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Ionic Column      in exile

by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived, worked and played in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. He was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990. The Ionic Column has been going since early 1992. It even won a prize and an honorable mention back in 1992. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, David Parry returns to Japan electronically via the Internet.

The Deutschmark ceases to be valid as of today, as I write. The Dutch guilder has already become part of financial history, expiring on January 31st, and the French franc joins the Deutschmark and the other departing European currencies on February 28th. The changeover phase has not been that remarkable, since the old money virtually disappeared within a couple of weeks of the introduction of the Euro. The hapless cashiers at the bank counters and supermarket tills bore the brunt of the change. At the beginning of January, it was a common sight to see people tendering the old familiar DM notes in shops and receiving a handful of bright and shining new coins in exchange, generally after long delays while the cashier hurriedly figured out how much of the new money was to be given back after being given Deutschmarks. Since this was only going to be for a short time, nobody bothered to set up the tills to calculate between the currencies. From a computing point of view, that kind of thing is not all that difficult, but the devil is in the details, as always, and I have grave doubts that the majority of cash registers can be programmed in this way. Perhaps the shops catering to tourists in the UK will go to the trouble, since the Euro will now form the vast majority of the foreign currency that they will get from European tourists.

Talking of tourist money, in many parts of the world the US dollar is a de facto emergency currency, but also one of the most often counterfeited. The old 50 dollar note was a favorite for forgers, since it did not have the various devices such as a metallic thread to thwart attempts at copying it. I believe that it was even copied by means of a color Xerox machine, the results being good enough apparently to fool the less alert. Now that really shows how much progress has been made in copiers over the years. Evidently there must be a new 50 dollar note in circulation, as I saw an interesting scene at a filling station near Brunswick on my way back to Düsseldorf just after New Year, before the Euro notes were widely available. At that time the Euro notes were not available in Poland, but the money changers refused to take the Deutschmark after December 31st. A girl from the Ukraine was trying to pay for a tankful of best German fuel with a picture of General Grant, and the cashier was explaining (in English, evidently the only common language in this case) that he would not accept the old notes, and for that matter, he only wanted German money, be it the trusty old Deutschmark or the shiny new Euro. I left before the little contretemps was resolved, so I don't know how it ended.

A comment in passing; the Deutschmark note that was commonly forged was the 20 DM note, and the best fakes came from Bulgaria. Needless to add, machines to check banknotes are doing a good business. Yet another application of computer technology, which relies heavily on pattern recognition as far as I know. The newer banknotes use metallic strips to weed out the more simplistic fakes, such as those produced on color copiers.

As in the UK in 1971, for a short time all the money was brand new. The new and somewhat gaudy banknotes with a broad silver strip; I must say that I preferred the more satin-like finish of the old banknotes, and the Euro banknotes seem to get crumpled rather quickly, but the banks say that they are easier to handle by machine. And these days, money is increasingly handled by machine. The Euro looks somewhat like the last issue of the French franc, which I encountered on a trip to Alsace about four years ago. The coins are somewhat confusing; the UK always had at one least one odd-shaped coin, such the seven- sided 50p coin that was discontinued a few years ago because it was physically too large and heavy, and currently there is the more petite multi-sided 20 p coin. The 1 and Euro coins are two-color, gold and silver, and the colors are reversed for the two denominations, but I have trouble telling them apart, even though the 2 Euro coin is slightly larger. Incidentally, the 1 Euro looks very much like the Polish zloty, which is also a two-color coin, and I cannot help wondering if some Slavonic soul has not noticed the same when trying to feed a vending machine. Back in Japan, I seem to recall that some foreign coin--was it an Iranian one?--fooled vending machines into thinking that a 100 yen coin had been fed into its maw. Since a Euro is worth about four zloty, it would be a problem here if the machines cannot tell the difference, but to date I have not heard that this is the case.

It is not all just e-payments, of course, and payments by computer. I got my first Euro notes the same way nearly everyone else, out of a bank ATM. Unfortunately it is not easy to generate small change or to get coins in this way, and some of the vending machines had problems with the changeover. One example: the ticket machines for the local buses and trams (the same tickets for all types of transport) would not accept the new 20 coin and would not give change if you paid too much. Most people did not have enough small change to feed the machines, and not surprisingly they gave up. By now there seems to be enough small change in circulation, and in any case the machines were adjusted again after a couple of weeks. The one thing that I miss here is the type of machine in Japan that swallowed a thousand yen bank note and spat out yen 100 yen coins in exchange.

