The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Posts Tagged ‘rant

More annoying than dubbing

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I have always preferred watching subtitled movies to those @$%@$! dubbed ones, but there exists a practice so incredibly infuriating that it makes one weakly plead for even dubbing instead: a “reading” by a voice actor. That’s a voice actor; a single man doing all the voices.

See this NYTimes article.

You have to see it to believe it, and then desperately try to forget it to remain sane.

See also Wikipedia article, which has a sample from the Matrix. Yes, that’s right, you hear both soundtracks, for extra authenticity. Nothing like watching a German film with Polish reading (with the German still audible) and English subtitles.

To quote from this blog:

One feature of Polish television that I keep forgetting about and which throws me back into my childhood every single time I travel there, is the “Lector voice over”. This one is really great. It is like being 5, sitting with your older brother in front of the television. He really wants to go out on with his friends, so he hates having to be there with you. But father grounded him, so now this really angry older brother has to read all the subtitles to you. All of them. He becomes the angry voice of every single character in the movie. And he hates it. So there might be a woman on screen, screaming and throwing dishes at this strange looking American guy, while your brother sadly proclaims “I hate you, and I am going back to my mother.”
It seems to be always the same voice, always the same sad, sad voice. Absolutely no other emotion than sadness. A voice just loud enough to make it impossible to hear the original language if you actually understand it. It is a very unique experience. Kojak comes to my mind now, but I remember Dynasty as well, and yes, ALL of the characters in Dynasty had the same sad voice, of the same sad man. A lector. Oh, when the credits appear on screen, he just reveals his name. Same voice.

[Also:

"These foreign films were translated into Russian by means of a lektor. Used throughout Eastern Europe, a lektor is a single person, almost always a man, who narrates the entire film. It’s cheaper than proper dubbing, or even subtitles. (Sometimes the newsreader cadence of the lektor sounds ridiculously out of place. I once watched a cheesy horror film lektored into Polish, during which a mad slasher pursued a lingerie-clad woman down a dim corridor to her gory doom. No explanation was needed, but the lektor cheerfully rendered the dialog: “No. No. Help. No. Help me. No. Stop. No. Don’t do it. Please. No. Help. No. No."

]

Written by S

Sun, 2007-12-16 at 16:37:49 +05:30

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Google Calendar bug

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Google Calendar is one of the best things ever written. Its features are useful, its UI is brilliant, and its “quick add” feature alone is worth raving about (and I have). I keep all scheduled events on Google Calendar, even my timetable — creating recurring events (like a seminar series) is very easy. (Aside: I’ve never used a calendar for a todo list…)

Random usability comments follow; please don’t read beyond this point.

Google Calendar has several “views” — “Agenda” shows all your events as a list ordered by time (and date, of course), and the “Day”, “Week”, “Month” views show a day, week, month at a time respectively. There is also a “Custom” view which can be set to several durations, from “Next 2 days” to “Next 4 weeks”. (Actually the menu ought to call the options “2 days”, “4 weeks” etc., because these views can be moved to other periods just like any others, but it’s possible that “Next 3 days” in the menu is less confusing than “3 days”.) If you haven’t used Google Calendar, see this blog post for screenshots. (Aside: Found some useful tips here(mostly what I’ve already been doing).)

I use “Next 2 weeks”, because “1 week” is vertical (events are shown in boxes according to their size, intersecting ones intersect, etc… this is a nice feature, but it is distracting to see it except when you specifically want it), and “1 month” shows too few events per day (because I put my timetable, seminars, and subscribe to several calendars, I sometimes have 15 events a day, most of which won’t fit). “Next 2 weeks” fits about 11 events per day, and is a big enough interval for scheduling most events (usually from email I get), so it’s perfect.

Here’s evidence of a thoughtful, well-designed UI: What do think happens when you switch from one view to another? (Takes just a click, BTW, not going to some other “Settings” window and changing it, or even pulling up a menu.)

