Archive for July 2008

300 Knols Released

29 July 2008

At long last 300 examples of ‘featured’ encyclopedic knols have been unveiled by Google (in late July 2008). The majority are on medical topics. Their authors are duly named and profiled. The first specimens look very impressive, but how fast can they multiply to become a true encyclopedia?

I chose to sample one of the five specially featured offerings, mainly because it was non-medical: ‘History of the Spanish Language’, by Professor David A. Pharies

http://knol.google.com/k/david-a-pharies/history-of-the-spanish-language/mvWu_PWJ/IXyV4Q#

This is listed as a “Closed Collaboration” but the facility to Review it (by other scholars) seems to be available. In addition readers are allowed to comment, after registering, but so far this has only attracted a few forum type congratulatory comments. Since commenters can get their photo published too, this should encourage too many readers to contribute unhelpful trivia. The interesting question is whether anyone will feel inclined to use the Comments section to offer small but potentially valuable contributions of constructive criticism or suggested additions.

Veremos.

The Contents

The very detailed treatment of the Spanish Language Myths show Professor Pharies’s special expertise in the phonetic development of Spanish.

Research works are either Cited or Suggested and the example of the professor’s recommendation of his own recent book (among the entries under Suggested Readings) as “the only true introduction to the history of Spanish available today” gives a further indication of the differences between this ambitious project and both Wikipedia and Citizendium.

Migraine sufferers are also in for a treat (and possibly some relief) with the excellent specially showcased Knol on that painful subject.

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Mistranslation 5

17 July 2008

More on ‘Blame the Translator / Interpreter’

In ‘Misinterpretations 3’ and ‘Mistranslation 4’, the distinction was drawn between real errors by interpreters and translators and those alleged by the administrative staff in the service of Heads of State, political leaders and other prominent persons in constant public view. The available evidence suggests that an admission – or accusation – of translator / interpreter error has become more or less standard bureaucratic procedure when a celebrity or an organisation needs to be rescued from the consequences of an unfortunate slip of the tongue or careless adlib picked up by the media. The ploy is also used to divert responsibility from insensitive and inappropriate statements (especially, as we have seen previously, by reckless public speakers). Also to be noted, especially in international politics, is the use of the ‘spin’ tactic of unjustly blaming interpreters or translators for something they did not say or write simply in order to replace one firmly stated public position with a substantially revised one to suit the (sometimes changing) circumstances. In all of these cases, the hapless self-effacing interpreter or translator is used by the apparatchiks as an expedient means of saving face for others. It is considered part of the job by some employers.

In later commentaries on mistranslations and interpreting errors (real and fabricated) in this series, similar examples of bureacratic ‘spin’ will be offered from the world of religion and spiritual matters. The following additional notes form part of the main collection of official (secular) manipulation of interpreting and translation as reported in the media and on the Internet.

A distracting faux pas in a meeting of national leaders was widely reported on 14 June 2008 in the Australian media. Readers of the Melbourne Age and The Australian learned that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was spared the diplomatic consequences of expressing his publicly stated wish to Australian PM Kevin Rudd that he hoped the Australian government’s advisory against travel in Indonesia (following the massacre of tourists by terrorist in Bali in 2002) would soon be lifted. The Age claimed that Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda defused the incident by blaming the interpreter for adding the comment:

“The Indonesian interpreter is also in for an interesting time, after translating Dr Yudhoyono’s response on whether Australia should lift its travel warning. Dr Yudhoyono, the interpreter said, had told Mr Rudd he “would welcome the lifting of the travel warning”.

A presidential adviser dashed to catch Australian journalists before they left the palace. “The President didn’t say to lift the travel warning,” he said. “We leave it to the Australian Government to consider.” Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda then rang Australian ambassador Bill Farmer, asking him to tell Mr Rudd about the misquoting.”

The Australian reported as follows:

“Asked yesterday whether current advisories warning of possible terrorist attacks ought to be downgraded, Dr Yudhoyono said the bombers had been caught and security had improved.

