Archive for the 'Language' Category

Pushing more impressive-sounding names

March 16th, 2009

Everyone wants to feel good about themselves, and marketers want people to feel good about their products. So it’s understandable that people will tend to present things in the most impressive and positive way possible. At some point, though, this can get too much, and too annoying.

When you want to get someone to cut your hair, you go to a barber, right? Well, wrong. Has anyone even seen a barber shop in the last few years? We have hair stylists and hairdressers, and go to them in the hair salon. Sounds much more impressive. Also longer, heavier, and (for most of them) somewhat ridiculous.

Some people have gardeners who come over occasionally to take care of their gardens, right? Wrong again. These guys are now landscape engineers, landscape artists, or landscape designers. Sounds very important, for someone who often just maws the lawn, pulls out weeds, and trims the roses, doesn’t it?

When a pipe leaks at your house, do you still call a plumber, or are you already surrounded by various sanitation engineers ?

There are plenty of occupations that get the same treatment, and the amount is growing. Someone feels that the label for their work is not prestigious enough, not impressive enough, doesn’t make them feel as important as they think they are, so instead of just getting over it they decide to do something and reinvent themselves. Except not really. Because reinventing yourself involves changing what you do, but here they just change how they call what they’re already doing.

In the case of occupations, this is somewhat aggravated by the fact that sometimes those fancy sounding names are actually used for something. As in something else, a different profession, implying a different skill-set or training. Doesn’t stop anyone, though.

And it’s not only occupations. It’s spreading to other fields, sometimes to an absurd level.

For example, ingredients. Take a look at the ingredient list on a shampoo bottle, or shower gel. These things contain a large percentage of water. Except that you won’t find water listed anywhere. It sounds mundane. Cheap. It comes out of the tap, after all, so why would anyone pay for a concoction that includes it? No, instead all these bottles proudly list aqua as the main ingredient. It sounds much more dignified. Even if it’s just the Latin term for… water.

OK, rant over. Maybe I’ll go see if there’s anything interesting on TV[1]. Oh, sorry, I meant on the Home Entertainment Centre.

  1. Well, not really. I already know there isn’t, so why waste my time?[back]

Flat Earth – the second largest geographical method in the world

February 23rd, 2009

It’s very easy to be the second-largest anything in the world, when the first largest group is defined as everything that’s actually relevant, and you’re defined as everything else.

A very large forum/bulletin-boards website here in Israel, Tapuz (Hebrew only), recently opened a new forum about Classical Homoeopathy.

That by itself is fine. I mean, they do discuss pure nonsense in the forum, even dangerous nonsense given that they recommend to people not to take proper medical care for their problems, but a forum about homoeopathy can be expected to discuss homoeopathy.

What amused me was the launch publication they did in their other forums. They posted links to this new forum, with a text that can be roughly translated as:

Want to be exposed to the wonders of homoeopathy, the second largest healing method in the world?

And, well, technically it’s pretty correct. There’s the first largest healing method, being science-based medicine, that covers all sub-healing-methods that can be proven to work and heal people. And then there are the other healing methods, in this case grouped under the term Homoeopathy[1], the ones that give people a healing chance which is equivalent to the random chance of spontaneous recovery, or to the healing from a placebo effect.

Since all you have are the two options, it’s pretty obvious that the second is, by definition, the second largest of its kind in the world.

Being technically correct doesn’t make that statement semantically correct, though.

  1. Yes, I’m aware that Homoeopathy is just one kind of woo pretending to be medicine, and not the whole basket of them. In this case, however, the forum seems to happily deal with the others as well, and they clearly refer to it as anything besides actual medicine[back]

If you can’t handle bidirectional text, don’t show bidirectional text

July 1st, 2008

Some ad companies think they can get better results by targeting the ads to the viewers. Some strategies are matching the ad with the viewed page, while others try to target the audience in different ways, based on location or language. Which makes sense.

