lost in translation

Is it possible to express the same feeling in two different languages and mean exactly the same thing? I was reading a bit of translation last week and was thinking how distorted it gets. Book translates a polite but strong, formal but bit sensitive writing in English to Malayalam – I happened to see the English version also and there is noticeable difference. Also I read something this week that messages conveyed by human beings has the context info or meta message (message about the message) also embedded in it, we are able to understand the metamessages with a lot of experience. Variety of information is required to fully understand the meaning of something that is written – we would need some cultural background, syntax of language and local usage and even some idea about geography. Translation of a Malayalam novel like “Chemmeen” by Thakazhi, a complex story set in coastal kerala, might look very odd in English. Somebody who hasn’t seen fishermen in Kerala coasts or walked those beaches may not be able to construct the mental image necessary to go through the novel.

I think authors give enough descriptions of landscape, stage, characters and features to help the readers form the idea, but I think we can construct images only with what we have seen, heard or felt. For example, I had my own image of the location and people for a book like “To Kill a Mockingbird” while reading it (now I have image from the movie). Given that nobody can learn enough to enjoy a classic in a new language and anyway we internally translate the characters and stage to what we already know, translations are not that bad. But I can’t help but feel that translations are distorted material.


I have been meaning to start checking out Ajax with a little hands-on for quite some time and today I had my “hello world” with it.

AJAX: Getting Started: gives a quick way to start testing. XMLHttpRequest seems to be the key to this. Rest is all about constructing the presentation layer at runtime using javascript than to change the content from server.

Rasmus' 30 second AJAX Tutorial - A wanderer's journal: Pretty much the same as above. I saw this argument at multiple places that Ajax is nothing but hype and people were using DHTML + XML way back etc. I am not yet sure about the extent or power of Ajax, but I liked the idea behind it. It seems to me as something that can be termed as “perception change” – the idea that request-response processing can be done without interrupting the user interaction is great.

Today morning I attended a session on innovation management – it was said that creative ideas which works can be extended, like computers invented for financial calculations now running our whole life or idea of flight getting extended to even space tourism. I think in pre-internet era, a scientist may work on a thesis on his own for his lifetime and may publish some papers in a boring symposium – but with the rate of collaboration these days, it may not take ages to change the world. I think this is sort of revival which is happening right now with open source and new internet – ideas are not restricted to a small group who invent it. Idea should be marketed to get contributors – this may be the “hype” factor. By getting many creative minds taking a swipe at it and finding new ways of using the idea thereby extending it, good durable ideas will find many different uses. If I reject a new idea without much analysis just because I am not feeling comfortable, I may have to consider the possibility that I am getting old.

Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications Now that I have tasted a small bit of Ajax, I decided to read some more. It seems the name Ajax originates from here. This gives a formalized explanation with the help of good diagrams. Terms like Ajax Engine are a little intimidating, but I think technology is not that complicated. One burning question is – how much can be done in asynchronous way? Only that much which won’t take too much time in server processing – in that case users will anyway have to wait.

Dynamic HTML and XML: The XMLHttpRequest Object : Same example as first two links with a listing of object properties of XMLHttpRequest. But for the first time, I understood that “request destination must be same as the one which serves up the page containing the script”. I need to check whether it is still possible to access webservices in third party domain using this.

What’s Ajax? Some more interesting points and links to learn more.

Ajax Mistakes: Compilation of Ajax mistakes. Some of those may have been put here just because somebody looked for faults, but this puts a thought in mind to caution against overuse and to avoid breaking the application with it. I think Ajax may not be used to solve all problems, but definitely something that may become part of the solution.

Very Dynamic Web Interfaces: One practical example here.

Other pages I whizzed through:-

Three forms of AJAX: solid, liquid and gas: some perspective on levels of usage.

XMLHttpRequest Usability Guidelines and Usable XMLHttpRequest in Practice
: warns against pitfalls in overusing the tools

To investigate more:-

XMLHttpRequest & Ajax Working Examples: links, found something about Java and Google API.

Ajaxian: one scan threw these terms at me - Dojo, Flock, ShrinkSafe, suggestion, autosave, autocomplete, IFrame, XHR, Remember the Milk, Google Reader

Top 10 Ajax Applications: useful to see some examples

Weighing the alternatives: comparisons and adding more arguments to support the claim

Ajax in Wikipedia: More links to go through

Ajax Matters: More links.

local search APIs and mashups

I was working like crazy for last couple of days with Yahoo and Google search APIs. I was trying to qualify/clean sales lead records using the local search for businesses. I naturally expected Google to do better, but their webservice is really Beta, it is not really able to do local searches and give me back the result set with address information – it can only give back the search result snippet. At the same time, Yahoo exceeded my expectations – it gave me a resultset with address, phone number, URL and a details URL which is really cool- it shows the map for business, category of business etc. I am able to specify sort criteria – relevance, distance or rating.

This experiment sort of initiated me to the power of webservices as well – within matter of seconds, I was able to run a list of 1000 businesses through Yahoo local search API and get results back with standardized addresses, phone number, URL etc.

