Saturday, March 24, 2012

Larousse English / French dictionary app

6/12/12: Apple's 6/11/12 keynote address at their World Wide Developer Conference indicates that French, German, and Spanish dictionaries will be built into iOS 6 (on the screen at the 107:05 [minutes:seconds] mark). I imagine those will be more basic dictionaries, and I will continue to prefer using this Larousse dictionary app, but time will tell.
6/15/12: Some embedded single language (e.g., French-only) dictionaries can also be freely downloaded in the free Amazon Kindle app, which I mentioned previously here. Despite having written about them, I still sometimes forget they are there.

Several weeks ago I finally bought myself a combined French-English & English-French dictionary app. I am now no longer surviving on a hodgepodge of free apps which cover an assortment of much more limited/specific aspects of the French language; those apps still have their uses, so perhaps later I will write up a blog entry for them.

Anyway, I chose the Larousse English / French dictionary app (version 2.0.1) because:
  • I had some trust in the Larousse brand, having been pleased with their printed French-French nouveau dictionnaire du français contemporain illustré (new illustrated dictionary of contemporary French) which I bought years ago, and still use on occasion.
  • It was significantly cheaper than my other main candidate app, which I think was Ultralingua Robert.
  • My other main candidate app had some limit (50?) on the number of words it would keep in its history (before it started bouncing out the older ones), a limit which I felt was unreasonably low. However, to be honest, I don't actually know what Larousse's limit is. 8/24/14: Larousse app 2.2.0 history limit is 100.
I have found the app to be a pleasure to use (although I could do without the animation when switching between direction of language translation), when looking up words while listening to various French podcasts, or when, rather less often, writing French text.  Below is an example where you can see their useful added detail for an entry:

Two inconveniences I hope the developers fix in a future version:
  • Direction of translation always starts English to French; better would be to stay in the direction last used. I more frequently want French to English.
  • The History entries change their chronological order from descending to ascending, or vice versa, each time the list of entries is viewed (including if, within History, you look for a word's detail, then go back to History). I have difficulty imagining a reason why it would be helpful for it to work this way. (2/26/13: This is fixed in version 2.2.0, such that the History entries now consistently appear top to bottom in the order in which they were searched for. Personally I would have used reverse chronological search order, since I'm usually more interested in quickly seeing the words which I looked up most recently, but at least the order is no longer flipping back and forth.

    By the way, the Delete button immediately deletes all History entries. To my regret and contrary to my expectations, it doesn't offer the choice of deleting selected entries, nor does it prompt for confirmation. It would be more helpfully labeled "Delete all" or "Clear history", and it really ought to prompt for confirmation. To delete an individual entry, swipe on it from left to right, and the typical red Delete button appears, which is effectively prompting for confirmation.)

Some language errors and/or app oddities/bugs:

1) In this French definition, "it's" should be "its":

2) If you look up "program" in English, you get triple entries for it both as a noun and as a verb:

3) When looking up a phrase in French, if you enter the first word you will be presented by entries for it by itself, plus a limited number of entries of phrases that begin with it. If the number of possible entries is large, you will not see them all, and you will unfortunately have to cycle through all the remaining letters of the alphabet to see all the possibilities. See the following example.

I was trying to find the phrase au dessous (in fact, the phrase is au-dessous with a dash between the two words, but I didn't know/remember that).

Entering "au" gives this list:

That list can be scrolled down only until this point, which has not exhausted all phrase possibilities beginning with "au":

Entering "au d" gives this list:

That list can be scrolled down until this point, which presumably is the last phrase in the dictionary that begins with "au d":

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Radio Taiwan app

The free Radio Taiwan app allows me to practice my Mandarin Chinese listening skills with Taiwan radio programs.  At the end of this entry I include the series of screens which led me to 中國廣播新聞網 657 AM (Taipei), which has been reliable so far.  Those characters, 中國廣播新聞網 (Zhōngguó Guǎngbō Xīnwén Wǎng) might nominally be translated as China Broadcasting News Network, but here "China", I consider, would more accurately be translated as "Taiwan".

