Multi-language dictionaries

July 14th, 2010 - by eiffel

The web offers many kinds of specialized dictionaries. Most of these don't have the gravitas of traditional heavyweights such as the Oxford English Dictionary, but that's no reason to ignore them. Within their specific niche, specialized dictionaries can be very useful.

Sometimes you want to know how a certain word translates into other languages. Rather than looking up each translation one by one, you can use a service that—on one page—shows how a word translates into many languages.

A multi-language translator is available at the Logos Multilingual Translation Portal. Suppose you want to know how the word red translates to other languages. Enter the word red and select English as the source language. Leave the target language and the other fields blank, then click Search. You will see dozens of languages—although I was a little disappointed not to find Tok Pisin amongst them.

For each language a translation is shown, together with an audio file in many cases. You can even enter idioms (such as heads or tails) and other short phrases, although as your sentences get longer the number of matches decreases.

Multi-language translation is also provided by Wiktionary, but it's not displayed by default. Open a Wiktionary page (such as the one for the word red). Scroll down to “Translations” and click “show” for the meaning that you want translated. You will then see the word translated to many other languages.

Again, I didn't find a translation to Tok Pisin. But there is one now! Because this is Wiktionary, I was able to edit the table to add the translation myself.

In the reverse direction

You can also go the other way, to see what a word means in other languages. This is Wiktionary's default view, so it's entry for rot shows that this word means red in German, but it means decay in English and Dutch, and it means belch in French and Catalan. So maybe Rot is not the best international trademark for your red product!

You can also use Google's “define” feature. A Google search for define:rot shows links to various dictionary definitions (including for proper nouns and acronyms). At the bottom of the page, click all languages to see what rot means in the other languages for which Google has links.

PS: Thanks to davidsarokin for bringing the Logos portal to my notice.

Even More Image Search Tools (and pretty nifty ones, at that)

March 11th, 2010 - by pafalafaga

We’ve looked at TinEye already, and I have to tell you, I find myself using it more and more as a tool for pinning down mystery photos, or looking for copyright infringements. I won’t be surprised if this becomes one of the search services that Google scoops up one day.

Idée Inc, the creators of TinEye, have a Labs page, where they play around with new search tools. It’s really worth a look.

The Multicolour Search Lab (or Multicolor, or Multicolr…your choice!) allows you to pick one or several colors from a typical web palette. With each pick, the search returns photos matching those colors, from a collection of more than 10 million Flickr Creative Commons photos. The effect is really quite striking.

The Visual Search Lab lets you pick an image from a random presentation, then finds dozens of similar images. You can then refine the results by entering keywords, which will further narrow down the similarities. Hard to explain, but easy to understand once you give it a try.

Lastly, there’s a BYO Image Search. In theory, this allows to upload your own picture, and use some of the similarity tools to find others like it. It didn’t work for me (wouldn’t allow an upload)…if anyone gets it to work, please post a comment here to let us know.

All in all, a fun set of tools to play around with.

Searching for "similar images"

November 2nd, 2009 - by eiffel

We’ve discussed content-based image search before, but that was three years ago. Since then, the technology has matured into a useful everyday tool.

Suppose you have an image, and you want to find others like it. You can use the TinEye image search engine where you can either upload an image file, or submit a URL. TinEye will then display a list of similar images.

TinEye claims to index over a billion images, but it doesn’t always find a match. The matches that it does find tend to be very good. In particular, it will find images that include any one of the major components of the original image.

The other alternative is Google Images, which has rolled out a “Find similar images” option. Perform a regular image search, and you will find that most of the result images have a “Find similar images” link beneath them.

Google finds a different kind of match than TinEye. TinEye is quite literal, whereas the Google matches are more broad. Google seems to be taking account of the textual context on the image’s target page, as well as the visual characteristics of the image. TinEye seems to be matching some kind of literal measurement of the image components, such as their angle and height/width ratio.

Google’s interface is easier to use, because you can keep refining your search by clicking “Find similar images” on your best match so far. TinEye requires you to start each search afresh, although they also offer a browser plugin for easy searching on any image that you find on any webpage.

As at November 2009, TinEye requires free registration. Google Images is free to use without registration.

