Ionic Column -- October 1998
by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, he returns to Japan electronically via the Internet. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. For reasons best known to readers, this column even won a prize and an honorable mention...
Note: Last month David came through with extra copy when the AJ faced blank pages way past the deadline. An email exchange with the prolific Parry-san:
DP>There you are - another page generated at a stroke! Sometimes I am just INCREDIBLE. But please note that there might be a reader rebellion if the Ionic Column expands to all 16 pages.
PC>Nearly a page and a half at a stroke. The Algorithmica Japonica will run five pages in the September Ionic Column. Er, I mean the Ionic Column will run five pages in the September AJ ;-).
We're back to normal this month, folks!
Mecca in "Holy Cologne"
Every two years the photographers of the world converge on Cologne to attend the Photokina show. And not only the photographers, since it is in fact much more of a trade show for companies looking for distributors, and the products themselves are often intended for professional use and in other fields such as printing. Once again I was there, but only for an afternoon.
Last time I had an interesting visit to the stands for vendors of night sights and image intensifiers. This time I could only find one, probably because I did not have time to explore the maze of small stands in halls 1 - 4 that are the lurking grounds for smaller companies. The only image intensifiers I saw were from Moonlight, a US-based company. Naturally I asked them if their products came from the former USSR. Yes and no; they use second-generation tubes of US manufacture and the rest is done in Russia, with an entry-level product coming from the PRC. As they explained, they have to go to Russia if they want to sell competitively.
Digital cameras were there in abundance, and they increasingly bear little resemblance to traditional film-based cameras. Since the imaging element is so small, the lens can be much smaller. A standard lens has a focal length of around 5 mm, so even a fast zoom would only have a front element about the size of a smallish coin. This is the reason why there is little reason to make use of existing interchangeable lenses from 35 mm SLR cameras; they are simply far too big. But the digital cameras that I saw appeared to have relatively simple lenses similar to those in camcorders, with a modest zoom range and maximum aperture. The lenses are reasonable, given that in any case the limiting factor is the imaging element, but none of the ones I saw were of Nikon standard. At least, not unless you buy a top-line model, and I did not look at those. While there is no film as such in regular cameras, a great deal of space is taken up by batteries, the PCMCIA slot for memory cards, and a connector to a PC.
A number of scanners now have an attachment to scan 35 mm film. Kodak and Agfa both had examples, and I would expect that many other scanners now have this feature. I enquired about dedicated film scanners, having seen one from Minolta at the previous Photokina, and only Kodak had one on display. Evidently they are not much in demand. There was a discussion about this on the BBS, and I would repeat what I said there; film scanners have a higher optical resolution and are built to a higher degree of precision for that particular job. Forget all that stuff about interpolated resolutions or "resolution in software", it is not the same thing. Most scanners only go up to an optical resolution of 1200 dpi, and most people seldom use that because the files produced are so huge. Documents can be scanned very adequately at 150 dpi, and 75 dpi is enough if you are archiving something like commercial correspondence.
Imation and the SuperDisk
On my travels I ran into the Imation stand and had a chance to see a SuperDisk "in the flesh". The lady on the stand tried hard to answer my questions on technical matters and provided the e-mail address for a contact for more detailed enquiries. Briefly, the SuperDisk is a disk drive that can read and write to ordinary 1.44" floppies or to the SuperDisk media, which looks exactly like a 1.44" floppy but holds 120 MB of data. Unlike the 100 MB "floptical" which did more or less the same thing but never caught on, the SuperDisk uses magnetic media. I asked about the BIOS problems referred to on the Imation Web site, and was told that newer PCs should be able to accept a SuperDisk without any problems.
A month or two ago I enquired about prices for the SuperDisk, and I lost interest quickly. At the stand I commented to the lady that a new format will only take off once it is reasonably cheap, at which point it becomes a more or less standard format and it becomes more widely used. This happened with CD-ROM drives a few years back, and it has happened to some extent with the Zip drive (100 MB on somewhat bulky media that require careful packing to be mailed, unlike the SuperDisk), but the Zip has already been outpaced by the need for even bigger media.
