Internationalization fail

I just visited the Adobe online store and eventually left in disgust because apparently it is unable to service me. This is not the first time something like this has happened to me so I decided to spell it out a little.

Once upon a time, I signed up on the Adobe site to use the online version of photoshop. I probably was still in Finland at the time so naturally, I used their English localized web site. Fast forward to today and I am interested in downloading the trial version of Adobe Lightroom to play with it and possibly buy it.

To do that you need to log in. So I log in. Then it asks me for my address. Fine. Except, I don’t live in the US and there is no country switching thingy in the form. Apparently it hardwired the country choice (which really was a language preference) into my account. Fail #1.

It gets worse. They do have a country switcher on the front page and in the store. So I set that to Germany. Now it addresses me in German. Fail #2

Of course there is no language switcher. It is assumed (wrongly) that I must be a native speaker and therefore want to be addressed in German. Always. Fail #3

So by this point I decide to be pragmatic and select some region they haven’t localized for to get the site in English. So I select Eastern Europe, which is apparently a region not worth breaking up into countries and technically I live in the former DDR, which used to be eastern Europe. So I once again go to the store. Prices in euros this time. Great! Although effectively the price just went up 80 euros since 300$ is ~220 Euro and not 300 Euro! Then I get to the point I need to enter my address, it still insists on a US address. Fail #4. If people select a region, it’s probably because they live there.

Underlying this problem is a common failure of online retailers to grasp the basics of internationalization and demographics that is causing them to lose the business of millions of potential customers who have a language/region combination that they can’t support. This is especially silly when the language is English and the online retailer is US based. English is a great language. World wide, there must be many more non native speakers of it than native speakers. Especially migrants (like) me tend to rely heavily on English.

So, I am not going to be an Adobe customer.

I’m not an iTunes user either for the same reason and for the reason that I’m not big into German dubbed movies and schlagers, which is pretty much what they tried to sell me on the few times I tried to use it. Also, I declined to accept the terms of use when I was living in Finland because they were in Finnish, which is something I don’t speak and I tend not to agree with official looking text that I can’t read.

Localization rant

I’ve been living outside the Netherlands for a while and have noticed that quite many web sites are handling localization and internationalization pretty damn poorly. In general I hate the poor translations unleashed on Dutch users and generally prefer the US English version of UIs whenever available.

I just visited Youtube. I’ve had an account there for over two years. I’ve always had it set to English. So, surprise, surprise, it asked me for the second time in a few weeks, in German, whether I would like to keep my now fully Germanified Youtube set to German. Eehhhhh?!?!?! nein (no). Abrechen (cancel)! At least they ask, even though in the wrong language. Most websites don’t do even bother with this.

But stop and think about this. You’ve detected that somebody who has always had his profile set to English is apparently in Germany. Shit happens, so now what? Do you think it is a bright idea to ask this person in German whether he/she no longer wants the website presented in whatever it was set to earlier? Eh, no of course not. Chances are good people won’t even understand the question. Luckily I speak enough German to know Abrechen is the right choice for me. When I was living in Finland, convincing websites I don’t speak Finnish was way more challenging. I recall fighting with Blogger (another Google owned site) on several occasions. It defaulted to Finnish despite the fact that I was signed in to Google in and have every possible setting Google provides for this set to English. Additionally, the link for switching to English was three clicks away from the main page. Impossible to do unless you know the Finnish word for preferences, language, and OK (in which case you might pass for a native speaker). I guess I’m lucky to not live in e.g. China where I would stand no chance whatsoever to guess the meaning of buttons and links.

The point here is that most websites seem to be drawing the wrong conclusions based on a few stupid IP checks. My German colleagues are constantly complaining about Google defaulting to Dutch (i.e. my native language, which is quite different from Deutsch). Reason: the nearest Nokia proxy is in Amsterdam so Google assumes we all speak Dutch.

So, cool you can guesstimate where I am (roughly) in the world but don’t jump to conclusions. People travel and move around all the time. Mostly they don’t change their preferred language until after a lot of hard work. I mean, how hard can it be? I’m already signed in, right? Cookies set and everything. In short, you know who I am (or you bloody well should given the information I’ve been sharing with you for several years). Somewhere in my profile, it says that my preferred language is English, right? I’ve had that profile for over four years, right? So why the hell would I suddenly want to switch language to something that I might not even speak? A: I wouldn’t. No fucking way that this is even likely to occur.