Similar images found by Google Image Search (left column) and TinEye (right column)

Similar images found by Google Image Search (left column) and TinEye (right column)

The evolutionary chain

July 25th, 2009 - by eiffel

I’m sure you’ve seen the “evolutionary chain” drawing which shows a progression of primates leading to a proud upright homo sapiens male. There are also plenty of variations on this theme: parody, satiritical and educational.

I’ve often thought that it would be fun to collect these, but someone else has done it for me.

At the Evolutionary Chain blog a guy who calls himself evolutionman has been collecting and posting these images. The commentary is in Spanish, but the images speak for themselves. It’s good for an amusing ten minutes.

Corporate Secrets

January 6th, 2009 - by pafalafaga

Behind the dismal state of global economics these days, there’s a largely unrecognized culprit at work: the almost universal belief that corporations are entitled to keep secrets.

Some secrets are small, almost petty. When General Motors was chastised for flying into Washington DC on luxurious corporate jets, in order to beg Congress for bailout funds, their reaction was classic. They tried to keep their flights secret. GM asked federal aviation authorities to remove the company jets from the public database that shows flightplans for most aircraft.

Some secrets are unbelievably stupid. The same week that AIG received its bailout billions, they made a bad decision to send their corporate executives to a meeting at an exclusive resort. When news of the meeting broke, and general outrage grew, AIG’s response was a classic: they tried to hold their next meeting in secret!!!

But these are small potatoes. The big secrets that companies keep are the ones that wind up costing billions and ruining lives. No one ever really knew what Enron was doing in its energy trading business, or how Bernie Madoff was so unbelievably successful with his investment funds (a 2001 profile of Madoff in Barron’s magazine was titled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and made a huge point of how secretive Madoff was, and how skeptical his fellow fund managers were of Madoff’s results).

Even companies on the straight and narrow do enormous damage with the secrets they keep. Enron and Madoff were crooks, with obvious reasons to hide their activities. But AIG kept its collateralized debt obligation (CDO) business largely under wraps, until that little-known, little-understood segment of its business dragged down the entire company, and unbelievably, the collapse of this single company appeared to seriously threaten the global economy. When a corporation is that big — too big to fail, as the saying goes — it is also too big to be keeping secrets.

I’ve started a blog, No More Corporate Secrets, to give some visibility to this issue, which I think is largely unappreciated in the corporate and financial world, as well as among the government and NGO entities that are supposed to be the overseers of the world of business.

Please put it on your Favorites list, if this is of interest.

When in doubt, ask a philosopher

November 27th, 2008 - by eiffel

In my research work, I tend to gravitate towards the rigorous end, digging for nuggets that can be verified. Sometimes that means I miss the most interesting questions: those to which the answers are found not by experimentation but by thinking and discussion.

I was delighted, therefore, to discover the Ask Philosophers website. Here you can ask a question that’s been bugging you, no matter how cosmic or etherial it may seem.

The site is clean, readable and ad-free. The answers are overwhelmingly lucid, carefully thought-out, jargon-free and well-presented. Dozens of professional philosophers participate.

There’s no guarantee that your question will be accepted, but I get the impression that any coherent question stands a good chance. Most of the accepted questions attract answers. Occasionally, more than one philosopher will contribute an answer.

There is no chance for outsiders to join in the discussion. In a way that’s a disappointment, because I’d love to explore some of these issues interactively. From a practical point of view though, it might be hard to maintain the quality of the site with broader participation.

There are several dozen philosophers answering questions, and over 2000 questions. The categories will give you an idea of the breadth of the site: abortion, animals, art, beauty, biology, business, children, color, consciousness, death, education, emotion, environment, ethics, euthanasia, existence, feminism, freedom, gender, happiness, history, identity, justice, knowledge, language, law, literature, logic, love, mathematics, medicine, mind, music, perception, philosophers, philosophy, physics, probability, profession, punishment, race, rationality, religion, science, sex, space, sport, suicide, time, truth, value and war.

So if you want to know what makes a word profane, or why drug-taking is tolerated for musicians but reviled for athletes, or whether you would be someone else if a different sperm had impregnated the egg from which you grew, then you know where to receive at least an educated guess and while away an hour or two.