This is what happens: If you switch to a bigger duration (such as from “Week” to “Month”), it simply shows the period the view you were looking at was in. (Doesn’t reset to the default view for that duration, which is what bad UI would do.) If you switch to a smaller duration, it picks the first period of that duration in the view you were currently looking at (nice!), except if — and this is what distinguishes good UI from the mediocre — today was in the current view. Because if the view is “month”, and it’s the current month, chances are that you’re actually looking at today, and when you switch to “week” you want the current week, not the first week of the month. For other months, it makes sense to switch to the first week (anything else would seem less “logical”). This is what Google Calendar does.

Except — and this is the bug — it doesn’t work when I’m in the custom view. Or at least, my custom view of “2 weeks” (and “3 weeks” and “4 weeks” — I didn’t try the others because I’ll only know the difference on special days of the week, and Thursday is not one of them.) If I’m looking at today in the “Next 2 weeks” view and I switch to the “Day” view, it shows me the first day in my 2-week-period, which is some confusing day I don’t want. Yeah, I know I have to only click on the “Today” button each time, and even all of those times put together it’s not really worth my going to all the trouble of writing this, but the point is that it violates the Rule of Least Surprise (also called the Principle of Least Astonishment), and it annoys me.

This ought to be fixed, but of course, like most other closed software development, it is hard to find a human to speak to. At least they have a “Contact Us” web form….

Written by S

Thu, 2007-11-01 at 14:16:12 +05:30

My “megabyte” rant

with 7 comments

Read this.

Quoting from the NIST site:

Once upon a time, computer professionals noticed that 2^10 was very nearly equal to 1000 and started using the SI prefix “kilo-” to mean 1024. That worked well enough for a decade or two because everybody who talked kilobytes knew that the term implied 1024 bytes. But, almost overnight a much more numerous “everybody” bought computers, and the trade computer professionals needed to talk to physicists and engineers and even to ordinary people, most of whom know that a kilometer is 1000 meters and a kilogram is 1000 grams.

Then data storage for gigabytes, and even terabytes, became practical, and the storage devices were not constructed on binary trees, which meant that, for many practical purposes, binary arithmetic was less convenient than decimal arithmetic. The result is that today nobody knows what a megabyte is. When discussing computer memory, most manufacturers use megabyte to mean 2^20 = 1 048 576 bytes, but the manufacturers of computer storage devices usually use the term to mean 1 000 000 bytes. Some designers of local area networks have used megabit per second to mean 1 048 576 bit/s, but all telecommunications engineers use it to mean 10^6 bit/s. And if two definitions of the megabyte are not enough, a third megabyte of 1 024 000 bytes is the megabyte used to format the familiar 90 mm (3 1/2 inch), “1.44 MB” diskette. The confusion is real, as is the potential for incompatibility in standards and in implemented systems.

Really, please just read this.

Links:

  1. http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/binary.html
  2. Mathew Somebody, A plea for sanity
  3. Markus Kuhn, Standardized units for use in information technology
  4. Wikipedia, Binary prefixes
  5. Pidgin, my tiny contribution :-)
  6. Random forum, my probably pointless contribution

Written by S

Tue, 2007-10-30 at 06:32:12 +05:30

Vulgar language

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[This should have been another "Film I saw" post, but I don't think this deserves one.]

I saw the fifth Harry Potter movie on Sunday night. It was awful.

Also, I’m not sure I heard this, but I think at some point in the movie, Cho Chang said “Anyways”. Which reminds me…

I have (or had) a theory about Indians and a cultural linguistic inferiority complex. We see a fair bit of hypercorrection when it comes to English — and many (too many!) misinformed, well-intentioned people finding fault with perfectly cromulent words and often offering invalid replacements. In addition, there is a tendency, upon hearing a “foreigner” say or use a word differently, to change one’s own usage; it disturbs me how frequently I hear “skedule”. And I nearly cried when I heard “soccer” even on DD.

This brings us to “anyways”, a “word” that has successfully leapt from illiterate, rustic Americans (“dial. or illiterate” — OED) into India’s fashionable shopping malls. I literally cringe every time I hear it, but I promise that it has nothing to do with my considering the film awful.

