My Kindle speaks Dutch!

Oct 23, 2009 in Life

multatuli1.jpgEver since a California Avenue Starbucks meeting with Graham talking about hacking his Kindle and getting my own Kindle I’ve wanted to check up on what people manage to get their Kindles to do that they don’t do right out of the box that Amazon.com sends it in.

A simple Google query – “Kindle hacks” – brings a bunch of entertaining links to the surface. About playing Minesweeper on a Kindle, about Google Maps and GPS, how to make screenshots, load pictures onto the Kindle and play slideshows, use the Kindle to check email and send text messages for free, install Ubuntu 9.04 on it, and where to get books for free.

And that is really the subject of this post. Previously I expressed disappointment that there was no Dutch content for my shiny new gadget. I spoke too soon! One search result from the aforementioned query was a pointer to manybooks.net. This site features downloads of free books in many languages including the quirky one generally spoken in the territory between the cities of Maastricht and Delfzijl. Most of the listings on Manybooks appear to be of books whose copyright terms have expired. For example you’ll find works from Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo and William Shakespeare.

Speaking of Shakespeare, for English exams at high school in The Netherlands I had to read one book of before 1850 (well, I had to read more books than that but one of them had to from before then). I picked the Merchant of Venice. Didn’t understand it at all. Which turned out to be a good thing. During the oral exam mr van Hofwegen, my English teacher, asked about that book. I replied that I had read it but that I didn’t understand it. He went on to explain the story, quote left and right from it. I sat there inserting appropriate responses at appropriate times (“ah!”, “oh, very interesting”, “hmm”, “really?”) and I came away with a very good mark.

But this is not about the Sweet Swan of Avon, this is about how my Kindle became bilingual.

Manybooks’ list of books in the Dutch language includes many translated works (De Koopman van Venetië !) but also original Dutch works from Louis Couperus, Johan Huizinga, Lodewijk van Dessel, Willem Kloos and Multatuli.

[For the English reader: there will be quotations in Dutch below. At those points please rehearse your favorite Shakespeare quotes. There will be a test later.]

At school I skillfully avoided having to read Multatuli’s Max Havelaar and here the download for my Kindle is staring at me. And so now it is on my device. Being a few chapters into the book I quite like it! Batavus Droogstoppel, the teller of the story in the book, has a sense of humor that very much speaks to me.

During his tirade against plays, poetry and fictional literature:
“En dan komen later weer andere leugens. Een meisjen is een engel. Wie dit het eerste ontdekte, heeft nooit zusters gehad.”

One of his critical remarks against Busselinck & Waterman:
“Dat zyn ook makelaars in koffi, doch hun adres behoeft ge niet te weten.”

During his summation of the contents of Sjaalman’s package:
“Over de lengte op zee. (Ik denk dat op zee alles wel even lang zal wezen als op ‘t land.)”

And I am already most intent on seeing what today is at Lauriersgracht 37 on my next trip to The Netherlands.

Yesterdays exploration of free books yielded several other items:
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
Plato’s Republic
2BRO2B by Kurt Vonnegut
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietsche

Heavy reading perhaps but the morale of the list: if the book is 70+ years old then you can probably find it for free rather than purchase it from the Amazon store (with apologies to mr Bezos).

Free books:

  1. Manybooks
  2. Feedbooks

Hacks, hits and tips:

  1. Top 25 Kindle Hacks
  2. Kindle 2 hack list
  3. Resources and tutorials to get more out of your Kindle
  4. See a Kindle in your city

(On that last link, if you are in the Rochester area and are intrigued about getting a Kindle I’d be happy to demo over a latte at Spin Caffe or Starbucks)

My Kindle: All the newspapers, all the books, all the time

Jun 20, 2009 in Life

kindle.jpgI got mine a few weeks ago and I have to say I am terribly pleased with it. Loved that USPS delivered it two days before the estimated date. Loved the packaging and getting started process with details like the Kindle already registered to my Amazon.com account. Love that the screen saver consists of author portraits and other literary-related imagery.

So far I have two newspapers (New York Times and Frankfurter Allgemeine), a sci-fi magazine and six books on the device. And two days ago I finished reading my first Kindle book (Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows).

I suspect that Amazon had a very close look at Apple and its iTunes store. Both companies have made it delightfully easy to spend money with them. In the case of Amazon.com I can buy new content directly from the Kindle, or from my computer browsing Amazon.com and have it sent from there directly to the Kindle. For its free wireless connection the Kindle uses something called Whispernet. If I am correct that works via the same technology as one’s cell phone. I am a little curious how Amazon.com manages to provide this access for free while the cell phone service providers happily charge when you access their networks.

