Automated Translation: Facebook, Google, and DeepL

I was first introduced to the world of automated translation in 1977 via Brigham Young University’s TSI (Translation Sciences Institute) which later spawned ALPS (Automated Language Translation Systems); I worked at both enterprises as a linguistic programmer.

It’s a huge field now, much more than it was in the ’60s and ’70s when the technologies and theories were merely a-borning; much has been written about automated translation since the ’60s and even earlier. The history is out there on the Net if you want to do your own research ¹ (and that doesn’t mean watching two hours of YouTube videos that tell you what you want to hear). There’s also some funny stuff out there. ²

A post from one of my Facebook friends and translation colleagues was the source for some Japanese text; this is just a raw comparison, and you can draw your own conclusions or dig deeper if you want. Or don’t. But it’s something that fascinates me, and I could study it for a lifetime. Wait, I did. Whatevs.

Google Translate began by using statistical machine translation (SMT), which uses the analysis of huge bilingual text corpora to generate translation based on statistical models. They later moved to a combination of SMT and neural machine translation (NMT) which uses an artificial neural network to predict the likelihood of a sequence of words.

Facebook began using Bing translate (otherwise known as Microsoft Translator) but later developed their own translation engine, first based on SMT and now entirely AI-driven using the neural network model.

DeepL is a relative newcomer to the automated translation scene, but has received high praise from translators and governments alike. It uses neural machine translation, but its power comes from the massive Linguee database. While it currently works with only 11 languages as compared to Google Translate’s 109, the results appear to be consistently better and more natural.

Below you will find two examples of highly colloquial Japanese and the output from the three different translation engines.

Example 1

Original Japanese:

えーーー?だれ?もっていっちゃったのは!たぶん、カメラに写っているよね。返してー
(Eeee? Dare? Motte itchatta no wa! Tabun, kamera ni utsutte iru yo ne. Kaeshitee)

Facebook translation:

What? Who is this? I took it! Maybe it’s on the camera. Give it back

Google translate:

Eh? Who? What I brought! Maybe it’s in the camera. Return

DeepL translator:

Ehhh? Who is it? I’m the one who took it! Maybe you can see it in the camera. I want it back.

Example 2

Original Japanese:

そんなことをする人には絶対にばちが当たるヨ〜
(Son’na koto o suru hito ni wa zettai ni ba chi ga ataru yo 〜)

Facebook Translation

People who do such a thing will never win ~

Google Translate:

People who do such a thing will definitely be hit

DeepL translator:

People who do such things are going to pay dearly for it.

Neural network translation is interesting in that repeated submission of a single phrase can often result in different outputs:

返してー
返して.
返してー

when given to DeepL results in:

I want it back.
Give it to me.
Give it back to me.

Whereas the original phrase reduplicated (返してー返して.) produces:

Give it back! Give it back! Give it back!

The technology has made multiple quantum leaps since the earliest forays into automated translation. My Pixel 3XL phone is many times more powerful than the IBM 370/138 that BYU was using to develop their one-to-many interactive translation system based on Junction Grammar, both in storage capacity and processing speed. To be very honest, I don’t know what kind of hardware these systems are running on, whether distributed or mainframe or supercomputers that are capable of processing whigabytes of data at processing speeds that almost don’t have enough greek prefixes to describe. I just know they’re big, and fast, and they’re only getting bigger and faster all the time.

That said, translation, particularly literary translation, is just as much of an art form as it is a mechanical process, one that has cognitive components that no computer will ever be able to duplicate. No machine would ever be capable of translating Les Misérables into English, or Harry Potter into Hebrew, for example, and preserve the wonder of language; I challenge any machine, now matter how sophisticated or fast, to translate things like this:

“I stepped off the train at 8 P.M. Having searched the thesaurus in vain for adjectives, I must, as a substitution, hie me to comparison in the form of a recipe.
Take a London fog 30 parts; malaria 10 parts; gas leaks 20 parts; dewdrops gathered in a brick yard at sunrise, 25 parts; odor of honeysuckle 15 parts. Mix.
The mixture will give you an approximate conception of a Nashville drizzle. It is not so fragrant as a moth-ball nor as thick as pea-soup; but ’tis enough – ’twill serve.
I went to a hotel in a tumbril. It required strong self-suppression for me to keep from climbing to the top of it and giving an imitation of Sidney Carton. The vehicle was drawn by beasts of a bygone era and driven by something dark and emancipated.”
-O. Henry – “A Municipal Report”