One problem is finding the country of origin of the viewer. Most companies seem to have solved that by pretty accurate geotargeting. Though some, of course, are still stumbling in the dark. For example, as a Jew living in Israel, I still occasionally get ads for Muslim dating sites. Or for various deals which are only relevant to US residents. But these are becoming more rare.

When they do detect a location, the basic step is only to show ads relevant to people from that location. That’s the basic step, which most have been doing (or trying to do) for a while.

Ad with the Hebrew text going backwardThese ads often don’t only change content, but language as well. If the advertised product is sold internationally, people from different countries may pay more attention to ads in their own language[1].

One way to do it is to have a set of pre-made ads, and show them according to the location.

Another way, for those wanting to be more… efficient? is to have a single ad, with several localized text strings that can change inside this ad according to the source.

In theory, it’s nice. There is a need to keep only one copy of a picture, or interactive program, and yet still someone from the US will see English, and someone from, say, France, will see French. The main needed investment is to get the text lines translated into the relevant languages.

And then you have those that go the extra mile (backwards, usually, though) and pick languages that are harder to handle. They do the whole design with languages that go left to right, like English, and then put in right-to-left text, like Hebrew or Arabic.

In many of those cases that I saw, they then forget that the text has to be added to the pictures a little differently. And they don’t bother to show the finished result (calculated ad with the language) to someone who knows the language. They probably just verify the initial text strings, thinking that nothing can go wrong since the same exact text will go into the image.

The end result? Extremely unprofessional advertising, when all the words in the text, or even the whole sentence, go backward, letter by letter. ( !stoidi diputS )

Like this image taken from an ad I saw on several websites. It was on a page together with at least one more different ad, by the same advertiser, that contained the exact same problem.

Did I mention that it looks extremely unprofessional, silly, and pathetic? Because, well, it does. And it definitely gets you thinking that if they managed to screw the ads so bad, on something so basic, what else didn’t they bother to pay attention to, and was it important?

So, the advertising company (the one putting the ads, I don’t know who designed them) is , which redirects to ValueClick Media. Nice name, not so much value to the advertiser.

I thought I’d be nice, and let them know. So I went to their site, got the Contact page, and looked for an email address, or a form. No email address, but there is a contact form. A contact form where the required fields include things like phone number, company, location, how I heard about them, and so on.

This may be alright (OK, not really) for people who are potential customers. But for someone who just wants to do them a favour by dropping a quick helpful note? Completely unacceptable. I shouldn’t have to work, and provide lots of details, just to try and help them.

Required fields should be the message content, and a quick subject. Maybe not even the quick subject. Asking for email address is also fine, if the message may need a follow-up, but that should be left to the discretion of the person sending the message.

And this company is supposed to make money by selling things to people?! By marketing?! That’s supposed to be their strong side? Funny.

  1. Personally it annoys me, and I always feel more comfortable when it’s English, rather than Hebrew or other language, if I read on a computer, but I’m really not representative here[back]

Special gift, now at a low cost!

August 22nd, 2007

Gift, for a priceSome people have a hard time understanding the concept of a gift, or free. This usually happens in marketing and sales departments.

Case in point, this latest special offer from my credit card company. I saw these images (in Hebrew) today, and both are for the same offer. The first comes from their website and the second from an email they sent.

The large line happily informs their customers that they’re getting 50 ILS as a gift.

The smaller line below it clarifies that the gift can be obtained in exchange for 2,000 points.

Gift, for a priceThese points are a standard credit card deal. You buy stuff with the card, you get points/stars/whatever. And you can get discounts and special[1] offers in exchange for these points.

So now they have a special deal, where you can buy something else with those points. A gift. That’s right, you can pay them to give you a gift.

Someone should buy them a gift – a dictionary.

  1. usually so special as to be entirely unworthwhile, but that may just be me. Still, this offer right here comes to 0.025 ILS per point, and that’s actually a good rate. After years of using the card I think I’m not even at 10,000 points. You get the drift[back]

Enough with the NIS already

January 3rd, 2007

The correct abbreviation for shekels, the New Israeli Shekel included, is ILS.