Just like my iPhone I am starting to carry my Kindle everywhere. As in the case with the iPhone regarding music, it is just very pleasant to have all your reading material with you all the time. No need to estimate beforehand whether after leaving the house I desire to read the newspaper, a spy novel, a biography or whatever. It’s all there. Immediate and continuous gratification.

In the few weeks I have not found anything that bugs me about the device but I wonder if that changes as over time the content collection will grow. It seems that all items are listed in order. Will I be wanting an ability to create folders and categorize books? I don’t know yet about backup strategies. I trust that Amazon.com keeps track of what’s on my Kindle. So if the device fails or is stolen, lost or needs to be replaced for any reason does all my content just come down from the cloud onto the new device?

A book I am reading now on my Kindle is The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. The author writes about his love for libraries. Having a Kindle and reading this book by means of this device has some aspect of irony to it. Like the author I am very fond of libraries and bookstores as well. To walk around without too much of a plan and just let yourself be taken and interested by what you happen to encounter is delightful. When I came to California and discovered stores like Borders and Barnes&Noble that stay open late, have a cafe inside of them, well, that was just fantastic. I remember Chris Borton taking JC and me to an Ethiopian restaurant in Berkeley. We had to wait for our table to be ready. The hostess said: “You can wait at the bookstore next door. They serve tea. We’ll come and get you when your table is ready.” And it was a secondhand bookstore as well. “Take your time with preparing that table,” I was thinking while we happily hopped next door.

Secondhand bookstores may well be my favorite. The often random order in which the books are kept, the level of chaos. A very favorite one is Know Knew Books on California Ave in Palo Alto, and also the small bookstores in the pedestrian gate near the Universiteit van Amsterdam. I can easily spend hours just browsing.

In comes the Kindle. In a few decades where will the bookstores be?

The other day I read that it now happens that during signings authors are asked to sign someone’s Kindle. Understandable development butin the current state of affairs a little naughty of the Kindle owner. Book signing are a tool for the stores to get customers in the store and to buy books, to spend money there.

But this did bring up a thought: maybe there are collaborative opportunities between Amazon.com and brick bookstores: ability to buy Kindle versions of the books while I am browsing there? Of course I can do that now: Whispernet after all. But I am wondering whether there is a way – via promotions, coupons, branding – to make both sides benefit? But perhaps not and will brick bookstores be overtaken by human-technology evolution like recordshops.

A bit back in this story I admitted to having a German newspaper on the device. Why German, why not Dutch? Those are actually two different questions with separate answers. The German newspaper because I use it to help me practise that language somewhat frequently. No Dutch newspaper because there is no Dutch newspaper, or any Dutch content for that matter, for the Kindle. Yes, very disappointing. Since living aboard I have been disappointed in how poorly our culture travels or is promoted beyond the country’s physical borders. Would love to have De Volkskrant or Vrij Nederland magazine or Elsevier on my Kindle.

Tim Bray alerted me that one can add one’s blog to the collection of Kindle blogs. That means that someone can subscribe to the blog via the Kindle and have entries show up on the device as the blog is updated. As Tim writes this gives someone a choice between reading ongoing (Tim’s blog) for free via the world wide web, or pay $.99/$1.99 for the pleasure of reading it on your Kindle. Of course, quick to recognize an opportunity to get rich I signed up this blog as well!

Understand no matter what immediately aforesaid to you in any form of language

Mar 02, 2009 in Life

This afternoon I met up with Euan Morton at Boulder Coffee Company. At some point we got talking about languages and translations which reminded me of something I looked into many years ago when working for Apple: automatic translation. Back home I decided to redo the exercise and see if the technology is better now. Starting with an English text I run it through a few of the web-based translation engines, translate the text to Dutch and then that back to English. Does the outcome compare to the original?

The English text I am using is an excerpt from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Arthur is introduced to the Babel fish:

‘The Babel fish,’ said The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, ‘is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.’

Yahoo Babel Fish (English to Dutch):
‘ Babelfish, ‘ zei de Lifter ‘ s leidt stil aan de Melkweg, ‘ is klein, geel en bloedzuiger-als, en waarschijnlijk het meest oneven ding in het Heelal. Het voedt op brainwaveenergie die niet van zijn eigen drager maar van die rond het wordt ontvangen. Het absorbeert alle onbewuste geestelijke frequenties van deze brainwaveenergie om te voeden met. Het scheidt dan in de mening van zijn drager af een telepathische matrijs die door de bewuste gedachte frequenties met zenuwsignalen wordt gevormd te combineren die van de toespraak worden opgenomen van de hersenen centreert die hen hebben geleverd. Het praktische resultaat van dit alles is dat als u een Babelfish in uw oor plakt u om het even wat kunt onmiddellijk begrijpen bovengenoemd aan u in om het even welke vorm van taal. ‘

