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November 2014
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Working Smarter…

I've been using this scanner for six months, and it is by far the best equipment purchase I made in 2013. It's changed the way I work.

If the mountain won’t come…

I absolutely adore my ScanSnap scanner, except for one small peeve: the keyboard shortcut that calls up the unit’s organizer software (Ctrl+Shift+Space) is the same key chord that inserts a nonbreaking space in Microsoft Word, the software I use to put bread on the table.

One easy fix to this problem would be to simply not have the organizer software running when I’m not actively scanning something, except doing so does away with much of the convenience of having the scanner available at all times.

I undertook a more active approach, and found some information on the Internet that purported to fix the problem by disabling the ScanSnap software’s key chord. This was okay by me, since my princpal way of activating the software consisted of putting something through the scanner. Unfortunately, none of the advice I found online actually, like, worked (which I increasingly suspect may be a problem with Windows 8, but that’s a separate rant).

It then occurred to me that Word lets one assign (and remove) keystrokes to various actions. The sequence of steps is:

  1. On the keyboard, press Ctrl+i and then s. This brings up the symbol insertion dialog box. (Since I insert a lot of symbols, I learned to do this with the keyboard instead of the mouse. I’m sure it’s pretty easy to do with a mouse, I just don’t really care to learn how, because “mousing” slows you down! :^)
  2. Click on the Special Characters tab.
  3. Click on the line for the Nonbreaking Space.
  4. Click on the Shortcut Key... button.
  5. With the cursor in the Press new shortcut key field (it’s there when the dialog box comes up), press your desired key chord. This will display a text description of the chord in the field and a line starting Currently assigned to will appear under the Current keys list box, to warn you if your chord already does something else.
  6. If you like your new shortcut key chord, you can keep your new shortcut key chord by clicking on the Assign button. Doing so will override any action performed previously by the key chord. You can also get rid of the old shortcut key by highlighting it in the Current keys list box and clicking on the Remove button.>
  7. Click on the Close button.

See? Easy peasy!

In any event, I’ve restored the balance on my machine, allowing the ScanSnap software and the “insert a nonbreaking space” function in my copy of Word to coexist.

Addressing an issue with “proofing language” in Word

There are few things more annoying than to start a spell-check in Microsoft Word, only to have the program flag perfectly good words as misspelled because Word has somehow determined that, for example, the word “serious” appears as a Swedish word in the document being checked, even though I have, to the best of one’s knowledge, never done any work in Swedish at all.

If you are also plagued with this problem, you probably know that the easiest path to defeat this behavior is the following series of steps:

  • select all of the text in the document (by typing Ctrl-A)[1]
  • select the appropriate proofing language—by clicking on the ‘REVIEW’ tab in the menu ribbon, clicking on ‘Language’ in the ‘Language’ group, clicking on ‘Set Proofing Language…’, selecting the appropriate language from the displayed list box, and clicking ‘OK’—and finally
  • proceed with the spell check (F7).

While this sequence of steps does solve the problem, it doesn’t solve it well enough, for at least a couple of reasons.

First, there’s got to be a more efficient way of doing what is described in the previous paragraph. (There is, and it involves creating a macro.)

Second, the method doesn’t work so well if the document contains text in more than one language, and no reliable solution has occurred to me. Yet.

I’ll have more to say about both of these points in subsequent posts.

[1] If you are a dedicated mouse user, please believe me when I say you will save time by learning keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl-A (to “Select All)).

BitTorrent Sync…

Entirely too many people associate BitTorrent exclusively with software piracy, which is a little like associating cars exclusively with various criminal activities, for while both peer-to-peer (P2P) and automotive technology can be used to violate the law, both represent perfectly legitimate technological tools.

Take BitTorrent Sync, for example.

Over the past few years, I had been using a piece of software called SyncBack to backup files, and while its configuration options are extensive, I found that running a session at predetermined times and specified intervals was a pain in the neck (ideally, you’d want a session to occur in the wee hours, except that I don’t keep my machines running 24/7). On the other hand, BitTorrent Sync runs in the background all the time, and one announced feature of BitTorrent Sync that particularly caught my eye was the effectively instant transfer of files once they’re no longer being used by an application (although I found that BitTorrent Sync’s definition of “instant” varied as a function of the number of files waiting to be synchronized.

