Scott Hanselman

A better automatic translation system - one that learns

March 29, '07 Comments [9] Posted in Internationalization
Sponsored By

Google gets more and more clever. I've used Babelfish for years to machine-translate other languages into English. It's always been a little stilted, to say the least.

Google's been updating their translation software - a lot - lately, and has introduced some new stuff for Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Japanese.  Google was #1 three years ago, so you can pretty much count on this problem being 95% solved in our lifetimes.

My knowledge of Arabic is completely gone. I took it in college, but those braincells have been overwritten with Zulu (Ndebele) and Amharic and most recently, sign language (ASL).

I used this new tool to read the Arabic version of Al Jazeera today. It's not bad, much better than the usual broken English you are used to. The brilliant part is that you can hover over some text and teach it by suggesting a better translation. What a wonderful "mechanical turk" way of learning colloquialisms.

Just for fun, take a look at my recent post On Losing Data, machine translated into Arabic by Google. Google messes up my stylesheet, but you get the idea.

My buddy Wessam in Lebanon says via IM:

Well, its better than the other translators I used before, but still has lots of mistakes. Actually if you don't read the english version, you won't understand half of it.

Interestingly it's WAY better turning Arabic into English than it is turning English into Arabic.

One final note - "If you prefer not have your page translated by Google Translate, just insert the following meta tag into your html file..."

<meta name="google" value="notranslate">

Slick. هذا رائع!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Life Beyond Pie Charts: The right visualization for the right job

March 29, '07 Comments [14] Posted in ASP.NET | Musings | Programming | Speaking
Sponsored By

I deal with a lot of data in my day job. We're always trying to figure out the right way to visualize some chunk of data. Being able to think about the visualization of quantitative information start with thinking beyond basic bar and line charts.

We're looking into schools for Z, and we have some specific categories that we're using to rank the schools, like for example:

  • Cost
  • Spanish
  • Sign Language
  • Teachers
  • Recommended
  • Location
  • Curriculum
  • Vibe
  • Schedule

We're going to look at many schools, so we're looking at a grid here, with each category ranked, say, 1 to 10, where 10 is awesome, and 0 sucks.

We could make a bunch of line/bar charts...

...and it kind of works if force ourselves to remember that a straight line all the way across the top means "good."

We could view the data as a pie chart if we introduce a gap in the pie that indicates that missing "goodness." The fuller the pie, the better the daycare:

If we didn't like the pie because it doesn't really characterize the information enough where we could actually make a decision, we could try a closed donut that includes all the choice:

The donut really doesn't work because there's an implication that the ordering of the rings indicates a qualitative (actually quantitative) judgement. The order in this case is meaningless.

This particular dataset lends itself to being a Radar Graph. You can think of a Radar Graph as just a Line Chart wrapped around a single point so that left-right presentation of data on the horizontal of the x-axis (as is in a Line Chart) doesn't get misinterpreted as being meaningful.

We can present the data into two ways, either all mushed together...

...but the Z-ordering again has the same problem as the donut - it implies that the one on top is better. If the data is solid, then one covers the next, but if it's transparent, the color turns to brown. This data really wants to have each series next to each other.

There we go. Now it becomes clear that "Babies babies babies" is the most balanced of the four.

If you're a UI programmer, or a UX designer, you should be a connoisseur of this kind of stuff. Don't fall into the trap of throwing your data into a simple grid. The data "wants" to be presented in a certain way. It's your job to find that appropriate visualization.

Be sure to remember that axes lie. If you're using logarithmic or adjusted axes, you should know what the psychological ramifications are of these changes. You can inadvertently bias the data and lead you viewer to non-objective conclusions. The US Today "info-graphic" is notorious for this kind of things.

Above all, remember there's more available to you than just Pie Charts and Bar Charts.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Hanselminutes on Channel 9 - Video #1

March 28, '07 Comments [8] Posted in ASP.NET | Podcast
Sponsored By

Rory and I did a few videos together a while back to promote TechEd 2005. (Baby Carrots, Designing Software) They kind of worked, but were perhaps a bit forced. We thought they'd be cool at the time because when Rory and I hang out and just riff, we're a hoot. A hoot and a half, even. So, the Rawdawg got the idea for he and I to wander around Microsoft's Building 42 (Developer Division or "DevDiv") and simply pop in to folks offices and ask them "What are you working on?"

For me, I wanted to get back into the "Roots of Channel 9" - raw discussions, preferably with folks who know what they are talking about.

As Rory says:

Rory: In this first series (yes: first - if you like it, we might do more), we walked around building 42 and surprised people with impromptu requests for interviews. Most accepted.
A typical Channel 9 interview is booked anywhere from days to months in advance, so this is a different sort of thing.

We planned nothing and had no agenda. We ended up with a few hours of footage and if you like them, Rory will post them, and we might do more, perhaps even ask we approach the Mix conference.

