Yahoo Babel Fish

Yahoo is now the host of the classic Babel Fish translation service, formerly hosted by Altavista. It now also supports Japanese!

For example, try: 七国山病院 (the CatBus sign from Totoro, courtesy of Steven). The Babelfish gives us “Seven national mountain illness institutes”. I noticed from Steven’s link that 国山 can be interpreted as “realm” and Steven also mentioned that 病院 (“illness institutes”) is actually hospital, so the sign translates as Seven Realm Hospital. The Babelfish isn’t capable of translating these compound statements and is more of an atomic processor on the individual characters.

Naturally, it also works in reverse: try “Seven Realm Hospital” and you get the output 7 つの王国の病院 which when I feed back into the Babelfish, turns out to be “Hospital of seven kingdoms”. Realm and Kingdom both get translated as 王国. What my point is, I have no idea, other than to probe the assumptions in the Babelfish engine. As a toy for gaikojin otaku like myself, it’s neat 🙂

Plus we must all bow to the universality of Douglas Adams. Just like 42, the Babel Fish has entered the mass lexicon. Have I mentioned that the Guide entry on the Babelfish, as related in the BBC Radio Scripts, is the most hilarious version by far? You just can’t beat the dry delivery of Peter Jones as the Book. It’s like comparing black and white to color television.

Douglas Adams and God

What is especially striking about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to eth Galaxy is how insightful it can be on matters of religion, given that DNA was(inhis own words) a militant atheist.

I had the privelege of asking Douglas Adams a question about religion directly, at his own blog some years ago. The full exchange went:

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The humour is the medium

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie was a travesty. And it’s entirely because they tried to capture the humour of the series – which comes across beautifully in print and on the radio – without acknowledging the realities of the medium.

Consider that most of H2G2 is simply untranslateable to film. I mean, how on earth could you justify the following scene? (wherein Arthur debates with Prosser about the official plans to demolish his house) :

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Arthur Dent

why is Arthur such an unlikely hero? For one thing, he’s normal. Verging on dull, mundane, boring, average, forget him five minutes later normal. In that respect, Douglas Adams (DNA) made him a representative of humanity as a whole, which served two purposes. One was to allow us to relate to something, to give us an anchor point in an improbable zany universe that was so utterly and subversively insane that without Arthur’s human presence to react to it, would be essentially beyond comprehension. Why would we even care about the story if not for Arthur? The other purpose was to basically poke fun at ourselves. By making Arthur so generic, so average, and so bland, DNA distilled humanity down into a single person. And then used that person as proxy for wry satire on everything that makes us as a race so delightfully interesting. It sounds paradoxical to make a bland person the epitome of our creative natures, but there is a kind of joy in watching Arthur react as only a normal person and not some super-being – react, survive, and even thrive.

The ultimate answer

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have built up an entire mythology about the number 42, despite Douglas Adams’ (DNA) insistence that the whole thing was just a big joke. Maybe a joke in base-13, but still a joke. The number has in some ways become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that it pops up everywhere so often that one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just fan energy driving it.

Well, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have built up an entire mythology about the number 42, despite Douglas Adams’ (DNA) insistence that the whole thing was just a big joke. Maybe a joke in base-13, but still a joke. The number has in some ways become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that it pops up everywhere so often that one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just fan energy driving it.

Well, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. From Seed Magazine, an article that makes a link between the prime numbers, 42, and the moments of the Riemann zeta function. In other words, the number 42 holds the key to possibly unlocking the secret of the prime numbers themselves, and thus answering an ultimate question of the basic structure of our universe (made physically manifest in the physics of atomic energy levels of heavy elements like Erbium).

So, in a very real sense, the number 42 is the answer to an ultimate question. Whether that is the ultimate question or not is left to the working thinkers [1]. But here’s something else to think about: the zeta function is closely related to the Zipf distribution – which governs the fundamental statistics of the World Wide Web. So perhaps blogging about 42 has deeper meaning than we suspect…

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