It’s of course unfair to single out Google here. Other examples are iTunes which has a full English UI in Finland but made me accept the terms of use in Finnish (my knowledge of Finnish is extremely limited, to put it mildly). Finland is of course bilingual and 10 percent of its population are Swedish speaking Finns, most of which probably don’t handle Finnish that well. Additionally there are tens of thousands of immigrants, tourists and travelers, like me. Now that I live in Germany, I’m stuck with the Finnish itunes version, because I happened to sign up while I was in Finland. Switching to the German store is impossible. I.e. I can’t access the German TV shows for sale on iTunes Germany. Never mind the US English ones I’m actually interested in accessing and spending real $$$/€€€ on. Similarly, I’ve had encounters with Facebook asking me to help localize Facebook to Finnish (eh, definitely talking to the wrong guy here) and recently to German (still wrong).

So, this is madness. A series of broken assumptions leads to Apple losing revenue and Google and others annoying the hell out of people.

So here’s a localization guideline for dummies:

  • Offer a way out. Likely a large percentage of your guesses as to what the language of your users is, is going to be wrong. The smaller the amount of native speakers the more likely you will get it wrong. Languages like Finnish or Chinese are notoriously hard to learn. So, design your localized sites such that a non native speaker of such languages can get your fully localized sites set to something more reasonable.
  • Respect people’s preferences. Profiles override anything you might detect. People move around so your assumptions are likely broken if they deviate from the profile settings.
  • Language is not location. People travel around and generally don’t unlearn the language they used to speak. Additionally, most countries have sizable populations of non native speakers as well as hordes of tourists and travelers.
  • If people managed to sign up, that’s a strong clue that whatever the language of the UI was at the time is probably a language that the user has mastered well enough to understand the UI (or otherwise you’d have blind monkeys signing up all the time). So there’s no valid use case for suggesting an alternative language here. Never mind defaulting to one.

Anyway, end of rant.

Photos Nov 2008 -Now

I finally found some time to upload some photos.

I went to Berlin in November to apply for the job I now have. Then I spent Christmas in France. After that, I moved into a temporary flat in Berlin on February 1st. On my first visit back in Finland, I visited a friend in Espoo who lives close to the sea, which was frozen. Finally I took some nice photos of Berlin in my first few weeks here.

The nicest of which is the view I had from my temporary flat:

View from temporary apartment

I no longer live there and photos of my new place are coming soon. I probably will take a few at my upcoming house warming party: Friday 17th from 21:00, feel free to drop by if you are near.

Time for a little update

Hmm, it’s been more than two months since I last posted. Time for an update. A lot has happened since January.

So,

  • I moved out of Finland as planned.
  • I stayed in a temporary apartment for a month. Central-home is the company managing the facility where I lived (on Habersaathstrasse 24) and if you’re looking for temporary housing in Berlin, look no further.
  • I managed to find a nice apartment for long term in Berlin Mitte, in the Bergstrasse, which is more or less walking distance from tourist attractions like Alexanderplatz, Hackeschermarkt, Friedrichstrasse and of course the Brandenburger Tor.
  • I re-aquainted myself with Java, Java development, and lately also release management. Fun days of hacking but the normal Nokia routine of meetings creeping into my calendar is sadly kicking in.
  • I learned tons of new stuff
  • Unfortunately German is not yet one of those things. My linguistic skills are ever pathetic and English remains the only foreign language I ever managed to master more or less properly. On paper German should be dead easy since I can get by mumbling in my native language and people can still figure out what I want. In practice, I can understand it if spoken slowly (and clearly). Speaking back is challenging.
  • I’m working on it though, once a week, in a beginners class. Relearning stuff that 3 years of trying to stuff German grammar in my head in High-school did not accomplish.

Moving is tedious and tiresome. But the end result is some genuine improvement in life. I absolutely love Berlin and am looking forward to an early Spring. I was in a telco with some Finnish people today discussion the weather. They, so how’s Berlin. Any snow there still? Me: no about 20 degrees outside right now :-). Nice to have spring start at the normal time again. Not to mention the more sane distribution of daylight and darkness, throughout the year.

A shitload of updates is overdue. For several months already. I have a ton of photos to upload. WordPress needs upgrading. And some technical stuff might need some blogging about as well. Then there is still some unfinnished papers in the pipeline. So, I’ll be back with more. Some day.

Nearly leaving Helsinki

I realize, I haven’t posted to my blog for quite a while. Part of the reason is that I have been busy organizing my move to Berlin. Another part is that the hosting solution I use for this blog has some scalability problem that I seem to run into whenever I try to do anything. I’ve given up several times on posting. No time to resolve it right now, but I will after my move to Berlin (i.e. adios suckers: I’m going to find more competent hosting). For the same reason, I have been neglecting photos.jillesvangurp.com. There’s some Berlin photos waiting to be uploaded (from my job interview in December) and of course Christmas photos from my parents place in France (again).

