Steve Woods

Elderly, generic carbon-based humanoid life form.

Posts by Steve Woods

Meet Victor

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In Ireland, any predominantly Irish-speaking area is known as a Gaeltacht (plural: Gaeltachtaí). The island’s Gaeltachtaí are shown in green on the map below.

Map of Irish-speaking areas of Ireland

The green-shaded area beneath the Dingle Peninsula is the Iveragh Peninsula (Irish: Uíbh Ráthach) in County Kerry and an interesting appointment has just been made here.

Yesterday Irish broadcaster RTE reported that a Russian had been appointed as an Irish language officer there and would be leading efforts to revive the Irish language there.

RTE states:

Victor Bayda, a native of Moscow, has taken up the post with Comhchoiste Ghaeltacht Uíbh Ráthaigh, a community organisation in the south Kerry Gaeltacht of Uíbh Ráthach.

Mr Bayda is a fluent Irish speaker and has been teaching it in Moscow for about fifteen years. In addition to Irish, Mr Bayda also speaks Dutch, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Swedish, French, German and Icelandic.

His duties in his new post will include implementing a comprehensive language plan aimed at arresting the decline of the language on the peninsula, where 60% of the residents claim the ability to speak Irish.

According to the 2016 Irish census, just 7% of the Gaeltacht population speak Irish daily outside the education system.

Mr Bayda becomes the tenth Irish language planning officer to be appointed so far in Gaeltacht areas.

In 2017, Victor posted the video below on Youtube.

Focus on OCR

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The way a completed translation has been produced has changed markedly over the decades since my first days as a translator for Imperial Tobacco in Bedminster, Bristol.

In those days I’d write out the translation in longhand from printed source material and take my manuscript to the typing pool where it would be transformed into typescript.

The next big change came with my learning how to touch-type. By this time I was a freelance with no more access to a typing pool.

In my early freelance days, it was rare to get editable copy that one could overkey with one’s usual word processor, spreadsheet or presentation package. The standard way of working was still from hard copy propped up in a copyholder alongside one’s keyboard.

Then there came a large surge in the use of formats such as PDF – Portable Document Format. This format enables documents, including text formatting and images, to be presented in a manner independent of application software, hardware and operating systems.

If the PDF was text-based, one could simply export the text as plain ASCII text or copy and paste it into a word processor.

However, if I had an image-based PDF to work with, my usual answer was to print it out as hard copy to be propped up in a copyholder alongside my keyboard. This was very expensive in terms of paper and other consumables for the printer, even with a machine as parsimonious as my trusty mono laser printer, whose cartridge was good for printing 3,000 or so pages of copy.

In addition to the expense of printing, there was a far greater drawback to bear in mind, i.e. one could easily miss a sentence or paragraph from the original text when keying in the translated from a hard copy original, with the consequent implications for the quality of the finished work and the client’s satisfaction with it.

Then I discovered OCR – Optical Character Recognition – the mechanical or electronic conversion of images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text.

Here’s a short video explaining the basics of OCR.

My preferred OCR package is gImageReader and – as with the software I recommend for use by translators – is open source and available for both Linux and Windows.

Gimagereader in action on Italian language PDF

gImageReader in action on Italian language PDF

gImageReader provides a simple graphical front-end to the tesseract OCR engine. The features of gImageReader include:

  • Importing PDF documents and images from disk, scanning devices, clipboard and screenshots;
  • Process multiple images and documents in one go;
  • Manual or automatic recognition area definition;
  • Recognising to plain text or to hOCR documents;
  • Recognized text displayed directly next to the image;
  • Post-processing of the recognised text, including spellchecking;
  • Generating PDF documents from hOCR documents.

I generally just stick scanning the input file to plain text, which can then be fed into a regular office suite for translation. If your office suite can handle HTML that’s the format gImageReader outputs as its hOCR output.

The tesseract OCR engine mentioned above can also be enhanced with language packs for post-recognition spellchecking, as mentioned in the features above. At present, tesseract can recognise over 100 different languages.

In addition to GUI-based OCR, there are also Linux packages available which can perform OCR via the command line interface.

