The brains of the trainee interpreters had changed […] but not in the way you might expect

November 26th, 2014

In other words: inside the lives and minds of real-time translators

Looking down over the delegates at the IMO, I was reminded of the view from a captain's bridge, or the gallery of a television studio. I had a feeling of control, a perverse reaction given that control is one thing interpreters lack. The words they utter and the speed at which they talk are determined by others. And even though [on-duty translators] Pinkney and Soliño had copies of some of the speeches that had been prepared for that morning, they had to be alive to humorous asides. Puns, sarcasm, irony and culture-specific jokes are an interpreter's nightmare. As one interpreter has noted in an academic article, "Puns based on a single word with multiple meanings in the source language should generally not be attempted by interpreters, as the result will probably not be funny." Quite.

Go for the amusing anecdotes about mistranslations, stay for a fascinating look at how the hell the human brain copes with listening to one language and speaking another in real time.

[Via MetaFilter]

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'Exposure and quackery'

December 14th, 2013

An amazing list of actual reasons for admission into the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum from the late 1800s.

"Masturbation for 30 years" and "Suppressed masturbation"? The ideal was to find a happy medium, presumably. Also, to try not to succumb to "Excitement as officer."1

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

  1. Whatever that was…

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Love in a cold climate

September 18th, 2013

The Wellcome Library blog tells the tale of the Common Cold Unit:

Volunteers were kept in strict isolation from the outside world and from others taking part in the trial. But as one CCU press release puts it, 'isolation is not as bad as it seems. All the flats are connected by phone so you can talk to that smashing blonde in the next flat'.

Another volunteer information sheet in the collection warns that 'chatting up other volunteers in a different flat can only be by telephone, or at a very long range outside.' Romances did bloom despite the isolation and blocked noses; on his ninth visit to the unit, one guitar-strumming volunteer wooed a neighbouring oboist by playing duets at 30 feet. Love in a cold climate.

I'm slightly surprised that nobody ever exploited such comedic gold for a sitcom. Probably made by the folks behind On the Buses or Mind Your Language or Man About the House.1

  1. I don't know why, but something about the premise just screams 'early 1970s sitcom' to me.

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Numbers don't lie

July 7th, 2013

Statistic of the day:

Parachuting for charity: is it worth the money? A 5-year audit of parachute injuries in Tayside and the cost to the NHS.

Authors Lee CT, et al.

Injury. 1999 May;30(4):283-7.

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Perth Royal Infirmary, Scotland, UK.


All parachute injuries from two local parachute centres over a 5-year period were analysed. Of 174 patients with injuries of varying severity, 94% were first-time charity-parachutists. The injury rate in charity-parachutists was 11% at an average cost of 3751 Pounds per casualty. Sixty-three percent of casualties who were charity-parachutists required hospital admission, representing a serious injury rate of 7%, at an average cost of 5781 Pounds per patient. The amount raised per person for charity was 30 Pounds. Each pound raised for charity cost the NHS 13.75 Pounds in return. Parachuting for charity costs more money than it raises, carries a high risk of serious personal injury and places a significant burden on health resources.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

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Learning to Talk

September 23rd, 2012

Learning to Talk by Lauren Daisley:

When a voiceover artist temporarily loses the use of her primary asset, the struggle back to speaking unearths what's gone unsaid for too long.

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November 30th, 2011

Siri's apparent unwillingness to provide useful responses to search queries relating to birth control makes Apple look terrible. I wonder how much embarrassment it would take for Apple to cite the program's 'Beta' status and pull it for a while so they can work the bugs out?

For what it's worth, I'd be astounded if the behaviour people are reporting is the result of a deliberate strategy on Apple's part of trying to avoid giving information about contraception, rape and so on. If it is, it's clearly very poorly implemented, both because the iPhone will happily let you google for them1 and because it's such a hot button subject that there's no way it would have gone unnoticed for long.

I strongly suspect that Siri's anomalous behaviour will turn out to be some combination of the user's location, the quality and consistency of data in the databases and directories Siri is acting as a front end for, and some rough edges in Siri's code. Running natural language search queries against third party databases is hard: doing so when your data providers may themselves be erring on the side of caution when it comes to tagging and categorising the data you're accessing is never going to be close to completely accurate. Doing all that and having Siri respond in colloquial English rather than displaying less user-friendly but more informative error messages like "Connection refused" or "0 records found", and thus making every failed query look like the result of a conscious decision on Siri's part. isn't helping one little bit.

Whatever the reason, it'll be interesting to see how Apple respond.

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Thus shredding any argument Apple might make that they're attempting to shield young iPhone users from information that some jurisdictions might not want them to be able to access.

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The Case of the Disappearing Knees

November 12th, 2011

I have just been to Naples to see Vesuvius and would you believe it the bloody fools have let it go out.

Spike Milligan, from his correspondence with BUPA.1

  1. Yes, really.

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August 11th, 2011

Comment of the week, in response to a post about the Headline of the Week: "Success! Functioning Anal Sphincter Grown in a Petri Dish".

Otto says:
10 Aug 2011 at 11:46 pm

Question: How, exactly, do they know it's "functioning"? Ewwwwwwww….

jwz says:
11 Aug 2011 at 1:00 am

To quote Lauren Bacall, "You know how to whistle, don't you?"

1 Comment »

Coming next: a study of how Wile E Coyote survived all those falls

July 3rd, 2011


Academics have carried out a detailed analysis of the 700 head injuries suffered by characters in the Asterix comic books, in a paper published by a respected medical journal.


The researchers, led by Marcel Kamp of the Neurosurgical department at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, conclude: "The favourable outcome is astonishing, since outcome of traumatic brain injury in the ancient world is believed to have been worse than today and also since no diagnostic or therapeutic procedures were performed." […]

[Via Ansible 288, July 2011]

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Finding Emilie

February 17th, 2011

Seeing this MetaFilter post reminded me that I'd listened to the Radioab podcast's account of the same story, Finding Emilie, a few weeks ago.

In this segment, we take an emotional left turn to a story of a very different kind of lost and found. We begin with a college student, Alan Lundgard, who fell in love with a fellow art student, Emilie Gossiaux. Emilie's mom, Susan Gossiaux, describes her daughter, and the terrible phone call she recieved from Alan nine months after he became Emilie's boyfriend. Together, Susan and Alan tell Jad and Robert about the devastating fork in the road that left Emilie lost in a netherworld […]

I'm not a huge fan of Radiolab1, but this episode was first rate. I defy anyone to listen to Emilie's story all the way to the end and remain unmoved.

  1. I keep subscribing to their feed, then finding myself with a backlog of Radiolab podcasts to listen to and unsubscribing, only to find myself subscribing again a few months later when someone points out a particularly good episode and I convince myself that this time I'll stick with it. A bit like the way I watch House.

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