Speaking of Berlin, I’m moving there next Sunday already. My plan is to move into a nice furnished apartment on the Habersaathstrasse courtesy of a company specialized in this sort of thing: central-home.de. They were one of a few places recommended by a new colleague (thanks!) who also moved to Berlin recently. The place seems nice enough and the killer feature is that it is 200 meter from work, which should help cut down on those commute times. I’ll use this as a base to find a nice new apartment to move my stuff in. I’ll have to fly back to Helsinki a couple of times in February for work and to get my things moved at the end of the month.

Aside from that, it seems my stay in Helsinki is coming to an end. I had imagined my last week to be a little more fun but as it is, I’m in bed with a pretty bad flu. I’ve been flu free for nearly a year but last Friday it came back with a vengeance. Fever, sore throat, total absence of desire for anything resembling food, tired, etc. In short, flu sucks. In any case, by Friday I should have recovered enough for a little get together with some colleagues in the one pint pub in Ruoholahti (16:00). Feel welcome to drop by if I somehow managed to not invite you.

NRC Reorganization

My employer, Nokia, announced this week that it is reorganizing Nokia Research Center. The why and how of this operation is explained in the press release.

I learned this on Tuesday along with all my colleagues and have since been finding out how this will affect me. I can of course not comment on any organizational details but it is very likely that I start 2009 in a new job somewhere within Nokia since it looks like the research topic that I have been working on for the past two years is out of scope of the new Helsinki Lab research mission. While I’m of course unhappy about how that decision affects me, I accept and respect it. Short term, I am confident that I will be allowed to finish ongoing research activity since it has been so far highly successful within Nokia and we are quite close to going public with the trial of the system I demoed on Youtube a few weeks ago. I’m very motivated to do this because I’ve put a lot of time in it and want to see it succeed and get a lot of nice press attention.

However, a topic that is of course on my mind is what I will be doing after that and where I will be doing it. In short, I’m currently looking at several very interesting open positions in Nokia. Since I’m doing that anyway, I’ve decided to broaden my search and look at all available options, including those outside Nokia. I will pick the best offer I get. Don’t get me wrong, I think Nokia is a great employer and I am aware my skills are in strong demand inside Nokia. So, if Nokia makes me a good offer, I will likely accept it. But of course, the world is bigger than Finland where I have now spent three years and I am in no way geographically constrained (i.e. willing to move internationally).

So, I’ve updated my CV and am available to discuss any suitable offer.

Since this has happened in the past: please don’t contact me about Symbian programming or J2ME programming type jobs. Not interested in either, I’m a server guy.

X-Plane 9 review

Last weekend I ordered X-plane version 9. I bought version 8 early 2006 and since then I haven’t looked back. Sure, MS Flight Simulator looks great but the flying sucks. Laminar consistently delivers with new features and bug fixes. Version 8 got its last major update (8.64) about half a year ago and since then they have been beta testing version 9. While I could have bought it earlier, I waited until they released it.

A few days ago the package with 6 double layer DVDs was delivered. Installation was not so smooth as I complained about here. But I managed to sort it out and have a working X-plane 9 now. I installed the European and US scenery. The 6 DVDs of world wide scenery is really nice and detailed but consists only of automatically computed landscapes from various databases. Europe now also includes the part I live in (Finland) which was too far north for version 8. However, I prefer to fly southern Europe, where the landscape is a bit more varied.

There are cities, forests, roads, airports, coastlines, etc. where they should be (and in surprising amount of detail) but the simulator lacks custom content like the massive amount of content that comes with Microsoft Flight simulator. To fix that, I installed the excellent Corsica scenery, which is one of the many third party scenery packages available and one of the first ones to be upgraded for version 9. This adds a nice level of realism. Flying in from Nice (another scenery package, warning horrible HTML layout) with the new Cirrus jet was pretty cool and surprisingly easy given that the Cirrus was new to me. According to the product announcement, this plane was actually created by Cirrus themselves and presumably tuned to their specifications and needs. Also, the 3D cockpit is pretty cool and much more user friendly on a PC than the average very complicated panel coming with a X-plane jet.

Technically, version 9 includes lots of improvements to the scenery rendering and simulation. The changes are outlined in great detail in the product announcement page by Laminar owner and founder, Austin Meyer. I have little to add here except to say that it mostly works and delivers as advertised. Don’t expect to max out any of the rendering settings, they have been designed such that this is not possible with any hardware available now. In fact they just raised the bar for future hardware. If you can get your hands on a NVIdia with a few GB of video ram, X-plane will probably find a use for every byte of it. The good news is that it still looks pretty good with object detail not set to “TOTALLY INSANE” (Austin Meyer loves his capitals). In case you are wondering, I have a three year old AMD 4400+ with 2GB and a NVidia 7800 GT. Anything similar or better will run X-plane just fine.

