Thursday, July 26, 2012

Linkfest [4]

A collection of language-related things that caught my attention in the last month or so (IRL'd!):

  • The Triumph of English: John Adams, predicted in 1780 that “English will be the most respectable language in the world and the most universally read and spoken in the next century, if not before the end of this one.”
  • The Supreme Court ruled on the difference between a translator and an interpreter. (The full decision.)
  • Why QA sucks (specifically in game dev, but applies to all QA): Many QA professionals talk about "getting out" and moving to the production or design path. Don't you want good QA folks to keep doing QA? Shouldn't they enjoy and want to stay in their jobs? Isn't there something wrong with this picture?  Via Jayme (@aunicorninspace)

Inline image 1

  • The Noun Project (@NounProject) consistently makes me happy. “sharing, celebrating and enhancing the world’s visual language” -- Here's my favorite tag so far: MAGIC.
  • What the Phonics?
  •  An interactive installation set that helps people learn street name pronunciations in Copenhagen.
May you be enabled, by reading them frequently, to transfuse into your own breast that holy flame which inspired the writer! (1773)— Mulso [later Chapone], Hester (1727-1801)
Finally, I found this shirt. Somebody please buy it for me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nuts and bolts

A large majority of documents that are translated are medical or highly technical. Today I learned about how fasteners are identified.

American bolts are identified in the following format: Diameter-TPI-Length, (TPI = threads per inch) so a 3/8-16 x 1" bolt has a head diameter of 3/8", 16 threads/inch, and it's 1" long. Similarly, nuts are listed as Diameter-TPI, so a 3/8"-16 nut has a head diameter of 3/8" and 16 threads/inch. Diameters smaller than 1/4" are given numbered sizes 0-12.

Here is a great cheatsheet on American bolt measurement. (pdf)

Metric bolts and nuts of course use SI length units instead of Imperial, but they also use Thread Pitch instead of TPI, where Pitch is the distance between threads in millimeters. So a M10 x 1.5 x 20 bolt has a head diameter of 10mm, there are 1.5mm between threads, and it's 20mm long. The "M" designates it as a Metric-measurement bolt. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Torque and pressure units

Conversions are a big part of translation. Google will convert a lot of measurements right from the search bar, but not torque. So I found two other converters (here and here).


I have had one heck of a time with these units in the past, so here’s some knowledge:

Torque is force + distance around an axis (how tightly something should be twisted or screwed, basically). Typically you’ll see the units lb-in (“pound inch” or “inch pound”) or lb-ft (“pound foot” or “foot pound”) in English source material, which should both be converted to N-m (Newton meters), abbreviated as N-m, N∙m, or N m to distinquish from nm (nanometers, length) and nM (nanomolars, concentration of solutions).

Also don’t confuse N-m with N/m2 – this is a pressure measurement (force per area). 1 N/m2 = 1 Pa (Pascal). These are the SI units where often PSI (pounds per square inch) or bars are the measurements seen in English source material. Bars are not technically SI units, but are acceptable and legally recognized by the EU and the most common conversion unit when PSI are used in the source.

Often times torque and pressure units are both present in technical documents, so be careful! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Making a recording voice

Developing a Creative Process, part 7

This is part of a series of posts on the nature of art, how I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, and how I'm trying to be better. For the rest, see the tag Developing a Creative Process.


A lot has happened with me creatively since I last posted here. In the few weeks before my big European trip, I stopped sleeping to instead record an EP. It's kind of a big deal to me. It'll only be three tracks: a moody acoustic song with guitar performed by the hubz Nathan Eliot, a more rockin' track about science/love, and something that I hope is going to be so awesome I don't even know how to describe it I wrote with Joseph of the band Bella Ruse. He also recorded it and is producing the tracks, which means they're going to sound really good.

Recording was a nerve-wracking, voice-fraying experience even though I had spent time prepping with Kay, the other half of Bella Ruse (@BellaRuse). She studied opera and is a voice and piano teacher, so I was really grateful when she was generous enough to sit with me a couple of hours and work with me vocally. Joseph set up so we could record, then Kay had me try all sorts of different things with my voice: focusing on just vowels or just consonants, keeping different shapes in my mouth and different physical postures, acting different emotions. Then we listened to them and talked about them. 

Oh, um, I have those same glasses.
I was a little conflicted about the idea of consciously changing my voice to sound different. Kay has a very distinct sound when she sings, her "Bella Ruse voice." It fits their music so well; it's intimate, retro, cute and girly, but harsh when she needs emphasis or emotion. (This is an old article, but here's Kay talking about how intentional she is with her voice. A lot of Kay's words from this vocabulary post are about her BR voice.) It's probably a combination of only being trained as a vocalist in a choral setting and watching too much American Idol in high school, but the truth is that I had a prejudice against stylized voices. Most people don't think about how they sound when they talk; why should you think about how you sound when you sing? 

Of course this is ridiculous. Maybe when I'm humming about the house I actually sing the way I talk, but those long, open choral vowels I think of as the "right" way to sing aren't how people talk. It's the right way to sing in a choral setting because you have specific goals: you need to sound like the people around you, and you need the sound to carry without being amplified. Kay is a professional in a different setting with different goals: stand out from other female vocalists, be remembered, effectively communicate the intimacy that most Bella Ruse lyrics evoke. (Kay said The Bella Ruse Voice was first struck upon by recording immediately after waking up -- pretty intimate.) Kay also likes to point out one other thing: it's still her making those sounds, therefore it's her voice. Those are her sounds.

These are some of the observations that Kay and I made while listening to the different versions of my voice:
  • Vowel consistency matters to me. I think the same word should have the same vowel in different contexts. 
  • Clear articulation is what gives a recording character. This is what Kay said from the beginning: Make mistakes and do it differently every time because that's where the real character will shine through.
  • Front vowels are important. The tracks where I intentionally squashed my oral space into a wide, flat space (as opposed to the choral tall & narrow space) stand out as both closer to how I talk and more interesting. (Of course, I speak English, and English has a whole lot of front vowels and diphthongs to distinguish. This chart is cool.)
  • Thinking about how you sound makes a difference. It felt almost like I was communicating the pure phoneme, the vowel sound I hear in my head instead of the allophonic variations of it.
  • It is really, really hard to hold the ideas of how you want to sound in your head and how to do it while actually singing until you've had a lot of practice. Like picking up an accent, you'll eventually develop a new set of phonological rules and muscle memory so you can use the stylized voice even on new words and songs.
I'm not sure how well I stuck to these ideas while recording. It was a struggle to balance thinking about how I wanted it to sound with trying to give something more raw and emotive. I'm trying not to dwell on the possibility that my first recording could very well suck, but the other giant lesson from recording is something I've been trying to accept for a while now: it will capture a moment, some songs, some specific sounds -- and in the meantime, I'll move forward, making new and hopefully better things.

I guess now's a good time to direct you to