social Language tutoring – paying in translations

Last week, while talking to a friend about how more and more books are becoming available online he mentioned reCaptcha. Now I didn’t know this one so when he explained that it uses the Captcha’s (those ‘are you human?’ tests you get when you comment on a website) to have the crowd digitize texts that are hard to OCR (“Optical Character Recognition”), I was mind boggled. I love it! by showing people words from actual texts that computers “can’t” read and cross check it with other users returns, they effectively transcribe hundreds of pages worth of text each day. Such a simple but effective idea. I love how internet and some quirky ingenuity is making things like this possible.

A similar concept to this is a DuoLingo. A simple idea whereby people can learn a new language by translating pieces of texts. The double edge here is that while you do that, and while you check others translations you are actually not just learning a new language but helping translating actual texts as well. I haven’t yet been able to test it myself as it’s in Beta and by invitation only for now and already overwhelmed by invitation requests. But the video looks promising.

Is this just great? Well yes, while it is altruistically used for the translation or capturing of texts that would otherwise never be translated/captured. But no doubtedly it will be used commercially as well…
Companies like Google (reCaptcha) and DuoLingo can sell this as a paid service for companies to have their old ‘paper’ documents and texts indexed and translated easily & quick and make big bucks of it.

Is that really a problem though? We seem to expect services on the web to be free but things like language tutors or having a bouncer to keep unwanted people out of your club (which is more or less what Captcha’s do) were never free so why is it that we expect this to be free on the web? At least, in this way, we get the services and someone else pays. I think that is actually not a bad deal!




Social Connections & James Joyce

Just booked my tickets to go to Social Connections III in Dublin on June 22nd. Really looking forward to it as I was not able to attend the previous Social Connections events held in Cardiff and London.

One of the major things I’m looking forward to is being there where it’s all happening, the IBM Development Labs in Dublin, the mothership for IBM Connections and hearing from others using, developing and working with IBM Connections!

Social Connections Banner

Now going to Dublin in June is nice for more then just the user group. As I lately (thanks to a quirky twitter conversation with Steve McDonagh (@DominoyesMaybe) got into reading some James Joyce. The advise I got from him and others when starting this endeavor was to ‘read out loud‘ to grasp the meaning of some of the pretty complex words & sentence structures used.

So I am….


Each night, just before falling asleep I read (out loud) a couple of pages in my best Dutch-imitating-an-Irish-accent English of ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man‘. Yeah, I know, weird hobby, but reading it out loud does absolutely help in better understanding the meanings of some of the complex words and sentences used, and besides, it can be kind of comical hearing my own bad attempts at imitating that lovely accent! So after reading about Dublin I can’t wait to see the city in real life. Too bad I’m just a week late for Bloomsday

The power of words

I AM DUTCH… So, there you have it. An obvious point, I know, but I need to say it. And why do I need to say it? Well because it means my first language isn’t English and that frustrates the heck out of me.

Yes, I write in English, I can speak English, I can even stand up and address groups in English and feel comfortable doing that but I am never as good or as fluent as I would like to be. I’m always grasping for words, searching for meanings and struggling with spelling. Especially while writing.

Writing to me is the ultimate form of expression. It is where I can pour my soul, humanity and creativity into and really express what I feel. Doing it in English though also means it is a constant struggle of searching for words and meanings to capture my thoughts. You don’t realize the power of words until you find yourself searching for them all the time.

Those words and combinations you only use in exclusive situations, the finer nuances of language, all those specific details that the 2-4 hours a week of high school English I got in my teens, didn’t cover.
And so I learn. I learn daily, from reading other peoples blogs, from watching English TV, from interacting on social Media. Analyzing and Googling every word and linguistic anomaly that triggers my interest, expanding my vocabulary constantly.

It’s my obsession, it’s my frustration, and it’s my insecurity… as it makes me feel so inadequate and unprepared.

So?! Why don’t you write in Dutch then? Well because I want to be heard. I write to invoke a response and many of the people I would like to reach don’t read Dutch. So yes, it is a choice to write in English and therefore to struggle with it.