My tool of choice here is OCRmyPDF.

ocrmypdf in action in KDE Konsole terminal

ocrmypdf being used in KDE’s Konsole terminal to add OCR layer to Spanish language PDF

OCRmyPDF is a package written in Python 3 that adds OCR layers to PDFs and, like gImageReader, also uses the tesseract OCR engine.

Using OCRmyPDF on the command line is simplicity itself (as shown in the screenshot above:

ocrmypdf -l [language option] inputfile.pdf outputfile.pdf

More complicated command options are possible, but after using that simple string above, you’ll be able to extract the text from your formerly image-based PDF ready for translation.

By way of conclusion depending on the software itself, OCR packages can also extract text from images such as .jpg files.

An algorithm with a sense of humour?

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Google’s developers evidently have a sense of humour, as the search below shows.

Google's response to search string anagram reads did you mean nag a ram

Not all humour from techies is quite so obvious to ordinary mortals and is normally deeply buried in comments in code, mark-up and the like.

Tip of the hat: Kevin Mills

Mold: no interpreter; justice delayed

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Although it’s not hitting the national headlines any more, the Ministry of Justice’s disastrous decision to outsource interpreting services for courts and tribunals in England and Wales continues to delay the administration of justice.

The latest instance your correspondent has discovered occurred last Friday at Mold, according to the County Times.

Mold Law Courts

Mold Law Courts. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Comms.

That day a case against two Vietnamese defendants, Quan Vu and Bang Vu, had to adjourned as no Vietnamese interpreter had been arranged to attend court for their plea hearing.

Both defendants are charged with being concerned in the production of cannabis in Newtown in Powys.

Judge Niclas Parry adjourned the case. A plea hearing will now take place on Friday, 8th March, with the trial date set provisionally for 15th April.

Mr Justice Parry remarked that a letter of explanation was required as to why no interpreter had been arranged.

In the meantime both defendants remain in custody.

Easy umlauts on a Linux keyboard

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Some weeks ago, I blogged about the keyboard shortcut for guillemets – French quotation marks – on a Linux keyboard (posts passim).

My attention in this post is on the German umlaut, also known as diaresis (or in French as a trema. Ed.) the two dots placed over a vowel modifying its pronunciation.

Once again, one could always use the character map to insert a specific vowel with an umlaut.

KCharselect with an upper case A umlaut selected

KCharselect with an upper case A umlaut selected

However, the keyboard shortcut is much quicker.

To produce the letter a with an umlaut – “ä“, follow these steps.

Depress AltGr key and the left-hand square bracket “[” followed by “a“.

The AltGr and left-hand bracket symbol plus the vowel of your choice will give you that character plus an umlaut.

For the upper case version, I find the easiest way to avoid knotting your fingers is to turn on the CapsLock key before the AltGr key and the left-hand square bracket “[” plus vowel sequence.

Stupid boy! Another pair of lookalikes

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It’s no secret that Gavin Williamson MP, the current Secretary of State for Defence, is nicknamed Private Pike, after Frank Pike, the fictional Home Guard private and junior bank clerk in the BBC television comedy Dad’s Army, who was frequently referred to by platoon commander Captain Mainwaring as “stupid boy“.

Composite of Private Pike and Gavin Williamson

Young Gavin, who is the Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire, had a real stupid boy moment last week.

On Monday, in a gung-ho speech to the Royal United Services Institute, Williamson confirmed that the first of Britain’s next-generation aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, will tour the Pacific as part of its maiden voyage and that the vessel likely to tour the South China Sea at a time of growing tensions regarding China’s territorial ambitions.

Needless to say this has not gone down well in Beijing, resulting in a planned trade visit by Chancellor Philip Hammond being cancelled.

Even former Chancellor George Osborne has commented, also alluding to Williamson as a stupid boy, but using rather more words, as iNews reports:

You have got the defence secretary engaging in gunboat diplomacy of a quite old-fashioned kind at the same time as the chancellor of the exchequer and the foreign secretary are going around saying they want a close economic partnership with China.

The Ale-Conner

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Manchester Star Ale

A spot of conning anyone?

Recent delvings into the history of Market Drayton’s court leet (posts passim) have taught me of the duties of the officers of that ancient manorial court; and the more researching I’ve done, the more has come to light.

The duties of one officer in particular caught my attention: the ale-conner.

