E-tales: Language gap I

Anyone who has put together a kitset piece of furniture from Korea or hooked up a digital TV recorder from Japan is likely to have struggled with the exact meaning of phrases intended only to help.

Anyone who has put together a kitset piece of furniture from Korea or hooked up a digital TV recorder from Japan is likely to have struggled with the exact meaning of phrases intended only to help.

You kind of know what they mean but exactitude is what is really required when you have two pieces of wood and four screws in your hand. In China the communication gap is often widened by a desire to appear certain, or at least not to appear uncertain.

Written English in China is a joy, such as the strict instructions in the hotel that forbids chickens and portable cookers in rooms, and bars anyone with foot or venereal diseases from entering the hotel pool. If you can't cook up a chook in your room, you can at least go round the corner to the local restaurant, motto: Smart noshery makes you slobber. It did.

Language gap II

The English subtitles on Asian bootleg DVDs range from merely baffling to unintentionally (we hope) hilarious. Another with too much time on his (we assume) hands has screenshot the whole of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for our pleasure. Oh, and if you didn't understand the second LOTR, Dave Barry has a very clear explanation here.

Pulling the plug

If you think the world of IT is awash with standards, have some sympathy for electrical manufacturers. Seasoned travellers (they smell of airline food) know the dangers of plugging their laptop or razor into the local supply without power and plug adapter -- they risk frying their mobile phone, or themselves. In some parts of Asia there are sometimes two or more plug types, and in some European countries the plugs are beautifully unique. Take a look here.

Tangled web

And speaking of plugging in, the whole process of buying an electrical device now means wrestling with a snake's lair of cables thanks to the digital revolution. Cameras, for example, come with USB and TV cables, memory card, battery, charger, electrical cables and other dongles, not to mention all the software and operations guides. Almost makes you wish for the good old days of taking the film down the chemist and sticking up the album in readiness for the next day's delivery. Almost.

Suffering fools

Among the silly-season contributions from those watching out for our children on the internet; the Southland Times carried an article on January 16 on "How to avoid net nasties".

Discussing the use of slight variants of legitimate site URLs to misdirect surfers to unexpected sites, columnist Glynn Hardy says "pornographic sites take advantage of typing errors and not knowing what the actually [sic] domain extension is".

Indeed; maybe we should be issuing internet safety instructions for journalists or typesetters.

The answer is not to let children type URLs, says Hardy; to have them explore the web entirely by clicks on pre-supplied links, and by reference to portal sites and a "kid-safe search engine", such as Ask Jeeves for Kids.

(In passing, we wonder at the ambiguity of that title -- in the same spirit as the book How to Design Web-pages for Dummies -- and trust that Bertie Wooster wanted the kids for some innocent purpose like clearing the leaves off his lawn.)

But if you think that’s roo restrictive a control on children's surfing, catch the remark a few paragraphs down: "Likewise, numerous newsgroups contain extremely explicit literature and pictures and should be avoided by eliminating newsreader software from the family computer."

A bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, surely. We can envisage a generation of children growing up with their typing skills and appreciation of the correct syntax of a URL severely damaged, and, never having participated in the democratic argy-bargy of a newsgroup, short on the valuable skills of tolerating fools and eccentrics and debating without anger.

Far better, surely, if parents are concerned, to sign up with an ISP which does not support questionable newgroups, or to use a filter to make those groups invisible.

"I have made this group R18: not because it holds any pornographic material, but because I'm sick of kids coming here to ask questions about homework" -- grumpy newsgroup moderator.

The mind goggles

And while on the subject of clumsy typing, we're relieved to note that the Google search-engine people have assumed control of googel.com. The site at that address used to carry an ineffectual promise of a "geneology" [sic] resource to come, along with a pointer to a rival search engine.

Entering www.goolge.com also takes you smoothly to Google. But www.goggle.com is still an independent site, though it consists only of a "we are not Google; Google is here" pointer and a couple of popup advertisements, for a music search engine and a "cover your tracks" cache-and-cookie cleaner.

We suspect the Goggleers are holding out for a better offer.

Face time

The plethora of metaphor in IT and business-speak all too often leads writers into delightful, or just puzzling mixing of these expressions. According to a collaboratively developed "e-local government" strategy document, recently released, one of the key objectives of e-local government shall be to have "a seamless face". Pass the anti-wrinkle cream.

The final frontier

Before tragedy struck the Space Shuttle Columbia last weekend, the craft was being used to develop web communications in space. NASA presently uses a mix of old hardware and software to keep in touch with spacecraft and to ship data back and forth. But NASA believes that using a standard web browser for this will allow faster and easier communication using fewer staff. To test the technology, the Columbia space shuttle was fitted with an embedded PC with a 233Mhz processor, 128MB of RAM and a solid-state 144MB hard drive. The computer ran on Red Hat Linux and maintained a connection with the Washington-based Goddard Space Centre, which aimed to conntect with the onboard PC more than 140 times during the duration of the mission.

Maintaining contact with orbiting space craft is difficult because the shuttle is constantly moving and must change the route used to contact the terrestrial network. NASA scientists on the OMNI (Operating Missions as a Node on the Internet) project have developed a way for the shuttle to hand its communication needs to different satellites and ground stations as it travels. Effectively, the craft stays in constant touch with its handlers in Washington, even when it is at the other side of the world. As well as improving communication links, NASA hopes communications will also need fewer corrections as traditional communications are often scrambled or corrupted due to the high levels of radiation in space. BBC Online says the technology to turn spacecraft into netnodes was first tested in May 2000 on the UoSat-12 mission. The world's first orbiting web address travelled on this small satellite which was developed by NASA and the UK's Surrey Satellite Technology company.

Selling Saddam's soil

Well, it might remove the need for an invasion, but Iraq, the oil-rich mideast nation ruled by tyrant Saddam Hussein, went under the hammer on eBay last week. IDG's news service reports bids of over $200 million were received, though the eBay website reports the winning bid was just $3.50, with free handling and shipping of the country from Canada. One might imaging transportation might be difficult, especially considering the country promises date palm trees, historical sites, "many interesting 'science' experiments, hundreds of presidential palaces and "oil, oil, oil". Makes you wonder how much might be raised if New Zealand's assets were put on the selling block. Oh, hang on, hasn't that happened already?

Get real

Just weeks after local dairy giant Fonterra launched its Anchorville website to promote milk consumption among kids, the US-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association have also turned to the internet to promote its wares. The website Cool 2B Real aims to fight growing vegetarianism among American teenage girls, by linking meat consumption to trendiness. The site, looking like a girls' magazine, extols girls to "Keep it Real" -- "real" being a person who eats beef, preferably three or four times a day, and offers competitions, e-cards, games, a party zone and chat. "Real girls are "keepin' it real" by building strong bodies and strong minds ... and they're feeling great about themselves! the website says.

MP's war games gaffe

We all know we are not supposed to play computer games at work, but this was particularly embarassing for Norway MP Trond Helleland. He was captured on national television playing the Metallion game for a full seven minutes as he checked his diary for appointments. What made matters worse was that the cameras caught him as Norway's parliament debated what support it should give the US in any possible war against Iraq. In Metallion which players shoot laser cannons at drones in space.

Opposition Labour MP Marit Nybakk says MP playing war games in parliament as it disccusses war and peace puts politicians in a bad light. Helleland has since apologised and promises never to do this again.

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