BitTorrent Sync also appeared to outperform SyncBack in that it synchronizes directories located on different machines over a network, so I can create a backup either on a server in a closet down the hall or on a machine on the other side of town (or, theoretically, the other side of the planet).

I began testing an early version of the software back in April, with the idea that it would be a good way to make essentially automatic backups of work files. As I had not recently fallen off the turnip truck, I refrained from pointing the software at my actual work file directories, and confined my tests to a folder filled with “expendable” files (in case the software didn’t work and did horrible things to the files it worked with). I experienced a few bumps at the time, but the software has improved over the intervening months, to the point where I now do maintain backups of my work files with it.

My principal “lesson learned” in using the application (currently still in “beta” form) is to take the time to specify individual folders in a directory tree (instead of the tree itself). That way, I retain a greater degree of control, i.e., I can decide to add another folder or remove a folder without having to re-synchronize everything else.



Keep Forever are the Gulag memoirs of Aleksandr Konstantinovich Sokolenko, written near the end of his life and consisting of a quartet of portrait-like sketches (Order of the Red Banner, The Ordeal, Captain Ivanov’s Crime, and Encounter on the Island of Tears). The book was among the 100 “Best ‘Indie’ Books of 2013″ as judged by Kirkus Reviews.

As the translator of the book, I must say this recognition is gratifying, and although the recognition is for the story (which is obviously not my own), I cannot help but think that my translation aided in its telling (and maybe even its selection).

The book may be bought via Amazon, and an affiliate link to do so appears in the right sidebar.

Standing by to reboot!

This blog will be “under construction” for the next little while.

To all who visit in the interim: Happy New Year!

Well, we can put away the (virtual) big orange cones, steel-toed boots, and hard hats for the moment and get on with business.

Comment spam has been dealt with, and subscribers who have never commented have been deleted.

We’re still wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

2011 ATA Conference Presentation

My presentation at the 52nd ATA Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, went off on time with a pretty full room that grew to standing-room-only; I’d estimate around 200 attendees. From all accounts, it was received well.

Search-fu! Finding Terminology on the Internet
Alex Lane
(Saturday, 8:30am-9:30am; All Levels; Presented in: English)

As the Internet continues to expand, it has become an ever more important resource for up-to-date terminology, as well as an even more challenging environment in which to search for information. This presentation will focus on sharpening one’s ability to find online information—a skill termed “search-fu” by Internet denizens. Techniques that combine non-obvious search engine features with novel search queries will be presented. Examples will be given of the use of these techniques to search for terminology and to clarify translations (these examples will mostly be from Russian and French into English).

A copy of the session’s PowerPoint presentation can be found here.

Painless accented characters…

We’ve mentioned Autohotkey in a previous post (and probably will again, in the future). Today’s post has to do with using this marvelous utility to painlessly deal with accented characters.

I’ve worked on Windows machines with multiple keyboards installed and active, and in my opinion, if all you need one of the keyboards for is to type accented characters, you’re complicating your life.

Over the years, I’ve attempted various schemes to enter accented characters, and while some of them work most of the time, I hadn’t ever found a method that works all the time until I tried to implement the following set of hotstrings in Autohotkey.

; * = ending char not required
; ? = trigger even if inside string
; c = case-sensitive

:*c?:\AG\::{ASC 0192}
:*c?:\EG\::{ASC 0200}
:*c?:\IG\::{ASC 0204}
:*c?:\OG\::{ASC 0210}
:*c?:\UG\::{ASC 0217}
:*c?:\ag\::{ASC 0224}
:*c?:\eg\::{ASC 0232}
:*c?:\ig\::{ASC 0236}
:*c?:\og\::{ASC 0242}
:*c?:\ug\::{ASC 0249}