The need for human translators is in no danger, and never will be – but that’s not to say that technological advances have not brought both advantages and disadvantages to human translators. Back in the day, it was pencil and paper, and hard-copy dictionaries, and rolodexes. Now it’s translation memories and electronic dictionaries and segmentation systems that allow for rapid recall of already-translated words and phrases and best-guessing (fuzzy matching) for things that are close. This speeds up the work and increases consistency, but as a result translation agencies have taken to telling translators that they’ll pay, for example, 9¢ per word for new material, but only 4¢ for fuzzy matches, and almost nothing for 100% matches. This means that translators have to turn out much more material to generate the same amount of income – but what agencies don’t care about is that every word needs to be processed and reviewed through the skillset of the translator as though it were brand-new. What’s more, the proliferation of free online translation services means that any schlub in India or China can claim to be a translator and charge 2¢ per word, and the agencies love that – but in exchange they’re getting lousy output and dragging down the rates of pay for the entire industry – which is exactly why I got out of the business of freelance translation. It’s a crime, and I won’t put up with it.

The Old Wolf has spoken, Der Alte Wolf hat gesprochen. Le vieux loup a parlé. Il vecchio lupo ha parlato.


¹ If you want to dig into the history of machine translation, you can start here, following the references at the end of the article for more. Warning: It’s a very, very deep rabbit hole.

² I’ve addressed academic nonsense before, but it’s worth a mention here.

You Can’t Take the Sky From Me

Image: Gabe Pyle via Woot! Shirt

Yesterday Bernie Sanders ended his campaign. After 7 years of supporting his runs for President, it was a difficult moment. I will take exactly 24 hours to grieve for the lost dream of an administration that would put the American citizen first, instead of wealthy corporations and oligarchs… and then I will go back to working for that dream, much as Bernie has done for the last 4 decades in the face of continual opposition and derision.

It will happen. Just not on this day.

Political winds shift regularly, and the political pendulum swings over time. What makes the “Bernie Revolution” so critical in our day is that the pendulum of ideology has swung so far to the right over the last 40 years that putting a moderate or centrist Democrat in the White House will only be good enough to slow the progress of our society toward an evangelical fascist nation, the beginnings of which have been painfully evident in the most gangrenous *administration I have experienced in my almost 70 years of life.

America doesn’t need a moderate right now, it needs a more radical approach to governmental transformation, and Bernie would have been just the ticket.

There’s an old aphorism floating around out there that basically says “If you aim for the trees you’ll hit the ground, but if you aim for the stars you’re more likely to hit the trees.”

Anyone who’s ever practiced archery or marksmanship knows this. If you want to shoot higher, you need to aim much higher than your target, and any candidate who tries to get elected by promising to preserve the status quo is guaranteed to hit the ground and not the target, only dooming America to a continued march toward corporate-funded despotism.

Bernie had thoughts about just about everything. For reference, a basic list of his positions, consistent over decades is found below.

Capital Punishment / Death Penalty: Abolish it
Cash Bail Reform: End it
Cocaine Sentencing Disparities: Scrap the disparity
Mandatory Minimum Sentences Reform: Eliminate them
Private Prisons: Eliminate them
Election Security: Mandate paper ballots
Affordable Housing: Construction funding, rent control and taxes to curb speculation
Big Banks: Bring back Glass-Steagall
Income Inequality: Raise taxes on the wealthy, create new social programs
Minimum Wage: Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour
Paid Leave: Support several months of broad paid leave
Reparations: Study reparations
Charter Schools: Restrict charter school growth
Cost of College: College should be free
Student Debt: Cancel all student debt
Teacher Pay: Boost teacher pay
Campaign Finance: Unlimited spending should not be allowed in politics
Electoral College: The Electoral College should be eliminated
Felon Voting: Felons should be allowed to vote while incarcerated
Nuclear Power: Support closing down existing nuclear power reactors
Oil and gas drilling: Ban fracking everywhere
Reducing carbon emissions: Impose government regulations
Farm Economy: Break up agribusiness
Farming and Climate Change: Pay farmers to adopt climate-friendly practices
Nutrition: Universal free meals in schools
Rights for Farm Owners and Workers: Expand farm worker protections, but no specific plans for USDA civil rights
Assault Weapons: Support a voluntary buyback program
Background Checks: In favor of universal background checks
Bernie Sanders’ views on: Abortion
ACA / Coverage Expansion: All in on Medicare for All
Drug Costs: Importation and patent breaking
Medicare For All: Medicare for All or bust
DACA: Citizenship for Dreamers
Illegal Entry: Repeal the statute
The Wall: Don’t support additional wall funding
Transportation: Boost infrastructure spending, but no stated funding mechanism
Legalizing Marijuana: Legalize it
Marijuana Convictions: Scrapping past pot convictions
Defense Spending: Slash the defense budget
Overseas Deployments: Bring the troops home
Capital Gains Taxes: Increase the capital gains tax rate
Corporate Income Taxes: Eliminate tax breaks for “offshoring.”
Wealth Taxes: Create special taxes on wealth
Rural Broadband: Create a public option for broadband
Social Media: We should consider holding companies legally liable for user posts
Tech Competition & Antitrust: Break them up
China: Support the goal, change the approach
NAFTA / USMCA: Against the USMCA
Tariffs: Use tariffs to crack down on certain countries
TPP 2.0: Oppose joining CPTPP or opposed TPP

I don’t think even the most radical of Bernie’s supporters convinced themselves that every one of these platform planks could be enacted into law. But every one is something that would make life better for all citizens, not just Democrats.

