Saturday, June 23, 2012

Errands To-Do List app

9/13/12: I now recommend the GoTasks app over the Errands To-Do List app.

Recently, when looking at two pieces of paper on which I had written separate lists of things to do in the near future, I thought it was insane (the opposite of "insanely great") that after crossing out various items on both lists, I couldn't simply merge the remaining items into a single nice clean list (a sentiment I've experienced many times over the years).

Although I've used PDAs for ages, I've primarily recorded near-term to-do items on the device's native calendar application, often as repeating events to serve as functional reminders until such items get done. It was time to look for a dedicated to-do list app, one with greater capabilities than those of iOS 5's built-in Reminders app (which I had actually totally forgotten about, and wouldn't have satisfied my needs anyway).

My to-do list needs are relatively basic, and I limited my search to free apps. I wanted to keep things simple, and rejected apps that required making an additional login account. The first app I tried (for about a day) had ads, which I considered take too much of the iPod's small screen. Eventually I found the Errands To-Do List app (version 3.1.3), which looks quite good so far, and I deleted all the other apps.

Some observations:

  • Creation and deletion of items is similar to that for events in the built-in Calendar app (familiar, thus easy to use).
  • Option to have a badge show total number of "Focused" items ("Focused" item are similar to Starred items in the great Notespark notes app)
  • Allows manual sorting of to-do items, which is the most useful sorting for me
  • Can make an item's notes into a subtask list (e.g., grocery items)
  • Can backup via ad hoc e-mail to yourself; iCloud backup seems flaky for now per the included iCloud FAQ and some App Store reviews
  • Can double tap to open a to-do item
  • Option to Long Press (tap-hold) to directly open notes (which could be a subtask list as noted above) associated with a to-do item
  • Variety of fonts; I chose the one which allows the most text to fit within the width of the main screen display. If your text is cut off at the right, there is no indicator that some is not being shown; that actually makes sense because even showing "..." would take up room that would be better used by even a portion of your to-do item's text.
  • Setting View Mode to Condensed allows about 8 tasks per screen (vs 4 in Regular)
  • Startup is sometimes surprisingly slow. A tolerable inconvenience...up to a point.

This app has many features of which I have no need, so it could be suitable even for "power users" of to-do lists. For instance, it can issue reminders, but I prefer to use it like a high-tech version of a paper list -- I'll check it when I want to.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reading Chinese signs in Taiwan

Chinese signs in landscape orientation can be read right-to-left or left-to-right at the signmaker's whim. A mixture of both styles can sometimes be found adjacent to one other, e.g., on streets with many shops. Sometimes selected characters can reveal in which direction to read a sign.

The following commonly appear at the beginning of a sign:

  • 請 (qǐng) ("Please ...")
  • 禁止 (jìnzhǐ; "The following is prohibited: ...").

I believe I have seen portrait orientation signs having a single column of characters starting with 禁止 which read from top to bottom (e.g., "No smoking", or something like that). I have never heard of a Chinese sign reading from bottom to top.

The following commonly appear at the end of a sign:

  • 樓 lóu (... [storied] building)
  • 公司 gōngsī (... company).

I once saw the right side of one of the ubiquitous blue construction trucks bearing two horizontal occurrences of the same company name, almost next to one other. The name read left to right on the passenger door, but read right to left along the truck's flatbed (or vice versa, I don't precisely recall). Kind of unusual to see, e.g.:

司公CBA ABC公司 (where ABC were the Chinese characters of the company name).

This photo from my former Taiwanese language professor has a portrait orientation sign with two columns of characters. Drawing on my previous experience with signs beginning with 禁止 (mentioned above), this is how I scanned it, starting from the top left going down:

  • 禁止 (jìnzhǐ) - The following is prohibited:
  • 釣魚 (diàoyú) - to fish/fishing (also slang for "to doze off")
  • 陽光 (yángguāng) - sunlight, sunshine
  • 橋 (qiáo) - bridge (given the as-it-turned-out glamorous nature of the bridge, I suspected that Sunshine, and not the less romantic sounding "Sunlight", Bridge would be the natural English translation, and indeed that turned out to be the official English name)
  • blah-上 blah-(shàng) - on blah

Only after hitting the last character did it become clear to me that it should be read starting from the top right going down, i.e.:

No fishing on Sunshine Bridge (the English is in the opposite order of the two 4-character halves of the sentence in Chinese)

Although I can't give the precise grammatical reason why it would be incorrect to read it in the reverse order, I believe it has to do with the 釣魚 verb-object construction which would always be preceded, and never followed, by a modifying place phrase (陽光橋上).

7/3/12: I have since been informed that portrait orientation signs having multiple columns of characters should always be read right to left, as I learned experientially above.

Prior to reading the sign, I initially thought the bridge might have been damaged by some disaster based on the curved metal on the left, and that the sign may have been related to such a change. However, pictures on this other (random) person's blog show that the curved metal is simply part of the bridge's "groovy" architecture.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

French to English automated translation issues

For the French sentence:
Les pièces sont, sinon moins froides, du moins plus tranquilles.
Google Translate returns:
The parts are, if not warmer, at least quieter.
A more natural, and in this case correct, translation is:
The rooms are, if not warmer, at least quieter.
as I theorized that it ought to be, and which I subsequently confirmed with a native French speaker.  Of course, having translated the original French sentence (which did involve checking a dictionary) from my own original thought in English, I can be certain of what the translation (back) into English should be.  I was simply curious about an automated translation result.

Google Translate is likely hampered by the fact that "piece" (Google Translate used "part", which has an equivalent meaning) is the first definition of "pièce" in a dictionary.  At least that is the case in the Larousse French/English dictionary app, wherein "room" ranks fourth in the eleven definition possibilities for "pièce".

Beyond "The parts are", Google Translate offers the following additional translation options of the first clause ("Les pièces sont"), but those minor variations are wrong for this particular sentence as well:
  • The pieces are
  • Pieces are
  • Parts are
  • The coins are

Looking up "room" in French, the Larousse dictionary app gives different definitions depending on the context:
  • in building or public place:  salle
  • in house:  pièce
  • in hotel:  chambre
Even those rules are not cast in stone, in my experience, but they're probably reasonable general rules.

In any case, the above peripheral perspective is not so easily incorporated into automated translation.  However, my French sentence's reference to "rooms" would seem to be relatively easily inferred from the rest of the content by a native or reasonably experienced (human!) French speaker.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Transposing the two Japanese/Chinese characters for "Japan"

 In the picture above (apparently taken in Japan), I found it interesting to see the two characters for "Japan", 日本, transposed (to 本日), and consequently conveying a wholly different meaning. It is a little bit like seeing "States United" instead of "United States", and that caught my eye.  The meaning of those two characters in the transposed order is, I'm confident, the same in Japanese as in Chinese.

(1) 本 is often used in official (or at least "semi-formal") Chinese (and, I suspect, Japanese) print to mean "This", although to my knowledge it is never used in Chinese speech that way.  日 is a character commonly used for "day", so here 本日 means "today".
(2) The Japanese possessive character (like apostrophe s in English, e.g., in Grant's Tomb).
(3) 動 is a character meaning "move" in Chinese, and seemingly in Japanese as well.
(4) き is a Japanese hiragana, about which I am not qualified to say much. However, for (3) and (4) together (動き), Google Translate gives movement (or:  move, trend, activity, development, change).

So the characters I've pointed out with the arrows labeled 1-2-3-4 almost certainly mean "Today's change", particularly given the financial display for which they are a heading. For the whole phrase (本日の動き), Google Translate gives "Today's movement". That English phrasing is a little stilted, which is no surprise, coming from an automated translation source as it does.

Sometimes Chinese language background can shed some perspective on Japanese writing, and vice versa.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Apple App Store Free App of the Week

An Internet search for "apple app store free app of the week" should turn up multiple sources reporting this new Free App of the Week promotion, which of course may end without notice.  The promotion was apparently announced through Apple's @AppStore Twitter feed (#FreeAppoftheWeek hashtag).

This is the second week of this promotion, which apparently started 5/24/12.  This week's free app is Snapseed, a photo editing app.  It appears that the weekly cycle begins on Thursdays.

I have no plans to post updates about each week's new free app, but this promotion is a good reason to check Apple's App Store at least weekly, at least if you do not follow them closely on Twitter.