Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Google Translating Robot

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Google Talk Google just began offering instant machine translations for Google Talk and Gmail.

You can access the new service from within Google Talk, the chat window in Gmail or any IM client that supports the Jabber protocol. To use the service, add these addresses as friends for English to Spanish translations, or for Spanish to English translations.

Google Talk Translating Robot

You can also add the robot to a group chat and let it translate between the two of you on the fly. Here is a complete list of languages and their codes that are available.

The translations are far from perfect, as you can see from the following dialog.

David: How good are translations when you use machine translation software?
en2es: ¿Cómo son buenas traducciones cuando utilice programas de traducción automática?

The translation probably should have been something like this: ¿Qué tan buenas son las traducciones cuando usas programas de traducción automática?

When translating from Spanish to English, you need to use all the correct punctuation marks and diacriticals to help it guess the right meaning.

David: Buenos dias como estas?
es2en: Hello like this?
David: Buenos días, ¿cómo estás?
es2en: Good morning, how are you?

What is the Capital of Spain?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007
Escudo de Madrid
El escudo de Madrid

The internet has a lot going for it. You can find lots of things to help you in your studies. Video, audio, text, and many other resources can help you learn Spanish. You can find information for when you’re going to travel to another country to practice your language skills. But a word of warning is in order. Don’t believe everything you read on the net. Or at least double-check with some other sources.

Here’s some visit Barcelona site that I’d like to use as an example, because it is spreading misinformation about what city is the capital of Spain, which would probably be quite offensive or amusing to madrileños.

Barcelona is presently the capital of Spain, and is the 2nd-biggest city in the country.

Humorously, on their Madrid page, they also say (truthfully):

More than 3 million people live in Madrid, the capital of Spain.

But the same site has some of its facts right– they speak a lot of Catalán in Barcelona, and there are also a lot of municipal parks there– something even I have mentioned before.

So a word to the wise- Leverage the internet to help you learn, but be skeptical about everything you see.

If my name was “cellphone dictator”

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

The iPhone went on sale today. In the shadow of that exercise in suspense, I have one comment and a few suggestions to phone manufacturers in general.

The lowly button: iPhone’s downfall

First my iPhone comment. The thing looks great, has great features, and I want one, but there’s a deal breaker. It has no physical buttons. You can’t use the thing without using both hands and looking at it. I don’t like to use the phone too much while driving, but occasionally I do, and when I do, I use one hand and make my call without looking at the phone. All Steve Jobs needs to add to the iPhone are three or four hardware buttons across the bottom to use for answering/hanging up and to do some speed dialing. That would make it easy enough to do the most common things without looking at the phone. Even if you don’t dial and drive, you might save yourself from walking into a telephone pole on the sidewalk if the thing had a couple of physical buttons. The buttons can be buffed stainless steel with a little indentation and look really nice with the phone, and make it a lot more useful in the process.

Three embarrassingly obvious cellphone features missing from today’s phones

On to my suggestions for cellphone makers. I might be wrong, but to me these are no-brainers. But then again maybe that’s why I’m not in the cellphone design business.

3 Make your own voice come out of the cellphone’s earpiece when you are talking to help you moderate your voice and not shout in public places. Old fashioned landline POTS phones do it, why can’t cellphones too?

2 Make use of voice to text and text to voice technology. Allow the user to create a text message by speaking it into the phone. Allow people to listen to their text messages in a computer-generated voice, spelling out unknown or invented acronyms. Let someone read their voicemail as text messages in a noise-sensitive environment. If they still can’t pack enough processing power or memory in a phone, let the hard work be done on a server and downloaded to the phone.

1 Make a button on the phone to answer a call and put it on hold at the same time. It would work like this: You’re in a meeting and your phone vibrates, you optionally look at the caller ID and decide to answer the call. You press a button on the outside of the phone and drop it in your pocket. You then casually get up and walk out of the room. No one heard anything or saw you running from the room with a phone pressed against your ear. When you pressed the button on the phone, the call was answered and a generic message was played to the caller: “Your call has been answered, please wait a few moments for the receiving party to initiate the conversation”, or alternately you could pre-record your own “Can you hold?” greeting. As soon as you safely duck into the hallway, you can open your phone.

Since this is a Spanish learning blog, your homework is to translate this post into Spanish. Extra credit for correctly translating ‘deal-breaker’ and ‘no-brainer’.

Listening dictionary

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

dictopen.jpgYou’ve undoubtedly seen the little electronic dictionaries where you have to punch in a word with teeny-tiny keys and it gives you a translation. Some of those dictionaries are even talking dictionaries, where you can select a word and hit a key, and it will speak the word.

It’s time for some new technology. We need listening dictionaries.

I want a little hand-held device that will listen to my interlocutor, interpret what she says in English on-the-fly, then allow me to answer in English and the device would spit out a version in the other language.

Am I asking for too much? Yes. But I predict that in fewer than 5 years we could see a usable product like the one I’m describing. Voice recognition software is rapidly improving. Machine translation, while leaving a lot to be desired, is also improving. I’d say we could see a listening/talking dictionary in less than 5 years that would be a useful interpretation tool, adapting to individuals’ voice/dialect/vocabulary automatically.

For now I’ll keep dreaming. Learning languages is more fun anyway. 🙂

Firefox hangs when saving pages or images

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

I often have the need to save a webpage or image for reference or for later reading. I’ve been a happy Firefox user for over a year now, but recently I started noticing that Firefox was slow when saving images or saving webpages. Today when I actually timed it, I waited a full 20 seconds for Firefox to save a page. After Googling it a bit, I found I wasn’t the only one with this problem. It turns out that Firefox uses a file called downloads.rdf to save your downloads history. Somehow the contents doesn’t always get cleared (even if you clear the downloads in the downloads window). Here’s how to fix it:

  1. Close Firefox.
  2. Go to your user profile folder. On Windows XP this is:
    C:\Documents and Settings\YOURUSERNAME\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\XXXXXXXX.default
    Replace YOURUSERNAME with your user name. XXXXXXXX will be 8 random letters
  3. Delete the downloads.rdf file.
  4. Restart Firefox.

And that’s all I did to fix it. I guess this would actually be a bug in Firefox, because normally when you delete the downloads history, it clears out the downloads.rdf file. If I’m wrong on this, let me know.