If we could get the three I have highlighted in red enshrined in American law – A decent minimum wage, universal single-payer healthcare, and repealing Citizens United – it would go a long way toward creating a better life for every American.

There’s no question that I’m sad. I know that there are people out there who will be exulting in the copious “liberal tears” that are being shed at the moment, and I’m sad for them as well – because they’re essentially cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Bernie will continue serving the American people without compromising his principles as a senior Senator as he has always done, and until he can serve no more. There will come a day when he will go the way of all the earth, and it is my fervent hope that there will be those who come after – young people like AOC, or others who have not yet arisen – who will mature in government service and pick up Bernie’s torch. In the meantime I will do what I can to support progressive candidates who will work to build a world that works, in the words of R. Buckminster Fuller,

“for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

Thank You, Bernie Sanders

As I commented to a Facebook acquaintance, I am approaching the twilight of my life, and in these uncertain days one never knows how much time is left. When my own time comes, I need to be able to go down to my grave knowing that I did all that I could to leave the world a better place for my children and grandchildren; I need to be able to look them in the eye and say that I voted for freedom, for prosperity, for equality, and for human dignity. For me – and your mileage may vary – to support the current occupant of the White House for another 4 years would be voting to keep my posterity in a state of servitude to the wealthy, to say to them in effect “You must remain poor. You do not deserve a living wage. You do not deserve affordable healthcare. In order to get an education, you must undertake a lifetime of debt. You girls do not deserve the right to choose your destinies, you must submit to abuse at the hands of any man who feels like you are nothing more than property, and if you happen to become pregnant, too bad for you. You have no choice.” This I cannot do.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Russ Delmar’s Magic Center

I have written about my Journey Into Magic, in which I mentioned my love of hanging around the Magic Center on 8th Avenue. Sadly, no photos of this shop seem to exist around the net, so I was delighted to find an old New York City tax photo from the 1940s which clearly shows the Magic Center at 741 8th Avenue (I believe Russ later moved his shop next door to 739).

Click the image to enlarge it; the Magic Center is clearly visible on the right.

Edit: According to Richard Cohn (see comment), the Magic Center was owned at this time by Al Cohn, the “Spongeball King,” whose caricature you can see on the King Tut advertisement below.

Russ used to advertise various tricks in magazines of the day, including Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and the New Yorker:

The next thing I need is for someone out there in the wide world of the Internet to come up with a good photo of Russ himself.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Better Than I Deserve

Except for NPR and a few XM Radio oldies stations, I haven’t been much of a radio listener in the last couple of decades. In the 80s and 90s I would listen to KOMO in Seattle and Olympia, and then KSL radio in Salt Lake as I would drive to work, so when we moved to Maine and people asked me how I was doing, and I responded “better than I deserve,” they would invariable respond with “Oh, you listened to Dave Ramsey.”

Well, no. With all due respect, I had never heard of him. But for the last 10 years or so, it’s been my go-to answer to that question. There were times I would say, “If I were any better I’d have to be twins,” and sometimes I truly felt that way. But the older I get, the more I realize that I have truly been blessed beyond my deserts.

Sometimes when I say this to people, they’ll come back with “Oh, you shouldn’t say that, I’m sure you deserve it!” And that’s a nice thought too. But as I cast my mind over the past almost-70 years, I realize that I have been preserved from destruction or serious injury more times than I can count, and I’m sure more times than I’m even aware of.

Some examples:

  1. When I was about two years old, I remember standing in my darkened kitchen (this would have been 1953), turning the burners on and off and watching the pretty blue gas flames dance around. That funny big knob in the middle didn’t seem to do anything, so I ignored it; what I didn’t know was that this was the kind of oven that had no pilot light and needed to be lit with a match. While I was playing with the burners, the oven was filling with gas and soon the inevitable happened. The oven door flew open with a thundering roar, but I was so tiny that it protected me from the flames other than having my hair singed and a huge contusion on my forehead.

