Saturday, November 15, 2008

More non-native speakers have their way with English

Here's a funny one:

What is he thinking?
What was she thinking?
At least it's taking place indoors, if I understand the sign correctly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Using MS Vista to save drive space

I don't know how they do it, but this is even better than deleting!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Your money and your life - Dying to be happy in Denmark

Accounting conservatively for both taxes and benefits, the gross monetary cost of living in this supposedly utopian social democracy is roughly triple that in the US, but the true cost may not be counted in Danish crowns.

Having lived in Denmark for a little over 5 years, of course I'm glad to hear reports of Denmark being the happiest country in the world. Sometimes I wonder, though, what units of measure did they use to calibrate their happy-o-meter? I'd like to verify the readings for myself.

Of course it's hard to objectively quantify the general happiness level of an entire population on an accurate scale, especially if the majority of that population has been systematically fed the metaphorical equivalent of cheese snacks all their lives and taught to pity those poor souls suffering through surf and turf at the next table over. But the cost of living is a good place to start, as it gives a rough idea of the relative level of comfort people can afford for their money. However, people sometimes seem to overlook the compounding effect of little things like taxes, which may affect what people can afford for their efforts. To get a more accurate idea of the cost of living, tax also has to be factored in, along with a few other items, when calculating the true or gross cost of goods and services.

Just to give Denmark the benefit of the doubt, let's compare this self-acclaimed utopia of a social democracy with that country everyone loves to hate these days, the oppressive capitalist imperialist US of A.

First, the prices:
Neglecting for the moment that items some people consider important for their well-being, such as sunshine or palatable food, are either in short supply or extremely pricey in Denmark, let's take something basic like milk. Since Denmark is a big farm country exporting its dairy products worldwide, this should be more than equitable. We'll also exclude for now any potentially unfair comparison of luxury items like fresh meat or consumer electronics, as well as obvious outliers such as cars or extrusion-molded plastic garden furniture, since the prices of these items in Denmark are simply too mind-bending to be statistically relevant. Apologies to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and more on these unnecessary extravagancies later. Nor will we consider anything exotic like fresh orange juice, since it's not available in Denmark anyway, and would have to be imported at great expense from Italy, some 500 miles to the south, while it's a domestic product in the US and can be cheaply shipped only 1500 miles or so from California or Florida on a same-day basis.

So the current price of milk in the US ranges from about $3 to $4.50 a gallon, while in Denmark the price is 6.85 crowns per liter. That's $5.12 per gallon. I just paid 8 crowns for a liter of light milk, or $5.98 a gallon, at the local grocery store, but whatever.

Now for the tax:
Denmark's 25% sales tax is included in these figures, so in this case we'll just consider income tax. For an income of about $100k in the US, federal tax is about 18%, and the average state tax is about 10% and social security 6%, for a total of 34%. In Denmark, the cumulative progressive tax on this income is a little over 50%. With social security at 9% and unemployment insurance 8%, this makes the total 67% (social security does not count toward the 59% tax ceiling). This gives our greedy capitalist a take-home pay of $66,000, while our happy Dane is content to accept just half that amount.

Don't forget the benefits!
But wait, what about all those free social benefits like health care? After all, everybody knows Denmark has the best health care in the world, right? Right! Just for example, according to the first worldwide study ever published (The Lancet Oncology 2008, Vol. 9, pp. 730-756), cancer survival rates in Denmark are indeed off the charts. Women fare pretty well, with a 5-year breast cancer survival rate of 74%, compared with only 84% in the US. And hey guys, great news! Your chances of surviving diagnosed prostate cancer are 38% in Denmark! Compare the US with only a lousy 92%. Of course that's only for the cases they diagnose – ask the average Dane if they know what screening is, or if they've had it. Best of all, it's free!
(It would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between that survival percentage and the percentage of Danes (27%) who carry a private health insurance policy in addition to the wonderful free health insurance.)

So to be really impartial, let's toss in $1000 a month for a pricey Blue Cross/Blue Shield package for a family of four, bringing our net US income down by another 12% for a total of 46% tax and other fixed expenses. Much cheaper is possible, and more and more Danes are shelling out for private insurance as well, but let's not be biased about this; happiness has its price*.

Anyway, what did that gallon of milk really cost in gross income, assuming you're still alive to drink it? Just in case we missed any more of those wonderful free benefits*, let's give Denmark the full benefit of the doubt and compare the average DK price of $5.07 with the high US price of $4.50, although with coupons it's probably closer to $2.75. Recall that we calculated our US resident is shelling out 46% in taxes and expenditures, while in Denmark the lump sum worked out to 67%.

In the US: $4.50/(1-.46) = $8.33.
In Denmark: $5.12/(1-.67) = $15.52.

So as a very conservative estimate, we can conclude that the price of milk in terms of gross income in Denmark is roughly twice that in the US. A more realistic factor is probably closer to 3½, or 5 if you cut coupons and get on a good health plan.

