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Comment: Re:Make it easier (Score 1) 562

by Lurks (#44787327) Attached to: 400 Million Chinese Cannot Speak Mandarin

From what I've heard the Chinese have been using Roman letters to help their students learn their own language for years now, and especially use roman letters to make it easier to enter Chinese text into a computer.

Indeed! Other input systems based on radicals or even handwriting have fallen out of favor compared to pinyin (that's what Mandarin romanisation is called) schemes. Helpful because increasingly English words or acronyms (often acronyms of Chinese words!) are becoming popular among young Chinese.

If you want to see pinyin, use Google translate and hit the phonetic symbol underneath the Chinese characters. It's the A with the two dots above it. The diacritics are the tone marks. Many of the roman letters sound somewhat like English but several aren't like x, c and q. The x sound is particularly amusing given the current Chinese leader's surname is Xi. I get a kick out of hearing newsreaders mispronounce it. Childish I know but when you've spent this many years learning a language and often still not understood by native Chinese it's nice to feel superior once in awhile.

Comment: Re:Make it easier (Score 4, Interesting) 562

by Lurks (#44787305) Attached to: 400 Million Chinese Cannot Speak Mandarin
As a weird combination of techie, linguist and Sinophile, I was pleasantly surprised to see this post up on Slashdot. Sadly there's a lot of misconceptions.

Romanization systems don't work because there are too many homophones to worry about.

Bzzt! Aside from anything else, there is a standard romanisation sytem called Pinyin (), this is perfectly adequate to represent tones. It's used to teach Chinese both to kids and foreign speakers of Chinese. It's in dictionaries to tell Chinese people how to pronounce new words (since the Chinese orthography only gives you clues to pronunciation and of course no information about tones). Other tonal languages with greater tonal inventories than Mandarin such as Vietnamese have adopted similar schemes as their official orthography. There was even a substantial movement in the PRC to shift towards a roman alphabet at one point. This stemmed from the same political movement that simplified China's orthography from the traditional full form characters. Most of the arguments made about losing information in dumping Chinese characters can also be made about what has already occurred in the shift to simplified.

Even this argument premise betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about language. If you jump on a massively multiplayer game you'll find Chinese happily chatting away in pinyin without even writing the tones (you can do it in ascii by using numbers eg. ni3 hao3. That's because the act of parsing language is deeply rooted in context. Only certain words make sense in a given context or in a given syntactic position.

What most speakers of Western languages don't understand is quite how far along the explicit spectrum European languages are. An example is the English fetish on needing to specify a subject leading to bizarre constructions like "It is raining". Speakers of Chinese are much happier and skilled with the art of disambiguating not just lexical words but pragmatic intention from utterances that don't convey the full meaning in their semantic evaluation.

The high frequency of homophones is no barrier to a romanisation. I also fail to understand why anyone would think radicals are essential. They're very useful in reducing the task of memorising the character set, particularly since they have pronunciation and semantic clues that make it easier to remember how to read (and more importantly write) various words. They are actually quite a lot better at this task for the original full form () orthography because the full radicals often remain where as in the current simplified orthography of China, much has been reduced to arbitrary squiggles discarding semantic and pronunciation information in the process.

That's a circular argument though. If a phonemic orthography was used, you wouldn't be relying on clues any more. It would be enough to hear a word to be able to write it down. You cannot currently do that in Chinese except by using pinyin. I do this all the time. I write down the pinyin and then later check in a dictionary for the hanzi.

Comment: Re:Is any degree late in life a good decision? (Score 5, Insightful) 234

by Lurks (#39981879) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Best Degree For a Late Career Boost?
"What are the odds you will make enough money so that the degree pays for itself?"

I'm a little loath to reply to this on the basis that the vast majority of posts from the Slashdot crowd on anything to do with university tend to view education as all about money. I suspect that's a heavy cultural bias from the US... anyway.