    In New York City where we were living, it was common practice when building skyscrapers to blast into the bedrock using dynamite and massive metal blankets woven out of thick cables and dragged around by steam shovels. My mother later told me that whatever I heard one of these explosions my eyes would get big and I would stand stock-still and ask, “Boom?”

    Left an impression on me for sure.
  2. In 1962, I was flying from New York to Salt Lake (I would have been around 11) to visit my uncle and his family. I was on United 725, which lost hydraulics and had to circle around for hours dumping fuel while the crew worked on lowering the gear manually. I wrote about that adventure earlier. I do recall someone asking me about the event after we landed, and 11-year-old me responded, “it was kinda boring.” They chose not to include that quote in the writeups about the event, not sensational enough I guess. But it could certainly have been a disaster.
  3. Seven years later I was working at the United Seamen’s Service in Naples, Italy. Mama was “la direttrice,” and I had a year in Italy as a student, general factotum around the club, and enthusiastic traveler. One day I was vacuuming around with one of those old canister vacuums and went a bit too far; but instead of the plug coming out of the wall, it came out of the vacuum. Like an idiot, I went and picked up those bare wires, and got the shock of my life. And don’t forget, in Italy the voltage is 220. It pretty much knocked me on my honus, and I have learned since then that many people have been killed by a 220-volt shock. I was, to put it mildly, very fortunate.
  4. In 1972, I was still a military dependent. Having learned to fly in Key West that summer in a Cessna 150, I was able to continue lessons at the Hill Air Force Base Aero Club at drastically reduced rates, switching to a Piper PA-28 140. During one of my solo flights, I was puttering around above the Great Salt Lake and went up to about 9,000 feet (the airport is at 4798 to start with, so I was almost a mile up) to see what really happens when you do a cross-control stall. And I found out. The plane flipped over on its back, entirely as described in the literature I had read, and immediately went into a spin. Since I’m writing this, it’s clear that I was able to stop the spin and pull out, but it was both terrifying and incredibly difficult. Had I been any lower, I probably would have augered in.
  5. In 1972, my father and I were driving his little Toyota from Los Angeles to Provo, Utah, to look for an apartment – I was attending school there and he wanted to move from LA to be closer to me. He insisted on driving all night (that is, he insisted that I drive all night while he slept.) I began getting drowsy. I opened the window, and he shouted at me that he was cold. I tried playing the radio, and he shouted at me that he couldn’t sleep. I was slapping myself to try to stay awake, and the inevitable happened… I woke up in the ditch doing 70, overcorrected, danced on the brake, and flipped the car over, whereupon it spun down the freeway on its top emitting sparks along the way. It was amazing we didn’t do one of these. We both escaped with only a few bumps and bruises. Angels were with us that day.
  • 6. In July 1989, we had a young man from Japan stay with us for a week or so. We were living in Salt Lake, and so we took him down to Yuba Lake for a day on the water. My daughter, then 8 years old, was floating around in an inflatable raft, and the wind started carrying her out onto the lake. I thought, “Oh, I’ll just swim out and get her back.” Moron. The wind blew her a lot faster than I could swim, and I soon found myself tiring. And of course, I had no life jacket on. I was in trouble, and called to nearby boats to come help me… but none did. They were too busy drinking beer to notice a drowning man. By the grace of God I was able to get myself into a deadman float and work my way to shore, but it was a very close call. I came close to ending my days with Davy Jones.
  • 7. Not a near-death experience, but still significant; in 1993 I had a chance to visit my Italian family in S. Pietro Apostolo, way down in Calabria (in the toe of Italy’s boot.) I had taken my computer along, and had done a lot of genealogy research, met relatives, collected lots of dates, taken lots of photos, and was delighted to have learned so much about my overseas relations. On the way back to Rome, the overnight train stopped for a while in Naples. I was asleep, and awoke to find someone in my compartment removing my bag. It was dark. I had my contacts in, and waking up I couldn’t see very well. I was able to take my bag out of his hands, whereupon he fled – but had I not awakened, all that precious research (along with all my belongings for that trip) would have ended up in the hands of some young thug. And I might have been knifed for my trouble.

Almost all of these events were precipitated by my own stupidity. Things could have turned out much, much worse for me and my family. But by the grace of God, they didn’t. I was spared, and protected, even if I wasn’t living my life as well as I might have been. I still have challenges. I still face trials. But thus far I have awakened each day not dead, with new opportunities and new blessings. The Lord is kind, and I am grateful. ¹

I am truly “better than I deserve.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ There will be those who say I was fortunate for other reasons – coincidence, or no reason at all, since the universe doesn’t care one way or the other. Whatever makes them happy.

The Dangers of Reading

The following is a translation of an extract from the Library and National Archives of Quebec (BAnQ). Visit the site for the full article with images (in French).