Some of the other station choices didn't succeed in delivering audio and/or crashed the app.  Based on U.S. radio experience, I kept trying FM ones over AM ones, but this AM one was the first "good" one.  I did first find a different station, but when I tuned in, the broadcast was in Taiwanese, a language which is, sadly, largely out of my realm of listening comprehension.  Although many programs will have a mix of Taiwanese and Mandarin Chinese language, I was on the hunt for one as close as possible to 100% the latter.

Years ago a Taiwanese friend of mine, one whose English I rated quite highly, told me that he would often read The Christian Science Monitor and listen to National Public Radio.  He felt the content between the two overlapped often enough to meaningfully reinforce his language learning.

My Chinese reading ability is a far cry from the level needed to comfortably read Chinese language newspapers, but I do read a lot of news stories generally.  I also get occasional news tidbits of particular interest in Taiwan.  Having previously read about today's earthquake in Mexico City, I was well-prepared to understand many of the details the broadcaster announced regarding that event.

I had also known about New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin's advertising deal with Volvo in China, so I got a fair amount of that story as well.  Knowing in advance that his Chinese name is 林書豪 (Lín Shū Háo), which is how he was exclusively referred to in the story, helped there, and naturally "Volvo" is impossible to miss.

瘐肉精 (shòuròujīng) seems to be some sort of lean meat growth hormone fed to animals in the U.S.  Apparently the U.S. is pressuring Taiwan to let such meat be sold in Taiwan, although Taiwan has laws prohibiting its use there.  Google translate does an absolutely wretched job translating 瘐肉精:  "Tourism Bureau meat fine".  Anyway, I knew of this topic before listening to Radio Taiwan just now, but many of the finer details of that story escaped me.

Radio commercials are quite a challenge, providing little context (unlike TV commercials where you can see a video image).  Being short, probably often shorter than many or all news stories, you get little time to figure out what the product is before the commercial is over.  Out of a few commercials, I pretty much only grasped one thing:  "Hitachi".  Well, more least commercials are likely to be replayed so you could get multiple chances at them.

The successive screens to my new radio station:

There are also opportunities to learn new songs for karaoke...

This station is not visible on the preceding screen, it's lower down.

Naturally, one must keep possible time difference in mind. If it's 3 am in Taiwan, the choice of radio programming is probably less than at 3 pm.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Apps useful for my trip to London

Recently I traveled to London. I am not much of a photographer, neither in frequency of shots taken, nor, as many will rightly say, in quality of shots, but having the 4th generation iPod Touch with its camera led me to take some shots, like this one of the Big Ben Clock Tower.

In preparation for the trip, I created a (free) Google Voice account which would be able to call U.S. (and Canada, I believe) numbers for free until the end of 2012 (I believe that was extended from its original end of 2011 cut-off date) 2013 ( A knowledgeable friend had advised me that such an account could be used by the (free) Talkatone app to turn the iPod into a phone (1/3/14: That capability is ending on 5/5/14 due to changes by Google; see, for instance, the 10/31/13 post on I installed Talkatone, and despite a few hiccups during stateside testing, it worked quite well from London, allowing me to retrieve some messages from my answering machine. After returning from London I did a little more testing and, on one occasion, I was surprised that I could call a landline but could not reach a cell phone. Anyway, the combination of these two things served me well across the pond, even if the sound quality is not great.

