Month: September 2006

We should all have such problems

Gwen and I are leaving today on a trip to Spain.

We had written a rather large check from our investment account and deposited it in our regular checking account, so we’d be able to get at those funds from an ATM while abroad. When we made the deposit, we asked the teller if she could deposit it without a hold, and she said Yes. Sure enough, the next day, the money appeared in our account.

Then yesterday at about 4:30, I checked our account again and saw a negative balance. Uhhhhhh…

Frantic calling to the bank and the investment house resulted in conflicting stories. According to the bank, the investment house refused to honor the check (which is strange, since we’ve written checks against that before and had them clear, and there was enough money to cover it), so they were returning it; according to the investment house, the check was never presented for payment. If we didn’t resolve the situation in exactly 24 hours, we’d be in Spain with no ready way to get at our money (beyond what we’re bringing, which isn’t enough to last the trip).

Today I ordered a wire transfer instead. It looks like it has gone through.

As problems in life go, this is not big. It’s the kind of problem only a fortunate person can have. I bear all that in mind, but the situation still made me very angry and anxious.

Switching to WordPress

I’d been using Movable Type for years, but had grown disenchanted with their dual-architecture of Perl+PHP. And I guess my life just wasn’t complicated enough. And I had the general sense that the Mandate of Heaven had shifted towards WordPress, so I’m using that now.

Making this page look as much like my old page as possible (with, I hope, some improvements) has been a good opportunity to learn about the software. I started by hacking on what must be the most complicated theme available, K2, which in hindsight was pretty dumb—I’ve pared away a lot its interesting bells and whistled, and added a few of my own.

Each platform has its pros and cons. WordPress has better management of static pages, and seems to have a more active developer community. Movable Type has some nice back-end tools that WordPress either lacks or can only offer via plugins. WP seems to have much cleaner and more effective spam-fighting tools (Spam Karma is pretty amazing). There’s a big conceptual difference between MT templates and WP themes—I’m more comfortable with the template idiom, so dealing with themes is taking some mental adjustment. MT’s tags are atomic—they correspond to a bare chunk of programmatically generated text. With WP, tags are function calls, in many cases producing formatted output with the format determined by an argument in the function. Getting at the atomic unit at all requires delving into the code to see what’s going on.

Somewhat to my chagrin, all my permalinks have changed in this process. And I’ve also lost all my folksonomic tags, but I knew that would happen. Come to think of it, I kinda knew that I’d lose my permalinks. But since the URL format is so very similar, it seems that someone who actually knows what he’d doing could probably write a ModRewrite htaccess doohicky to intercept invalid old URLs and figure out if they are near-misses for valid new URLs and redirect to those. Alas, I am not that person.

Writing well and translating poorly

Paul Graham always writes interesting articles (though I can’t figure out for the life of me why he hosts them as a Yahoo store), but I don’t track him very closely, so when I ran across a link to his somewhat old Writing, Briefly, I read it eagerly.

And noticed with interest that it has been translated into a number of languages, including a Japanese version (which I can read), and a Spanish version (which I can kinda fake). His advice “use simple, germanic words” may be good (though I’d phrase it as “Anglo-Saxon words”), and as a translation issue, it certainly stands out.

The Spanish translator preserved it but struck it out: “usa palabras simples, germánicas;”

The Japanese translator included it without comment: “簡単でドイツ語的な単語を使いなさい。”

Now, the funny thing here is that there’s a pretty good equivalent to Anglo-Saxon vocabulary for Japanese—大和言葉. I’m not how perfectly the two accord, or whether avoiding 漢語 would be as important to a Japanese version of Paul Graham as avoiding Latinate words apparently is to the English-speaking Paul Graham. Regardless, though, the translator kept that in there. Apparently the translator is relying on the reader to keep in mind that this is a translation of an English text for English audiences, and to understand what Germanic vocabulary means in terms of English style. Going the other way, I would never make that assumption—an English audience would be completely lost if I presented them with the phrase “yamato kotoba” in a text translated from Japanese. But then again, it might be jarring to them if I adapted the concept to “Anglo-Saxon vocabulary” if they knew that my piece was a translation. One could dodge this by simply saying “use native vocabulary.”

The case with Spanish is knotty in its own way. I know Spanish has its share of loanwords, but it doesn’t have the overwhelming influence of French and Latin that English has (and even if it did, it would be harder to tell them apart), or of Chinese that Japanese has. So the call to use native vocabulary is redundant. The way the translator chose to deal with it here is interesting—it transparently acknowledges that the text is a translation, and that in this case, the idea doesn’t quite fit in the translation.

I want my hovercar too, dammit

Some British engineering firm has built a hybrid mini that gets 80 mpg, does 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, and has a radius of 800 miles. There is no doubt some hyperbole in this, and I suspect there are some unsolved problems (I wonder about the unsprung weight of those wheel-motors), but still, very impressive.

This makes me angry. If a shop like this can do it, why can’t the big guys? Shoot, I’d settle for a car with those specs that did 0-60 in 5.5 seconds.