Yes, that’s ILS. Not NIS. Even if NIS seems like a much better acronym for New Israeli Shekel. NIS is neat, it fits, it makes sense, but it has the single disadvantage of not being correct.

ILS was the code for the old Israeli Shekel, and it still is the code for the New Israeli Shekel. Prices are in ILS, not in NIS.

No international bank will offer to exchange any currency for NIS, or will have a clue about the exchange rate. But they will be happy to exchange your ILS.

And the prices you see on those online stores? In ILS, not in NIS.

Please, please, please, stop putting NIS after every time you write to me a price of something in English. It drives me mad. I don’t care that most Israelis will understand what it means. I don’t even care (well, I’m saddened by it) that more Israelis will understand what you mean by NIS than what you mean by ILS. It’s just not the currency code.

This rant was intended as a public service for Israeli readers, and for myself. I expect anyone else on the world who has a reason to use Shekels will know that the currency code for Shekels is ILS and not NIS. It’s just most of the locals here who insist on sticking with this pesky NIS abomination. And as I wrote above, it drives me mad. Thank you for your attention.

Do Not Freeze

July 6th, 2006

Shipped packages and crates can carry all sorts of warning labels on them. The most common ones seen being “Breakable”, “Do not fold”, and their ilk.

Today I noticed a new one on a large package delivered to our office.

In very large block letters, with a colour highlight, was the sentence “DO NOT FREEZE”, and beneath it, in slightly smaller font “Sensitive Against Freeze”.

I had no idea shipping companies had a tendency to freeze packages.

Very strange.

Not to mention pretty bad grammar on the smaller sentence, but that’s beside the point.

New neighbours in the office again

June 20th, 2006

The last ones left a few months ago. This starts to feel like a recurring theme, the companies in nearby buildings are stationary, but the people trying to get the upper floors in our own building never stick for long.

The last ones were quiet, and we had little interaction with them. But the newcomers give a first impression that remind me more of the ones we had before.

They came around with the landlord, as he was showing them around the place. And no, I’m not sure what reason is there to show someone around after they already closed the deal. Presumably they got to see what they’re renting before that.

They were quite an odd looking pair (even number of odd people is a lousy pun, isn’t it?).

My boss asked the one that seemed in charge what business are they in.


Informative, and highly descriptive. So my boss asked for a few more details, trying to understand just what will we be getting.

Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff. Like, err, toys. Or computers. Stocks. All sorts of stuff.

So my boss further asked if they’re just using the space for storage, or will there be an office there. And if they’re importing merchandise, or doing something else?

The guys said that he’ll be there personally in an office as well. And that’s it’s not an import business, it’s “stocks”. Consisting of “Toys, all sorts of stuff, computers, whatever”.

The exact word he used, all this time, was “stockim”, with the “im” being a Hebrew suffix for plural, like the “s” in English. Normally when a Hebrew word exists people use it. Such a form of the English noun with a Hebrew suffix is only used when the word is one for which there isn’t yet a Hebrew word, or it’s a very uncommon word.

Stocks, if it’s not obvious, is a word for which there are a few perfectly suitable, and well used, Hebrew equivalents. So even if it wasn’t clear from the guy’s demeanour and attitude, it was obvious he wasn’t exactly talking about moving regular stocks, but usings “stocks” as a codeword for something else…

Oh, well, at least this time they didn’t get parking rights, so we won’t have to share the limited parking lot of the building. Still, looks like we’re going to have some good high-quality legal company again.

Chinese to English mistranslations

June 6th, 2006

This first link contains screenshots from a DVD of Star Wars: Episode III. Except that this is the version which was translated and dubbed to Chinese, showing English subtitles.

The subtitles’ English was translated back from the spoken Chinese, after the dubbing.

And the results are hilarious. Some of the lines are very amusing even if you never saw the movie, or any movie in the Star Wars series.

The other two links include pictures of Chinese restaurants’ menus. Including the translated names of all the dishes and courses in English.

Some are just plain bizarre, and some are terribly funny.