Mr Rudd appeared to bristle when the translator said the Indonesian President believed the warnings should be revised.

“In Australia we have an independent body called the National Threat Assessment Centre,” Mr Rudd said. “The National Threat Assessment Centre comes to its own conclusions.”

Dr Yudhoyono’s spokesman said later there had been a mistranslation and within minutes Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, Bill Farmer, that Indonesia believed travel advisories were entirely a matter for Australia.

The confusion took the spotlight off business conducted at the summit, including the signing of the Australia-Indonesia forest carbon partnership and Dr Yudhoyono’s invitation to Mr Rudd to join him in chairing a meeting scheduled for Bali later this year to discuss governance issues.” (The Australian, 14 June 2008)

The account in the Brisbane Courier-Mail expanded on the details of the alleged mistranslation, with even more emphasis on the unfortunate interpreter:

“An interpreter’s mistake caused a minor diplomatic incident on the first day of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s two-day visit to Indonesia.

The interpreter, a stand-in for an ill colleague, translated Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as saying he was looking forward to Australia lifting its travel advisory warning tourists against visiting Indonesia.
“I can understand that it is the responsibility of a government to protect its citizens. But I do look forward that this advisory will be lifted,” the interpreter quoted Dr Yudhoyono as saying.
But Dr Yudhoyono had instead said that as the situation in Bali had returned to normal following terror bombings in 2002 and 2005 which killed more than 230 people, including 92 Australians, he looked forward to seeing more Australian tourists arrive.
A spokesman for Dr Yudhoyono explained the mistake to media immediately after the joint press conference between the two leaders at the presidential place.
Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda rang Australian ambassador Bill Farmer within an hour to convey the message to Mr Rudd that Dr Yudhoyono’s meaning had been lost in translation.”

A similarly embarrassing public remark by former South Korean leader Roh Moo-hyun to George W. Bush in November 2007 was technically erased in a similar way when a White House spokesperson blamed a “loss in translation” for the following incident (reported at

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f1ba739e-5aae-11dc-8c32-0000779fd2ac.html).

“George W. Bush sat in a leather chair beside South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and told reporters about the “friendly and frank” closed-door meeting they had just finished.

But the diplomatic niceties started to go awry when Mr Roh, known for his maverick nature, took his turn to speak.

Mr Roh’s comments had already gone on much longer than Mr Bush’s when he leaned towards his counterpart and posed him a question in Korean.

A puzzled look spread across Mr Bush’s face as he peered around Mr Roh to hear the translator explain what had been said.

“I think I did not hear President Bush mention the – a declaration to end the Korean war just now,” the translator said on Mr Roh’s behalf. “Did you say so, President Bush?”

It sounded like the South Korean president was pressuring Mr Bush to make a promise to replace the 54 year-old armistice between the US and North Korea with a formal peace treaty. […]”

(to be continued)

A Journalistic Insight into the Rise and Rise of China

13 July 2008

Unlike most TV and Internet News bulletins, the best sort of journalism INFORMS in depth and offers food for thought. Here (IMHO) is a very good example by Carole Cadwalladr (UK. The Guardian / The Observer.) It concentrates on a single aspect of China’s phenomenal development and offers an insight into the future impact of China’s growth on its own environment and lifestyle as well as on the world economy.

(Please) See:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/06/china.automotive

Enticing excerpts:

“Estimates vary, but it is believed that around 30 in every 1,000 people in China own a vehicle, which, as the New Yorker has pointed out, is roughly what it was in the US in 1915. The potential for growth is the stuff of an automobile executive’s dreams. And an environmentalist’s worst nightmare. North-east China already has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution anywhere in the world.”

…..

“… cars – and the Chinese appetite both for buying them and for making them – is simply a metaphor for the new power relations between East and West. Our environmental concerns – read rank hypocrisy – at the idea of the Chinese owning as many cars as we do, and our dismay that they can produce them better than we ever could – read consumerist glee at how cheap they’ll be – is part of a global shift we’re powerless to resist.”