Yahoo Babel Fish (back to English):
‘ ‘ Babelfish, ‘ the hitchhiker ‘ said; s leads quietly to the galaxy, ‘ small, yellow and bloedzuiger-als are probably, and the most odd thing in the universe. It feeds on brainwaveenergie which are not received from its own bearer but of that around. It absorbs to all unconscious mental frequencies of these brainwaveenergie feed with. It separates then in the opinion from its bearer a telepathic matrix which is formed by the aware idea frequencies with nerve indicators to combine which are taken of the speech of the brain centre which has provided them. The practical result of all this is that if you stick Babelfish in your ear you can understand no matter what immediately aforesaid to you in any form of language. ‘

“What!?” I would guess the reaction of an English reader to be when confronted with the resulting English text without context. The reaction of the Dutch reader will be the same I assure you. The English to Dutch translation goes awry right at the beginning. “Oddest” is translated to “most uneven.”; “into the mind of its carrier” becomes “in the opinion of his carrier.” The Dutch sentence constructs are woolly and awkward.

Next I tried Google Translation:
‘De Babel Fish,’ zei de wandelaar Hitch’s Guide to the Galaxy rustig, “is
kleine, gele en bloedzuiger-achtig, en waarschijnlijk de oddest ding in het heelal.
Het voedt zich met brainwave energie ontvangen niet uit haar eigen luchtvaartmaatschappij, maar van die
eromheen. Het absorbeert alle onbewuste geestelijke frequenties van deze brainwave
energie te voeden zich met. Vervolgens excretes in de geest van de vervoerder
een telepathische matrix gevormd door het combineren van de bewuste gedachte frequenties
met zenuwen signalen opgepikt uit de toespraak centra van de hersenen die
geleverd zijn. Het praktische resultaat van dit alles is dat als je een stok Babel
vissen in uw oor kunt u meteen begrijpen wat zei u in ieder
vorm van taal. “

Google Translation (back to English):
”The Babel Fish, “said the Hitch hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly,” is
small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the universe.
It feeds on brain wave energy received not from its own carrier but from those
around. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies of the brain wave
energy to feed on. Then excretes into the mind of the carrier
a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies
with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brains that
delivered. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel
fish in your ear, you can immediately understand what you said in any
form of language. ”

Now, this is a bit bizarre. The Dutch translation while different is equally complex and awkward as Yahoo’s but somehow the translation back to English is almost the same as the original. With one difference though: the working of the Babel fish has changed. It is now explained to help you understand what you said in any language rather than what others said to you. The Dutch translation is amusing: “carrier” is translated as “airline company” and so it says that the Babel fish feeds itself with brainwave energy received not from its own airline company but from those around it…

Then lastly WorldLingo:
De “vissen van Babel,” zeiden de Gids van de Lifter stil aan de Melkweg, ‘is klein, geel en leech-als, en waarschijnlijk het meest oneven ding in het Heelal. Het voedt op brainwaveenergie die niet van zijn eigen drager maar van die rond het wordt ontvangen. Het absorbeert alle onbewuste geestelijke frequenties van deze brainwaveenergie om te voeden met. Het scheidt dan in de mening van zijn drager af een telepathic matrijs die door de bewuste gedachte frequenties met zenuwsignalen wordt gevormd te combineren die van de toespraak worden opgenomen van de hersenen centreert die hen hebben geleverd. Het praktische resultaat van dit alles is dat als u een vis van Babel in uw oor plakt u om het even wat kunt onmiddellijk begrijpen bovengenoemd aan u in om het even welke vorm van taal.’

And back to English:
The fish of Babel, said the guide of the hitchhiker quietly to the galaxy, `are small, yellow and leech-als, and probably the most odd thing in the universe. It feeds on brainwaveenergie which are not received from its own drager but of that around. It absorbs to all unconscious mental frequencies of these brainwaveenergie feed with. It separates then in the opinion from its drager telepathic matrix which is formed by the aware idea frequencies with nerve indicators to combine which are taken of the speech of the brain centre which has provided them. The practical result of all this is that if you stick a fish of Babel in your ear you can understand no matter what immediately aforesaid to you in any form of language.

WorldLingo makes similar mistakes as Yahoo (is one derived from the other?).

In all three cases the Dutch translation is just not Dutch: ignoring some of the word for word translation errors (luchtvaartmaatschappij? mening?) the sentences are badly constructed making it very hard to read and understand. I hoped that maybe I could use one of these engines as a tool to quickly post Dutch versions of my blog entries for some of my elderly family members for whom English is a hurdle. Use the engine for the bulk translation and then clean up by hand. But the translation is so far off that one just ends up translating from scratch from the original text.

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