I just hope official documents and international agreements are translated better than that…

Search engine and terminology

May 20th, 2006

Search engines are a pretty hot topic on-line. The big companies keep adding services and features. And new ones keep popping all the time, trying to present new features and techniques in order to get a piece of the market.

And they all get coverage in the news, or do their own press releases.

A couple of those I saw recently had some terminology problems that really irked me, though. I know, I know, reading something about a search engine, and being mostly bothered about a few wrong words is petty. But still.

The first one was a report on Exalead. I’ve played a bit with Exalead beta in the past (Like many other online services these days it has been in beta stage for a long time), and overall it’s pretty nice. It has some nice features and interface ideas, but it does have its quirks and problems as well.

The part that bothered me in the article (well, the terminological issue, anyway. There were a few other article parts I didn’t exactly agree with and that felt more like hype than an actual reporting or review) though, wasn’t in something about Exalead itself. It was in this paragraph describing the competition:

Bourdoncle’s ambition is to crack the top five in Web search, which is now led by Google, followed by Yahoo, Microsoft, Time Warner and Ask.

Everyone heard of Google. And yes, Yahoo is pretty big in search as well, and doing a good job at it. Microsoft has also added some changes and improvement, and are working on getting better search result. And Ask too have increased features and made significant advances, moving from what was once a rather sad search engine to one that seems to have a good chance of gaining a higher position in the top five.

But Time Warner? That made me stop in my tracks reading it. Time Warner have a search engine?! Since when? What are they talking about? Heck, I know and have heard of quite a lot of small, even tiny, search engines, and yet never heard of any Time Warner one. No way it became one of the big five.

And then it hit me. AOL. The guy who wrote that article, Dan Farber is someone with a lot of experiene in the field, and should really know better. Yet he decided that due to the AOL – Time Warner merger it would be correct to refer to AOL’s search engine as Time Warner.

The search engine is AOL. Not Time Warner. Referring to it as Time Warner shows a stunning lack of understanding, and a total lack of connection to anything going on in the search area. I really do hope that this wasn’t in the original post, but was maybe changed by some idiotic marketing guy who is in charge of “correcting” their posts before publishing (Though such a practice is a problem all by itself).

But regardless of how it got there, the second I saw something like that on the article it immediately made everything else there suspect. A reader can’t be expect to trust anything appearing on an article by someone who broadcasts so loudly that he doesn’t have a clue. If he’s capable of referring to Time Warner as a big search engine (and never mind that AOL’s search engine isn’t particularly good, it is big at least) then he’s clueless.

The second case is from a post by Yahoo, about them releasing the Yahoo Answers service from beta.

This post is on Yahoo’s search blog, where supposedly people actually have a clue about search.

And they also provide a link for adding their Yahoo Answers as a search engine in the Firefox browser. There are two problems with that link, however.

The first is a purely technical one. It doesn’t point to a place which adds their Yahoo Answers service as a search engine in Firefox. Instead it directs to the general page for adding search engines to the search bar in Firefox. If someone wants to they can search for the Yahoo Answers there and add it, but that’s not what the idea of linking to adding the search engines is supposed to be. Nor do they explain near the link that people following it will have to go on searching for it manually. Currently there’s a second link from the main page, but that varies, and can change…

The second one is the terminology item which again gave me a start. They referred to the link as one to add Yahoo Answers as a search repository in Firefox. Yes, that’s right, not a search engine, but a search repository.

I have no idea what a search repository is (Someplace where people can keep their searches?), but this is most definitly not it. Firefox doesn’t have support for search repositories. It has a toolbar for search engines. Engines.

You’d expect a company who has a search engine as a major product to know what a search engine is, and that it’s called a search engine. But they apparently don’t.

And those two aren’t all the articles, press releases, and official posts, which contain terminology errors. Just a small sample.

I can allow myself to make mistakes here from time to time. It’s a personal blog, I’m not an authority on anything, and I don’t represent anyone. But for anything official, by a news service or a large company, this is not the case. They shouldn’t make these mistakes. It leaves a really bad impression.