I attempted this because I saw another one which was using Google API to do spelling suggestion in their application.

This word mash-up was coming up in my radar for some time and now I know for first hand what it is. It is fun to do, powerful and as long as the grey areas of security, limit of usage etc are within control, it can add real value to businesses.

Open source initiation – still going on..

Not dead, but not exactly running yet.

• I had registered in three projects – one of them almost dropped me since it is going at an amazing pace, I can’t even think about catching up now. I will have to be patient, setup tools and familiarize, do something small on my own. Two others are still alive.
• I am using Eclipse a lot these days and in the process of falling in love. I have poked around many of the features and almost familiarized it, but still haven’t formed habits around it.
• Need to learn refactoring techniques and concepts. So far, refactoring hasn’t been in the picture, even if I had written a piece of code which I know is not the best. But now I am more or less interested in writing something and getting it working fast, then if I can find fun in improving the code, it will be great.
• Installed MySQL 3.1. After a long time, I am meeting another database. I had brief encounters with IMS, DB2, SQL Server before making Oracle as the One. Even though I know that a ton of features exist in Oracle which I haven’t explored, there is new energy to find out how things work with new gadget.
• Generated SSH key using PuTTY and posted to sourceforge.

Next Steps
• Learn MySQL some and probably use it for some primitive purpose of my own – that is the only way to learn. It is boring to read documentation.
• Experiment with CVS, check in/out, commit.
• Practice the use of ant, Maven and JUnit.

I was struggling through Gregory Bateson’s “Step to an ecology of Mind” for 2 months. One snippet stuck with me – when we learn something and make a habit of it, it slowly sinks to the unknown and we won’t have to even realize that we know it (second nature or subconscious?). I need to get to that stage with this.
attention span

I can imagine myself as Spaceman Spiff, the intergalactic explorer. I start my expedition from a corner of the world by opening my mozilla firefox and clicking on bloglines | my feeds in my bookmarks toolbar. There are 800 unread News items, 115 Tech and unrelated, 734 del.ici.ous feeds, 25 Misc, Sports 25 and checking out 2 and some more folders which I have don’t have energy to list. Luckily I am not much interested in photography and flickr. When there are 38 Dilbert and Calvin & Hobbes to be read and I just go and click on it to remove the annoying (38) from reminding me, I feel desperate. How often can you wipe your slate clean, condemn all those wonderful things to oblivion and start fresh again? I am one who attends to every mail in my mailbox as soon as it comes in, even if it is to mark mail from Roberto Somebody about easy mortgage as junk mail or deleting CNET news on sight. I lost track of the newsletters to which I have subscribed – I no longer do that even if there is a glimmer of hope that I can read something interesting. Newsletters are a thing of the past for me – there is now a Newsletters folder in my Personal Folders to which all my unread Newsletters go. Some I delete on sight, some I don’t have the heart to do so, so just avoid for the moment. I also lost track of the sites to which I have registered with my email id, so there is another Subscriptions folder to which all those go – when I am old, I can look back at all those wonderful sites to which I have subscribed with my youthful energy.

I have my personalized Google page with all the cool stuff – a news section for Kerala (Customized section), World, Business, Sci/Tech, Weather, Word of the Day and Quote for the day. I could resist Yahoo 360 degree. I have one page full of tags in my del.ici.ous, with 44 items in various categories many of which are in toread or a variation of it. How many times have I visited my bookmarks? There is a feature in Add Remove Programs and Desktop Cleanup Wizard in Windows – shows last used date. Probably there should be a tag with last used date or even going one step further a personalized rule to trash items older than a month – that would be neat. I won’t have to worry anymore about the backlog – it will empty itself.

Question is how to manage the information overload and the subsequent pressure and anxiety of not catching up with every thing that is happening out there? Some of it I can gladly let go – I am not worried about politics unless there is some immediate threat to daily life, I am not worried about Entertainment at all because it is now like a stabilized business or circus show where you can expect same act even if you visit once in a while, I am not even worried about Indian Cricket now – see, we can let go of things. Of late, one thing I am not able to let go is technical trends and my inability to catch up with it all. I hop on to one link and it points me to another and like the inter-galactic hero, I am worried that I missed the sights back there somewhere. I have to consolidate my trusted sources, form a habit of quick scanning and reading only some of it, without clicking on too many links, not keep the rest as read later and don’t increase the number of sources unless my time allocated to read also increases proportionally. And I know I had reached this resolution earlier too.

Also sometimes I think people should practice self-control in hyper linking – if it is not important for your reader to go someplace else or you do not trust him to come back, then why sprinkle hyperlinks like landmines. Hyperlinks are kind of like temptations, you would like to just click and see. Keeping a tab on attention span is going to be my responsibility.

This is probably one of the reasons why hardcopy will never go out of fashion. You have to hold it with your two hands and give it all your attention. Browser has infinite possibilities and a Google toolbar to take you anywhere you want – so it will be for short rides, but longer journey should be taken though a book itself.


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