nineteenth-century wifi

I was showing my students about using Google Ngrams to track the rise or fall of words over time. As an example of a modern word, I chose internet, which, not surprisingly, started being used about 1990. I then chose wifi, and was surprised to find that it was used more in the first half of the nineteenth century than since 2000. It’s obviously a scanning/processing error by Google Books, but I can’t think of any word which would be mis-scanned/mis-processed that much. The closest possible word is wife. Other than that, I’m pretty much flummoxed. (That’s possibly the first time I have ever typed the word flummoxed (1830-40; origin uncertain).)


Automated translation fail

Automated translations of Facebook posts are meant to help, but one I’ve just read was inaccurate or incoherent or both. Among other things, it translated 아들아! (a-deul-a), a standard vocative which might be translated as ‘hey, son!’) as ‘You son of a bitch!’. There are multiple references to “father” and “son”, but it from the English translation it is impossible to tell whether the writer is talking about his father and son, himself and his father (referring to himself as “son”), himself and his son (referring to himself as “father”) or someone else’s father and son etc. There was just enough coherence to know that he was not talking about fathers and sons in general, or about God the Father and God the Son, which would otherwise be two more possibilities.

(For the record, “You son of a bitch!” in Korean is 너 개자식! (neo gae-ja-sik). I am not only relying on a translator for that; I did ask a native speaker (not by saying it to them directly!). Don’t rely on translation tools for insults.)


Yesterday someone asked me for a piece of information which I might have stored in the memo app of my mobile phone. I checked and it wasn’t there, but I was able to find it otherwise. Scrolling through the memos, I spotted three which I thought would make a good blog post. (Among a lot of perfectly useless stuff which I can’t remember why I memo-rised.)

Roasting consists of a balance of right handed TIMING and intuition. NOW. LIKE. FREE. ADDICTION.
&up cafe size up, taste up & feel up
Dq vv our Is lay all i have sos hh hny i do mmm / ggg chiq winner as good as new super does yr mother thank you mm

The first two are obviously from coffee shops in Korea (the first was the university campus branch of a major chain; I can’t remember where the the second was, but the date means that it was either in my regional city, possibly the bus terminal, or at Incheon airport), but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the third was/is. I looked at it again in the train on my commute home, but it wasn’t until I typed it into my blog drafts document that I realised what it was. I’ll let you ponder that before you click ‘read more’. (The only clue is that it’s got nothing to do with the first two.)

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right and left or left and right

This page of the textbook just keeps on giving. It is on what the authors call ‘collocations’ and ‘word pairs’, though I am not convinced that those are the best terms. It says “we always say ‘black and white’ not ‘white and black’”. I have blogged about this page twice before. The first time I picked up about combinations of colours. After the class, I researched on Google Ngrams and found that ‘black and’ is most followed by white, red, blue, yellow, brown, gold, grey and green. Further, ‘black and white’ is most followed by photographs, stripes and marble (among and/or, is/are and in/of/on).

The second time I picked up about the textbook saying “we always say ‘black and white’ not ‘white and black’”. That simply isn’t true. Google Ngrams shows that ‘white and black’ is used, though, obviously, much less than ‘black and white’. I researched each of the pairs they give and found that most of them can be reversed – butter and bread and breakfast and bed being the two exceptions (those two are recorded, but are very, very rare). I concluded “If I had written this textbook, I would have written ‘usually’ instead of ‘never’ and ‘always’.”

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True or false

Yesterday’s topic in the textbook was ‘crime and criminals’. As an extension, I used an activity from the teachers book of another series on strange laws and social customs from around the world. There is a list of 20 laws and customs, four of which are false; the students have to talk in pairs or groups to identify those. (One is “In Australia, woman are not allowed to sit on the top floor of buses.” When I first used this, there were no  double-deck commuter buses in Sydney (there were and are double-deck long-distance and tourist buses, and there are now a few on commuter routes), so I changed that to ‘trains’.)

One of the items was “In Japan, women mustn’t wear trousers to work”. Students argued both true and false, for various reasons. The book gives the answer ‘true’. I said that it might be a social custom or a workplace rule rather than a national law.

During the break, I tried to find more information. I searched for ‘japan women trousers office’ and it was quickly apparent that a fair sprinkling of the first 20 results were pornographic. At home, I tried again, with a different OS (Mac at home, Windows at work), possibly a different search engine, and the slightly different search term ‘japan women trousers work’. Among ads for trousers for Japanese women, the Japanese Business Resource website says “Women should also avoid wearing pants in a business setting due to the fact that sometimes it is considered offensive” and the Language Trainers UK & Ireland blog says “trousers on women are not generally viewed as acceptable”, both of which make it sound like a social custom rather than a law.

Searching for ‘japan women trousers work’ returned very similar results. I don’t know whether the pornographic results were due to using Windows rather than Mac or using one search engine rather than another, or whether a former or current colleague has been searching for pornography on the computer I use. (I can’t really call it ‘my computer’.)

(That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)

Quick start guide

Yesterday I posted about the computer keyboard I’d just bought. This morning I was looking at the quick start guide, which has six pages of information in ten different languages. I can identify or comfortably guess English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese (traditional or simplified?) and Korean. The Korean is a literal translation of the English. In the western European languages, there is quick, rapide/rápida/rápido and schnell; start, démarrage, startan and início; guide, leitung and guía/guia, as well as introduttiva and usuario. The German is the only one of those languages in which the three elements directly match the English.

Reading the guide, I found that the lights I mentioned in the previous post have 12 different settings (one colour, three, or rainbow; stationary or moving; fast or slow; from the left or right).

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Computer keyboards

I use a laptop computer at home (and occasionally out and about). For small amounts of typing, the laptop’s keyboard is usually sufficient (though it’s getting old and some of the keys don’t work), but for large amounts of typing I need a full-sized keyboard further from the screen. I don’t know where or when I got the keyboard I have been using – possibly a technically-minded colleague in Korea gave it to me in 2006. It was second-hand then, and had since become very clunky, reducing my typing speed and increasing the physical effort.  A few months ago I applied for a job which required a typing speed of 55 wpm. They gave the name of a webiste for testing typing speed. The first test I did was 45 wpm, then 49, then 53, then 55, at which point I took a screenshot and submitted my application. I never heard back.

Today I bit the bullet and went looking for a new keyboard. At my local Apple Store, they had two very sleek, slimline keyboards for a higher price than I really wanted to pay. I explained that I wanted a keyboard for larger amounts of typing and he suggested I ask for a ‘gaming keyboard’ at a general electronics/audio/video store. I found a suitable keyboard for a reasonable price, bought it, brought it home and am now using it. The funkiest thing is that it glows in different colours and shifting patterns. Fortunately, there is a way of turning that off. Apparently gamers need/want keyboards with a definite ‘touch’ to them. I’m not sure why they want glowing colours. (I’m not a gamer, obviously.)

(PS the next day: the first three typing tests I did this morning clocked me at 56, 58 and 59 wpm)

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