Basing life and death decisions on automatic translation is a bad idea

November 26th, 2005

Automatic translation tools are terrible. There’s nothing wrong at all with looking up a word at an electronic dictionary, but letting one translate a sentences always ranges between pathetic and hilarious.

Even the best of translation tools does a terrible job of discerning context. And when each word can have several different translations, and often holds several different meanings, context is everything. You get that wrong, and some of the words wrong, and the translated result is pure gibberish.

Even worse, if the translation program tries to decipher some context and fails, as will often happen, the end result may not appear to be total gibberish at first glance. But we’re still far away from tools at even this level.

And all that is even when you translate between languages which are similar, and have a relatively recent common ancestor.

You can even check for yourself, just for fun. Go to one of the available translation tools on-line, enter a paragraph of text from someplace, and try to translate it first into a different language, and then back. See what a sordid mess you’ll get.

So, to change the subject completely (OK, not really), what new toys are the Americans up to in order to assist their soldiers in Iraq?

The risky business of battle-zone translation could get a technological boost, however, as researchers prepare to test a system that instantly translates spoken conversations to and from English and Iraqi Arabic.

Funded by Darpa, the system would allow troops to communicate in Arabic through a laptop computer equipped with voice recognition and translation software. Troops could speak in English and have their words instantly translated into Iraqi Arabic, “spoken” by a computerized man’s voice. The program also translates Arabic into English.

Automatic translation between Arabic and English. Two languages which are not even close to being remotely similar. At least those people haven’t lost their sense of humour. Though they may just do that after some bad incidents of horrible mistranslation that will cost human lives.

And they’re thinking of translating voice, even, not text. Voice recognition these days is still pretty bad. The best voice recognition programs these days don’t really work under non-ideal conditions, or without a lot of time dedicated to studying each individual voice they’ll be expected to deal with.

So all they have to do here is take a badly working voice recognition, drive the output from that one through a badly working translation engine, and then synthesize the output of that one to voice. Sure. No problems at all, none whatsoever. It’s going to go perfectly smooth. Nothing at all in there that they can’t get working within the year…

The only thing that seems plausible given the time frame is the voice synthesis at the end. And, well, even voice synthesis of text isn’t too hot yet these days. But really, that’s the least of their concerns.

Wrong Address

August 18th, 2005

envelope front with sender detailsWhile our postal services generally, sometimes, do their job quite adequately, there are flukes. We do sometime get envelopes addressed to neighbours, or to someone with a similar last name but on a different street.

But the most recent such wrong delivery was more amusing. Because of the sender, the intended recipient, and the type of mistake. You see, this was not sent by a private person, nor was it one of the usual commercial messages. This was an international mail, all the way from Luxembourg. And the sender was NAMSA, a NATO agency.

Yes, NATO. Isn’t that fun? I bet most people don’t get envelopes from NATO at all. I certainly know we didn’t ever. And still, it came. Well, it wasn’t really addressed to us, of course, but those are just details.

The intended recipient, as I said, wasn’t us. Not at all. It was an unnamed acquisition and procurement specialist, in the “IDF technology division”.

envelope back with recipient detailsErr… Except that the IDF doesn’t have anything named “Technology Division”. Instead there’s the “Technological and Logistics Directorate“, better known here as Atal. Or, to be more exact, ATL (in the corresponding Hebrew letters), which is an acronym. A for “Agaf” meaning directorate or division, T for “Technologiot” meaning Technologies, and L for “Logistica” meaning… you got that right, Logisitics. Yes, the base words for Technology and Logisitics are the same in Hebrew, which can give you a clue as to where they were borrowed from. The abbreviation is pronounced as Atal.

Normally I wouldn’t be too surprised that someone over at NATO isn’t aware of the exact way things are organized in our military. But if you send envelopes to someone, it means you have some interaction with them. Which in turn means you have to know who it is that you’re interacting with. So I find their “Technology Division” odd.