“China has just 2 per cent of the world’s cars, yet 21 per cent of its fatal traffic accidents. Every single day, 1,200 new cars take to the streets of Beijing, the vast majority of them driven by complete novices. In Britain, the equivalent would involve our entire motorway system being used only by 17-year-old boys.”

“Until the 1990s, you couldn’t book a train ticket or a hotel without special dispensation. The myth of the open road isn’t a myth here; owning a car is a direct expression of the new freedoms that the country enjoys. Those ads showing a man in charge of his destiny swooping along an empty mountain road? He’s the Republic of China. Or he would be if anybody went any further than the supermarket in their new runarounds.”

“To own a car in China is already to be rich beyond the dream of most people. But as any good Western consumer knows, this is not enough. What kind of car you own speaks volumes in any country, let alone in one whose business dealings revolve around the concept of ‘face’ – keeping it, losing it.”

“And it’s here that the likes of General Motors and Porsche hope to make a killing. In 2006, GM had its worst ever year in the US; in China, on the other hand, sales were up 80 per cent. China is the largest market for BMW in the world, even though the cars are nearly twice as expensive as in Europe thanks to 83.2 per cent tax. Bill Cheng, the managing director of Bentley China, tells me that growth last year was 94 per cent and almost looks disappointed. ‘The year before it was 100 per cent,’ he says.”

“Growth is phenomenal, but it may become more phenomenal still. A million more cars are likely to be added to the roads this year, but to catch up with ownership levels in the US would involve the addition of 750 million cars. Environmental Armageddon, although maybe it’s here that the cleaner, greener car will finally be cracked.”

“Eight million vehicles, including light trucks and minivans, were bought in China last year. This represented a 25 per cent rise on the previous year and saw the country overtake Japan to become the second largest car market in the world.”

“Four-fifths of all new cars sold in China are bought by people who have never had a car before.”

“China has just 3 per cent of the world’s cars, yet 21 per cent of its fatal traffic accidents.”

“More people aspire to own a car but do not currently own one in China than in any other country.

1,200 new cars take to the streets of Beijing every day.

According to a BBC report, only six in every 100 Chinese people own cars, compared with 80 per cent in the UK.”

If you are interested in the future, PLEASE see the rest of this enlightening article. (And ask why your commercial TV does not supply such data for your consideration.)

Fluctuating Specifications for Online Encyclopedias

5 July 2008

by Brian Steel

By the mid-1990s, the information needs of the growing Internet market were being served not only by online versions of traditional commercial encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia Britannica, Grolier’s New Book of Knowledge and the World Book Encyclopedia but by Microsoft’s vigorously marketed Encarta, which had begun to attract significant numbers of online customers. Both Encarta (http://encarta.msn.com) and Encyclopedia Britannica (www.britannica.com) have maintained a high online profile during the innovative cyber-developments to be described below. (Surfers may even browse the articles of the 1911 (E.B.) edition at http://www.1911encyclopedia.com.)A much more recent online presence, still in its beta stage, is the High Beam Encyclopedia (www.encyclopedia.com), which offers articles from the sixth edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia as well as newspaper and magazine references and a commercial backnumbers service for newspapers, magazines and journals.

At the turn of the century, Larry Sanger was hired by Jimmy Wales to organise the (short-lived) Nupedia project which was launched in March 2000. The aim was to attract encyclopedia entries from volunteer experts for eventual publishing as free content after peer review and approval. During the following twelve months of snail-pace progress, Sanger proposed to speed up the process with preliminary versions in wiki form (Wikipedia), involving voluntary contributions from any Users. Within a further year, this idea had produced such rapid progress that the original idea of articles by experts was discarded and Sanger left the company shortly afterwards. (Ironically, Wales would eventually be forced to reconsider and partially reinstate the experts theme into Wikipedia.)

