it. Great way to ruin it before we can even check it. Our electronics engineer was thrilled.

And to add insult to injury, the board’s manual clearly listed that the closed option is the default one. Yea, right.

Anyway, jumper soldered and closed. AT power works fine.

Office Banter

December 5th, 2004

This was in my office, a few minutes ago:

Our Secretary Manager’s Assistant (She’s sensitive about that) came to our electronics engineer and said "I need you to do me a favour".
To which the guy replied "What kind of a favour?"

They’re both married with children, and know each other long enough to be friends. The families are friendly as well. So some friendly banter was not unexpected.

Ergo, her reply "What kind of a favor do you think?! Sexual of course!"

Before she got to what she really wanted, I asked if they want me to get out of the room. She answered "Sure, leave us alone for a while. I’ll take you later…", while he begged me not to leave him alone with her.

They then quickly concluded with the actual request. She said bye, and told me on her way out of the room that actually I should have joined them and made a threesome (Why don’t I get these kind of offers for real?). To which I replied that I’m really sorry, but I can’t since she’s (Now the engineer entered a quick "too old", which is also about right) married.

She asked "Oh, is that a problem?". And I replied that of course it is. "What, you won’t have sex with someone just because she’s married?". Again I replied in the affirmative.

I didn’t expect the response I gtt then, "Let’s see if you’ll still think the same once you’re married". To which I replied that once I’m married, I suppose I would not have a problem being with a married women. As long as it’s the specific one I’m married to.

This is where the conversation got a bit weird(er). Her reply seemed not quite on track. "All of you men are like that, you’re too jealous all the time." Jealous? Where, how, what was she talking about?

"Just like my husband, when P [Our boss] wanted to take me with him to some convention he said that I can go with whomever I want, but if I do then I shouldn’t bother to come back. Me, I don’t care with who he goes [Her husband is sent from his work to a lot of business trips abroad] as long as he comes back to me."

It was all still said in a light tone, but I’m still puzzled over where did it come from, and why did it seem a continuation of the original line of banter…

How does claiming that I don’t allow myself to be involved with a married women can be constituted primarily as jealousy? Who am I supposed to be jealous about, and in what way, in order for me to mind that I myself get involved with someone married ?

Oh, well. I never did claim to be able to understand women. Heck, I never did claim to understand people in general… Which is alright, since it’s highly mutual.

A Teacher is a Teacher

December 3rd, 2004

I have a relative who’s a teacher. Well, I actually have several relatives who are, or once were, teachers. The tendency seems to run very strong among the women in one side of my family, for a number of generations. Don’t ask me why. Nowadays it’s a thankless, unappreciated, and poorly paid for job. Of course, as part of a vicious circle, most people that enter the profession get as much payment and appreciation as they deserve. But some are good and intelligent persons, and can be good teachers.

The specific relative I’m talking about has finished her degree just recently. She got the diploma, certifications, and whatever is needed in order to be officially named a teacher. So she’s a teacher, and have the papers to prove it.

I saw her today, and during a short conversation she complained about a recent occurrence. She was talking with someone, and was asked in what school she was teaching. After answering that she isn’t working in any school she got a response along the lines of "Oh, so you’re not a real teacher, then".

According to her she gets that quite a lot. And she is pissed off about it. She may not be teaching in a school, but she has done all she had to in order to become a teacher (Sounds like some ordeal, the way she talks about it. I suppose everything is relative), and feels she deserves the recognition.

Besides, she does actively teach. She currently gives private lessons to "problematical" kids, that need personal attention. But since it’s not school work in front of a class, nobody considers it real teaching.

So there, just to set the record straight, and to do my good deed for the day: Being a teacher is not about what you do, it’s about whether you have the papers claiming you are. Clear?

Bad Translations

December 3rd, 2004

Most books and movies are made in English. Yet the main language here in Israel is Hebrew, and there is some percentage (small, but not negligible) of the population that cannot understand or read English.

So there are translators, doing things like writing movie subtitles, or translating whole books. And usually they do very badly.

I’ll start with a somewhat long, but very funny (or terribly tragic, depending on your point of view) story, then proceed with the general rant and samples.

This is a real story, about the level of people getting into the profession. Our school system naturally includes English classes in several levels. It’s possible to take the highest ("five points", or whatever the way to translate this is. Yes, the irony of the previous sentence isn’t lost on me) level of the final "bagrut" tests a year earlier. And if you do that, proving that your English level is way above the norm (And these are not small kids, but 16-17 years old… kids), then you can do a "two points" course in Translation. Where they teach you how to translate English texts to Hebrew texts properly.

Personal note brutally injected in the middle of the story: I could have, but the school wanted to send me with their half of the grade at 95/100, so I declined, and did it the following year with a full 100/100. During that last year I mostly spent my English class time sitting in the classroom and reading a book while the other pupils had to pay attention to the teacher. A book in English of course. OK, back to the story.

