Czech food (and the effects of globalisation)

I’ve been introduced to a lot of Czech food recently, courtesy of some Czech friends, and it’s been a fun (if sometimes weird) experience. It’s also given me the opportunity of visiting real local-style places. I haven’t quite decided what the criteria for distinguishing a ‘local-style’ place is yet, but if it’s in anyway intimidating then it almost certainly counts.

The food I’ve been served reminds me a lot of the food I used to eat in England as a child: heavy, meaty, and simple. Popular foods here are dumplings (potato and bread varieties), meats and meat sauces, bread, cabbage, and cheese.

Fried food is far too popular, and a meal may consist simply of fried mushrooms, boiled potatoes, and some tartar sauce. Tasty, but not particularly healthy.

As an unconfirmed vegetarian it can be a frustrating experience, although there are some notable exceptions (the excellent Radost FX being one).

I’ve had some pretty unexpected surprises. For some reason, eating spinach with cream is very popular here. Now I love spinach on its own, but with cream? Using my basic understanding of Czech I ordered what I thought was a spinach pizza. The menu mentioned spinach (spenat) and cream (smetana), but I figured it was spinach, with some sort of sour cream in a small side dish. Alas not, it simply meant spinach and cream. It would actually have been alright if it hadn’t been for the raw egg placed gently on top. I missed that word entirely!

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Possible MSN scam

I’ve noticed a couple of the contacts on my MSN list have started displaying ‘ – free way to check who blocked and deleted you on msn‘. Naturally I went to this website to investigate and found that it promised the ability to check if anyone has blocked or deleted me, provided I gave my msn username and password.

Now there is no way I’m giving my username or password to anyone, let alone an unknown website. However, I was curious as to what would happen if I did. I tried the website with false information:

Note the ‘your login info will be stored on our server for future use*’. This is the closest to any sort of privacy statement and/or website intent.

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Hot bugs

Prague is being subjected to a minor heat-wave at the moment, and towards the end of last week it managed to break records, reaching around 38 degrees. Pretty hot and coupled with a high humidity it makes for very unpleasant and sticky days. Sleeping at night can also be difficult, partly because of the temperatures, but also because you need to leave open windows, and so invite all sorts of outdoor noises and bugs.

The noises are a side-effect of living in a narrow street with tall buildings on both sides. Even relatively quiet sounds echo upwards, and in the dead of the night everything just seems louder anyway. Of particular note are three Terrier dogs (currently residing near the bottom of my least-favourite-dogs list) that like to make themselves vocal, and an owner that doesn’t seem to mind.

The bugs have been more of a nuisance though. Usually I’m pretty much immune to bugs. They seem to ignore me, for whatever reason (bad blood and bad taste maybe), but over the weekend something had a royal feast on my back. Currently, judging by the marks, I’m suspecting a giant bat. It really makes you wonder what exactly is going on at night when you’re sleeping.

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It’s all Greek and Japanese to me

Thanks again go to Tai for his translation of the second part of the Theme Guide series into Japanese. Great work!

Also, Simos Xenitellis has produced a Greek localization for the Giraffe theme. You’ll need the .mo file for the theme, and the .mo file for WordPress (taken from this Greek translation website and converted into a .mo file). Check it out from the Localization menu in the sidebar of this website, or visit his website for the full effect. Thanks Simos!

Pinyin converter

I’ve added a small Pinyin converter to the InScript plugin. Pinyin is a method of transliterating Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet. As Chinese is a tonal language, it is important that these tones are included in the pinyin. This is achieved through the use of accents and other marks over certain vowels.

The reason for the converter is that these accents are not easy to type, especially for people with keyboards in an accent-less language (i.e. English). It is possible to enter the characters using some form of character mapping tool, or by entering the HTML code directly, but this is not an intuitive method.

Instead, a popular technique used on many websites is to write the tone as a number. For example, zhong1guo2 would indicate that the ‘o’ in zhong needs the first tone applied, and ‘o’ in guo needs the second. While this is an easy method of entering the text, it does not look good, and is another layer to understanding the tones themselves.

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Learning Chinese

I’ve been trying to learn Chinese for over half a year now and, well, it’s kinda tough going. Not only do you need to learn a whole new way of speaking, but you also need to learn two written languages: pinyin (the English transliteration of Chinese words, so you can actually read anything), and Chinese characters themselves.

The spoken language is difficult in its own right due to tones. These are like the accents found in other languages, but more complicated and unfortunately much more important – getting the wrong tone in a word can change the meaning completely, to the extent that you could call your mother a horse by using the wrong inflection.

This is further complicated by different dialects. The majority of people in China speak Mandarin, while people in the South (and most of the Hong Kong expatriates around the world) speak Cantonese. They both use the same characters, but they are pronounced very differently. Actually, that’s not entirely true – Mandarin speakers use ‘simplified Chinese characters’, while Hong Kong and Taiwan use ‘traditional characters’. Sometimes they look similar, sometimes not.

Did I mention the other half-dozen regional variations? It’s enough to cause you to weep.

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Freedom from wires

With the onset of summer, and the unavoidable high humidity, I decided to try and get rid of the pile of cable under my desk by taking another crack at setting up a wireless connection. I’d tried several months back but because of the strange internet connection I have (an ethernet connection to a building-wide Internet hub) I just couldn’t make it work with a standard wireless router. Until today when click click click and it magically started working. I guess the lesson learnt here is that computers sometimes fix themselves (except when it involves hard drive).

Anyway, the upshot is that now I no longer need such a big tangle of cable strewn across the room. Hurrah for modern technology.

Planes, trains, and computer failure

My last post was June 6th, and today it’s June 21st. In the time since then my hard drive had a spasm of identity, and I went back to England for a short holiday. Actually, both happened at the same time, which has left my computer pretty much incapacitated until I got back to Prague. Now I have the fun task of restoring its former glory. And they say computers are designed to make our lives easier.

While most of my work and emails were backed up, I had 10’s of gigs of photos and videos that were not, and not all of them survived. It’s quite disheartening really, as some were the only copies I had.

What was more disturbing was that after re-installing Windows, and before I could download a firewall and update Windows from Windows Update, my computer was infected with four different viruses/trojans. Now that’s scary, and makes me wonder at the state of the vast majority of the computer population.

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Cleaning the stairs

So the old Czech lady who cleans the stairs accosted me today. Normally when we meet in the communal areas she nods and says a polite Dobry Den, and I do the same in return. This time she waved a piece of paper and planted a pen in my hand. I peered at the paper in the hope of picking out some recognizable words, but it seemed to be a table with different numbers and very little else.

Not knowing a whole lot of Czech I tried to tell her I didn’t know what this was… ne Česky, ne Česky! She spoke some more and I told her in English that I had no idea what she wanted me to do. She then laughed and I went to get my lunch.

I’ve been trying to decide if she wanted me to sponsor her, or if she wanted a contact number. Ignorance may be bliss but mostly it’s just not having a clue.

A change of host

I’ve decided to change my hosting company.

I am prepared for a lot of pain and suffering, but so far it’s going rather smoothly. This wasn’t some well thought out decision, but rather a fit of activity after becoming frustrated with the averageness of GoDaddy, my current host.

Finding a decent host is a real chore, and I came to this conclusion pretty soon the first time round. The internet is flooded with copy-cat hosting companies who are mostly resellers that buy bandwidth from real companies. Even their websites all look the same, with identical prices, identical features, and identical hidden setup fees. This makes me both weary and wary.

This is the internet so you’d think it would be easy to find a decent website with reviews of the companies. But no. Most of the companies have tied Google up in loops with their link farms. A search for ‘web host review‘ returns an immense number of fake review sites, each ranking the same hosting companies. It’s quite a sickening misuse of the internet. I shall refer to this collective as The Many.

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