Wk13: Lost In Translation – The Treachery Of English

Languages is still a challenge online

I consider myself, pretentiously, an international citizen. I speak a couple of languages and I’m learning another. That, coupled with travel has made me aware of what I call the “Treachery of English”. Why is technology so inherently English?

In the futuristic TV show Firefly, everyone speaks the only two languages that are left – English and Chinese. It doesn’t seem so much like science fiction anymore.

It seems an odd by-product of the internationalisation of our culture. That language seems to be moving to a Highlander model – there can be only one.

Digital success favours the English. How many great digital products have come from non-English properties? Perhaps only Spotify. Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, YouTube, etc. All from English speaking countries (mainly the US). No wonder some countries see the internet itself as Western Imperialism.

How did we get here?

Sometimes the language itself is the problem. I worked for two years on a project to create a Chinese version of a website and was thrown head first into the problems of double byte. After we spent thousands, we would have had to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.

URLs are in English. HTML uses Roman characters. The whole internet would have to be reinvented to make it otherwise. To work in the digital space you have to learn English. And sadly, this battle may have been fought and lost. Maybe some future iteration of HMTL may change it but I think not.

But there is a bigger threat. That framework of English washes down river, with major consequences.

New technologies start in English or Roman characters. With luck they expand futher, but usually they don’t. Twitter is reliant on English. iTunes only has one store that displays non Roman characters – Japanese. And most computers can’t disply it correctly because it uses a plugin for Windows. Even the Chinese keyboard on an iPhone, a device of infinite possibilities, is clumsy.

But it isn’t just east versus west.

Everything starts with one language – English. How far down the list is Danish? Czech? Or French Canadian? These are the languages that are dying out.

These smaller languages always get screwed. Movies, even big tentpole ones, don’t get translated into many languages. You might get a French, Chinese or German, but Serbian?

But here is the point of all this:

The digital revolution should destroy these market concerns.

We can reach anyone who can speak any language – online.

I am going to use Harry Potter as a barometer for languages. Those books were published in over 65 languages (including language variations like French Canadian, Cantonese and more). This says to me that there is a) a market, no matter how small and b) a translator probably looking for work.

Point a), the small market, should be big enough to support the zero printing cost of digital. And hopefully the profits from that small market can support the wages of Mr b).

And if that market is there, and it’s attended to and supported – it can grow

Then there are the books that already exist. For some reason, my iTunes/iBook account doesn’t let me buy any French books. Why? Why can’t I get the Serbian digital version of Harry Potter. Or at least the French one?

Like most things, it’s a hangover from the old world. Why would you print up French Harry Potters in the UK, when there is a small audience for it? But now it’s clicks of a button, the changing of territory rights in a table. Yet no one is looking at this. Or worse, someone is still thinking it’s not worth their time.

This might horrify right wingers who believe in one language for one country. But I believe otherwise. How great to be able to access books, movies and music in their original language.

Film, books and music companies are bleeding money. And online sales are healthy, but they are still missing out on a massive financial trick. All because we are still used to promoting and selling one language version in one country. Everything else is a niche market.

If we are all looking for money, surely catering to all language speakers everywhere is the first step.

Let’s look at it from another angle. I want to buy Roald Dahl’s works in French.

It exists. It’s been digitised. iTunes has it on their servers. I have a credit card. You want my money. I want to give it to them.

What’s the hold up?

How do we avoid the vision of the future from Firefly? How do we stop culture from sliding into a single language monotone?

We have to make the internet admit that there is more than just English. And the underused, under appreciated non English market could be a critical key in making digital products more profitable.

It’s a world wide web after all. Lets reflect the whole world.

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Wk 12: I’m So Tired – Digital fatigue and retirement

"This Angry Birds game is brilliant!"

When I was young, I would program the VCR for my family home. I don’t think this was a rare occurrence. Most kids I know were better than their parents at it. They were old and didn’t understand how these new machines work.