On February 20, 1902, coroner Charles Alphonse Dubé met with several witnesses at Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire in the Pontiac district. He wanted  to determine the cause of the death of Mrs. Evelina d’Aragon, found dead in bed. After investigation, he concluded that the latter committed suicide by taking a dose of strychnine “in a moment of insanity.”

In his statement  to the jury, Dr. Dubé, who was well acquainted with Madame d’Aragon, declared that she left to her husband, Alfred-Saint-Louis, a note which read: “Dear Alfred, now free. Your taste for the bottle, your first companion, will satisfy you. Evelina.  Although these words suggest that Mrs. d’Aragon, who was pregnant at the time, committed suicide because of her husband’s alcoholic addictions, Dr. Dubé believed that the reason is quite different.

In order to demonstrate that Ms. d’Aragon was not in full possession of her mental faculties at the time of her death, he stated that she suffered from exalted and romantic ideas that she had certainly acquired by reading many novels.  Dr. Dubé affirmed that:  “There is nothing in the world to distort judgment, and to exalt the imagination like the reading of these novels, where everything tends to excite intelligence and lead to a false interpretation of ordinary things of life.

So watch yourselves out there, those penny dreadfuls will rot your brain. {heavy sarcasm}

The Old Wolf has spoken.

An excoriating repudiation of our current *president.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday in response to an assertion by the *president that special counsel Robert Mueller’s entire Russia report was protected by executive privilege, members of Congress took the opportunity to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not providing the complete and unredacted Mueller report.

Many congresspeople spoke, but the most powerful commentary was delivered by Congressman Jamie Raskin, representing the 8th District of Maryland. The full transcript of his powerful remarks are below. If you really care about what’s happening to this country, you must acknowledge that every word he spoke is backed up by facts, by decency, and by common sense.

“Madam Chair, I think we need to remark how far this president has lowered our country. First, they destroyed the norms and the values of society – things that we’d always taken for granted.

  • You don’t mock people with disabilities.
  • Men don’t mock women’s bodies on television.
  • You don’t ridicule people and give them obnoxious nicknames, at least after you graduate from the third grade.
  • You don’t falsely accuse other political leaders of treason.
  • You don’t accuse other political leaders’ parents of assassinating President Kennedy.
  • You don’t use disgusting, profane language to disparage other people’s countries and you don’t call neo-Nazis and Klansmen ‘very fine people.’
  • You don’t give aid and comfort to the dictators of the world like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin by flattering them and being their sycophants.

But then you destroyed the norms and the values of your office.

  • You called the press the enemy of the people.
  • You called true facts fake news and you call fake news true facts.
  • You vilify, you demonize the hardworking employees of the Department of Justice and the FBI.
  • You accuse them of being a part of a fantasy deep-state conspiracy just for doing their jobs.
  • You falsely claim millions of people voted illegally while you deny and dismiss the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller that there was a sweeping and systematic campaign to disrupt our elections in 2016.
  • You refused to divest yourself of your business interests or to put them in a blind trust as other presidents have done.
  • You traveled to your own business properties and the hotels on government expense.
  • You double initiation fees to Mar-a-Lago.
  • You turn the government of the United States into a money-making operation for your family, for your business, and for yourself.
  • And then you violate and undermine the laws of the United States.
  • You sabotage the affordable care act to try to deny millions of people access to their healthcare.
  • You separate children from their parents at the border. You pull out of the Paris climate agreement, making our country an international environmental pariah and outlaw state.
  • You lie about what science has shown about climate change.
  • You call it a Chinese hoax.
  • You collect millions of dollars from foreign princes, and kings, and governments in violation of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution.

And now the president, aided and abetted by the attorney general, tears at the very fabric of our Constitution. He orders that a curtain be pulled down over the executive branch. He says there will be no cooperation with the lawful demands of Congress for information. Congress shouldn’t be looking any more. The president-king declares, this is all. It’s done. No tax returns, no Mueller report, no witnesses, not Don McGahn, not John Gore. The president declares himself above and beyond the law. James Madison said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and those who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives. The people through the Constitution gave us that power. We must exercise it. If you act with contempt for the people in Congress, we will find you in contempt of the people and of Congress. And I support the resolution.”

Any subset of the above allegations would constitute impeachable behavior, simply in terms of incompetence, malfeasance, and outright inhumanity. There is a lot of debate right now in progressive circles as to whether such an effort is even worth the time and money, particularly in view of the unlikelihood of conviction in the Senate.

Personally, I wish the House would vote to impeach, if only to show The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office that actions have consequences. Let it be remembered that Bill Clinton was
impeached by the House in December 1998 on two charges, one of perjury and one of obstruction of justice; while he was acquitted, the charges stemmed from a single charge of sexual harassment by Paula Jones. The laundry-list of horrors perpetrated by the current occupant of the White House makes that transgression, while serious, look like a peccadillo.