About two years ago I got to see one of those final bagrut tests in Translation. Or at least a part of the test, I’m not sure if it was the whole of it. In this part, the pupils where presented with a text in English, and they had to translate it into correct and comprehensible Hebrew. There was free access to dictionaries (English-English-Hebrew), since the point was not to check for vocabulary but for aptitude and general ability to comprehend the texts. One of the rare cases where the Department of Education actually admits real-world uses of the knowledge will come with access to references.

And this specific text was about ice cream. Manufacturing, selling, whatever. It included a paragraph discussing some of the more esoteric flavours ice cream is made of, such as various strange fruits (Note: Culinary level in this country being what it is, any fruity ice cream taste beside banana and strawberry was, and is, exotic and esoteric). The list of strange fruits that can be used to make ice cream included figs. Yep, figs. Not that complicated, surely.

Let me translate back into English, accurately, the Hebrew translation on that test:"… ice cream in fruit flavours of… pig…". Anybody noticed the different letter there? Spot the difference : pig – fig. Well, our translator, one who, as I mentioned, had an English level far superior to most of her (It was a her, I’m not making a gender-based joke, or using this as a PC term) classmates, didn’t when reading the original text. Seemed obvious to her that figs are pork. She didn’t have any problem with classifying a pig as a fruit (Maybe she thought it was a gay pig? This begs the question of what did she think about the other fruits there).

Then these people go looking for a job to match their talents. Such as translating books and movies for the rest of us.

Did I mention that they had full and free access to lots and lots of dictionaries? I’m sure I did. So this was not a I’m not sure what this word means sort of thing. This was a certainty that ham-flavoured ice creams are the next big thing in fruity ice creams.

Being a meat person myself, I’ve been looking for that elusive pig ice cream ever since. But I can’t seem to find it even in the likelier places. Oh, well, maybe some day…

Here ends the story, going on to general rant, accompanied by a few examples, on the subject of these translations.

What prompted this post was a bit from a movie, where someone uttered a line with "wide-open beach". The translations in the subtitles was for "a wide and open beach". Meaning that the translator just didn’t know wide-open has a meaning different than "being wide, and also being open". This got me back into the mood of badmouthing translators everywhere, and recollecting past problems.

Actually, the reason I started to read books in English was the horrible translations. Growing up in a Hebrew speaking country my preferred reading language was obviously Hebrew. In fact I had a very hard time starting to read in English at grade school. I still remember valiantly fighting against a certain Road-Runner book and a certain Bugs Bunny book. Of the highly illustrated with 1-5 words per page variety.

But as time passed I read more and more real (mostly SF and thrillers) books in Hebrew, all translated from English. And found myself staring at some sentences and paragraphs not having a clue what the heck is the book talking about. Usually the solution for these incomprehension problems was to translate the sentence back into English. It became easily apparent just what word was mistranslated, and I could get a sane meaning.

Most of the early examples I don’t recall by now. So here’s a more recent one from about 5-7 years ago. I think the book was "The Rings of Charon" by Roger McBride Allen, but I’m not sure, and am not about to read it again just to make certain. Nice book if you’re into SF. In any case, I got it in Hebrew. And at one point some character was looking through a telescope and apparently watching some killer (Hebrew word "Mechasel", better English translation coming soon) slowly making it’s way across the moon. This didn’t make any sense, and there was no such killer mentioned anywhere earlier in the book. And then it hit me. Terminator. The man was watching the terminator on the moon, as in the dividing line between the illuminated and the unilluminated part of the moon.

Making a valid, but wrong in the context, translation of a word, is probably the most common translation problem I encountered. Sometimes it seems that someone translates by opening a dictionary on the word and randomly choosing one of the options, regardless of context. Some cases are so bad that it gives the distinct impression maybe different translators get different sentences. If one was given just a single sentence, it’s quite understandable if the translation doesn’t fit the context of the rest of the text. (Reminds me of the Monty Python sketch "The Funniest Joke in the World", where "They worked on one word each for greater safety" . Since most of these translations can be considered lethal, maybe there’s something to that)

Of course, some translators have a good excuse. Well, not good but understandable. The rest don’t have any excuse and are just boneheaded idiots linguistically challenged (See, I’m getting the hang of this PC thing). The excuse is that basically, as most economists would refuse to tell you while blabbering about supply and demand instead, you get what you pay for. And you don’t pay much for translations in this country.

I had an acquaintance I used to correspond with (didn’t meet the guy in person at this stage), and to exchange books with (loans only, I have a hard time making myself getting rid of books so I don’t try to). One day we talked, and I mentioned some horrible translation in a movie I saw, and started badmouthing translators in general. Which he decided to be the perfect time to tell me what he does for a living. It being making translations.
Luckily I was spared much embarrassment by the fact that he proceed to agree with everything I said about the abysmal level of translators in this country. He just told me that while it’s possible to look up words in dictionaries, or to work one’s brain and pay attention to context, the payment translators get is so low that it’s not worth their while.
I concurred that taking pride in one’s work is harder if one has to feed a family, or oneself, based on the amount rather then the quality, or one’s work.