As someone who is a 40-something about to finish a degree this year, I have some experience of this but for me, at least, your question loads the dice. I was earning plenty of money doing what I was doing before, I just didn't like it. I'd be happy to earn a living, doing something I love and that is what, in my experience, most mature students are doing back at university.

Granted that might be a little skewed because useless public services like healthcare and universities cost more in the US than anywhere else in the world, and maybe you do feel some pressure to get a career result to pay back the debt. That said, there are cheap or even free ways to get educated if you're willing to move beyond the top-tier universities.

Finally, I'd add this: It's easy to make the decision to go to university to study something based on some sort of future goal. What universally happens is that by the end of the degree, you have a different idea about what that goal is. It's also quite hard to motivate yourself, do well, and even benefit particularly well from a degree if you aren't really interested in the subject.

So my advice is this: do a degree in something you're really interested in and when faced with choices, go for the flexible choices. There is every chance that you'll run into some niche off of something you're interested in which will turn out to be a gold mine. It happened to me. I found a field that blended my previous skills with what I was learning and it's the best thing that ever happened to me.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 3, Interesting) 532

by Lurks (#35969954) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

The engineering students will then go on to someday develop your next car, airplane, refrigerator, television, while you in 20 years will simply join your students on the quad for the sole purpose of perpetuating a useless major.

The observer bias regarding areas of education here on Slashdot is really something to behold. In general I've seen 'liberal arts' described as the study of comparative literature, shake spear, latin etc. Generally liberal arts are 'soft', do not lead to jobs, never invent anything or bring in university research. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter horseshit.

We shall for a moment accept the Slashdot definition of liberal arts as not including things like math and science (more accurately in academia it just means 'not vocational'), so if we just look at a 'school of arts' we have fields such as the study of all languages and linguistics (my areas), politics and international studies, criminology, design, economics, psychology, environmental and developmental studies, journalism, sociology just off the top of my head.

The amount of people studying the sorts of things which incense slashdotters so much, the Latin majors etc, is actually pretty low. Vitally, arts-type degree holders often go into jobs in the workforce which are not directly related to their degree. The idea that this made their degree useless is, well, quite depressing really. The fact is, these graduates didn't get a job in spite of their liberal arts degree, they very often get jobs because of it.

Yet there's also a very great deal of direct interest in a number of the arts fields. You may not believe it but every academic conference I go to, companies queue up to entice us to internships and employment. At a recent conference in my area, I was struck by the number of tech companies (I specifically recall Google and eBay) that had open ended invites for internships for anyone involved in the discipline, lamenting the fact there weren't more students in the field.

My field within 'arts' is extremely rich in research, practical applications, and yes, vocational opportunities. Yes, things you use on your web sites, on your phone, in your car. I was specifically drawn to it because it was apparent just how much further we had to go and how I might make a real difference. Believe it or not, modern technology doesn't just have 'science' bits under the hood, they have things that human beings control and that's where we come in.

It may bend your head to discover that a good number of people within 'liberal arts' also consider themselves scientists and very often work on issues imminently more practical than majors in mathematics. Yet despite that, you will generally not find people within the arts that are derisive about the studying the hard sciences.

Perhaps if more of you had a wider human-focused education then you would see that science does not live in a vacuum and university education does not have to be exclusively focused on the skills you need for your first job.

(The ex electronics engineer that went back to university to study 'liberal arts')

Comment: Re:Discouraging Science and Technical studies (Score 1) 532

by Lurks (#35969510) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

The solution is to artificially make top-level education available at the cost to provide that education

Quite so. This is in fact exactly how it's done in Australia. In fact the price I'm charged on my HECS student loan is different for each of the units I've taken, depending on the department that runs them.

There is another critical difference to US education, we have an extremely generous fully public student loan system which covers the entire cost of our university education and is only repayable when earning above a certain threshold of earnings, and it's interest free. While I would imagine such a thing would be called communist in the United States, it's a great way of insulating students from higher costs of studying sciences, medicine and what have you.

