Brazilian Fire Door Warning Sign uses Babel Fish

I took the above photograph while visiting a tourist attraction in Curitiba, Brazil. At first I just passed it off as a bad translation: "HA! Engrish is not only for Japan." However, when I was sorting through my travel photos the other day, I had an eerie suspicion that the poor grammar may have been a result of some online translator. Sure enough, I typed in the Portuguese into Babel Fish and out came the English translation (almost) spot on:

"Mantenha Fechada" translated to "It Keeps Closed" perfectly.

I had to remove the hyphen in "Corta-Fogo" since Babel Fish refused to translate hyphen pairs. This was almost identical, if not for the grammatically correct placement of "s" in "Cuts."

Of course this doesn't prove that the designer used Babel Fish to create that warning sign. However, it does bring out two interesting points:

1. Babel Fish is good enough. While not grammatically correct or professional, the Babel Fish translation did get the point across: "Fire door, keep closed." With Moore's law still keeping pace, I think it's not too long until AI translators can hold it's own against human translators. I'm not saying human translators will be replaced, since they are good at reading mood and knowing context (not to mention providing a "human touch"), but the entire web might become legible using AI translators.

2. If the designer did not use any translation software or service, Babel Fish came close to the human translation. I don't think this is the case, but if no software was used, it's interesting that the computer and human translated the same way.

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Make your own Lonely Planet

I have no good excuse for abandoning this blog for four months, although I was in South America for a month backpacking where the internet was surprisingly abundant and my excuse even weaker. Like many backpackers, I consider Lonely Planet to be the inseparable travel companion and almost a Bible if backpacking was a religion. Nevertheless, it's not perfect; I can never find a book that covers only the places I intend to go to. This wasn't much of a problem in South America since the South America guide simply had more information than I needed, but when I traveled to Eastern Europe and weaved in and out of some Central European and Scandinavian countries, I had to carry both Eastern Europe and Europe guides (which had minimal information on most of the Eastern Europe countries, and the Baltic chapters were practically unusable). This was three pounds worth of paper that traveled with me for thousands of miles.

The simple solution would have been to tear the book and keep the pages I needed, but when the books cost $30+, that can feel very wasteful. Why can't I just make the Lonely Planet with only the information I want?

Wouldn't it be great if you could simply select the countries you wanted on the Lonely Planet website and make your own book? With this you could easily make a customized book for some interesting trips like the overland Morocco to Japan passage.

Now you (sort of) can. I was actually looking for some images to add to this post when I discovered that Lonely Planet is experimenting with a similar idea which they call Pick and Mix. Instead of selecting the chapters you want and ordering a customized book, you can just buy chapters straight from the Lonely Planet website in .pdf format. Although they claim that the files are not "digitally restricted" they do "contain a tool that allows us [Lonely Planet] to track when and where each chapter is opened and printed." I guess Lonely Planet is scared of piracy too (this has a very similar feel to those user data embedded non-DRM tracks from iTunes).

So far they only have the Latin America guides available; I presume they did this to test drive the service and verify that piracy won't hurt their earnings (The European guides are probably their biggest sellers and also the continent where Pick and Mix makes the most sense).

I would still prefer a customized book than .pdf files for the simple reason that professionally bound books are much lighter and tougher than ones you make at home. No one in their right mind is going to be reading the guide off a laptop (and no one in their right mind will be traveling with an e-book reader, yet) so sooner or later the .pdf files have to be printed out. If you do it at home, you would either print one sided or go through the head ache of figuring out how to print double sided, and it would most likely be on 8.5x11in paper which is too big to be portable. The other option would be to take it to Kinko's but that would quickly add to the cost (and the chapters are surprisingly expensive already). For this reason, I don't think Pick and Mix is going to be popular just yet; there is too much inconvenience involved with making a .pdf file practical. However, it's still a good idea and a step in the right direction.

Currently, I also don't think the publication/printing industry is setup to offer customized books at a reasonable cost. From the little I know about book printing, presses are usually set up to produce thousand copies of one thing, and not thousand similar but different book. If the automotive industry can build cars to meet individual requests, I don't see why the publication industry can't. For how much they complain about the internet ruining their market, they need to accept the facts and innovate to work with the internet, not against it.

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The Plastic Belt Buckle

Having flown in eight different flights over Christmas break, this idea naturally came to me as I waited in one too many lines to get to my gate. This is such a simple yet elegant solution to one of the many TSA evils, I’m surprised it doesn’t exist yet (or if it does, it doesn’t show up on Google). A plastic belt buckle could save so much time and embarrassment at the airport security line and it would fit in perfectly with other tacky products in SkyMall (or SkyMaul).

One could even start a brand of fashionable non-metal belts for travelers, but functional clothing are almost always considered dorky. In fact, practical clothing has failed to crack the fashion industry time and time again, with the last real great invention being the pockets (which still only seem to have entered the male market). Alright, the zipper maybe.

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ZA is a blog about ideas: cool ideas, existent ideas, pointless ideas, crazy ideas, my ideas, your ideas, interesting ideas, funny ideas, product ideas, meaningless ideas, great ideas, shrimp ideas, etc. It’s here for people to rant, rave, share, and satisfy. Any idea here (if original) is free for you to use (I take no responsibility) as long as you credit the originator of the idea (be honest). Feel free to send me any ideas, but a blog is considered to be public disclosure so you will lose all rights to patent it. Enjoy.

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