Archive for October, 2011

October 21, 2011

Read this, Google Translate!

A few days ago, a friend sent me an article from The Independent about how Google Translate works. According to David Bellos, the web giant’s translation service is unlike any other automated translator. Other translators operate by ‘decoding’ (so to speak) the source language, and then recoding the message into the target language. This has produced limited results.

Google Translate attempts nothing of the sort. It searches the internet “for the expression in some text that exists alongside its paired translation.” Relying, in other words, on other people’s previous work. But instead of inaccurately trying to decode and recode a message, it bets that a human has already translated the message, and that it can be found online.

The service more closely resembles the behavior of a human translator than it does a translation automaton. “Translators don’t reinvent hot water every day. They behave more like GT – scanning their own memories in double-quick time for the most probable solution to the issue at hand. GT’s basic mode of operation is much more like professional translation…” writes Bellos.

There is a downside, however. Because GT uses text that have already been translated, and determines relevance and quality of translation based on frequency of use, text that get disseminated further carry more weight. So “John Grisham makes a bigger contribution to the quality of GT’s Icelandic-Farsi translation device than Rumi or Halldór Laxness ever will. And the real wizardry of Harry Potter may well lie in his hidden power to support translation from Hebrew into Chinese.” This makes me shudder.

I may be swimming against the tide here, and helplessly so, but when I read that I was instantly compelled to post some poetry onto the web, just to try to even things out a bit. (Crazier things have been done.) Here, then, is a poem by Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), in hopes that even GT might pick it up.


The wise ought not to set their hearts

on the seductiveness the world displays.


Why fall in love with the phantasms

of this world? The mirror shows

the face to be a borrowed thing.


Don’t think the knots on your brow

are firm and strong. Fate takes note

of them only to untie them.


How vainly you say, ‘I will stand firm.’

If life itself won’t stand firm, how will you?


Living, a person resembles form and sense.

Through form one tends to the sense.


My heart is in ruins

and people have hearts of stone.

One shouldn’t rebuild

this edifice with such blocks.


Humankind is chaff.

How can it cling to gold?

Straw is naturally drawn to amber.


You’ll get no provisions

from worthless companions:

the camel is mated, but no foal is born.


When you speak bitterly, the answer will be the same.

If you curse an enemy, he won’t reply sweetly.


Seeking insight from the immature is like a fool

rubbing his head against unfired brick.


If you ask me truly

about the story of this world,

it’s an easy lie

that Khusrau sings.


(thanks to Danilo for sending me the article)

(I’ll have more to say about Khusrau soon, probably)

October 18, 2011

If Dr. Seuss designed a library…

What do we like on this blog? Interesting books, buildings… And by interesting, I mean crazy creative, like if Dr. Seuss were coming up with the design. One wonders what Dr. Seuss (full name Theodor Seuss Geisel) would have thought of the library named after him at UC San Diego:

(click on any of these for a larger image)

Geisel Library at UCSD

There’s the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan.

Ann Arbor Library

Or perhaps you would like the Vancouver Public Library.

I have to post the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Yale University. I already mentioned it houses the Voynich manuscript, but it also has one of the 48 remaining copies of the Gutenberg Bible. From the outside it looks like an impenetrable white box. Like this.

But the interior looks warm and spacious.

And the light you see coming from the walls is not lighting. The walls are made from translucent Danby marble, letting in a limited amount light. I like to think that the architects designing this had old cathedrals in mind, with their stained glass windows that look dull on the outside, but sparkle and explode in color from the inside.

I leave you with one last library. The Royal Library Copenhagen, Denmark.


Thanks to Ana for the original link where you can find yet more interesting libraries.

October 9, 2011

I, Other Words

Sorry I’ve been away. Out here in the real world, I had a big move on my hands.
Let me start this back up with a poem. 

I, Other Words

– for Vlado

the oboe ushers in twilight.
Silver wheels squeal
against the bending rail.
Twice blind, sleepy eyes
circulate as if veins under city skin.
Words freeze, numbing speech, and
creek under their own weight.
Cracks appear.

far beyond –
Sun stirs the day red
dances waves to shore
where flesh, warm within
from last night’s wine
effortlessly breathes
I, other words,
end of the world.

with the sky –
mauve, violet,
purple, magenta,
fuchsia, purpure,
byzantine, cerise,
lilac, fandango,
lavender, orchid,
mulberry, wisteria…

(photo stollen from Vlado Martinovich)