Arguably the higher costs of science is often not reflected by potential higher earnings. For reasons other than cost, just as in the US, science tends to be less popular. To encourage take up in some areas deemed to be in particular demand, the terms of cost of education is assisted with government funding. Making it cheaper still, but since we don't really care how much university costs (it's a fraction of what you pay in the US and we have those loans), the encouragement extends to outreach to high-schools, cost-of-living scholarships, lower entry requirements and so on.

Comment: Re:Backwards... (Score 1) 532

by Lurks (#35969348) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major
I don't know what it's like in the US but in the UK and Australia, and presumably elsewhere too, there are a great many schemes that are aimed at encouraging take up of in-demand professions. Things like scholarships, grants, lower fees or even exempted fees for a portion of a course. Outreach programs to high school, ensuring that students with lower-than-expected results are aware of their opportunities to apply for the in-demand professions.

Comment: Coluding with Intel's is often the easy road (Score 1) 469

by Lurks (#27958327) Attached to: Intel Receives Record Fine By the EU
I worked for a major computer manufacturer within marketing and engaged in a number of co-marketing projects with Intel. I say co-marketing, they would essentially consist of us coming up with something and doing the leg work and just having the invoices for anything billable land with Intel. They needed to approve what you were doing but the process was very easy. The way it worked, and the way it still works to my knowledge, is like this:

You buy Intel product and a fraction of the cost of buying those products ends up in a war chest for marketing. You can spend these funds by doing things like co-marketing activities or putting a logo on an advert (they would pay x% of your advert cost then) and so on and so forth. This is more common than just Intel, Microsoft does just the same. That's why there's a Microsoft slogan on every print advert. By the time you do both, you end up paying less than half the actual cost of the advert.

Now this is on one hand a reasonable system. Just like manufacturers have chucked in cash to co-fund ads with distributors since the beginning of time... On the other hand, that war chest is only there if you're buying their products. This makes the business case of buying stuff from the other guy all the more difficult. It means really you're advertising Intel stuff because, honestly, AMD isn't going to write any cheques. The fact that Intel's business is larger than just the CPU itself means you get economies of scale here too.

Is this anti competetive. Well, I think some aspect of it is. However most of it is just a symptom of the fact that it becomes easier to work with the really big guy. It has always been more pleasant to work with them than AMD. You get samples of stuff when you ask, you get marketing help, they run cool events, they actively assign a dude to look after your account who is a genuinely helpful human being. You get precisely none of that with AMD. In fact AMD, as a point of order, probably has the worst marketing set up I have ever encountered in my career. It was amusing when they bought ATI because they were probably the 2nd worst...

What's the solution here? It feels like it's a business that is having trouble with scale. AMD isn't big enough to 'compete' just because they make a CPU. They aren't anything near big enough. They need to consolidate into solutions (buying ATI was part of that obviously) and be able to offer manufacturers the same sort of product range and attractive business proposition as Intel does. It's not anti competetive, it just makes doing business with you more attractive.

What all of this really boils down to, and why I wont shed a tear for a huge fine such as the EU fine, is that the reason Intel is in the position is because of distinctly anti-competetive behavior in the past. I never experienced that myself but if you've become the dominent player through dirty tricks then cleaning your act up in recent times isn't realy good enough is it? Unfortunately even a billion euros is kind of shutting the door after the horse is bolted.

Announcements

+ - Alienware and Intel creates game

Submitted by
Lurks
Lurks writes "Alienware looks like they've made some 3D flash game called Hyperblast. It's a kind of Wipeout clone (remember that?) but seems to be based on a real 3D engine in Flash and I found it pretty fun. Interesting to see the sound track done by an old 90s techno group I loved back in the day, Eat Static. Anyway, it's your usual promotion thing with a heavy Intel tie-up with prizes offered (Europe only by the looks) so I guess it must be all about capturing emails or something. Still, it's interesting to see these guys making games instead of just hardware. Is the boundaries of commercial games and promotional games becoming more blurred?"

"Those who will be able to conquer software will be able to conquer the world." -- Tadahiro Sekimoto, president, NEC Corp.

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