Google Knol. The new “Invisible Web”?

July 29th, 2008 - by pafalafaga

In case you missed it, Google launched its new next-big-thing. Google Knol.

A knol is a “unit of knowledge” according to Google, and their Wikipedia-like Knol site is a platform where anyone can contribute their knowledge on pretty much any topic. While Google is encouraging ‘experts’ to contribute, any Tom, Dick or Mary Jane can write whatever they feel like.

All this is well and good, and Knol is an easy site to use. But — so far, at least — the bulk of its content is invisible. That is, content in Knol does not show up on an ordinary Google search. It usually takes just a day or so for new content to show up in a Google search (this Web Owls article, for instance, should show up tomorrow…UPDATE: Actually, it only took about an hour).

But content in Google Knol that has been posted for five days or more is not showing up in routine Google searches, or in results from other search engines, like Yahoo Search. In other words, most of Knol is invisible to search engines.

Don’t get me wrong. Some Knol content is making its way through to search results. These seem to be chiefly the articles that are featured on the Knol front page. A test knol by search guru Danny Sullivan also quickly made it into Google search results, causing no small amount of finger-pointing about Google cooking the results.

Whatever happened with Sullivan’s knol, the simple truth is that the bulk of Knol’s material is nowhere to be found. For instance, I ran a search at Knol on the term money, and pulled up 62 knols containing that term. One by one, I have been going through the list, trying to find one of these knols in ordinary Google search results (usually, I search on the author’s name and title of the knol. I also tried some exact phrase searching). So far, not one of the 62 has shown up.

Here’s an example. A fellow named James Burchill wrote a knol on July 24, called How to Make Money on Elance. A Google search on [ james burchill how to make money on elance ] turns up five results mentioning Burchill articles with the same title. But none of the results has anything remotely to do with Google Knol.

The knols all have nofollow code in the html, but I didn’t see anything that would disallow spidering of the articles. It’s not at all clear why Knol content is not being indexed by any of the search engines.

But it sure ain’t showing up!

One of the main attractions of Knol is that it allows authors to link their Adsense accounts to their knol articles, thereby collecting any ad revenue the page generates. But if the page never appears in Google search results, the odds of generating very much traffic appear pretty slim.

Stay tuned for more on the mysterious saga that is Knol…

News Flash! Andy Czernek, one-time Google Answers wunderkind (I think he was omnivorous-ga…hard to remember…everything fading…) has an article on people searching that made the Knol front page. Three cheers for Andy.

Prolific Google Answers Researchers

June 18th, 2008 - by eiffel

Last year we counted how many questions were answered by each Google Answers Researcher during the life of the service (2002 – 2006).

523 researchers answered one or more questions. Of those, a dozen answered over a thousand questions each. But what was the spread between these extremes? Here are a few figures:

  • The top 100 researchers each answered between 100 and 3570 questions
  • The next 100 researchers each answered between 28 and 99 questions
  • The next 100 researchers each answered between 10 and 27 questions
  • The next 108 researchers each answered between 4 and 9 questions
  • A further 115 researchers answered between 1 and 3 questions

Looked at that way, you can see that the most prolific 20% of the researchers were responsible for the vast majority of the answers.

I just noticed something…

May 31st, 2008 - by pafalafaga

Web Owls has a Google PageRank of 5.0! That’s pretty impressive…

A little too impressive, perhaps. Are others seeing the same thing?


Google Maps adds photos and Wikipedia

May 16th, 2008 - by eiffel

Google has rolled out some new options for their Google Maps service. If you click “More”, you can activate an overlay of photos or an overlay of Wikipedia buttons.

The photo overlay adds thumbnail photos of points of interest, from Panoramio. Clicking on a thumbnail displays a larger version of the photo.

The Wikipedia overlay adds a Wikipedia icon for any location that has a geotagged Wikipedia article. Both overlays can get quite cluttered in popular areas, but two things make this more manageable: as you zoom out the number of items in the overlay decreases, and more popular/important items are indicated with a larger icon or thumbnail.

(Hat-tip to mbegin at Google Blogoscoped)