I’m well aware my English is already better than most non-native English speakers. I’m also proud of the fact that apart from Dutch and English I can have conversations in German and even have basic skills in French but at the same time I’m jealous. I envy all you native English speakers for having a language at your fingertips that allows you to communicate with at least a third if not more of the world population. A language that is seen as the standard and that you have been taught from the crib, a language whose finer details and quirky depths to you aren’t a mystery so much as well as a tedious lesson in school.

I want to be you, I want my brain to grasp those words I’m often searching for, those expressions and fantastic nuances… till I do I will struggle, with every blog, sometimes with every tweet. I will make mistakes and get corrected, I will mess up and be told off, I will experiment and get it wrong but, I will not give up. And not just because I feel an urge to be heard, but also, and maybe more importantly, because during all this struggle I didn’t just get to appreciate the English language, I got to love it; its variation, its complex simplicity, its quirky uniqueness….

So next time when I ask you for a word definition, or use an uncommon word in a chat or tweet with a “(?)” behind it, know that it is me learning and grasping and tell me if I do it wrong. And hopefully, one day, I will be able to express everything that goes on in my head in English as easy as I do in Dutch. Till then, bear with me, smile about my silly mistakes and help me get better.

It’s simply me loving the English language.

Thinking outside the box – Optician

I used to have perfect vision….. used to have. Because lately I found myself readjusting the font sizes on my screen to bigger fonts more then once (Windows: CTRL +, Mac: CMD +) and so I decided to have my vision checked.

Walking into the optician on a whim I asked for a test.
[optician] What is your reason for wanting a test, are you experiencing problems?
[me] Lately I seem to have trouble reading the finer fonts on my screen sometimes. I have to enlarge them, never had to do that before…
[optician] Ok, how many hours a day do you sit behind your pc?
[me] Ehhh….. not sure, do smartphone, and iPad count too? 
[optician] Yes
[me] Pretty much all day except when I sleep, run or eat then….
[optician] Ok, well then we’re finished. Limit your time behind the screen to 6 hours a day max and all your problems will go away!

Lol, ok now this was not the answer I expected, especially considering that my work alone requires me to spend at least 8 hours a day to look at a screen, but she explained to me that looking at something so close as a computer screen requires your eyes to constantly focus, tiring them out, causing my problems. She tested my eyes and well apart from a very light adjustment they are actually really good (normally I would not require any glasses). Seeing however that I’m not likely to limit my ‘screen habit’ (as she called it) she proceeded in measuring me with glasses.

Now after all the usual checks, she took away the eye machine and the vision cards, walked out, got her laptop put me behind it and asked me to open a site where I had had problems reading the fonts. She then put on the test glasses again and tested to see whether it would actually make a difference. It did! She then proceeded with the same tests while I was watching the laptop, changing glasses to see what would work best and finding that up close to the screen I really needed stronger glasses then when I was using the vision cards. She explained that by slightly overcompensating the glasses my eyes would have to do less, making them less tired and more likely to hold out. As long as I would take some more ‘down’ time too.

I love this. She completely thought out of the box. In stead of telling me to bugger off or sell me glasses just for the sake of it she actually analyzed my problem, adjusted the testing to fit my personal circumstances and gave me some pretty good advice!

So they are ordered now and I’m curious to see if they are going to help me with my eyes. At the same time though I’m also going to try to limit my ‘screen habit’ a bit. Who knows, maybe I should take up yoga like she suggested on the way out 🙂

ps. Don’t they look nice? Feel like a proper school teacher in these!->

The forbidden vocabulary

Last Friday I visited TEDx Dordrecht. An independently organized TED event in my home town listing 12 speakers on topics related to Sustainability and Food. It was a good event. There were some excellent speakers, good food, a nice venue and enough breaks to socialize with some of the other visitors.

The last speaker of the night was a 19 year old student and member of the Dutch national youth council for sustainability. Excited and in the heat of her youthful exuberance she used some words during her speech that where, well… how do I put it….

Ok she used the word ‘F*ck’ more then a couple of times. Now to be fair, using that word in Dutch is, although still seen as a swear word better to be avoided, really not to big a deal. Especially as it is an incorporated English word and therefore doesn’t really have the same weight to it as it would have in English. It is often used to stress a point or an exclamation of annoyance among younger generations. So using it in a Dutch context, although frowned upon, wouldn’t normally cause much of a reaction. Probably also because we aren’t that easily shocked. The session however was in English and was being broadcasted to 35 countries world wide.