The address was indeed in the same city we live in, which explains why it got to the same post office branch. But as to why it arrived to us, that’s a mystery to me. There is no name on the envelope, so someone familiar with us at the post office (Yes, that does happen) couldn’t have gotten confused. There is no street address, so nobody could have delivered it to the wrong house on the right street. There is no house number, so nobody could have delivered it to the right house on the wrong street. All it had was a POB number, four digits, of which two are similar to ours. That would rather be, similar to ours and to plenty of other people’s. There’s a huge limit as to how much variance POB numbers can have.

So someone was sloppy.

In any case, we didn’t open the envelope. Likely it’s also not interesting, since it went from one body dealing in logistics to another. On the other hand, it also went from one body dealing in armament procurement to another. So maybe it was interesting. But the point is moot, we returned the envelope to the post office, so they could deliver it to the intended recipient. Or deliver it yet again to a wrong recipient, but that’s their problem, not ours.

Why it didn’t go through the various diplomatic or military channels is beyond me, though. If you have important (The envelope was marked as priority airmail. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it may) military related material to send, between two military organizations, trusting the usual post seems questionable. And in this case at least was a demonstrably bad idea.

Had there been anything even remotely classified in there, someone might have opened it and read it. The fact that we didn’t doesn’t mean that nobody else would have been curious. And, like I said, we’re not the only people with such a badly matching POB number.

Oh, well…

When advertisers take a chance at being idiots

August 10th, 2005

One of the lottery-like games here was given the terribly imaginative name “Chance” (as-is, no translation, the Hebrew name is the English word, assuming people would understand it. Which is a pretty fair assumption, since the word is indeed used a lot, and was practically absorbed into the used language. It’s common to hear people saying “Kakh chance”, with “Kakh” being roughly the word for “take a”).

And lately they’ve started with this terribly annoying series of radio commercials, with pretence cab drivers prattling on about how they are taking a chance to win money. Although I guess these commercial, as low-level and annoying as they seem, are at least effective in bringing the product to conciousness.

But one of them really got me annoyed at the sheer brainless idiotism behind it. And since the rest of them at least do manage to keep everything in context, I must assume that it wasn’t an attempt to purposefully make their cab driver appear idiotic, but instead genuine incompetent stupidity on the part of the text writer.

In this commercial the cab driver talks about how he picked up a passenger wanting to go someplace. The driver tells how he offered the passenger a flat predetermined rate, but the passenger insisted that he’d turn the meter on instead. And the driver tells how he told the passenger to “take a chance and” go with the suggested rate, to which the passenger refused. Then they naturally got into a traffic jam, so charging by the meter ended up costing the passenger more money. The story concludes by the cab driver once again saying that the passenger should have taken a chance.

Does anyone else notice the blatant incongruity here? Choosing a predetermined fare isn’t taking a chance, it’s the exact opposite. No matter what will happen the cost will remain the precisely known same. Choosing to go by the meter, however, would be taking a chance. If the ride goes smoothly it will be possible to save money, and if there are delays it could cost a lot more. It’s not only simple logic, but goes as to the very definition of what chance means.

That passenger did take a chance. And in that particular case it didn’t work out, and the passenger would have been better off had he not taken the chance. Having the cab driver claim that the passenger should have taken a chance is just… idiotic. It presents their cab driver, the star of the entire series of commercial, as someone without an inkling about whatever he’s talking about. Surely not the image a company would want a figure associated with them to present.

And it provides a very plain and clear example that taking a chance can cost money. Which is the exact opposite of the message of the entire commercial series, which trying to emphasize how much it’s possible to earn by taking a chance.

Next time when they spend a fortune on plenty of air time, they should avoid taking a chance, and go with advertisers who are actually capable of reading the text they’re writing…

A wrong way to analyse a person’s life, on several different levels

July 30th, 2005

Years ago I went with my parents to several trips arranged by the Society for Medicine and Law in Israel, of which my father (a medical doctor) was a member. At the time they had occasionally arranged nice long-weekend trips, including some guided sight seeing, and several lectures. The content was sometimes relevant to the issues the society dealt with, but often not so but just provided as entertainment, cultural enrichment, or whatever.

