Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Comments, Links

I'm living a geeks dream this vacation, not getting much reading done so far but decking out my computer to be a full-on Chinese wrecking machine. Yesterday I installed, debugged and tried out a half dozen different Chinese input methods, finally settiling on SCIM. Today, I spent most (all?) of the day trying to set up a terminal emulator with decent UTF-8 support so I can view Chinese characters as I work in the terminal. This is exciting because the terminal is the main way in which I interact with the computer, so replacing aterm with mlterm ("multilingual terminal") is a big deal. I finally got it looking right, I'll post a screenshot in a few minutes.

Along the way, I learned that:

  • "m17n" is an abbreviation for "multilingualization."
  • "i18n" is an abbreviation for "internationalization."

Can you figure out why?

(Later that day...) The promised screenshot shows several of the things I put together today. In the upper left, you can see the corner of Stardict peeking out. Stardict is a Chinese/English dictionary (which, like all 95% of dictionaries designed by Chinese, lacks pinyin). A cool feature of Stardict is shown in the Mozilla window at the bottom left, where the mouse is hovering over a selected word and a box has popped up with its English definition. In fact, Stardict will do this for pretty much any text you can select anywhere on the desktop. The black window in the far back is a mlterm terminal running a GB2312 environment (the most popular simplified Chinese character encoding), with the multilingualized version of the w3m text browser called w3m-m17n open to the Xinhuanet web page.

The closer black window is another mlterm terminal running a UTF-8 envinronment, editing a document in mined. Mined is a console-based text-editor that support many different encodings, including UTF-8 (as much as I love emacs, its awfully complicated to configure for authoring and editing Chinese documents). The text is being inputted with SCIM, the Smart Common Input Method, in smart pinyin mode. In the bottom right corner, you can see the gedit text editor launched in a simplified Chinese locale, rendering all of its menus in Chinese.

What did I learn from all of this? Besides a few new abbreviations (see above), I learned that it's a pain to install this stuff on linux and it should probably be left to the pros to develop a while longer before the average person can install and use multiple languages on linux with ease. Not that I didn't know that before: I would say that this further cements me into the "OS X is Unix done well" camp. Support for dozens of languages out of the box! But in the end, Linux wins out again by being a perpetual learning experience, a toy that never gets old.

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