:*c?:\AA\::{ASC 0193}
:*c?:\EA\::{ASC 0201}
:*c?:\IA\::{ASC 0205}
:*c?:\OA\::{ASC 0211}
:*c?:\UA\::{ASC 0218}
:*c?:\YA\::{ASC 0221}
:*c?:\aa\::{ASC 0225}
:*c?:\ea\::{ASC 0233}
:*c?:\ia\::{ASC 0237}
:*c?:\oa\::{ASC 0243}
:*c?:\ua\::{ASC 0250}
:*c?:\ya\::{ASC 0253}

:*c?:\AC\::{ASC 0194}
:*c?:\EC\::{ASC 0202}
:*c?:\IC\::{ASC 0206}
:*c?:\OC\::{ASC 0212}
:*c?:\UC\::{ASC 0219}
:*c?:\ac\::{ASC 0226}
:*c?:\ec\::{ASC 0234}
:*c?:\ic\::{ASC 0238}
:*c?:\oc\::{ASC 0244}
:*c?:\uc\::{ASC 0251}

:*c?:\AT\::{ASC 0195}
:*c?:\NT\::{ASC 0209}
:*c?:\OT\::{ASC 0213}
:*c?:\at\::{ASC 0227}
:*c?:\nt\::{ASC 0241}
:*c?:\ot\::{ASC 0245}

:*c?:\AU\::{ASC 0196}
:*c?:\EU\::{ASC 0203}
:*c?:\IU\::{ASC 0207}
:*c?:\OU\::{ASC 0214}
:*c?:\UU\::{ASC 0220}
:*c?:\YU\::{ASC 0159}
:*c?:\au\::{ASC 0228}
:*c?:\eu\::{ASC 0235}
:*c?:\iu\::{ASC 0239}
:*c?:\ou\::{ASC 0246}
:*c?:\uu\::{ASC 0252}
:*c?:\yu\::{ASC 0255}

:*c?:\CC\::{ASC 0199} ; french C-cedille
:*c?:\cc\::{ASC 0231} ; french c-cedille
:*c?:\OE\::{ASC 0159} ; O-E ligature
:*c?:\oe\::{ASC 0228} ; o-e ligature
:*c?:\AE\::{ASC 0198} ; A-E ligature
:*c?:\ae\::{ASC 0230} ; a-e ligature
:*c?:\AR\::{ASC 0197} ; A ring (Ångström)
:*c?:\ar\::{ASC 0229} ; a ring
:*c?:\SH\::{ASC 0138} ; S hachek
:*c?:\sh\::{ASC 0154} ; s hachek
:*c?:\ZH\::{ASC 0142} ; Z hachek
:*c?:\zh\::{ASC 0158} ; z hachek
:*c?:\L\::{ASC 0163} ; pound symbol
:*?:\<<\::{ASC 0171} ; left guillemet
:*?:\>>\::{ASC 0187} ; right guillemet
:*?:\euro\::{ASC 0128} ; euro symbol
:*?:\!\::{ASC 0161} ; inverted !
:*?:\?\::{ASC 0191} ; inverted ?
:*?:\0\::{ASC 0176} ; degree sign

As hinted at by the comments at the top of the blockquote, the asterisk between the first two colons in each line tell Autohotkey not to wait for a “separator” character (such as a space or period) to arrive from the keyboard, but to process the hotstring replacement upon arrival of the closing ‘\’ character. The question mark tells Autohotkey to execute the replacement even if we’re in the middle of a string. And finally, the capital ‘c’ tells Autohotkey to distinguish between, say, \ZH\ (which is replaced by Ž) and \zh\ (which is replaced by ž).

Generally speaking, the ‘a’, ‘g’, ‘u’, ‘t’, and ‘c’ second letters correspond to the aigue, grave, umlaut, tilde, and circumflex marks. The letter ‘c’ is also used for the c-cedille, and there are a number of other combinations (e.g., zh) that are roughly the phonetic equivalents of the substituted characters.

Some may think that typing four characters to get one is not efficient. Based on my experience, I must disagree. These hotstrings work, and as far as I can tell, they work everywhere.

Before one gets to Paris…

I have run across a copy of A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, by Laurence Sterne. I recall trying to read Tristam Shandy once, at the recommendation of one of my lit profs, but never was able to get past the first few pages. From what little I read, however, it appeared to me that Sterne had a quality of writing that, albeit dated, nonetheless seemed to talk to me as I sat swaddled in my 20th century environment.