Right…. now that mischievous word suddenly became a full blown profanity and probably caused some stirs around the world as was hinted on afterwards by the host.

It is funny as it emphasized to me the subtle differences in language. To my shame I have to admit I too use that word on occasion. Most times though, not in an English or public context as I know the word really does have a bigger weight to it in English then it does in Dutch.

In fact, it seems more and more people prefer using foreign swear words. As if swearing in a different language has less impact then saying a similar swear word in Dutch. And it probably does, as to a lot of people, the word becomes just that: ‘a word’. It’s original context and meaning fade a bit and it becomes a word on its own. Yes, everybody still knows it is a profanity but it is seen less connected to what it actually describes. Especially as the Dutch translation of the word (verb) ‘F*ck’ isn’t officially classified as a swear word at all. It is somewhat of a taboo word, not to be used often or in a formal or public conversation but it isn’t considered a real profanity either.

Somehow, not having the same context, makes swearing in another language less harsh then using a similar swear word in your own language. And it’s not just the Dutch that do that or have a fascination for foreign swear words. I’ve had numerous situations where foreigners of all nationalities proud to show off their skills, start reciting all the Dutch words and sentences they know. Stumbling their way through the obligatory ‘Hallo’, ‘welkom’, ‘goedemiddag’, ‘mijn naam is…’ unto some pretty harsh Dutch swear words… often with a big grin to their face.
In that regard, using foreign swear words seems to allow us to be that little kid again trying out the new forbidden vocabulary we picked up in the school yard…. It reminds us of the good old times when innocent as we were we really didn’t know yet what all those words meant, the actions it described and the cultural load it had.

No wonder there are so many sites around that will teach you the most gruesome swear words in almost any language around. I guess some fascinations just never die, do they…. 🙂

Burning the midnight Soc'oil

To be Socially engaged on online Social Networks into the wee hours of the night.

The incessant staying up not to miss out on all the social fun. Often caused by having a very lively online Social Network that is mostly located on the other side of the pond and the abundant availability of devices that make accessing ones social tools (Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc) possible everywhere and anytime (eg. in bed). Doing it long enough could have detrimental consequences for sleep patterns and cause the subject to dream in ‘tweets’. (Though that could be seen as a good pre-Lotusphere training where sleep is hard to come by anyway).

Derived from a combination of the word ‘Social‘ and the phrase “burning the Midnight Oil“: To work late into the night. Originally this was by the light of an oil lamp or candle but is nowadays replaced by the blueish shine of electronics and iShinies, hence the figurative terminology.

Related terms:
Insomniac, hermit, Twitter-critter

Follow up "Lotusphere-less"

A few weeks back I posted a blog with helpful links to Lotusphere resources for those of us that won’t be going but want to taste the atmosphere anyway. An updated follow-up of that blog with additional links is now posted to the IBM Insights blog. Check it out!

Happy Social Year!!

A few years back I made a dramatic change in my life. From being a pessimist I decided to become an optimist. I know sounds good, he?! “Where do I find that button?” Well you don’t. It took a lot of hard work and self-reflection to make a chance like that and it still is a work in progress. But overall I think I’m doing pretty well.

To give you an example of how melodramatic I used to be I will tell you a story my mum used to tell me….

As a kid, I must have been about 7 years old, she found me sitting on the stairs holding a melting ice cream, crying my eyes out. Startled she asked me ‘what was going on?’. My answer between two heartbreaking sobs: “In a few minutes my ice cream will be gone!” Yep, seriously, I was contemplating the end of my ice cream and that literally tore me up.

So I refuse to be like that nowadays. I take life as it comes and try to enjoy the moment (eat that ice cream before it melts!). I don’t plan beyond what I can handle and I don’t regret the past either. In stead, I see the mistakes and problems I had, or caused, as lessons to do better in the future. And to remind myself of that I started blogging. Three years long I wrote down all the little (and big!) embarrassing, funny, silly things and mishaps that happened to me and most turned out to be really funny. Reflecting upon them put things into perspective and  often made me chuckle. Now, “Where do I find that blog?!?” I hear you ask… Yes, well it is online (here) but it’s in Dutch so most of you won’t be able to read it.