[I used "vulgar" in the title; am wondering if I could have said villainous, or would that have been too much of a stretch?]

[Non-update: Need to find some place to put this article!]

Written by S

Tue, 2007-10-23 at 10:06:15 +05:30

Postfix operators we learnt in kindergarten

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I don’t know about your school, but in our school we kids went through several years without ever realising what the multiplication table we were saying actually said. As a result, we were all familiar with at least one postfix operator — the postfix multiplication operator “zar” (pronounced “zawr”). As we recited our “tables”:

Two one zar two,
Two two zar four,
Two three zar six,

and so on (always ending with a singsong, triumphant, “two ten zar twenty”.)

“Zar” was routinely treated as an operator (“what is six seven zar?”), and it was quite an epiphany to me (in class seven I think) when I suddenly realised what had been going on; I suspect many of my classmates still haven’t caught on. (BTW, what is the technical name for this, where “ones are” → “one zar”? Closest I know is Allomorph.)

Also, our “into” (for multiplication) is used for division in the US (at least), so our “five into twenty is hundred”, but their “five into twenty goes four [times]“. And the “by” — “thirty by forty is 0.75″, but a thirty-by-forty site is 30 × 40.

More to ponder — which parts of India say “by” in fractions and which say “over”? (Is “3/4″ “three by four” or “three over four”? Of course it’s “three-fourths”…) Which ones say “aitch” and which ones say “hetch”? We always learnt it with the aspirated “h”, and that’s the way it seems to be in Chennai too.

“Pronunciation /heɪtʃ/ (and hence spelling haitch) is [...] standard in Hiberno-English. In Northern Ireland it is a shibboleth as Protestant schools teach aitch and Catholics haitch.”

Meanwhile, I’ve always wanted to slaughter the (incorrect) Hindi-inspired “give exam” speakers, but it looks like the battle is being lost (in CMI, it had spread to even proper Bangalore/Chennai types). Maybe I should also find and resurrect my old zedzee and emptyset-not-phi rants while I’m in the mood…

Written by S

Wed, 2007-10-03 at 09:24:15 +05:30

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Gnome File Selector

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Although there is no indication anywhere, one can actually start typing, and a box will appear to accept your input. This is incredibly unintuitive, but who’s to argue with the folks at GNOME? (Actually, even Gaim has this “feature”—start typing in the buddy list window to see it. So it could be a GTK+ thing, and not a GNOME thing…)

There are actually two places that take input:

  • The one that pops up when you start typing the name of a directory, say. This is at the bottom-right corner, and isn’t very good. No autocompletion.
  • There’s another one, that pops up when you type Ctrl+l (that’s l for location) or when you start typing with a /. This one has autocompletion, but works a bit weirdly: it interprets each keystroke as occurring after the completion (so if you start typing /etc, it will go into /etc after the ‘e’, then look for files beginning with ‘/etc/t’). Another problem is that it’s not done until you actually type the whole thing. For instance, to open /usr/bin/emacs, it is not enough to type “/u[sr/]b[in/]em[acs]{RET}” — that makes it look for “/usr/bin/em”. You can’t type “/u[sr/]b[in/]em[acs]a…” either: those files don’t exist. The only thing you can do is “/u[sr/]b[in/]em[acs]{Backspace}s{RET}”. Very weird. And if the file you want is inside the home directory, it can be got with “/{Backspace}~/…”.

Also, when “/bin/” or “/usr/bin” has too many files, opening one of them can take quite a long time. A “solution” is to have a separate directory (like “/usr/freqbin”) that contains links to all the programs that one might want to use to open things downloaded from the net (because the File Selector is encountered mostly when using Firefox).

2007-10-26: At some point, it started accepting “~” too, so you don’t have to do “/{Backspace}~” now. The rest of the mess is still there.

Written by S

Sun, 2005-11-06 at 17:03:00 +05:30

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