The interesting thing is, the result of this price comparison actually confirms the validity of our above exclusion of things like fresh meat or consumer electronics from our Danish shopping list, since you can't afford them anyway after you've paid for your milk. By the above calculation, a Nintendo DS Lite costs over three times as much in gross income in Denmark as in the US. A new Toyota Corolla with Danish plates will set you back over four times as much (2/3 of the net price is in the plates, by the way), while it'll cost you more than twice as much to fill it up – yes, gas prices really are skyrocketing in the US these days. This also helps to explain why Danes really are the happiest population in the world, because they are wholly untroubled by such materialistic issues, in addition to being spared the stress of having to schedule regular medical checkups or screenings.

*We could go through this same exercise for the wonderful free education everyone in Denmark gets – since both parents have to work to pay for all those free benefits, children are packed off to free day care starting at the healthy age of 6 months. This free day care costs the parents only $500-600/month, while the government picks up the remaining $1500-1800/month in this highly efficient society. Here they are lovingly protected from such capitalistic evils as music and the alphabet until they start free school at age 7. In school, the absence of testing or grades as well as any special programs (besides general derision) for those exhibiting signs of advancement ensures that everyone is equally well-adjusted, with no one with special aptitudes or even interest to spoil the harmony. With all of this free education, Danes are flocking to school, with 80% finishing high school and 26% receiving higher education. Compare this with the US, with only 85% of the population receiving a high school diploma and a meager 27% able to afford a college or graduate degree. To make matters worse, half of these US grads have been forced to accept some form of financial aid.

Surprisingly, an increasing number of Danes appear to be dissatisfied with all of these free benefits, and are turning to private alternatives even though they are still paying for the free ones through taxes. According to Danish Finance Minister Mogens Lykketoft, the current Danish government has "been very successful at pushing more people to private kindergartens, private hospitals, private old-age care, in a fiscal context of limited public resources" – that's Bureaucratese for "you don't necessarily get what you pay for".

Further reading/listening:
Denmark sucks by nsk123
Why Denmark sucks by Peter Bjørn Perlsø

Monday, September 22, 2008

When non-native speakers have their way with English

This ad for Norwegian woolen underwear caught my eye:

Does it show in his eyes?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You know you've been in Denmark long enough…

This is for my friends from the expat meetup – you know you've been in Denmark long enough if this list makes you smile:

  1. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you park your car facing into the wind to protect the door hinges.
  2. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you look up if a light airplane or helicopter passes by.
  3. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you realize the country you came from is a tax haven.
  4. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you stop to look when you see a new car.
  5. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when cyclists no longer yell at you to get off the bike path.
  6. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when "four score and seven" starts making perfect sense.
  7. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you start stringing words together like "morningcoffee" and "eveningwalk".
  8. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you stop wondering why, if education is free, you're the only person you know who has an advanced degree.
  9. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you start worrying that your kids might be too smart to fit in.
  10. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you hire an expert to do something for fear of showing off by doing it better yourself.
  11. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you start agreeing that it's such a beautiful day today.
  12. You know you've been in Denmark long enough when you realize that summer is a time and not a season.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The dinosaur in the mirror

With two businesses and a photogenic family, I like to keep a lot of data handy – customer records for quick research, several Snowball translation memory databases, and all those family pictures for the slide show gadget. In the past, I've always been able to keep up with bloat by buying a new laptop with a bigger hard drive and backing up on a single external drive. But when my latest hard drive finally started overflowing and Duplicate Checker ran out of ways to create more space, it was finally time to get a bigger USB hard drive and offload some data. Where before I had all my data on local drive D: with nightly backups using SyncToy's Echo to USB drive F:, I now also had the original of my /General folder on drive F:, still with plenty of room for the backups. On the new and even bigger USB drive G:, there was room for SynchToy's Contribute to back up my /General files as well as the entire contents of C: (OS) and D: (data). Things were a bit sloppy on F:, with F:/Mirror of D and F:/General, so to clean things up a bit, I put all the backups on G: under the /Precision folder. Wonderful, now I was doubly protected, and there was still room in the backpack to take F: along with me on "vacation".

SyncToy folders:

When I got back from vacation, plugged everything in, and saw the orange daisies in the Slide Show gadget, I was slightly annoyed. When the Slide Show settings said "F:/General/Scrapbook", annoyance became concern. When I found F:/General/Scrapbook empty, concern became alarm – somehow, all of my pictures had disappeared, along with a lot of other important stuff! But my alarm was brightened by relief – after all, I must have gotten that new hard drive just in time. So I pulled up G:/Precision/General and… hairs-on-end panic.