But even if the House takes a path of political expediency and moves on to other pressing business of our nation, it is the obligation of every human and decent citizen of our country to sweep this horror from the political stage in 2020 and relegate him to the status of a terrible mistake of history.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

*Comments are disabled for this post. If you have other opinions, feel free to write about them on your own blog.

Really Not Important

Sandwiched between articles on “A New Reason for Dehorning” and “Brown Coal” in the Kansas City Sun of May 6, 1921, one finds this little bit of whimsy – perhaps the editor was desperate for something to fill two column inches on a really slow news day.

Whatever the case, the text reads:

Really Not Important

An investigator claims to have discovered in some dusty archives that back in the days when the pilgrims landed each person coming to America from England was required to bring with them eight bushels of corn meal, two bushels of oatmeal, two gallons of vinegar and a gallon each of oil and brandy.
In view of the fact that nothing of importance hinges on the truth or falsity of this statement, not much time need be consumed to ascertain whether this is truth or fiction.


I was pointed to this gem by the inimitable XKCD, which cites a grudging respect for the fact-checker of the Kansas City Sun that day.

The rest of the page is viewable as a free clip here; some of the articles are stolid and mundane, others exude a hint of humor – such as this ad for the Peerless Bowling and Billiard Parlors:

Of course, like the green-coffee extract hawkers of today, the copywriter may have been deadly serious in claiming that bowlers never get appendicitis.

Perusing old newspapers can be just as entertaining as Netflix.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

BYTE Magazine: The April Fool Articles

Cross-posted from Livejournal

It was traditional for BYTE magazine to include one bogus article in their “What’s New” section each year in the April edition. Here are two years’ worth that I archived in my “what the Hell” file. They’re interesting not only because of the gag, but to see what was actually considered new in those years. Ah, history… see if you can spot the bogus articles.


1981
1982

It’s interesting to walk down memory lane and see how far technology has come for real in the last 4 decades.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Memories of Lagoon

Cross-posted to WordPress, 2-16-2019, updated

In the summer of 1969, when I came out to Utah from New York, my first job was working at Lagoon, Utah’s No. 1 amusement park. As a child, I had visited Lagoon many times beginning in the 50s when I would come to Utah to visit my mother’s family there.

Lagoon’s Official Website
Lagoon at Wikipedia
The Lagoon History Project

Still going strong, the park is small but homey, and although it gets more expensive every year, they do make improvements all the time, and it’s got some really fun rides. I had a season pass in 2011 before I moved back East so I could go with the my granddaughters as often as opportunity allowed.


A post on another forum about Coney Island got me going down memory lane, especially when I saw this picture of Coney Island’s “Human Roulette Wheel” from 1908.

Library of Congress

I can’t count the number of times I got flung off of Lagoon’s Roulette Wheel, suffering skin burns along the way… and I don’t think anyone ever sued lagoon for so much as a broken arm – people knew what risks were in those days, and lawyers were fewer.

Lagoon’s Roulette Wheel by the Giant Slides

The Fun House and the Haunted Shack were, without question, my favorite locations. Both as a child, from the late 50’s onward, and then as an employee one summer in 1969.

Fun house main entryway, top of the giant slides visible.

In the Fun House, the first challenge was getting in. The entrance was a mystery room, with several doors. One held a witch – not especially frightening, unless you’re 7 – and I don’t recall what was in the others, but the one you wanted, of course, was the broom closet – and you had to push the false back wall to get out.

Once inside, you would walk into the challenge area, which included the rotating barrels; I was so thrilled when I was finally big enough to pin myself in the barrel like Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” and be carried all the way around. Other courses included boards that swung up and down like a wooden wave pattern… a meshed bridge… a set of boards that shimmied back and forth like a huge pair of skis, among others… and everywhere throughout the fun house were the air jets, operated by a human who sat in an observation booth above the front entrance, watching for cute girls in skirts to step over the airholes. Psshhhttt EEK!! A maze after these items would drop you off in the back of the fun house close to the giant slides.

The rotating drums

There, you’d pick up your canvas slide, with a pocket in front for your feet, and climb the stairs to the launch platforms – there was one midway up, and one all the way at the top. You were admonished to sit with your legs straight, and off you’d go. There was never any limit to how long you could stay.