Years later, I realised that I didn’t know how to tune a VCR anymore. The technology passed me by. I would sit there holding a tune button on the player. But now it was on the remote. And little cousins of mine were better than it than me.

For years this thought has haunted me ever since.

What if technology passes me by completely? How do I stop it?

The idea of “digital retirement” is taking, ironically, some strides in my life. Having just turned 30, many of my friends are wary and against Twitter. They just don’t ‘get’ it.

What is annoying is the arrogance of this statement. It’s almost as if they’re saying “Hmmm, I think the world is wrong on this one.” When the opposite is true. It is the point where you have retired from the digital world.

How does this happen?

There’s a Douglas Adams quote that is often used out of context:

– Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

– Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

– Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Adams used this in a piece about technology, and the DANGERS of perceiving things as wrong or weird just because you happen to be born at the wrong time for it.

But there is a deeper reason tied to another old quote.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

My problem with the VCR came because I already learnt how to program a VCR. And it is harder to forget something than it is to learn something.

Most people I’ve spoken to will not get a different phone from an iPhone on their next upgrade. The main reason seems to be – I can’t go back. Regardless on where you stand on the iPhone, learning a whole new mobile operating system is a pain. I was once given a Sony Ericsson phone for free, with a camera. And kept my old two colour camera-less Nokia because it was too hard to learn a new thing.

This is an important side point. People can get stuck in their ways. Apple has gotten there first with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Yet they struggled for decades against Windows because who could be bothered learning a whole new operating system? The digital world – although ever changing – is ruled by habit.

The other great example is when Facebook changes anything. Oh the complaints.

But the world is going to change with or without you. And pretty soon the technology and networks that support my old Nokia (let alone that sized sim card) will be gone completely. Do I rally against the future? Is it against the natural order of things?

If there is such a thing as “digital retirement”, something I personally want to avoid at all costs, then it comes from “digital fatigue”. That all this new technology is getting too much. And technology just grows faster and faster.

So, the way to defeat it might be the thing that keeps normal retirement and fatigue at bay.

Exercise.

Try new things. Keep active in the digital space. Try out new things. Get the blood flowing in those muscles.

The people I’ve met who I think are the best thinkers, and are ahead of the game, are naturally curious. And they have dozens of logins to try out every new service they hear about. And they don’t always understand them, but who does.

You don’t have to love it – the general opinion of chatroulette was that it was crap and a fad. Most people agreed, but who actually tried it?

It’s that attitude I love – constant discovery.

I am still excited by new technology all the time. I don’t always understand it, but I don’t understand all new music either.

What I am worried about, is if I ever get to the point where I say “I don’t get it”. If I hate it – fine. If I don’t even understand, that’s a worry.

Once again – take Twitter. We all knew that the first people to hop onto that would be those with the most free time and the least to say. We saw that with mIRC. Then with forums. Then on MySpace and Facebook. But those who never thought any of those things were worth their time were never going to ‘get’ Twitter.

I wonder what Albert Einstein would make of an iPad. Would he “get” it? I know my parents are amazed I have a French dictionary on my phone. Maybe he wouldn’t understand it – but he would understand it’s usefulness – maybe? Or maybe it would be too much for him.

But that retirement is bound to happen to me. And in a way, I’m looking forward to that too. I love tech, digital and inventions. That in my lifetime there may be something so new, so different that my mind just gives up on it – that’s exciting.

Until then, there is so much to explore. And to explore FOR THE SAKE OF EXPLORING.

Travel keeps you young, they say. And adventures in new digital technology can keep digital retirement at bay too.

Making Album 3: Days 1 & 2.

Album 3 Recording 5

My common view of Adrian during our recording

First two days involved just running through the songs and getting them down. We did almost everything to a click track, to make it easier to add drums, bass, or whatever else later.

We worked at Adrian’s home studio in Rose Bay. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Walk around from Adrian’s studio on the hill and you can see all of Sydney Harbour.

