Eurodan in English

February 28, 2005

Interpreting on the morning after

Before I start, in case there are any staff colleagues reading this, I'm normally a shining example of responsible behaviour on a night before work. Honest!

But last night there was a certain birthday to celebrate (no names - there are careers to protect) and I think I may have had just one too many blanche. What was that? Oh go on then - with lemon, please. Cheers. Thanks a lot.

Where were we? Oh yes.

The thing is, in most jobs you can go in and keep a low profile for a day, but not with this one.

I have to say I marshalled myself quite well under the circumstances, and I don't think that the European project has been put in any great danger, but it's a very strange feeling.

Imagine that you have a row of shelves in your brain where you put little bits of information for a few seconds, then retrieving them again when your 'hands' are free. Now imagine that the shelves are now all slippery and crooked and things keep falling off.

Well that, dear reader, is sort of what it was like.

So tonight it's early to bed.

Posted by Eurodan at 5:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2005

Space travel by climbing trees

Adam sent me this article about the latest developments in machine translation.

It appears that some clever researchers have managed to write software which "learns" languages using statistical analysis and probability techniques, (presumably from a fantastically large corpus!)

Uh-oh... here we go again. If there's one activity which is purely based on human intelligence, it's translation (and interpreting, for that matter).

Good translation is not really about swapping words, and it's certainly not about rules of probability. What it is, however, is very simple.

It's the following process:-

1) Read and understand a text
2) Render that text in a way that is understandable for the new audience.

Sound simple? Well, it's really that word "understand" which is the clincher. It's a fractal pattern of complexity, all about context. Who wrote the text? What was the intended audience? Is there another "hidden" audience? Why that word? Is it a cultural or intertextual reference?

I know that all sounds really... well... pretentious, but just try using any of the currently available machine translation tools and see how quickly they get tripped up.

Understanding is the one thing which I for one am quite happy that machines can't do. And until we fully understand consciousness ourselves, I don't think we can ever bestow it.

But consciousness, understanding and intelligence can be quite well mimicked. I'm sure you've heard of those experiments where humans are challenged to type into a terminal and see whether their correspondent is another human or a computer. (I even had a piece of software chatting to me on MSN a few months ago).

But it's all tricks, snake-oil, sham. Who am I to say it, but I remain an AI sceptic. To me it looks like people who are trying to achieve space travel by finding ever taller trees to climb.

Posted by Eurodan at 8:16 PM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2005

Defcon 1

President Bush's plane has landed in Belgium, and already the Police were out in force when I took the bus into town this evening to go for a couple of hours of disco (almost proper exercise, n'est-ce pas?)

Tomorrow I'm working in a meeting in the European Council's Justus Lipsus building, which always feels a bit more important than the Commission's meeting rooms. The Council has all the trappings of importance, with airline-style security and imposing, forbidding architecture. Logical really, as it's the place where the representatives of government (and sometimes also the heads of state themselves) meet.

I have a feeling that tomorrow, with Bush in town and both an EU and NATO summit happening, it's going to be a positive fortress!

So I'm going prepared - leaving early and taking with me every form of ID I can. Wish me luck!

Posted by Eurodan at 11:01 PM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2005

Langue de Molière

I saw a piece of text the other day in a Brussels canteen that will remain nameless, and it made me chuckle, as it speaks such volumes about the French language and how it tends to be used.

The sign was above one of those belts that you put your tray on when you've finished your meal. The English would have been something like "to avoid jams, please put your tray neatly onto the belt". Below is the French version. Enjoy!

Le système d'évacuation des plateaux requiert impérativement une disposition correcte des plateaux sur la bande transporteuse.

Posted by Eurodan at 11:03 PM | Comments (1)

February 7, 2005

Kölle Alaaf!

If you have business contacts in the German Rhineland, I suggest you don't bother calling them until Wednesday at the earliest, as the annual Karneval is in full swing. The normally rather sensible burghers of Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf get dressed up in pantomime-like costumes, drink Sekt for breakfast, and parade through the streets having a generally rather merry time of it.

In the UK of course, we know better, and make pancakes.

For around ten years now (with a couple of regrettable absences) I've been gleefully attending my friend Matt's pancake party.

Originally Matt and I saw it as a way of consoling ourselves that we couldn't be elsewhere. He in Sydney at Mardi Gras, and I in Cologne. But since then, for me at least, I'd actually, on balance, rather be sitting at his table eating pancakes with people I see all too rarely - in a place which still feels like my real home.

Posted by Eurodan at 11:53 PM | Comments (3)

February 6, 2005

I've never met an Apple fan I didn't like. And no - I'm not talking about the new cocktail Leigh and I invented while on holiday in the Canaries (the Granny Smith - vodka and apple juice).

I am, of course, referring to that band of plucky techno-evangelists who have kept faith with Apple, the Macintosh and MacOS through good times and bad (i.e. the mid to late 1990s, when I guiltily switched over to Wintel).

Since the advent of the i-mac and of course the i-pod, the Mac-faithful have new wind in their sails. Good for them.

In fact, some of them have been getting a little bit... how can I put this... maybe over-confident?

Perhaps this will explain what I mean...

Posted by Eurodan at 1:41 PM | Comments (0)

Back to blog