I loaded up some additional free apps for the trip, listed below in approximate order of usefulness. Some of them would have been more useful, except I had alternate, more helpful, resources, which I will also mention.
  • London: Travel Guide - Time Out has assorted information about London.  I did browse this a bit, but it was of minimal use to me because I had the good luck to borrow from the library the (more useful) 2010 Kindle e-book of Time Out London, which I consulted instead.  I also had several similarly recent, printed London travel materials on loan from a friend.
  • Brighton Museums was good for £1 off entry to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (about an hour by train from London).  It has photos and brief information about the Royal Pavilion and other attractions, but its primary benefit to me was the discount.
  • Tube Map has, in addition to a map of the London Underground ("the Tube"), a Lines button which shows up-to-date information by subway line, e.g., "Good service", "Planned closure", "Part closure", "Line issue" (all of which I am seeing as I write this entry).  A small popup window may show periodically on the map with Tube alert-type information; I'm not sure if that overlaps with the Lines information.  The Tube Map app's buttons, advertising, and alerts naturally take up part of the iPod's precious screen space.  With hindsight I should have checked the Lines status each day before leaving the hotel (or leaving anywhere else I had WiFi), but I did not run into any meaningful Tube schedule disruptions (and at various stations I did learn in person of some minor scheduled service changes which were part of preparation for the coming Summer Olympics).  I had also loaded a PDF of the London Tube map (which I'd found using Google) onto the Dropbox app and saved it as a Favorite therein so that it would be available without WiFi access.  That was my real Tube resource, and was extremely useful both for scoping out trips in advance and while on a train.  In the most extreme situations, when riding with only one hand free, it was still easy to use spread-to-zoom and swipe motions to confirm that I was on the proper train, which easily beat doing so using a clumsy folding map with tiny print.
    (3/21/12: With their 4.1 update, the makers of this app have added integration with their Bus London app, of which I just learned, and could have been handy for the Tate Britain museum, which is a bit of a walk from the nearest Tube station. Supposedly within the Tube Map app, you can now find bus departures around a Tube station.)
  • Hidden London contains photos and information about some less well-known attractions.  Although I had mentally noted some of those attractions before the trip, in the end it was only by accident that I happened to walk by one (the Cartoon Museum) and actually went to one (the Cafe at Tate Britain).  Regarding the latter, I had gotten confused about museums and went to the Tate Britain instead of the Tate Modern, but as this app notes, this "little know[n] excellent cafe hides in the basement of this grand art gallery.  Open daily, the cafe serves amazing cakes, snacks and a range of tea and coffee."  The cafe truly was excellent!
  • ExCel London provides some general information, including food availability, about the convention site, which would presumably only be of interest if you are attending an event there.
  • i-Shop has some information about possible discounts or tax refunds from selected shops.  I did see the Global Blue symbol (Global Blue is either the producer or somehow related to this app) inside the Tower of London gift shop, but I did not buy enough stuff to make serious investigation of this app worthwhile.

In addition to the Time Out London e-book mentioned above, I also borrowed a recreational reading e-book from the library before the trip.  Library e-books "return" themselves, so you never need to worry about them (unlike the half-read physical book which I had to return to the library on my last night in the U.S. during last minute trip preparations!).  I also bought an e-book for the Kindle app, so was well stocked with reading material.

The Notespark app, which I originally wrote about here, facilitated organizing London topics and a daily schedule.  I used a particular Tag for all London notes, and starred all of those notes.  Most of the time I would just work with the group of Starred notes.  I also dedicated a single note for each day's potential agenda, an agenda which often went through revisions.  When the contents of any note were no longer relevant for the remaining days of my trip (although I expected to revisit all London notes after the trip), I unstarred that note so that it would no longer be visual clutter.  I could use Notespark to search through whichever group of notes was more relevant, the Starred ones, or the group associated with the Tag which I used for this London trip.

When I had WiFi access both before and during the trip, I saved static copies of a number of London-related web pages, e.g., for various tourist attractions and travel tips, using the Opera Mini browser (about which I wrote most recently here).  I'll admit that despite getting a bunch of information in advance about Oyster Cards and Travel Cards (both of which are options, pointedly not mutually exclusive, for using the Tube and some other transportation systems), it wasn't until pretty late in the trip that I felt I really got a fuller understanding of them.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    The color of Taiwan politics, plus u versus ü Pinyin sounds

    I had a recent conversation with a native Chinese speaker about political groups in Taiwan.  The group which leans toward unification with China is "blue", while the other group preferring formal or informal independence from China is "green".

    She mentioned lán yíng, whose first word I knew must be 藍 (blue), but I had to ask what the second word was.  She explained that it was "camp" -- much as it is used in English when discussing politics.  So her original reference was to 藍營.

    Camping, I said, according to my recollection, was lù yíng (露營). She then mentioned lǜ yíng (double dots over the u), which made me think that I had misremembered the vowel in the first syllable in camping, and I (mistakenly) switched to lǜ yíng as the pronunciation for "camping". She then clarified that she had said lǜ yíng (綠營), referring to the green camp.

    While there are surely other common expressions of 2 or more syllables which might be mentioned together where u and ü are both possible as the only difference between corresponding syllables (tones and all other aspects of the letters being the same), I found 綠營 (lǜ yíng) and 露營 (lù yíng) to be an interesting pair.