Further news of that officer’s duties at Drayton’s Dirty Fair comes from a surprising source – the 30th December 1911 edition of The Corrector. This was a newspaper that used to be published in the 19th and early 20th century in Sag Harbor on Long Island in New York State.

At the bottom of page 3, in E.J. Edwards’ New News of Yesterday column, the following piece entitled Tasting The Drinks appears:

An old custom has just been observed at Market Drayton, where the annual fair, called “the Dirty Fair,” has been opened by the Court Leet. A proclamation, it is reported, was read by the “Ale-Canner,” who warned “all rogues. vagabonds, cut-purses, and idle men immediately to depart from this fair.”

“Ale-Canner” has a jovial smack about it, but we are afraid it is a misprint for “Ale-Conner,” an ancient and honorable officer, both of manors and corporations, His duty was to taste the new brew of every “brewer and brewster, cook. and pie-baker.” and if it were unfit to drink the whole was confiscated and given to the poor.

It should be added that in the middle ages “unfit to drink” usually meant weak and watery. The chemist was not abroad in those benighted days, so there was no risk of arsenical by-products being present in the pottle-pot.

Besides testing beer and the measures in which it was sold, the ale-conner also ensured the goodness and wholesomeness of bread, plus the measures in which it too was sold.

If this report is to be believed, it was therefore the ale-conner’s duty to declare the Dirty Fair open in times gone by, in addition to his public health duties in the days before the various improvements in ensuring the health of the public brought about by our 19th century forebears.

Conner is an interesting noun as regards its origins. Nowadays we are all familiar with the noun con, which is short for confidence trick. However, thinking there is any connection between the two would be erroneous. There’s also a conning tower on a submarine, but its origins have more to do with conning in the sense of navigating a vessel.

To find the conner’s origins one has to go back to many hundreds of years. According to Merriam Webster, its origins are indeed in Middle English, as would befit an office established in a medieval court. In Middle English, the noun was cunnere, meaning an examiner or tempter, which was derived from the Middle English verb cunnian, to examine, which itself originates from the Old English verb cunnan, meaning to be able.

Finally, ale-conner was sometimes also rendered as aleconner or even ale-kenner.

LibreOffice 6.2 released

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Yesterday The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the release of LibreOffice 6.2, a significant major release of the free and open source office suite which features a radical new approach to the user interface – based on the MUFFIN concept – and provides user experience options to meet all users’ preferences.

LibreOffice 6.2 banner

The NotebookBar is available in Tabbed, Grouped and Contextual versions. Each one has a different approach to the menu layout and complements the traditional Toolbars and Sidebar. The Tabbed variant aims to provide a familiar interface for users coming from suites such as MS Office and is supposed to be used primarily without the sidebar, while the Grouped one allows to access “first-level” functions with one click and “second-level” functions with a maximum of two clicks.

The design community has also made substantial changes and improvements to icon themes, in particular Elementary and Karasa Jaga.

LibreOffice 6.2 new and improved features

  • The help system offers faster filtering of index keywords, highlighting search terms as they are typed and displaying results based on the selected module.
  • Context menus have been tidied up, to be more consistent across the different components in the suite.
  • Change tracking performances have been dramatically improved, especially in large documents.
  • In Writer, it is now possible to copy spreadsheet data into tables instead of just inserting them as objects.
  • In Calc it is now possible to do multivariate regression analysis using the regression tool. In addition, many more statistical measures are now available in the analysis output and the new REGEX function has been added, to match text against a regular expression and optionally replace it.
  • In Impress and Draw the motion path of animations can now be modified by dragging its control points. In addition, a couple of text-related drawing styles have been added, as well as a Format Table submenu in Draw.
  • LibreOffice Online, the cloud-based version of the suite, includes many improvements too. On mobile devices, the user interface has been simplified, with better responsiveness and updates to the on-screen keyboard.

As with every major and minor release of LibreOffice, interoperability with proprietary file formats has also been improved for better compatibility with Office documents, including old versions which have been dropped by Microsoft. The focus has been on charts, animations and document security features. To assist with interoperability, LibreOffice 6.2 is built with document conversion libraries from the Document Liberation Project.

