Katrina Data Entry Doohickey

Oh, and before I crash, Jonas and I have been working on a data entry tool for the PeopleFinder project, it’s not really workign yet but hopefully we’ll get it moving. You can see the mockup here: Katrina PeopleFinder Data Entry Tool. Comments welcome. I posted a description on the mailing list just a few minutes ago, going to see if there are responses in the morning. (Link in my previous post.)

Might not make sense if you’re not familiar with the project. If not, click the image to the right, there’s room for everyone.


…oh, and one more thing:

The ever Jeff Jarvis analyzes how to do all this recovery stuff better next time. Which, sadly, is probably unavoidable.

One small observation: as Ethan Zuckerman pointed out, the task of automating name extraction in all these screen scraping endeavors is a project which is not something which can be done on the fly. If your source post mentions James Doe and later Jimmy, you really can’t determine in an automatic way whether those two names refer to the same person.

I would point out, however, that at least you can find both of those names in an automated fashion. In the Natural Language Processing world this is called “Named Entity Extraction,” and there are some pretty sophisticated techniques out there. One thing that could be done would be to somehow highlight those automatically extracted names so the data entry folks could quickly move them into a structured database.

But as Ethan points out, in the meantime, it’s far better to simply organize the energies of lots of bright volunteers.


More on Katrina and Translation

The PeopleFinder is making good progress — it’s pretty inspiring to see what a gang of geeks can do when they set their minds to it. As far as I can tell, there’s been no acrimony at all on the mailing list, IRC channel, or Wiki. (Ethan has a good summary here) Pretty amazing. Compare that to the stories about politicians bickering.

I’m voting Geek Party in 2008.

Anyway, some media stories about translation issues and Katrina have started trickling out, so here’s an update:

  • Spanish Translators Volunteering In Gulf
  • ‘Spanish-speaking organizer’ helps comfort evacuees
  • A mention in Worldandnation: By van, by bus, finally leaving New Orleans:

    On the fourth floor, Cuban-born Arturo Montero, 71, had to be talked into leaving.

    “Sir, I’m begging you to come,” Sgt. Kevin Coakley said. “You will die here. If you don’t die from starvation, you will die from disease.”

    Montero stood at the door, sweating and shirtless, and only began to give in when a Spanish-speaking translator began persuading him that Texas might offer a community where he could live.

    “Bien, bien,” he said.

    The English translation of what he said next was, “It’s difficult because when you’re old you have a certain idea about the way things should be, and it’s hard to change. I love these four walls, and if I have to leave, I’m going to feel sad.”

I’ve been unable to find any mention of that story in the Spanish language media, but I’ve only just started looking. I’m also trying to figure out what the Spanish-language demographics of NOLA and the Gulf Coast generally are. More later.


A Simple Way to Help with Katrina Efforts

For information, visit:

Katrina PeopleFinder Project - Katrina Help Wiki

What is the Katrina PeopleFinder Project doing?
(1) Creating a technology specification for easily exchanging refugee information. A volunteer effort is working to assist online databases in implementing the specification.
Volunteer here: Organizing dissemination of data standards
(2) Coordinating volunteers that are writing software that takes information from online databases and putting it into a central database provided by http://Salesforce.com Foundation.
Volunteer here: Implementing data exchange from existing sites to central database
(3) Organizing a massively parallel volunteer data entry project to enter refugee data posted to online bullitin boards into a central database by hand.
Volunteer here: Organizing a massively parallel volunteer data entry effort

Note, please feel free to copy this post to your blog.


Katrina, Disasters, and thinking about Translation Banks

On a day like today, I just look for ways for progress to take place, you know? There’s really not any other sensible reaction.

First a disclaimer: I’ll be the first to point out that language issues are a very small part of the Katrina catastrophe. But it’s the part of the picture that I feel like I could contribute to.

The Red Cross is working overtime to provide services to all whose lives have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. In the Miami area—where Spanish is the first language of the majority of the residents, and where a large community of Haitians speak Creole and French—Red Cross workers are available to lend assistance, but many times they encounter an additional problem. “The language barrier is often frustrating for those who are still in the process of learning English, but when their homes are flooded, they have lost their possessions, they are plagued by possibly disease-ridden mosquitoes, and they are experiencing electrical failures (leaving them without air conditioning or the ability to cook, do laundry, or even have a cold drink), the language burden can be particularly exasperating,” said Sergio Alcaraz, Manager of Abracadabra Translations.

I suppose the source article, actually a press release, could be construed as a bit of opportunistic advertising, but whatever. It’s the only content I’ve found on how language issues fit into the whole Katrina misery.

I think the relationship between language services and disasters like this is worth thinking about, and planning for. The situation would be quite similar in a terrorist attack, we have to start thinking about this stuff.

I think these things called “language banks” or “translation banks” are the right step forward for this problem. Descriptions of them are pretty scattered on the web as far as I can tell, but I’ve just started collecting links under the del.icio.us tag del.icio.us tag “languagebank”. Hopefully others will add more.

Related post: I while back I posted about volunteer translation banks, specifically the successful King and Kitsap Counties American Red Cross Language Bank. That’s a model to emulate.

Via this NYT article I learned a bit about the translation situation in New York: “Another site, nyc.gov/readyny, has links to hurricane-related brochures and maps in Chinese, Haitian Creole, Russian and Spanish.”

New York City? Five languages is a drop in the bucket. Stuff like that should be translated on the web, by the public, and made publicly accessible.

Jonas and I are on the case.

Technorati tag:


Translation watch…

I’m subscribed to some news feeds that send me updates with articles about translation, and here’s the latest one I came across:

Speaking the same language

Police are reaching out to migrant communities, with information in seven languages now available on the force’s national website.

Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Somali and Vietnamese speakers can now access police information online.

The site which was translated by NZ Translation Centre explains how to contact local police and liaison officers as well as giving tips on crime prevention and safety tips.

So I took a look at the site itself:

New Zealand Police Official Website

All said, it’s a pretty nice site — they’ve done a good job localizing it. One interesting bit, however: the character encodings aren’t consistent.

Arabic UTF-8
English ISO-8859–1 (Latin-1)
Hindi UTF-8
Japanese Shift_JIS
Korean EUC-KR
(Simplified) Chinese UTF-8
Somali UTF-8
Vietnamese UTF-8

I suppose there are compelling reasons to use those legacy encodings for Korean and Japanese — but it really doesn’t make sense to encode English as Latin-1, when the same site is using UTF-8 for a language like Somali, whose alphabet is strictly “roman” characters.

It seems to me that they’ll be looking at more headaches down the road as a result of not just going ahead and serving the whole site in a single encoding.


I Bet You Didn’t Make Any Money…

Here’s an update to a random idea I had a while back: Want to Know How to Make Some Money?, where I babbled:

Want to Know How to Make Some Money? Here, I’ll tell you.

News Sentinel | 06/24/2005 | Funding cut for translator service

+ Wireless network + Laptops + Webcams + Subscriptions + Nationwide
(Worldwide?) network of on-call interpreters for lots of languages.

Well, go on.

The idea being that one could start a business capitalizing on the relatively cheap availability of video conferencing tools to sell distributed interpretation services.

Well, I talked to my sister about this idea. She’s a nurse.

The concept is D.O.A., and here’s why: there are strict rules about how the interaction between doctors, patients, and interpreters are to take place. Specifically, the interpreter is not allowed to be a “participant” in the conversation: the interpreter must not speak directly to the patient. The patient looks only at the doctor, never at the interpreter.

That’s a rule.

Which obviates the whole point of the webcam idea. Perhaps the VOIP aspect would still be doable, however.


Javascript Mailing List?

There’s a Rails mailing list and a bunch of Python mailing lists and small industry of Perl mailing lists and so on and so forth.

So where’s the Javascript mailing list? Am I just missing it? Because it seems like something that would be useful, what with all the webappishness going around and unobtrusivity and all that.


Comments (2)

The Tiny Hole Theory of Application Development

Remember in Star Wars where they’re going into that trench to blow up the Death Star? “Red Five, goin in!” and all that.

And they keep saying all these great lines like “Stay on target! STAY ON TARGET!”

The whole point, of course, being that you have to get the missile into that one little “duct” at the end of the trench. Into the tiny hole.

I mention all this, friends and neighbors, by way of introducing my new and improved theory of application development:

Doesn’t work.
“I’m going to finish this interface today if it kills me! Kowabunga!”
I’m going to think about nothing but writing this little function that changes the background color of that span over there in the corner of the interface.

At least for me, it’s all about tiny holes. TINY HOLES PEOPLE, TINY HOLES.

I hope I don't get sued for this Star Wars screenshot.

Comments (2)

GTD is Creepy

Is it just me, or is there something a little creepy about the whole “Getting Things Done” trend?

Actually, I bought the book, and I read it, and I even tried THE SYSTEM for a bit. It kind of worked. But I didn’t feel any huge weight lifted from my shoulders. It was more like “okay, well, I paid my bills on time instead of two days late.”

But there’s this creepiness about the whole message of GTD, which basically says “stop thinking, start doing.” I can sympathize with that, sort of.

It’s still creepy.

The author’s site has a page with a list of lists that you should keep handy, and includes this:

Affirmations — personal self-talk scripts for positive internal programming

It’s well known that geeks have taken to GTD like fish to water. And if you Google for the word “programming” on davidco.com you’ll find a lot of Agile programming acolytes converts introducing non-programming people to the commandments tenets of Agile programming.

But check out this other, creepier sense of the word as used on the discussion boards:

You should invest in the finest leather that you can afford. So that everytime you open it, you feel a sense of pride and prosperity…you are programming you mind for prosperity. Then invest in a very expensive pen..like a Montblanc. Again, you are programming your mind that time management is highly valuable and that you are properous.

The guy claims not to work for Montblanc. Whatever. Sounds to me more like he works for Scientology.


Now, if you’re prone to pessimistic extrapolations, you might be reminded of the connection between busybodyism and fascism described in Quitting the Paint Factory. But if I pointed that out, you’d just say such a connection was utterly ridiculous, right?


In which I ask You

Why don’t word processors keep the cursor in the middle of the page?

Good grief.

Down arrow, down arrow, down arrow, up arrow, up arrow, up arrow, edit. Cursor goes down to the bottom of the page. Repeat. Get mad. Repeat.


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