Tag Archives: just asking

Just asking #4: Translating metric units

Some countries mainly have dubbing or voice-over for movies and TV shows (Germany and France to name a few obvious examples), in others subtitles are being used. The latter is true for the Dutch speaking part of Belgium – where I often spend some time watching subtitled video content. [For those who have ever wondered why more or less everyone in the Dutch speaking area is quite fluent in English: exposure to video content in English with subtitles in Dutch is definitely a key element.] And what has always puzzled me is the way some English or American metric units of distance are being translated into Dutch subtitles.

You have to realize that 2 ‘levels’ of translation are happening when creating that particular bit of subtitles: at the first level, the words are translated, but for the metric unit there is an additional layer of translation as the anglo-saxon metric unit needs to be converted into the international one. I completely agree that in an sentence such as “The top speed of this car is 154 mph”, the translation of the speed should be “248 km/h”. But what about “The next town is 20 miles down the road”. Should the 20 become “32,2 km” (as I’ve already seen in actual subtitles)? Or should it be “32 km”? Or simply “30 km”? To me the last option definitely seems to be the most natural one – and certainly the one that best captures the underlying meaning of the original phrase, as that was most probably not meant to mean “exactly 20 miles, not 19,9 or 21,1”, but rather “something roughly in the neighbourhood of 20 miles”. So is 20 miles 32,2 km or 30 km? Just asking…


Just asking… #3 – Scrollbars

On most websites and in lots of widely used applications (Gmail and Microsoft Excel to name just a few) the navigation elements that you use most frequently are on the left hand side of the screen: the complete menu (or the most common menu items in case of top navigation menus), the checkboxes to select emails, the info in the most important columns of a spreadsheet (to stick to my examples)… all on the left had side of the screen.

So, why is it that whenever the webpage or the file contains more content than will fit on a single screen, a scrollbar appears… on the right side of the screen? Especially when you are working with a mouse (or trackpad) on a laptop with a relatively small screen, this can be very inconvenient. You simply keep moving the mouse from the left end side of the screen to the right end side over and over again (yes, dear keyboard-shortcut fan, I do know about keybaord shortcuts, but you will have to admit: they can’t be used in all scenarios).

Is someone benefiting from all those extra cursor-miles? Just asking…

Just asking… #2 – Time bombs

There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already seen a few movies or TV shows where a time bomb will go off once the timer reaches the dreaded 00:00. Unless of course the good guy succeeds in dismantling the device – typically at 00:02 or thereabouts, and typically by cutting the red wire, after having had an nerve-wrecking argument with a sidekick character about the color of the wire that needs to be cut first.

That is of course fiction. But what you see in movies is often at least partially linked to reality, so I guess colored wires actually play a role in some real incidents that involve explosives. So: why hasn’t anyone come up with the idea of creating a tool that will cut all wires at exactly the same time, and made this part of the standard equipment of all bomb squad members? Just asking…