I still don’t read translated books in Hebrew. Well, the level of translation isn’t the only cause. There is the added effect of writing style, since I buy a book to read the author’s rather than the translator’s. And the issue of selection, since most books, including the good ones, are not translated.

I do tend to try and read movie and TV subtitles occasionally. On the not very interesting movies, that is. Since it hardly ever fails to provide for chuckles.

Don’t even get me started about the sport team "Red Sox" "socks in red". Or about the "armed steel plating" "plates of weapon-bearing steel". Oh, heck, there are just so many examples… Too many examples…

Special Delivery

December 2nd, 2004

A client of ours was having problems, caused by two rather old hardware devices. We could have serviced and fixed those devices by ourselves, but that’s a lot of work and quite a mess, so we contacted the manufacturer in the US, and shipped the parts to them.

After an examination they replied that one of the devices they can deal with easily, but the other is more complicated and they would charge a hefty sum to fix it. After thinking about it a bit my boss decided it’s better that we’ll deal with it ourselves.

Since the international shipping charges are on us, my boss asked them to send back both devices together (after they deal with the first, of course) in one shipment. He also asked them to use the international shipping company we usually work with for US deliveries, since the costs will be lowest (I’m not sure if it’s because they’re generally cheaper on that route, or if it’s due to some customer agreement we have with them. What matters is the bottom line). Naturally they agreed.

And shortly afterward they sent back the problematical device. By itself. With a different company than the one we asked, with higher shipping fees. My boss complained to them, and they apologized (But we’re still paying for it).

A couple of days later they finished working on the other device, and shipped it back. With yet a third shipping company. And one which based on past experience is more expensive than the previous two.

My boss looked at the shipment invoice that was faxed to us, and noticed the the price wasn’t listed there. There was just a customer number. Since we had business with that shipping company in the past, we had a customer number from them, so he assumed the prices will be billed separately by the company. He did want to know the cost, however, so he rang the company to ask.

The receptionist there confirmed that it’s possible that for registered customers there won’t be a price listed, since billing is handled for each customer monthly instead of per shipment. She got the customer number from him, which he read directly from the invoice. And to verify she gave back the company’s name from their records.

Not our company.

An old client of ours. And not the one that the current two devices are from.

It so happens that about five years ago we sent something from this client for repairs, to the same manufacturer in the US. And to save time and hassle they then sent it back directly to our client.

And now they took another device, from us and belonging to another client of ours, and sent it to that old client of ours. Charged it on that old client of ours, I may add. Meaning that the old client will need to pay for the shipment before the device is released.

Just in case anyone wonders, we did have more dealings with that US company in the interim. Quite a lot. Why they decided this time to fish that old customer number from their records, and actually use it, I haven’t a clue.

Luckily for us, after a lot of explaining the old client agreed to pay the fee, give us the device, and charge us for what they paid.

Brain Scans Don’t Show Anything About Lies Or Truths

December 1st, 2004

Another case of wide publication for a juicy bit of news that  is based on rock-solid science. That is, assuming your definition of rock-solid is rather fluid.

The first news reports made this seem worse than it really is, I admit. It seemed so absurd that I just ignored it the first time I saw it. And the second time. And the… You get the drift. But it keep on coming, and most people seem to take this seriously for some reason.

Six people were asked to shoot toy guns, five people did not shoot the toy guns.
Then they were all placed under fMRI, and under polygraph tests, and told to alternately lie and tell the truth about the shooting.

And lo and behold, there were noticeable differences in brain activity.
Which led the researchers to assume lots of things about how the brain handles truths and lies differently. They want more funds to develop sophisticated lie-detectors based on this.

The original news reports (reporters must not be up to par these days) claimed that the shooters were told to lie, and the non-shooters to tell the truth, which of course turns the whole thing into a complete mess. The original news reports also claimed that there were six shooters and three non shooters, which strikes me as somewhat a lot harder for a reporter to miss.

One problem which is still there is the huge sample size. Eleven people. How do you get statistically significant results from that is beyond me.
Maybe they just need a baseline for these specific eleven people? This could work, get eleven suspected terrorists to do the research with you, ascertain that you know when they’re lying, and then interrogate them about their own terrorist activities… Somehow I have the feeling it’s not quite what they wanted here… Besides, if they were terrorists, they may have lied on the control questions as well.

Another problem is that… well… In this research both the fMRI and the polygraph showed distinct results.
But polygraphs pretty much suck at what they do. So now we know fMRI is as good as polygraph testing? Wow!

Besides, the polygraph testing itself was not even done with the best and newest polygraph techniques. Wrong type of control questions. The measured the wrong thing. They don’t have legitimate comparisons.
And when everybody knows it’s plain research and specifically told not to try and lie, and not to get excited, it can be expected that their brain activity (both for telling truth, and for lying) will be different from that of someone who is being accused of a serious crime.

Show me a larger sample, with cases where the polygraph fails miserably under best practices, and where the fMRI is accurate. Then there will be something worth considering.