All I brought with me was my Art & Lutherie acoustic which I’ve had for 5 years now, and travelled the world with me. I also brought my Mustang bass that was not used – yet. In the era of protools, we did quite a bit of mucking around with synths and drum sounds for the demos.

We started by playing to samples, but in the end, Adrian tracked midi drums to a click. We played both live and got excellent takes that still had feel and detail.

I walked in with 18 songs. We recorded demos for 14. They are, in order:

1. Untitled 1 (It’s Never Gonna Happen)
2. The Bedford Arms
3. Done With Love
4. It’s Been Too Long
5. Untitled 2 (Meet Again)
6. Untitled 3 (I Know You)
7. Find the Sea
8. Time To Go

9. Show You My City
10. I Just Wanna See You
11. Death Disco
12. Untitled 4 (Gang Of Four)
13. Adventure
14. Victoria I

9-14 were all done on electric. I even used a Stratocaster and a Les Paul for the first time ever on a recording.

For the record, songs not tracked so far are:

15. Victoria II
16. My Life Has Been Good
17. Trace
18. Names

I am usually very good with song titles but this time around I am stuck. It’s worrying that there isn’t one clear line or idea in these songs that stick out that feels like a title. Many of those songs are cut and paste jobs from various scribbles in my notebooks. I put them in an order that makes sense. I am considering doing the Jebediah thing and just naming them something completely left field (what is Military Strongmen?).

I don’t think I’ve ever played guitar so much in one consistent sitting before. Usually in bands you can have a break. My fingers were in a lot of pain by the middle of day 2. I had to hold frozen peas in one hand. But we muddled through (woe is I).

Some songs are in states of unfinishedness. Many gaps for lyrics, and many placeholder lyrics too. I will need to live with these tapes for a bit and make notes.

I had lyrics for one song – Death Disco – that was written in the studio. I’ve never done that before, and the whole song has only two chords. But that speed and fun is why I’m working with Adrian. I don’t love recording – and I hate labouring over it. The song is about the club nights at Notting Hill Arts Club on Wednesday nights.

In the end, very exciting. Next session is just over a week away. The aim is to drill down the arrangements, finich the lyrics, start adding bass and get the songs to a point where we can start inviting people in to help.

And also think about what songs wont make it. As 3 songs come under 2 minutes, I might be able to allow 11 songs.

Photos l-r:
1. Double Bay, driving on the way to the studio. 2. Producer Adrian Deutsch. 3. My world while tracking. 4. My view of Adrian while I was recording

Album 3 Recording 1 Album 3 Recording 2 Album 3 Recording 4 Album 3 Recording 5

Making Album 3: introduction

Today I will start making a third album of songs I’ve written.

I am going to blog about it.

If you’ve ever wondered what people do to prepare for an album, then I can tell you sometimes it’s a lot. My last record was rehearsed intensely, and had a clear vision going in.

This time around, I have prepared almost nothing. I have 20 songs in all different states. One is just a whole bunch of lyrics on a notepad about a certain subject, with no music at all. Almost half have no titles and I hope to revisit the lyrics. Some are completely finished. Song wise, these are all the songs that were worth keeping that I wrote in 4 or so years in London.

I am recording with Adrian Deustch at his home studio. I’ve known Adrian for ten years and we’ve always wanted to work together. I have not worked with that many producers in my life, so every time it feels brand new.

We are going to start by recording every song acoustically, or on piano. Some basic tracks to start. No drummer, no embellishments. Hopefully Adrian will offer some ideas. And from there we will decide where to go.

I have no idea how it’s going to sound. We will be recording bit by bit in the months to come. And hopefully rope in some great collaborators.

The aim is to pick the best ten and make that an album. I can’t seem to shake that ten song limit. It just works for me.

As of right now, the album will be called “Adventure!”. And it will be by “The Reservations”. But everything can change.

Wk11: Close To You – the open and closed debate, and do we care?

Open source, open platforms, closed ecosystems – seems these terms have been bandied about A LOT of late. They are very technical terms, and very important causes, with plenty of pros and cons on both sides.