In the intervening seven years, Wikipedia, financed by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and supported by the enthusiastic efforts of thousands of eager volunteers, has been experiencing exponential growth, not only in English but in many other languages. It currently dominates the online encyclopedia field. There is no denying that the 2 million entries of this seething online co-operative venture is of incalculable daily value to its millions of users as a quick free source of reliable data on basic factual topics. On other topics it has proved to be much less satisfactory. (See ‘Wikipedia’s Grudging Recognition of its Self-imposed Limitations’.)

However, with Wikipedia’s success have come many problems and controversies and subsequent necessary adjustments to its rigid structure. For example, the following new departure was announced in mid-2006 with reference to the German Wikipedia:

“The German Wikipedia is set to introduce editing restrictions that may spread to other language versions if successful. This involves identifying a set of “trusted users” and allowing only their changes to be instantly visible. New contributors’ work would be moderated by these users, who might be selected on the basis of how long they have been on the site and the number of their edits that have gone unreverted.”

(http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Wikipedia)

Incidentally, the following brief extracts from an announcement about the German version of Wikipedia (with its 700,000 articles) is of particular interest to those used to the conditions under which the English Wikipedia has notched up over 2 million articles of varying quality:

“The German Wikipedia is different from the English Wikipedia in a number of aspects.

There are severe rules of relevancy. Contemporary people usually have to reach a high level of fame before an article on them is allowed. […]

Many controversial articles are protected for months and cannot be edited by unsubscribed or recently subscribed users.”

The progress of Wikipedia in its initial rigid form has produced a great deal of alternative Internet activity from disillusioned editors, critics as well as from users and editors who have preferred to set up their own ‘forks’ or alternative Wiki encyclopedias to produce what they see as less inhibited or more permanent results. The most interesting of these forks are the following ones set up by non-English-speaking groups:

Germany: http://www.wikiweise.de

Russia: http://www.wikiznanie.ru

Spanish-speaking countries: wikilibre.org/index.php/

Perhaps the most interesting ‘fork’ is on display at http://en.wikipilipinas.org

WikiPilipinas is a very interesting but also very localised offshoot, launched in mid 2007. It deals with Philippine-related topics, is non-academic, allows original research and is not bound by the NPOV principle. It presently contains 57,000 articles.

“WikiPilipinas is an encyclopedia dedicated to anything and everything that matters to Filipinos and the Philippines. It is an encyclopedia of Philippine content and includes elements of an almanac, directory and community pages. A centralized repository of Philippine content, it is intended to serve Filipinos anywhere in the world. Wikipilipinas allows Filipinos to document themselves in a manner they deem proper, whether or not it agrees with what foreign sources say.”

A strong indication that the management of Wikipedia is getting tired of the growing intensity of public criticism and disparagement of its inflexible rules and the instability of some of its articles through constant changes or “edit wars” is the recently launched feeder project ‘Veropedia’ (http://en.veropedia.com), to which Wikipedia writers of ‘good’ articles can apply for their articles to be saved INTACT.

Officially, Wikipedia announces this late 2007 development thus:

“Veropedia is a free, advertising-supported Internet encyclopedia project launched in late October 2007.[1][2]

“The site is based around collaboration within Wikipedia, whereby Wikipedia articles that meet Veropedia’s reliability criteria are chosen by its editors, scraped, and then a stable version of the article is kept on Veropedia. Any improvements required for articles to reach a standard suitable for Veropedia occur on Wikipedia itself. This model is intended to provide benefits to both projects with Wikipedia providing a large amount of free content suitable for potential improvement, and Veropedia contributors providing improvements and fact-checking within Wikipedia articles.[1][2][3]

As of April 2008 the site, still in beta, has checked and imported over 5700 articles[4] from the English Wikipedia into its public database.[5] Although Veropedia intends to eventually support itself completely through advertising as of January 2008 the project is run mainly from personal savings, investments and loans of those involved in the project.[6]

