It is all in the name

I just love stories like this.

In a wonderful case of mistaken identity a young American woman, Ashley Kerekes, while minding her own business, has become 450px-Ashes_Urna darling of the cricket world. Known affectionately by her family and friends as Ashes, she chose the Twitter handle of theashes . Now as anyone who has ever been exposed to cricket knows, The Ashes also refers to  the international series of Test matches, played between Australia and England dating back to 1882 and is probably one of the most celebrated international rivalries in any sport.

It seems that quite a few Twitterers (people who tweet) made the assumption that someone with the handle of theashes must be associated with the game of cricket. The good thing though is what started out as an annoyance turned out to have a silver lining for Ashley as she was whisked off to Australia to see the final test.[BBC article]. If you have the time, listen to the wonderfully British BBC announcer interview Ashley, it is delightful.

What means this? By the skin of our teeth?

Fascinating NY Times article dictionaries and sidebar on Google’s efforts to improve language translation and some examples pitting machine translation versus a human translator (the gold standard). The participants were Google Translate, Yahoo Babel Fish via Systran and Microsoft Bing Translator. Google seems to have the others beat by a large margin and is about 80 to 90 % of a human translator.

This made me think of my time when I was on assignment for a US company in Italy and ended up having the de facto responsibility of helping my Italian colleagues with their English. In particular, I remember my good friend Elena asking me in exasperation one day What means this? By the skin of our teeth?” (see the second item on Yahoo Answers for a comprehensive answer).

So in the spirit of checking out Google Translate, I decided to plug in the above phrase and also use Jonathan Feinberg’s babelizer utility. The translation English to Italian to English works quite well.

Google Translate (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
Google Translate (output) What does this mean? The skin of our teeth?
Babelizer (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
Babelizer  (output) What means this? From the skin our teeth

However when we get English to Japanese to English it is a little more problematic for the babelizer although a bit more amusing.

Google Translate (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
Google Translate (output) What this means? The skin of our teeth?
Babelizer (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
Babelizer  (output) Something means this? Using the skin of our teeth

The moral of the story is machine translation is getting better and better but isn’t quite there yet and there may well be unintentional consequences for the unwary.

News and Newspapers

Horsey death of newspapers As the new year begins, my wife and I continue to debate  – do we need to have two newspapers delivered everyday? With the demise of the Seattle PI earlier this year (it moved to the web) and with so much information out there, I got thinking of where do I get my news from and how big a role newspapers play. Listed by importance within each category.

Newspapers & Magazines Internet TV
NY Times
Seattle Times
Guardian (UK)*
NY Times*
Seattle PIEconomist*
Telegraph (UK)#
Huffington Post
BBC America
NBC National News
ABC Local News

* both email notifications and their web site.
# android (mobile) application

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iPanic small Yesterday’s New York Times had a brilliant parody linking the hype around iPhone applications with the economic recession. Titled, iPanic it has the following header: -

Helping you deal with the loss of your life savings, one app at a time.

The footer is even more biting: -

The fetish that is a phone on the only network that’s an option gets even more practical, with apps for navigating your newfound destitution.

The article is well worth a read, my personal favourite app is

4merly Hot

Tired of economizing alone? Upload a picture of yourself when you had money, then use your iPhone to meet other singles pretending they still have money, too.