But what about outside of the technical world?

For the music fan, the movie fan, the culturalist – where should we stand on the open vs closed debate? And should we even care?

I think we should.

But there are lots of arguments for and against either side. But maybe we can boil them down to some clear and simple headlines to keep in mind.

Open.

The idea of it is built upon one of the very foundations of the web – that all data is equal.

Open-source, open-standards, open-platforms – it all comes from that core idea. That we share information. That we remain transparent. (I’m going to refer to open-anything as “Open”).

Did you know that you can “View Source” on any website? It brings up the code for that website. Not that many people had code websites from scratch anymore, but I can see how anyone created any part of their website, and replicate that. And by doing that, learn a new skill.

A lot of great stuff has come from the world of “Open”. Firefox is probably the best example – built on a system that is completely open. The great thing is people can create more stuff that fits right into Firefox. I have an All Music Guide search bar, for instance.

This blog is created on WordPress, one of the best examples of “Open” when it works. WordPress is a “distributed company” – it’s employees all work remotely, around the planet. And they all develop for this blogging software separately (or in teams). The whole thing is open, they don’t need to worry about permission from the boss or others.

Here. Take it all. Go make something.

Closed.

Essentially, the idea that something (software, hardware), is protected, mostly as intellectual property. And you can’t screw around with it.

Even though the web is built a spirit of “Open”, computing has been ruled by “Closed”. Microsoft Office is the most famous. If you want to create an add-on for Office, you had to pay Microsoft to un “close” the door for you.

And it works. It protected the program’s integrity, and helped make it perhaps the most popular computer program in the world ever.

Similarly Apple, with it’s “closed” iTunes systems means that there is only one way to use it – Apple’s way. You don’t really own the program. You pay the company for the use of it.

But to understand it better, there is a very clear example of the spirit of “open” vs the spirit of “closed”. It’s MySpace vs Facebook.

Although not completely open-source, MySpace certainly came from the place of “Open”. You could, if you knew HTML coding, change your MySpace profile into almost anything. You could move stuff around, change all the colours and more.

Facebook, however, is very “closed”. Although they allow for some development, they a cordoned-off sandboxes in a larger, unchanging ground. You are just borrwing some space, really.

But the success and failures of both are at the heart of what “Open” and “Closed” means for us – non programming, no techie types.

“Open” is great for the technically savvy and inventive, but for a majority of us wh don’t know what we’re doing, looks shit. “Closed” traps us to conform with everyone else – but at 500 million users – maybe we’re ok with that?

The “Open” vs “Closed” fight has now gone to the tablet world. Google’s Android system is “Open”. Apple’s iPad is “Closed”. Android supporters, Apple haters and techies all attack the iPad’s “Closed” spirit. Over and over in announcements and press releases, the “Closed” point is beaten home.

But does anyone care?

Because Android has a big, huge, fineprint. Android is “Open”, and that means open to everyone. Including a simple Wallpaper App that was sending user’s personal data to somewhere in China. And it’s against the spirit of “Open” to stop it.

On the other hand, iPads and the iOS securoity measures is akin to censorship. Sure, Playboy can’t get on the store. But neither can iTunes competitors. Or clever programs that don’t fit Apple’s incredibly strict guidelines.

Yet, the iPad is the success. As is Facebook.

So who wins?

I think we have to all accept that there has to be both.

Further – that most people will go with “Closed”.

And early adopters and techies will go with “Open”.

There’s no use pumping out PR about how much better “Open” is, and how it is better for innovation and creativity. Most people don’t want innovation and creativity. They want robust and reliable. And they’ve voted that way time and time again. They voted to close.

As for “Open”, it is hugely important to keep it around. Not only as opposition – although there is a sense of “keeping the bastards honest”. But as a place for those who are more innovative, tech savvy and creative than the average bear to out those big ideas to use. Create it for the world, and the world will follow later.

I think it’s time to stop those silly articles about which is better – “Open” or “Closed”. It confuses people. And it distracts from what is truly better or worse about your product.