One such lecture/performance was done by a musician (whose name I don’t recall by now), who talked about the life of a certain mildly known Jazz singer (whose name I also don’t recall by now. Yes, I’m a fountain of information relevant to the post, ain’t I?).

The idea was to explore the life and character of this singer, but focusing on lyrics of the songs that he often performed. Not songs he wrote, mind you, he was just a performer, but rather songs he chose to sing. According to the lecturer there were close ties between those and his life. In my opinion this is nonsense, since often singers do not identify with the lyrics of songs they perform, especially not a hard working Jazz singer needing to perform a lot of the Jazz standards instead of getting songs written especially for him.

Given that people’s lives are complex, and that songs can be looked at from many angles, it is indeed possible to draw connections and similarities, I don’t deny that. It’s just that by the same way it is possible to draw connections which are just as compelling between a person and the words of a song a total stranger choose to sing. Which would be a far worse selling point, though, unless you want to go explore some tenuous supernatural angle.

Which is to say, while the lecture was interesting, and the musician performed some of the songs himself rather well, I was not too impressed by the claim that the two are connected.

And to help emphasise the point, one of the stronger connections he draw was based on a… mistranslation of a word in one of the song. Based on which the lecturer evolved an entire part about the, apparently bad, relationship the singer had with his wife.

The song in question was Gershwin’s A Woman is a Sometime Thing from Porgy and Bess. Which the lecturer, disregarding both basic English grammar and the rest of the context of this little “lullaby” song, decided to translate to Hebrew as meaning “A women is sometimes merely a thing”. And spent quite some time going on about how the fact that the singer performed this song a lot ties in to how he may have also treated his wife badly, like she’s not really a person.

Which is of course total nonsense. This sentence doesn’t say that, there is no grammatical way to read it which would say that. Even the rest of the words of the song don’t support that in the context they provide:

Listen to yo' daddy warn you
'Fore you start a-traveling
Woman may born you, love you and mourn you
But a woman is a sometime thing
Yes a woman is a sometime thing

Yo' mammy is the first to name you
Then she'll tie you to her apron string
Then she'll shame you and she'll blame you
Till yo' woman comes to claim you
'Cause a woman is a sometime thing
Yes a woman is a sometime thing

Don't you never let a woman grieve you
Jus' 'cause she got yo' weddin' ring
She'll love you and deceive you
Then she'll take yo' clothes and leave you
'cause a woman is a sometime thing
Yes a woman is a sometime thing

And yet all that didn’t prevent the guy from being very clear on this point. So based on this mistranslation he redefined his understanding of the song, and based on the resulting faulty understanding of the song he based a part of his understanding of a singer who sang it often.

The evening itself was very entertaining, but as you can tell I wasn’t very impressed with the exactness and methodology of the biographical details analysed and presented. Still, what do I know? I was just a small kid, and none of the highly educated doctors and lawyers around seemed too perturbed…

Comment spam, SMTP relays, and chanuka/Hanukkah

June 8th, 2005

A couple of days ago I was going over some blogs I read, and came on this post by David Weinberger which actually touched on a subject I apparently know much better than him, the Hebrew language. Specifically, a mention he made about the word “chanuka” in Hebrew.

He got it pretty wrong by deciding it means lighten-up, and his first commenter got it mildly wrong by saying it means dedication. The term is more like the “warming” part of “housewarming”, the first acknowledged usage of something new (or at least the time when the usage is declared/acknowledged). It applies to new houses, and public buildings and parks, but also to things like cars, television systems, or even wines. Or, on a different meaning, it is chocked, when related to a female (Hebrew verbs take different forms for each of the two male/female genders).

Of course, the holiday Hanukkah is based on the same word, so it’s also possible the entire thing is moot, since I don’t know if “chanuka” in Swahili has a similar sound or not. Just being similarly written is quite meaningless, considering that I know the Hebrew word, at least, doesn’t really sound like an English speaker will tend to pronounce it.

So I decided to be a good little Hebrew speaker, and leave a comment on his blog post.

And couldn’t. I was caught by an overzealous anti-comment-spam device, which is even not suitable to serve against comment spam.