Part of the attraction of X-plane is that it is a niche product build by some dedicated people who know what they are doing and are totally focused on doing it. Considering that they have a very small programmer team and not much other people working for them, it is pretty amazing what they manage to deliver. They have to be smart and efficient about a lot of things. So their UI is totally custom and a bit wacky. But it works. The included planes are so so but there are plenty of free ones available to fix that (and some better ones for a small fee). With all these nice freeware planes out there (e.g. on x-plane.org), you have to wonder why the selection bundled with X-plane is so weak. Most of the planes don’t have 3D cockpits and quite a few even lack textures.

However, at the core of X-plane is an excellent and extremely detailed simulation of just about anything that flies and everything that makes it fly. I mean, they are worrying about the accuracy of the voltage in electrical systems here and how that behaves under different failure scenarios. The attention to detail is just amazing. This is a simulator made by absolute flight sim geeks for flight sim geeks. It has lots of rough edges but it does its core job extremely well and is arguably the best all round flight simulator available today.

Dutch beer

While doing my shopping today I encountered a whole pile of six packs of “Royal Dutch“. On closer inspection of this beer that I never heard of, I learned that it is actually brewed in license of Posthorn, a brewery based in my home town (if there is such a thing), of Breda. WTF! I have never heard of this brewery and I was born in the damn place. Googling for Posthorn, or post hoorn as it would no doubt be spelled in dutch I was not able to bring up much more than this. A pretty sad party center on the Haagweg. Note the rather generic, mirrored logo on the can here.

Knowing something of Breda beer history, this is probably what is left of the Oranjeboom beer that until a few years ago was brewed in Breda. Basically interbev liquidated (pun intended) the whole brand and closed down the brewery in Breda. I have no idea what the Royal qualification in Royal Dutch refers to. I don’t imagine our water managing crown prince Willem-Alexander of Orange (aka. prince beer) had anything to do with this.

Of course Post Horn duely added water to meet the Finnish super market beer upper limit for alcohol of 4.7%. I must say, it tastes better than the average finnish beer. Similar to Becks if I’d have to pick something similar. I’ve tried several different Finnish brands in the nearly two years I’ve spent here and basically have decided that any non Finnish beer is probably better than any Finnish beer. I’ve sampled some pretty obscure foreign brands, even from my own home country, and they all taste better than boring Olvi, Karhu, Lapin Kulta or Koff. Especially the supermarket varieties of those are filthy stuff.

This Royal Dutch, is the second brand of fictional dutch beers I’ve encountered in the supermarkets here. The other one is labeled “Amsterdam”, which is apparently not worthy of the Grolsch brand of the beer company that produces it. Grolsch actually is pretty nice and I’ve even encountered a Finnish 4.7% export version of it in some supermarkets. Complete with the obligatory “beugel” bottle. Amsterdam is a pale shadow of this and indeed not worthy of the brand.

Digiboksi

Digiboksi is Finglish for DVB-C set top box. I bought one on saturday and had it replaced today by a different one.

Basically the story is that Finland is replacing good old analogue TV with digital tv. Terrestial analogue signal went dark a few months ago. A few weeks ago the ‘interesting’ channels (i.e. the ones in english) disappeared from the cable and the rest will follow in February.

So, I went to the shop for a digiboksi. Since I barely watch TV, I just wanted something that was cheap & something that worked. So I pretty much randomly selected the Samsung DCB-B263Z in the shop (hey it was black, matches my other equipment). Normally I’d do some research on the internet for such a purchase. Unfortunately this product seems to be specialized for the Finnish market so most info available seems in Finnish. Hence the randomness.

So I bought it, plugged it in and about ten minutes later was watching TV. I was quite pleased with the picture quality. The UI seemed nice too. Then it crashed. WTF! Anyway, to keep this short: it is a known issue, basically the shops are selling products with broken software. Sigh. So, after about 4 crashes in less than 24 hours, I went back to the shop today and mentioned the word crash. No need for further explanation. Apparently, lots of people are bringing these things back (I know at least one other guy). Five minutes later I walked out with a Handan 3400.

So far it seems reasonably well behaved though the picture quality is slightly less nice than the samsung (was a bit smoother and crispier). I managed to improve it slightly by disabling the built in contrast. If this one crashes as well, I’ll try another brand.