And in the end, there will always be a audience for both. And one far more than the other. Get over it. Case closed.

Android App sends data to China – http://www.cultofmac.com/android-app-sends-personal-data-to-china/52929

Recent discussion on Digital Planet about the “Closed” iPad. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00f32rt

Wk10: Let’s All Turn On – Loading time woes.

How long do we have to wait?

Some people say computers are a waste of time. And they really, really are.

In 2009, I had a job where my computer was very slow. But also, we were trying to be green (ta, Trish), so we did the right thing and we turned off our computers every night (including monitors). So one day I decided to time how long it took my computer to boot up.

It took 6 minutes.

But not just 6 minutes. It took 6 minutes for the desktop to appear. But with all sorts of autorun systems in the background, it took closer to 9 minutes before Outlook could launch, and I could start being productive.

We all knew our computers were slow, but what could we do about it. Most days there would be people in the kitchen, making coffees as they waited for their computers to start up. The usual thought about this was – well, if only we had new computers.

But would that really do the trick?

It is something I’ve been looking at with most computers I come across. And trying to measure beyond “boot-up” times, but when you can really become productive. And new computers are good mainly because they are empty. After a few weeks off adding your favourite programs they turn to shit – boot-up time wise.

Add to that the time it takes for programs to start. The worst ones are Microsoft office and Adobe programs. Sure they only tale 30 second to a minute, but they are used often in most offices. Are we losing around 5 minutes a day on these things?

(Don’t get me started on Flash websites. Why is your website so important that I have to wait?)

It all adds up. 15 minutes of watching things load a day means over an hour a week. Over 50 hours a year. Multiplied by the hundreds of millions of people who are in similar positions.

But this has always been the case. Computers have always taken ages to start up. Word and Photoshop have built-in launch logos. We are supposed to wait. This is the way it’s always been – but is it the way it always has to be?

If I stuck a modern processor chip into my computer 10 years ago and ran Photoshop 4, it would launch in an instant. If moore’s law is true, my computer is 32 times more powerful that it was 10 years ago.

How can we cut down or eliminate waiting times now?

As with most things in this column, it’s the place where human culture meets technology.

I don’t think (most) computer manufacturers and software writers care about making people wait.

And we as consumers accept it as an artificial given.

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

The idea of “instant on” has started to kick around in the last few years (and standard on the new Macbook air). But it’s more a novel feature than a productivity claim. We need to demand this feature of our hardware manufacturers. Software makers are not even on the map.

I can already hear people say “why can’t you just wait a few minutes?”. Firstly, fuck you. If you think this way you are an idiot. There are a hundred reasons.

Productivity leads to faster advances in our lives. Better ways of communicating. Faster overthrows of dictators! If we can do more faster, then maybe we wouldn’t be so taxing on the environment. But mostly – because we can. Because we have reached this point. Because we were smart enough to invent this, we should be using it.

It seems anti-progress, but if we simply took a break from adding new features for a second and let processors speeds catch up, we could achieve instant-on for almost everything in a year or two.

But instead, developers assume you have to wait about 1 minute or two, they might as well throw features in there until the wait times become unbearable.

How about working on “instant-on” as a feature? I personally would sacrifice new splashy stuff on Word like xhtml crap for a faster loading time.

It’s why I like the App world so much. It is streamlining many features of programs to their essential core. If we can bring that to laptops and desktops, we could cut down the wait. Sadly, in looks like loading screens have been built into many Apps as well.

Computers are doubling in power every two years (according to Moore’s Law). But we are using that speed to pack things on top of existing hardware and software. But we need to go back to the core.

It’s like spending money on a car for a new paint job and speakers but ignoring the engine.

We need to remember why computers were great in the first place. Because they could do things quickly. And there’s no use having a fast computer if it takes you ages to get into it.

I am sick of waiting. In the vast improvements that happen every day, it seems I have always wasted 15 minutes a day just waiting for things to load.

Let’s open up the hood and do something about it.