In this first video we got lucky and bumped into an actual Dev on the ASP.NET team, Polita Paulus.

Sticking with my personal ongoing interest of not wasting your time, Rory and I changed the format even more:

Rory: Let us know what you think about this format. Another thing to note is that it's shorter than recent 9 videos. We've been seeing a lot of comments from viewers asking that we shorten them up. This one is just under 15 minutes long, so tell us what you think of that as well.

If you want more Channel 9 videos like this, forward the link around and say so in the comments of the video. So, we present for your consumption, Hanselminutes on 9 - #1. I hope it doesn't suck.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

On Losing Data and a Family Backup Strategy

March 28, '07 Comments [40] Posted in Musings
Sponsored By

Picture of Hard Drive - Purchased at iStockPhoto.comI lost data today. I'm physically ill about it. I lost all my Dad's email from 2005 and 2006. Here's the worst part...I truly in my heart of hearts don't know how it happened. It's one thing to make a mistake. I make them ALL the time. It another to have something bad happen, play it back in your mind and not know WHY it happened.

As with, I'm sure, all of you Dear Readers, I am the Chief IT Dude for "Team Hanselman." That pretty much means if you have a last name of Hanselman and you're on the West Coast, I'm your IT guy. (Not really, but close.)

My dad's computer was running slowly, and I was starting to suspect he was running out of hard drive space. He had actually complete run out on his little 10 gig C: drive, and his system was thrashing. It was also 88% fragmented. I hadn't setup a scheduled defrag job - something that Windows XP kind of should have done for me, but I digress. As is the tradition, he dropped the computer off last week and I said, "come by next week to pick it up." 

I installed a 20 gig D: drive and moved all his My Documents and what-not on to that drive. He runs Thunderbird (no reason for an Outlook license on his machine) and Thunderbird stores all it's mail in some profile directories deep in Documents and Settings\Application Data blah blah. I made a backup copy of that folder on my Home Server, moved it from his C: to a folder with the new D:\Dave's Documents and told Thunderbird it was over there. No problem, right?

Run Thunderbird and get..."Welcome to Thunderbird!" Ok. Copy the backup back into the C: drive. Run Thunderbird and get..."Welcome to Thunderbird!" Oh, Crap. Rinse, repeat. Repeat until 3am. Open files in Notepad2. Open files in a Hex Editor. Stare in horror at zero byte files. Grep. Pipe. Panic.

I didn't have a good backup plan in place for my Dad's machine. My mom makes CD backups and her My Documents sync'ed to my machine via FolderShare (dangerous because of sync'ed deletes, in fact) but Dad was living footloose and fancy-free and it was my fault.

Having a Family Backup Strategy

Dad was bummed, to be clear, but the first thing he said (after being bummed) was "are the pictures OK?" This simple question hit me hard when I realized that our extended family didn't have a formal backup strategy. Mo and I do, but the Family didn't. I'd be sick if we lost pictures. (Mental note: Blog about the coming end of civilizations that store all knowledge on magnetic media...)

Here's our new strategy. It might seem silly and obvious, but what I learned from this incident is that it's only obvious to the computer guy. You have a plan, a place, I'm sure, on where to meet in case of a fire or emergency. Does your spouse know where The Data is if you don't make it home? Does your spouse have the passwords? Does your sister know what a backup is? I'm learning that drawing up a simple plan like this makes everyone's data life easier. As for my Dad's Thunderbird Email, he's backing it up to My Documents with MozBackup, and everything in My Documents gets backed up. Everything else is backed up into three places: The Home Server at my house, The Rev Drives offsite at the bank, and Mozy.com.

What's your backup strategy? Does it have family-wide visibility and understanding?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Blog Redesign 2007

March 27, '07 Comments [18] Posted in Musings
Sponsored By

Yep, this blog looks old. It's time for a redesign. I kind of miss the 2003 look and feel, but my current site

I didn't want to ask publicly but Jeff Atwood insisted that I should, so here is my quiet call for help. If you're a Web 2.0 designer and you can sex up my blog to be all Web 2.1 like Alex's or Phil's, then holler at me and if it works out, I'll link to you with a "Designed by YOUR NAME HERE" on every page."

Things that are important to me:

  • Work in IE7 and FireFox
  • Have a Printer-specific CSS so stuff prints easily
  • You have to use the CSS classes that DasBlog creates
  • Little touches like making my comments look different than everyone else's
  • Nice touches like XFN, little graphics next to external hrefs, etc...
  • Pleasant, with room for some of the advertisements without making the site look like Las Vegas (it's heading in that direction)

Thanks...now back to your regular scheduled programming.

UPDATE: To be clear, in the weeks leading up to this post I've interviewed six paid designers. This post isn't an attempt to be mingy or miserly - I'm happy to pay if the designer would prefer. I just thought that many designers are looking for work and that some search engine optimization (SEO) in the form of 4500 links to their design site might be more valuable.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.