This novel choice for seasoned Wikipedian editors is openly solicited by a Wikipedia User named Moreschi (and perhaps other editors) with some of the Wikipedia edits he makes. They link (through a superscript hyperlink) to the following announcement:

“If you’ve written a quality article, here’s a suggestion about how to save your stable, quality version, and preserve it from vandalism, spam, POV-pushing, and the addition of inaccuracies that so often decrease the quality of Wikipedia articles over time. Want to really preserve your classy work for humanity? See it expert-reviewed? Get it uploaded to Veropedia (FAQ, see also my user and talk pages.)! You don’t have to do this yourself; though we welcome new contributors, if you feel you haven’t got the time, simply send an email to us suggesting your article as suitable for upload, or any other you might know of that you think good enough. To do this, go to the Main Page that I linked to above, put your mouse on the Contacts tab, and click “Suggest an article”. Cheers, Moreschi Talk 13:38, 10 November 2007 (UTC)”

Moreschi also makes this astonishing further comment on his Wikipedia User page:

“Veropedia is going to be taking up more and more of my time, and I would encourage others who care about Wikipedia’s articles to join in with our efforts there and help out. The best of my work has already been saved there as a quality stable version, and for that reason I do not regret the time I have spent on Wikipedia since March 2006. I’m not overly optimistic about Wikipedia’s condition at the moment, but it is not beyond repair. All it would take is for more to understand that truth is a woman, and she will not let herself be assailed with the cold bludgeons of policy.”

“I will still do everything important: contribute regularly to articles, put in the hours at the coalface at the Opera Project, write and discover quality content for Veropedia.”

The recent appearance of rival fledgeling Web encyclopedia Citizendium and Google’s announced Knol project (still under wraps since December 2007) add further incentives for incorporating greater flexibility into the Wikipedia system.

Citizendium [= Citizens’ Compendium], a project in preparation since 2005 by Larry Sanger.

Launched in early 2007, with the laudable aim of providing expert contributions under contributors’ own names, Citizendium also announced a feeder project called Eduzendium (proposed by Professor Sorin Matei) which would harness the talents of doctoral candidates. In spite of these attractive proposals, the project was not received very optimistically by experts as diverse as Professor Clay Shirky (a Wikimedia advisory board member) and Nicholas Carr, an eloquent critic of Wikipedia. After just over a year of publishing, the progress of this new online encyclopedia (with a non-charismatic name) does not seem very encouraging in terms of properly finished and approved articles.

Knol Web Encyclopedia

Announced in late 2007 by Google, also to consist of expert and peer-reviewed unalterable articles. Apart from one sample published, its initial work has so far been conducted in secret.

At the same time others have been setting up their own Wikipedia-derived encyclopedias and specialist groups have begun to offer restricted wiki-type encyclopedias.

Scholarpedia

A very serious scholarly restricted scientific Wiki, of value to specialists.

Conservapedia

Also aimed at a restricted audience, this wiki-based encyclopedia is written “from a socially and American Conservative Christian viewpoint” in order to counter a perceived “liberal, anti-Christian and anti-American bias” in Wikipedia. Its editorial policies are guided by the “Conservative Commandments”.

Also to be taken into consideration in a survey of online encyclopedias are the offerings of those organisations which (in accordance with Jimmy Wales’s expressed philosophy and wishes) have copied Wikipedia, or parts of it, to their own websites, some of which permit further editing by visitors. Since each site downloads the copies at different times, they enshrine versions of Wikipedia articles which may subsequently undergo significant amendments. Such cyber-debris may therefore be misleading, or may preserve fossilised versions of controversial Wikipedia articles which have (long) since been ‘reverted’ in ‘edit wars’.

Caveat lector! (Online Encyclopedia readers should take care!)

PS If all of these bewildering sources of information become too much, it may be time for a brief ‘R & R’ visit to Uncyclopedia(hosted by Daniel Brandt).