LibreOffice 6.2’s new features have been developed by a large community of contributors: 74% of commits are from developers employed by companies on the TDF’s the Advisory Board, such as Collabora, Red Hat and CIB and by other contributors such as the City of Munich. Individual volunteers account for 26% of commits.

In addition, there is a global community of individual volunteers taking care of quality assurance, software localization, user interface design and user experience, editing the help pages and documentation.

LibreOffice 6.1.5 for commercial deployments

The Document Foundation has also released LibreOffice 6.1.5, a more mature version which includes some months of back-ported fixes and is better suited for commercial deployments, where features are less important as individual productivity is the main objective.

Companies wishing to deploy LibreOffice are advised to seek assistance for such matters as software support, migrations and training from qualified professionals.

Download LibreOffice 6.2 or LibreOffice 6.1.5

LibreOffice 6.2 and LibreOffice 6.1.5 are now available for immediate download. Builds of the latest LibreOffice Online source code are also available, released as Docker images.

LibreOffice Online is fundamentally a server service and should be installed and configured by adding cloud storage and an SSL certificate. It might be considered an enabling technology for the cloud services offered by ISPs or the private cloud of enterprises and large organisations.

LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members are encouraged to support The Document Foundation with a donation.

Memories of Market Drayton’s Court Leet

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Following on from my post on the markets and fairs of Market Drayton (posts passim), my home town, the following comment was left on the site by Andrew Allen long after comments on the post itself were closed.

Andrew also grew up in Market Drayton somewhat later than myself and my siblings and his words are reproduced below.

I was born and brought up in MD and for some reason I just had a flashback of the Court Leet which I recall being re-enacted when I was a child in the late 1970s.

It was great to read your notes about the Court. We have a photo at home (my mother’s) of a load of gentlemen standing outside the Corbet in their finery, I guess around 1900… it has my grandfather in the shot… I now think that must have been the Court Leet.

Anyway, thanks for your notes.

Courts Leet were a very old institution. According to Wikipedia, “The court leet was a historical court baron (a manorial court) of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the “view of frankpledge” and its attendant police jurisdiction“.

My original source for information of Market Drayton’s Court Leet – Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s 1896 book, Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances – states the following:

At Market Drayton there are several fairs held by right of ancient charter. One great one, called the “Dirty Fair,” is held about six weeks before Christmas, and another is called the “Gorby Market,” at which farm-servants are hired. These are proclaimed according to ancient usage by the ringing of the church-bell, and the court-leet procession marches through the town, headed by the host of the “Corbet Arms”, representing the lord of the manor, dressed in red and black robes, and the rest of the court carrying silver-headed staves and pikes, one of which is mounted by a large elephant and castle. At the court several officers are appointed, such as the ale-conner, scavengers, and others. The old standard measures, made of beautiful bell-metal, are produced, and a shrew’s bridle, and then there is a dinner and a torchlight procession.

High Street Market Drayton with the Corbet Arms Hotel on the right

High Street Market Drayton with the Corbet Arms Hotel on the right. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Only two officers of the court are mentioned by Ditchfield – the ale-conner and scavengers. The ale-conner’s duties were to ensure the quality of ale and to check that true measures are used. The duties of scavengers were to ensure standards of hygiene within the lanes and privies and to try and prevent the spread of infectious disease.

The ceremony Andrew remembers seeing as a youngster in the late 70s was a one-off re-enactment in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The Shropshire Star sent a photographer to record the event. The paper’s record of the celebrations, including the court leet re-enactment is still available online. As regards photographs of the original court leet, the Shropshire Archives collection contains 3 photographs of the court leet, all dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. According to the National Archives, the Shropshire Archives also contain a printed menu from 1936 for the Market Drayton Tradesmen’s Association dinner held at the Corbet Arms Hotel after Drayton Manor Court Leet broadcast. So it seems the court leet may have survived in some form until the mid-1930s.

Many thanks to Andrew for getting in touch and sharing his memories.

If anyone has further knowledge of which other officers constituted the Court Leet, please use the comments below or the contact form.

Public Money? Public Code! The video

As part of its campaign to increase the use of free software in the public sector (posts passim), the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has also produced a short video explaining the benefits for the public purse, citizens and the common weal.

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