But at least you don't have to worry about small change to make a phone call over here; the number of phone boxes diminishes daily, thanks to mobile phones, and most of those still in place only accept phone cards. And yes, the old ones became useless on January 1st. I have a couple of old phone cards that I was not able to trade in, but at least one of them was a present, and I hardly ever use the public phones now that I have a mobile phone myself.

For the moment shops are mostly showing prices in both DM and Euro, but that will cease now. The Dutch only had a month to make the changeover, and perhaps that was long enough.

The whole thing reminds me of decimalisation in the UK back in 1971, when the money changed overnight. But not entirely; the pound remained the same, and two of the larger coins remained in use for about another 15 years. We still had to adjust to a new system of calculating prices, and there were a number of opportunists who did some sharp calculations at the expense of the long-suffering public. I have noticed here that in some cases prices have been calculated on a 1 : 1 basis, which is a bad joke in view of the fact that the Euro is worth almost exactly twice as much as the trusty old Deutschmark. And back to computer-related topics.

Once again Outlook Express is refusing to receive e-mail except with considerable prodding, although it sends e-mails quite happily. I got Lotus Notes installed quite easily, but setting it up is another matter. It is a bit different from the average e-mail program, and I am finding that it is far easier to have such programs set up by somebody who is familiar with them rather than mess around for hours. I know that the AJ is a publication for people who love to play around with computers, but I find increasingly that much of the technical stuff is very time-consuming and not always successful. I spent the best part of a Saturday last month reinstalling Windows on both PCs, which temporarily resolved the Outlook Express problem, but in the end it did not produce anything much.

My next task is to upgrade the e-mail PC with a new motherboard and CPU to get it to run a bit faster. I bought a new motherboard via eBay Germany and will hunt down a Pentium III chip in the next few days. It seems clear that the prices jump quite a bit for a PIII at the 450 - 500 MHz mark, so that is what I expect to get. The same applies to a complete system, which I will also look for before too long. The price difference between a motherboard and CPU on the one hand, and a complete PC on the other hand, is not all that great in view of the extras that you get as well, such as the case and power supply, not to mention CD-ROM drives and maybe a hard disk drive as well.

And when work permits, I need to get my new domains up and running. At the moment I get nagged from time to time by the company that sold me the domains to pay to get them ready for use, which is a bit odd, as I made one payment already. I need to check my credit card statements to see what is up.

A matter of concern for me at the moment is Trados. I have used it a bit more, but cannot get the terminology module to work properly. For that reason I have arranged to go on a training course organized locally by someone who is familiar with the program, and I hope to be able to work with the program more effectively before long. But the comments I heard confirmed my fears that Multiterm, the terminology module, is a real beast to use if you want to add terminology, and it is very time-consuming to add large numbers of new terms. Or small numbers, for that matter. Some of the other programs out there are much better in that respect.

But Trados looks set to become the WinWord of the Translation Memory world. The main competitor was Transit, which costs about as much and was quite widely used, but now it seems to be slipping in favor of Déjà Vu, which is highly recommended by many users. Both of these programs are compatible with Trados and it is possible to use Trados terminology databases in these programs. It all sounds a bit like editing files within Word Perfect and saving them again in DOC format.

A commitment to Trados means that I can rule out any thoughts of using Linux and Star Office, since Trados uses WinWord macros and supplies a set of its own when it is installed. Star Office does not have the macro facility, so I would have to use one of the other TM programs. No doubt the same applies if one wishes to use Wordfast, which again relies entirely on WinWord macros.

For the moment, Trados does not run under Windows XP, or more precisely, under Office XP, since the macro feature has been changed yet again. That is another reason for me to hold off from Windows XP. And the final reason is that my new Grundig electronic dictation system does not seem to be supported by Windows XP either, but it works just fine under my Windows 98. And really fine: I love it. But time and space are running out, so I'll comment more on the Grundig next month.

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© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

March , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN