iTranslate Voice – A New iOS Translator App


They could have called it Babel Fish, but they chose iTranslate Voice instead. Armed with an iDevice and this $.99 app, you can break the language barrier by simply speaking into your iPhone and beaming to your non-native language speaking friend. There, your phrase will be translated into their language and they can understand, respond in their language and send it back to you where it will be translated back into your language. This, my friends, is very cool. With more than 40 supported languages, you should be able to expand your circle of conversational friends immensely. The app can speak in the chosen language, look up words and phrases using your voice, connect devices for conversation through its “AirTranslate” function, and share translations via copy, mail, SMS, Twitter or Facebook post. With in-app purchase, your phone can speak with presidential authority using Obama’s or Bush’s voice. Bit scary, there, but whatever. Some languages are available for translation but not yet text-to-speech, some have dictionary support and others do not, so iTranslate is clearly a work in progress. Also, it needs an internet connection, so you have to be connected via wi-fi or cellular data for it to work. But still, an impressively easy option for on-the-go-translation. Bringing the world closer, one language barrier at a time. Nice work, iTranslate Voice.

Lost in Translation from Pedro Cascao on Vimeo.


You May Be Illiterate If You Can't Program

There was a time in our past when reading and writing were a luxury reserved only for the rich and the well-educated. Now, it is freely accepted that the ability to read and write is the rule, rather than the exception. Or at least it should be.


But there is a new movement afoot that is pushing the idea that literacy should also include the ability to program. ReadWriteWeb describes this concept in a great blog post. Proponents of programming as a measure of literacy explain that we are rapidly moving to a standard of interaction that rates the communications between man and machine and machine and machine at equal importance as communications between man and man. He or she who can master machine language will control two-thirds (or thereabouts) of the flow of information.


Others argue that it is more important to master fundamental communication before worrying about coding and mastering the ability to speak machine. In other words, learn to read, write, perform math, and hold a conversation, as the article quotes creator Jeff Atwood.


I think there are good reasons for embracing all forms of communication. Whether we measure a person’s literacy by their ability to code or whether we relegate coding to vocational status is largely irrelevant. If you want to maintain a degree of control over the new communication landscape that includes conversations with and between machines, then there is plenty of reason to learn to code. At the very least, perhaps we should view coding as another “foreign” language to be offered to young children in school, along with French, German, Spanish, Latin and English. At the very least, children should be given the opportunity and be encouraged to learn so that they can more readily engage in these machine-based conversations in meaningful, active ways rather than passively watch the end result flow by on their computer and smartphone screens. If the means and methods of communication are controlled by a small group of interpreters, then much of the conversation may be lost.


I started my love affair with computers learning how to code in Basic language. When I wanted to make changes to my web pages and blog, I taught myself enough HTML and CSS to get the job done. Why not? If you are interested in learning to code yourself, check out Codeacademy, a great project by a couple of guys who tired of the difficult process of learning to code. The site simplifies learning and makes coding fun.

Legal Opinion Letter as Poetry. Really.

Hard to believe but maybe, in fact, true. I happened on this link over at the Legal Writing Profs Blog and followed it to the New York Times Opinion pages to find an analysis of literary devices inconspicuously hanging out in our everyday writing. David Brooks considers our extensive of metaphors in our communications, noting that we communicators drop a metaphor every 10 to 25 words.

Equally interesting are the types of metaphors we use for different subject matter. Brooks reveals the pairings described by researchers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, e.g.: food metaphors for ideas; health metaphors for relationships; war metaphors for arguments; money metaphors for time; and, liquid metaphors for money (hit the jump above for the examples).

Brooks opines that metaphorical thinking obscures our perception and  understanding of reality by fitting our communication with lenses that alter the view. Pop quiz: how many metaphors did I bury in that sentence? (Answer: at least four and maybe five if you are being generous). In essence, Brooks equates metaphorical thinking with lazy thinking.

I am not convinced this “pedestrian poetry” is all wrong. As a writer, I seek to invoke visuals as well as impart concepts. Metaphors are an effective means of doing so. For creative writing, I consciously use  unusual metaphors to force a new concept or pairing. For business writing, I am more conservative but still use them to encourage a visceral response to my attempted persuasion. Go back and read a brief you crafted or an opinion letter you drafted and count how many metaphors you used. Then ask yourself: did those metaphors promote or obscure my intentions? Was the net result my design or wide of the mark? As long as you understand your message and feel your words convey that message, then all is well.

Metaphors are an important communications tool and even tie our present thinking to historical understandings, as explained by Brooks in his piece. Even unintended metaphors may subconsciously serve to italicize your point. As long as you are aware of their import, what is the harm in lighting your pen on fire with a few poetic devices? Metaphorically speaking, of course. 🙂

Building A Better Pencil

Printing press from 1811, photographed in Muni...
Image via Wikipedia

Alerted this morning to a new book, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers and the Digital Revolution by Professor Dennis Baron. Professor Baron appears to be providing the larger context to counter the argument that technology is destroying our ability to write.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a professor, to grasp that every meaningful innovation affecting writing (and perhaps every innovation period) has been met with some degree of skepticism, scorn, disdain, fear or anxiety from some sector. Every technology adds to and subtracts from the prior experience, forcing us into a perpetual cost-benefit analysis when faced with the choice of tools to apply to the writing trade.

So, how does that cost benefit analysis play out in the current digital writing environment? How are our students, immersed in short form blogging and texting, faring in more demanding intellectual writing pursuits? Well, never fear (or fear less), as Professor Baron suggests that these students grow out of their “childish” writing styles to address their audience appropriately when the time comes to do so. Just like some children are born to be writers, while others are not, technology ultimately should not hamper or hinder their efforts to communicate.

Hat tip to Legal Writing Prof Blog.

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Write With The Best Of ‘Em

Image by delgrosso via Flickr

Thanks to Raymond Ward at the (new) legal writer for this handy tip: free on-line style guides!  College style guides predominate but there are more than enough options to satisfy the curious grammar and usage student.

Great stuff, Ray!

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Write With The Best Of 'Em

Image by delgrosso via Flickr

Thanks to Raymond Ward at the (new) legal writer for this handy tip: free on-line style guides!  College style guides predominate but there are more than enough options to satisfy the curious grammar and usage student.

Great stuff, Ray!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Has Twitter Changed Our Usage? Ask Oxford University Press

Interesting factoids from a study being conducted by the Oxford University Press regarding Twitter and language usage: it is a hotbed for new word creation; hyper-abbreviations are rampant; participles ending in “ing” are popular; tweeters would much rather talk about the future than the past; intensives and strong adjectives densely populate; and, one of the most popular words on Twitter is, well “Twitter.”

OUP has been examining approximately 1.5 million tweets since January in an effort to explore Twitter’s impact. Read a synopsis of results to date here. Such language-tracking is not new: OUP already performs such studies in other media, such as newspapers, magazines and blogs. However, Twitter’s inherent length limitation has Tweeters going to new lengths to get their points across. Want more data? Check out the facts and numbers here.

Hat tip for both papers to Resource Shelf.

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