The Giant Slides
Loading area at the top of the slides

At the bottom of the slide, you’d find the Roulette Wheel – a big pink disk with a yellow center, which is where you wanted to be if you didn’t want to get flung off. I think there were more injuries from people rushing to get that center spot than ever happened while being ejected. People would sit on the wheel with their backs to the center, brace themselves with their feet, and wait for the ride to start. Invariably everyone was hurled off except one or two in the middle. The outside of the platter area was surrounded with a large, padded rim. (This was Lagoon’s version of the “Roulette Wheel” shown above).

Then there was the “whirlpool”. This was a large wooden drum – different from the washtub with the drop-out floor – that would effectively allow you to stand at about a 45-degree angle if you could fight the centripetal force. This ride was one of the first ones to go that I recall.

Lagoon’s “Whirlpool”

Interestingly enough, there were probably countless chipped teeth, friction burns, broken arms, split lips, and a dozen other injuries on a regular basis… and for decades nobody sued, and the fun just kept on happening. We can thank the zeal of the legal eagles, hungry for billable hours, for litigating us out of such wholesome entertaintment today.

[Edit: An article in the Deseret News of May 4, 1957, describes the attractions in the Fun House thus:

   “Opening of a new fun house, the first to be build in the United States in 28 years, will be one of the main attractions at the pre-season opening of Lagoon this weekend.     Built at a cost of more than $100,000 to meet the requests of thousands for a fun house to replace the one that burned in the 1953 fire at the resort, it was designed by Ranch S. Kimball, president and general manager of Lagoon.     Fifty-foot-high slides are among features of the modern building. There are slides of lesser heights for the more cautious.     Another device of special interest is the Whirlpool, a new circular device which revolves at a terrific speed.     Other of the 40 features within the fun house include: a skating floor, shuffleboard, crash bumper, lily pads in a tank of water, Sahara Desert, a rolling log, twisters, teeter boards, electric air valves, a moving floor, a whistle trap, roller inclines, a dog-house crawl-through, a jail, revolving barrels, the roulette wheel, tilted room, ocean waves, the camel back, and a new cage maze, which is a maze to amaze anyone.     An eight-piece animated monkey band perched above the entrance will greet customers. A balcony, featuring special seating for spectators, has been built to permit a general view of the entire fun house.]

I was tickled that my memory of the Whirlpool was not faulty, and this article reminded me of a number of features that I had forgotten about – the rolling log, the roller incline, the twister floor, the lily pads, and several others.

The “Haunted Shack” has been described in other places, but I loved it. A walk-through “dark ride”, it sat above a cotton candy shop, and the year I worked there, a buddy of mine who was responsible for that attraction took me up into the attic where you could watch the people go through the mazes. The haunted shack included a mirror maze, which, when it was kept clean, was pretty challenging to get out of.

The Haunted Shack was featured at the Lagoon History Project. It was one of my favorite attractions, and I was sad when it was finally removed to make room for the Carousel and other attractions.

The year I worked at lagoon, what was formerly the Penny Arcade had been converted into a skating rink. That’s where I spent most of my break time and free time if I ever came back on a day off. It didn’t last long, but it was a great place. I do recall seeing the first Pong game there. At that time, the rides were ticket-based… I recall you could get into the Lagoon Opera House for only two tickets, and watch silent movies in an air-conditioned environment. They were always making announcements over the PA system in this deep, growly voice that told people about the attractions they were trying to promote. That was also a popular place to take breaks on hot days.

At that time, the employee kitchen was this dingy little place on the back of the East side of the midway, but hey, that’s where we could get lunch, and it seemed fine.

I worked the games. I was most often stationed in the Shooting Gallery (machine guns with bb’s, and you had to shoot a red star completely out of a sheet of paper to win a prize). It was much, much harder than it looked – even the tiniest scrap of red would disqualify you from winning a prize – but again, not impossible. Located just south of the Fun House, that’s where I was stationed when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon – people were taking rotating shifts that day to watch the landing and EVA’s, and there were TV’s set up all over the park. I recall running to the Fascination room to watch the event during a break.

A Fascination Parlor

Parenthetically, Fascination was where I always spent the most time (and money) when I went to the park as a kid – when I wasn’t on the rides, that is.

Basically a bingo game with rubber balls, the attraction for me was the fact that when you won, you’d get these coupons that were worth multiple tickets at the prize redemption center. And if the traveling red light lit up on your machine when you won, the prizes were doubled, I think. I recall winning quite often, and it was exciting to play. Oh, the thrill of winning with five reds…

Tip-em-over, where the point was to get 5 lead milk bottles completely tipped over, and yes, some of them were much heavier than others – we’d put a weighted one or two on the bottom if we were facing some Lou Ferrigno type, or put a heavy one on top if it was a cute girl that we wanted to win. You could say that that particular game was gaffed, but never in such a way that it made it impossible to win. We were instructed to keep our “payout” hovering at about 30% of what we took in, which are a lot better odds than you bet in Vegas or at your average traveling carny. Flukey ball – where you had to bounce a whiffle ball off a character’s nose and into a bucket – was straightforward and just difficult to do, but not impossible – there were no gimmicks there – and the water pistol shooting gallery was a great attraction on hot days.

I recall we’d send annoying kids down to the other end of the park for a “sky hook” or a “counter stretcher”. Everyone knew the gag, so the poor wights would be sent from one end of the park to the other until they got tired.

The redemption center was fun for kids. You pretty much had to have a zillion tickets to get anything worthwhile, but there was always something that you could get with just a few. And there were some very tempting things there, tempting enough to keep the kids playing Skee-Ball or Fascination until their (or their parents’) money ran out.

The Terroride has always been a central attraction at Lagoon, it was located right next to the original Fun House (I have written about that ride elsewhere.)

Terroride exterior
The Terroride original mural

Lagoon was a marvelous place to visit, and a good place to work, for a teenager. After that summer I moved on to bigger and better things, but I won’t forget my experiences there. Robert E. Freed and my mom went to school together, and I knew his family well – it was a tragic loss when he passed away far too early.

Ranch Kimball and Robert Freed inspect the “new” popcorn cart at Lagoon.
This newspaper ad would have been after 1969 when the Lagoon Opera House opened. More vintage Lagoon ads can be seen here.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

When disingenuous websites become funny… and a bit of Italian history.


Disclaimer: I do my best to keep this blog family-friendly, but this post delves into a couple of things that might be not suitable for young kids.

There are websites out there that will do anything for clicks. When you find one of these out there, the content is generally worth less than the electrons used to display them.

(Unless, of course, your electricity provider is Central Maine Power, and then you might be talking about some real money, but that’s a different conversation.)

Every now and then, though, that drive for clicks and eyeballs on ads results in a bit of humor. And in this case the journey was interesting as well. So bear with me.

At the Carnevale di Viareggio in Tuscany, one of the 1st-Class floats featured 45 as the God Emperor from Warhammer 40K. My first clue to this gem showed up at reddit:

If you want the entire video this screen cap came from, you can view it here.

And I wanted to post this elsewhere, with a simple heading, because I was so delighted with this exquisite rendering of The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office:

Having lived in Naples for a good amount of time, one sees things like this frequently – the “W” is short for “viva,” or “long live” or “hooray for” or some similar sentiment. There is a corresponding symbol for “Down with,” which looks like this:

Down with Galateo

But as I was working to find suitable examples, I began to wonder about the origin of these two symbols, and it turns out they arose during the time of Giuseppe Verdi. And if you’ve ever lived in Italy, you know that everything is political. From Wikipedia:

The growth of the “identification of Verdi’s music with Italian nationalist politics” perhaps began in the 1840s… It was not until 1859 in Naples, and only then spreading throughout Italy, that the slogan “Viva Verdi” was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele RDItalia (Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy)… After Italy was unified in 1861, many of Verdi’s early operas were increasingly re-interpreted as Risorgimento works with hidden Revolutionary messages that perhaps had not been originally intended by either the composer or his librettists.

So that “double V” for “Viva Verdi” came to symbolize “Viva” or “Up with,” and by analogy, an inverted VV, or M, became “Down with.”

Now that we know that, I can take you on the detour. It took me a while to get to that explanation, but while I was looking, I stumbled across this image:

W la Figa

I had never encountered this, but I had a sneaking suspicion I knew more or less what it meant. And I was right. You can see WLF all over photos and uniforms and stickers and hats relating to race car driver Valentino Rossi, and it stands for “Long Live Pussy.” Hey, I didn’t write it. La Figa, by the way, derives from a very ancient sign, “The fig,” which was common in Rome and other places:

Manu Fica –
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see this as representing female body parts.

So while I was researching that, I got a hit on Google from a page called “Names.org” that purports to provide origins for names. And while it may do that to a certain extent for legitimate names, such as my own, it does it mostly by randomly scraping content from the Internet, resulting in an unreliable hodgepodge of unedited information. For your gratuitous enjoyment, the meaning of the name “Wlafiga:”

I highly doubt they’ll publish the origins and meaning that I suggested.

Now, just to make absolutely certain that in some language somewhere “Wlafiga” was not a real name, I asked Names.org for the origin of “Bjørkmœð,” a nonsense string of phonemes that I created out of whole cloth. Here’s what I got:

Robotically-generated nonsense.

So if you want a laugh, go over to Names.org and search out your own, or make something up and see what you get. But the takeaway here is, never rely on a single website to provide you with accurate information – dig deep, and then dig deeper.

W the Internet!

The Old Wolf has spoken.