The last few years though I haven’t been writing on that blog anymore. Oh I still have my embarrassing moments worth chuckling over and I still do! The medium changed, the fun didn’t. Nowadays I put them on Twitter, Facebook or share them with my friends and coworkers. Really, my life is like an open book and I’m the one having the most fun about it. By being open and honest about both my successes in life as well as my trip-ups I show people who I really am and show them I’m fallible just like everyone else. Both in private as well as in business this has made me stronger and more secure. And most importantly it has resulted in lots of new friends and contacts.

So on the brink of 2012, looking back on 2011 I can only say I had the most awesome year! I made lots of new friends (in real life as well as in cyberspace), had the most amazing experiences (becoming an IBM Champion, walking part of the Camino de Santiago, running a 15k, doing a Redbook Residency) and found a renewed love for my work with Social Business and the IBM community.

Someone wrote me a message stating “your enthusiasm about being social is contagious!” and I’m taking that as the biggest compliment there is. I can’t wait to see what 2012 is going to bring us, so Happy New Year, make it a fantastic year, make it a Social Year!

social fun risks

I can be kind of goofy. Love a good laugh and am always in for a joke. So when someone starts a Twitter meme by tweeting a picture of his feet while in a meeting with the hashtag #TweetYourFeetFriday I will join in. 
Just for fun, I mean how detrimental can a picture of two feet be?
Well…. I got told about the risks quite soon when someone who saw it pointed out the risks of certain fetishists picking up on it….

Mmm… ok yes. The idea actually had passed my mind when I was posting it but somehow I really didn’t fear that too much. Does that make me gullible? Probably, but at the same time I really don’t want to live my life looking over my shoulder every second for alternative motives. Do I expect them to be out there? Sure, do I want to mind? Nop. 
So call me crazy but I will do (good natured) crazy stuff some times. I do it in real life (ask my colleagues) I do it online (follow my Twitter). Most times it’s received as intended (good natured), sometimes its not. 

So does it mean I sometimes hit myself on the nose? Yes it does. Still I refuse to be anything less than the spontaneous, sometimes slightly crazy me!

ps. Why a picture of shoes and not the one of my feet? Well, I’m not that gullible as to putting the words ‘feet’ ‘fetish’  and a picture of my feet in one blog post. 🙂

Social seating

KLM yesterday (unofficially) announced that they are looking into ways to make the seating process more social by allowing people to upload their Social Media profile information on check-in. The idea is to have people pick a seat based on the profiles of people sitting next to them so that people can check beforehand with whom they will be spending their precious hours in flight.

An innovative idea and certainly something that got them some attention but I must say I wonder whether it would be a success. Especially among the business travelers they are aiming this for.

As a business traveler myself the one thing I do when on a flight is trying not to have to socially engage to much with people next to me. You’re in each others space already and for the next 8hrs of so you can’t get away. So the last thing I want is to start a conversation that I can’t politely get out off if it turns out to be not what you expected…

it’s not as if you’re making friends for life. So apart from a polite ‘Hello‘ and ‘could I pass you for a moment‘ I generally don’t engage at all. I read my e-book, watch a film, prepare some work or sleep. That’s it. The last thing I want is people rambling on for hours about how they love tulips and windmills because they read on my profile I’m from The Netherlands.

So what would I use it for…. Well frankly (and I really don’t want to offend anyone with this, simply stating the obvious) to check if the person next to me is big. Yes, you heard it. I’ll admit that is my worst nightmare on any flight and the first thing that came to mind when reading about KLM’s initiative. Because space is already very limited it gets really frustrating if you have someone encroaching on that. Even though they can’t help it and go out of their way not to, as they find it just as embarrassing. Because let’s face it, most airplanes (especially short haul carriers)  have an absolute minimum of space alloted to each passenger and do not cater to the current situation in which at least 1/3 of people in the Western world is overweight. 

So from a personal viewpoint I think making the flight experience more ‘social’  would be accomplished much better if they gave each passenger a bit more space, not by sharing our profiles… Still, I love and commend KLM for trying to think about ways to make the flying experience more social and will certainly give it a try if it gets activated.