A little aside to the few readers who don’t know what comment spam is. You all know what email spam is, right? Incoming messages you never requested, trying to convince you to do stuff, or buy stuff, that you don’t need. Well, blog posts often have the possibility to leave comments on them. So it was only a matter of time until spammers jumped on the bandwagon, and made automatic bots (computer programs that can do many of repetitive tasks, like sending an email, or filling a form on a web page, quickly) that will leave comments which are not relevant to the post, but contain links to their sites. Often these involve porn, and card games, but the variety is as large as on the email spam.

Meaning that many measures are now tried and used in order to keep comments in blogs free of these comment spam messages. Some more elaborate, some simple. The method I use here is a very simple one, requiring anyone writing a comment to fill in an extra field. This works because those bots are automated to work against the basic and common ways comments work, and do not (yet) try too hard to go around variations.

There are many other methods, but Weinberger decided, IMNSHO, to be too smart for his own good. He tied the comment posting to a system that checks the comment poster’s IP address (The unique Internet address of the computer) against a central database, with a list of bad address used as open SMTP relays.

Another aside, about open SMTP relays. SMTP is basically the communication protocol used to send email messages. So mail servers send messages using SMTP. Spammers (the email spammers this time, not comment spammers) don’t want to use their own mail server, because then it would be easy to block their messages, and so they look for email servers which are open relays. Being an open relay mean that this mail server will accept a message from anyone, without any verification and authentication, and send it onward. This is a bad problem in the age of spammers, and email server operators are encouraged to configure their email servers not to do that.

One of the things that happened is that there are several central repositories, like the Distributed Sender Blackhole List, which contain IP addresses of mail servers which are suspected of being badly behaved in that regard. This allow other mail servers to check every incoming mail message they receive against that list, and refuse to receive messages from the suspected servers, since those message may very well be spam.

This of course has very little to do with comment spam, since those mail servers are usually not the same computers used by comment spammers to run their bots. So telling me that my own computer’s IP address is on the list, and that therefore I cannot leave a comment, is irrelevant here. Had I been trying to directly send an email messages, that would have been a different matter, but I didn’t.

There is of course another problem there, that my personal computer’s address was on the list. This is because we get from our ISP a dynamic address, meaning that it changes from time to time, and goes to other users while we get a different one from the pool. It’s possible to get a static address, but this costs more, and isn’t necessary unless you are running a server that people on the outside need to be always able to find. Or simply put, the address was blocked because someone else on the past (They had one incident, logged at February 2004) sent an email message he shouldn’t have…

Overall, like I said, a very real problem, but a very wrong solution. I sent him an email message about this, but due to his big problem of comment spam (his blog is high profile, so a very popular target) he feels that using this is justified. He was nice about it, and offered to go and take my address of the list himself. But I can talk to dsbl myself if I want to. And I don’t want to. Both because this is a dynamic address, and because it’s a non-issue. Apart from his blog this only prevents me from running my own mail server. I have no intention of running my own mail server in the foreseeable future, though. So I declined the offer, explained my position again, and that was that.

Spam vs. SPAM

June 8th, 2005

Nobody much cares about the proper way to write the term spam, and the actual relation between all those pesky spam messages and the food SPAM. Except of course for SPAM maker Hormel, which after a few lawsuits gave up and also decided to take it easier, requesting only that SPAM will be capitalized appropriately. Those pesky messages should be referred to in lower-case – spam, and their food in upper-case – SPAM.

And like I said, nobody pays too much attention, with people mostly writing it in whichever way strikes their fancy.

Today I noticed a blog post, about some unrelated joke, in which the author mentioned both kinds of spam/SPAM. He decided to be nice and civilized, which is very nice considering that like I said nobody much bothers these days, and to take the extra step of writing them differently.

And then went straight ahead to capitalize them all wrong, with SPAM (food) written as spam, and spam (messages) written as SPAM.

I’d have left a comment, but there is only so much you can do with blogs that require registration in order to leave one, and don’t even provide an email address.