One interesting item from Sentimental Journey that I ran across by accident:

It was but last night, said the landlord qu’un my Lord Anglais presentoit un ecu à la fille de chambre—Tant pis, pour Mademoiselle Janatone, said I.

Now Janatone being the landlord’s daughter, and the landlord supposing I was young in French, took the liberty to inform me, I should have not said tant pis—but, tant mieux. Tant mieux, toujours monsieur, said he, when there is anything to be got—tant pis, when there is nothing. It comes to the same thing, said I. Pardonnez moi, said the landlord.

I cannot take fitter opportunity to observe, once for all, that tant pis and tant mieux being two of the great hinges in French conversation, a stranger would do well to set himself right in the use of them, before he gets to Paris.

Just another something to keep in mind…

P.S. For those who do not read French, in the excerpt the landlord mentions that an English milord had given the chambermaid a paltry sum, to which the speaker said, “Too bad for Miss Janatone.” In reply, the landlord tells the speaker that in such cases, “when there is anything to be got,” one says “so much the better” (tant mieux) and that “so much the worse” or “too bad” (tant pis) is used “when there is nothing.”

On mnemonics and Chinese…

From Jonathan D. Spence’s The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci:

One can sense a reason for Ricci’s emotional language: if Chinese had “as many letters [i.e., ideographs] as there are words or things” and if one could learn quite swiftly to subdivide each ideograph into component parts, each of which also had a separate meaning, then it would be easy for someone well trained in mnemonic art to make each ideograph into a memory image. This process was speeded by the fact that Chinese made an encouraging contrast with Greek grammar, which Ricci had been unhappily trying to teach for some years in India. Unlike Greek sentences, which had to be remembered in all their detailed complexity, a Chinese sentence could be presented in sharp detail as a series of images: as Ricci observed, “What is of help in all this is that their words have no articles, no cases, no number, no gender, no tense, no mood; they just solve their problems with certain adverbial forms which can be explained very easily.”

Just so one doesn’t get the wrong impression, Spence immediately goes on to say it took Ricci another dozen years of focusing his prodigious mental powers on learning Chinese before he got to the point where he could explain his methods in Chinese.

Still, Spence’s is an interesting observation about both mnemonics and the Chinese language.

Two views of the Emperor…

When it comes to literature, there is a school of thought that says works (including translations) over some number of years of age ought to be “rewritten” to make them more accessible to contemporary audiences.

There is, I am sure, more than enough material in the previous sentence to fuel at least three furious debates. Me, I like to keep an open mind, but not so open that things might have a tendency to fall out rather than join what’s already inside. (Think of it as an application of the “доверяй, но проверяй” principle, i.e., trust the dealer, but always cut the cards.)

As a boy, I fell in love—for all the wrong reasons—with a leather-bound edition of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated by George Long and published in the 1930s by Collins’s Clear Type Press (London & Glasgow). I say “for all the wrong reasons” because, while I could not make much sense of the text, I loved the physical texture of the binding and the compactness of the book. And don’t ask me why, but I was fascinated by the fact that a previous owner of the book had underlined certain passages. It was almost as if that distant stranger was sending me a secret message from the past.

Just recently, I bought a dead-tree copy of the same work, titled The Emperor’s Handbook and translated by C. Scot Hicks and David Hicks, with the perhaps-adolescent notion of marking my copy up the same way as I go through it, so that some potential future reader might experience that same little thrill. (And even if that does not happen, there is still something about holding a book in one’s hands that trumps the lack of mass and volume offered by electronic versions.)

And yet, during a free moment, I was curious, and decided to compare the old and new translations of the following short item, No. 33 from Book XII:

How does the ruling faculty make use of itself? for all lies in this. But everything else, whether it is in the power of thy will or not, is only lifeless ashes and smoke.

(George Long translation, 1862)

Are my guiding principles healthy and robust? On this hangs everything. The rest, whether I can control it or not, is but smoke and the gray ashes of the dead.

(C. Scot and David Hicks translation, 2002)

As a child of the 20th century, I must say I prefer the latter version.