More fatal than the blue screen of death – the orange daisies of destruction:

What had happened is that, when I plugged everything back in on my desk, drive F: became G: and drive G: became F:, and Task Scheduler, celebrating the return of the prodigal drive G: gleefully got to work. Since it found no /General on drive F:, it created one and copied its contents to G:/Precision/General. The effect was the same as having all builders and miners and no floaters – as far as I could tell, my precious files were pushing up the orange daisies.

This story has a happy ending. Because of my inconsistent naming of folders across disks, neither the original files nor their backups were erased, and by relettering the two USB drives I was able to get back to work fairly quickly, although it took a while for my hands to stop shaking. Using "Contribute" instead of "Echo" is also a safer way of backing up, if you've got the room. But it's all too easy to envision a case where, at the very least, everything since the last backup would be irretrievably erased.

When you plug in a USB device, Windows assigns it the first free drive letter it can find, and apparently does not remember these assignments. That's one dinosaur that nearly ate my mirror! I suppose that assigning drive letters to devices as I have now done will "reserve" those letters and prevent their being overwritten, both virtually and physically, but I'm not planning to take the risk of assuming that to be the case!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Why most entrepreneurs can't get funding

After over a year of attempting to generate investor interest in my startup business, emailing, calling, presenting and attending conferences with business angels and venture capitalists, I finally noticed this message that seems to appear whenever I'm thinking about new ways of raising capital:

This probably helps to explain why so many entrepreneurs have trouble financing their first companies. Fortunately Microsoft provides instructions for unblocking startup programs, so hopefully I'm now well on my way to taking my business to the next step!

Friday, June 6, 2008

You want me to translate _what_?

In today's German-to-English translation work, I came across the optimistic statement that Dieses Feld muss ausgefühlt werden, literally, this field (in a form) has to be felt out. LOL!

It's often hard to prevent the odd howler from creeping into a translation, especially when the pressure is on. That's why professional translations, in addition to being prepared by a native speaker of the target language with experience in the subject matter, are always checked by another experienced native speaker. Unless it's been cooling off for much longer than any deadlines allow these days, it's virtually impossible to check through your own work without admiring what a good job you've done and overlooking the odd mistake. But in addition to watching out for your own mistakes, you've also got to cast a critical eye on the source to make sure it actually makes sense in the given context. Fortunately in the above case, the spelling error and is obvious, and I could go ahead and translate what the author wanted to say instead of what he wrote. But it reminded me that translation errors can indeed have different "sources".

The story could have ended a bit differently, though, if my customer had decided to rely on machine translation for this job. When I tell people I do translation work, they invariably tell me about some amazing new machine translation program they've seen or heard about, and ask me what I think. My response is, until computers actually start doing research, writing documents and discussing them intelligibly, it's unlikely that they'll be able to deliver a flawless translation under all circumstances. Case in point: when trying to approach Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the crew of the Enterprise has to resort to phrasebooks to pass themselves off as a cargo vessel, as the Klingons would notice right away if they tried to use the universal translator. And they still manage to come up with some excellent howlers.

Not to say I wouldn't recommend a good translation memory tool like Snowball for a professional translator to use wisely, but isn't it interesting that the crew considers reliable machine translation to be science fiction, even in their own scifi age of faster-than-light travel?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taking (back) ownership from Vista

It started with what was supposed to be a simple update to Thunderbird on my Vista system. I'm just starting to learn about Google sites, and I was unable to edit anything with my current version of Firefox.While I was updating, I thought I'd check for updates to Thunderbird, and sure enough, there was a new version. No problem, I thought, download, install, and back to work. But no, the install kept stopping at writing to a file called mozMapi32.dll, and no matter how many different permission buttons I clicked, it wasn't going to budge. Nor could I manually delete or rename the file, even as an Administrator*. By now I was going to get that Thunderbird update installed one way or another, so I googled around for deleting files on Vista, and found this promising post: Add “Take Ownership” Option to the Windows Vista Context Menu. What a relief! After installing this little fix, all I had to do was Shift-right-click the offending file and select "Take ownership". I renamed the file instead of deleting it, just to be on the safe side, restarted the Thunderbird update, and now I'm back in business. Thanks to Santosh for pointing this out!

*By the way, I log on to Vista as an Administrator every day; it's my only account. Some may liken this to driving without a safety belt, but my response is that if I'm forced to take something off every time I want to signal a lane change or put on the brakes, it hardly has anything to do with safety, does it? And yes, I buckle up before starting the car, and I clip on before going up on deck. And I back up to two separate external hard drives, automatically, every day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Working on Snowball tutorial videos

Finally managed to finish a couple of tutorial videos for Snowball translation memory. Some users had said the user manual was too difficult to understand, hence the videos. These should eventually be integrated in the program as well. Here's the video showing how to use background storage mode, where Snowball works completely in the background, automatically storing translation memory segments while you do your creative work in MS Word:

To me, this is the way a computer should work, just like in Star Trek, staying completely invisible and leaving the user alone unless it sees it can help.