Still no super-floppy
To my mind, the issue is cheap removable storage, something you can happily mail off without fretting over the cost. When they first came out, 3.5" floppies were not cheap, but the prices fell rapidly. Neither the Zip drive nor its competitors have ever made this breakthrough, since they obstinately base their pricing on cost per MB. Needless to add, the lady at the stand repeated this argument with reference to covering R&D costs, but I still say that users look at the unit price of media or the corresponding drives. Do Zip or SuperDisk media really cost so much to produce?
Could Iomega have scooped the market by offering internal Zip drives to computer OEMs at bargain rates a few years back? Might SuperDisk do it? A combined floppy/super-floppy would be ideal, but it is a concept that is already a few years late. The next stage is going to be removable media in the >1 GB class, and I note that SyQuest is pricing the SparQ very aggressively. However, I have had several comments about the lack of reliability of SyQuest products, so I have decided against getting a SparQ.
New from Monaco
Sometimes software comes from the most unexpected places. Have you ever thought of Monaco for image-editing software? While going through the professional printing section and admiring inkjet printers that could handle media up to the size of a carpet, I found a stand displaying image-processing software that attracted my interest. There were of course the usual before and after photos, plus the inevitable comparison with Adobe Photoshop. The company and the product are called binuscan, the leaflet says that their products will be bundled with high-end Umax scanners, and it is a client/server application for the Mac, Windows 3.1, Windows NT and Windows 95. They gave me a demo copy on CD-ROM, which I have not had a chance to look at yet. Judging by the samples I saw, binuscan does a superior job of image preparation, so it will be interesting to test it myself.
A few stands had models cavorting in front of the cameras, but there was almost nothing of the exotic costumes that made the shows at Harumi such fun. But my attention was diverted away from the hardware by the sight of a nearly-naked lady being air-brushed with tiger stripes, looking a bit like that military camouflage netting with brown streaks. Closer inspection - ah, a reporter's life is a hard one - revealed that she was wearing no more than a thong and a smile, and the stripes being painted on matched her hair very nicely. This was not an advert for Agfa, whose stand was nearby, but something to do with a TV station. I walked up to the reception area and asked solicitously if the poor young thing would catch her death of cold. Alas, I didn't get any photos, otherwise I could have sent a print-ready picture nicely edited with binuscan. Alas, there were no free samples either.
Copywriting is extra, guv
From time to time I get advertising copy that has to be translated. Perhaps I should prepare a standard disclaimer to the effect that a translation is just that and it should not be regarded as something to be launched on the unsuspecting public. Nonetheless, the client generally persists. The resulting text is then edited in-house by somebody who believes that they know enough English to make the text pass muster. The process should be all too familiar to anyone living and working in Japan.
Tokyo Shibaura revisited
This time I had a particular interest in visiting the stand run by a company that is famous for its laptops and is now offering data projectors and digital cameras as well. A few weeks back I got some leaflets to translate for a range of products including data projectors and digital cameras. The German text was slightly inconsistent, and incorporated some puns that defied translation. The first batch of text was accepted, but with some slightly sniffy remarks to the effect that the text needed to be "pepped up."
The second batch was rejected by the customer with the comment that it was "not what we expected." The same text went out to another translator, who had no doubt been briefed beforehand as to what was wanted. Too bad that they neglected to let me know, but then I am used to that kind of thing from Japan. To quote the immortal words of Maynard Hogg, a translator of Japanese: "I read minds for a living." Just before closing time I located the company in question, noted that the ladies had skirts in the corporate color of bright red, and grabbed a handful of leaflets. They provided a few cheap laughs when I had time to peruse them later and saw the changes to my texts.
Of course, I do tell customers that it helps if I have a sample of the product to work with. So far nobody has obliged, but then it would be a little tricky to set up a room-sized piece of industrial machinery in my office in the interests of the perfect translation. Some other products are much easier to comprehend, such as underwear. A local company wanted some brochures for ladies underwear - a translator's life can also be a hard one - and needed a translation of the German copy. I protested in vain that I was no expert on ladies underwear and perhaps it ought to be translated by somebody with longer hair and an actual user. Me, all I have is hands-on experience. But the client insisted, and helpfully sent a copy of the original complete with illustrations. Alas, all I got was a bad photocopy instead of the four-color original, but it was enough to halt all work for an hour or two until I had cleaned the drool off the keyboard.
And there were no free samples either.
Drooling helplessly? Comments or feedback or more information? Contact me:
Compuserve on 100575,2573 (DAParry@compuserve.com) or DAParry@t-online.de
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