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Spelunking on the Chinese internet for Nicki Minaj fans

From That’s What Xu Said:

I went spelunking on the Chinese internet today. What started off as an innocuous search for Chinese Nicki Minaj fans quickly turned into a hunt for the ingenious, hilarious, and often slightly insulting nicknames created by Chinese fans for the American pop stars whose names they can’t pronounce.

After an inappropriate amount of time on Weibo and the Chinese equivalent of Yahoo Answers, I present the greatest of my findings:

Nicki Minaj – 麻辣鸡 (má là ji): a slant transliteration of “Minaj”. Means spicy chicken (ma la is a spice combo commonly used in Sichuan cooking).

Taylor Swift – 霉霉 (méi méi): derived from 小霉女 which is itself a pun on “pretty young lady”, but replacing the word for “pretty” (美/mei) with an abbreviated version of “unlucky” (倒霉). Chinese fans gave her the nickname after a string of her singles failed to make it to the top of the Billboard 100.

Justin Bieber – 碧波姐姐 (bī buó jie jie) – Sister “Bi buo”, a hyper-feminine transliteration of Bieber; more commonly 凉凉 (líang líang) which I can’t figure out at all.

Drake – 公鸭 (gōng yā): Literally “male duck”, as in the definition of a “drake”. I laughed out loud when I finally figured this one out.

Kanye West – 侃爷 (kǎn yé): a transliteration of Kanye. In Beijing dialect, this means someone who brags a lot with no actions to follow it up. (I actually love Kanye, but this is still damn good wordplay.)

More by Christina Xu on her very excellent Tumblr.

 

The Translation Detail Everyone Missed in the China Internet’s Incredibly Surreal Anthem

In case you missed it, the New York Times, ProPublica, the Guardian and the Atlantic all wrote about this incredibly surreal but voted best of event anthem celebrating China’s glorious internet. Thanks to ProPublica we have a subtitled, Youtube video above.

As James Fallows at the Atlantic pointed out, one of the most stirring phrases in the song that is repeated eight times during the chorus is 网络强国. The New York Times and ProPublica both translated this as “internet power,” while Fallows points out that:

English speakers might think of “Internet power” as comparable to “soft power” or “girl power” or “people power.” But to my amateur eye there is a more explicit connotation of China’s becoming a national power in cyberspace. I’m sure Chinese speakers will tell me if I’m wrong to read 强国 as meaning a powerful country, as in “rise and fall of the great powers” etc. Thus the refrain would emphasize “a powerful Internet country.” The impression I got from this was of a strongly nationalistic message about a supposedly borderless medium.

I wanted to add to the translation and confirm Fallows’ viewpoint by examining one of the lines from the chorus:

网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华

Both the New York Times (Paul Mozur) and ProPublica (Sisi Wei and Yue Qiu) translate this to some variant of: “An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese Dream is uplifting China.” (Emphasis mine.)

Actually, the line in Chinese does not end with the phrase “China” (中国) but “the greater Chinese” (大中华). Not only does “the greater Chinese” sometimes mean Greater China, but it also hints at overseas Chinese people (华人 or 华侨) and, as Fallows put it, the “borderless” greater Chinese culture/civilization.

Book Review: China Airborne by James Fallows

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In China Airborne, Fallows skillfully uses the rise and uncertain future of the aviation industry in China as a parable for the development in China. An avid political-economic analyst and storyteller, Fallows’ account is surprisingly easy to read, given the complexity of his argument that China is “contradictory” yet exciting.

Fallows is a charismatic writer with a succinct style. As such, not only do we relive his six years of living in and learning about China, but he never tarries too long before leading us to the next part of his argument (and his next story). Highly recommended.

Get it from Amazon or you local bookstore.

Fact checking the hype around mesh networks and FireChat

Being based in Hong Kong, my tech friends and I still occasionally get asked, “So what’s the deal with FireChat?” In case you missed it, FireChat, a smartphone chat app with basic mesh support, made headlines during the recent Occupy Hong Kong protests. Protesters on the ground here turned to it in late September when rumors began to circulate that the government would shut down the internet. It never did, but plenty of people, myself included, downloaded FireChat anyway. Hearing about this, many publications then used FireChat to tell a techno-utopian story about the future of mesh networking. Yet in the same stories, many publications pointed to faulty evidence of, or simply speculated about, people using its mesh features. (The sole exception being TechPresident’s Rebecca Chao, who actually found real evidence of its use.) As the hype has subsided, we at 88 Bar have decided that it’s a good time to review the facts and figures around FireChat.

 

1. FireChat was built for concerts and Burning Man

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Figure 1: Press images are from its listing in the iTunes store.

 

2. FireChat is “not meant for secure or private communications”

The full quote that FireChat gave Wired last June is: “People need to understand that this is not a tool to communicate anything that would put them in a harmful situation if it were to be discovered by somebody who’s hostile. It was not meant for secure or private communications.” (This is, of course, months before they went on the speaking circuit to market its use during the recent Hong Kong protests.)

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab ran a full, tech analysis and concluded: “Messages sent in any of the application’s three messaging modes are sent in the clear without encryption. All messages sent and received, as well as a list of chat channels the user has joined, are stored unencrypted on the device. It is also possible for anyone (regardless of whether they have installed the app or not) to visit an IP address associated with the service in a web browser to see the most recent messages sent by users of the application.”

 

3. Lots of people in Hong Kong signed up for FireChat

Sign up figures for FireChat in Hong Kong during the protests range from 100,000 to 500,000. Assuming only a small number of “troll” accounts and that not every protestor would have downloaded the app, this would imply that there were at least 100,000 to 500,000 people who downloaded it to support the protest. (Estimates say roughly 200,000 people took part in the Hong Kong protests at its peak.)

And according to FireChat’s twitter account, people are still using it: their stats show 208k chat sessions on December 16, 2014.

 

4. But FireChat put Hong Kong citizens in danger during the protests

Not only are messages unencrypted, but it encourages the use of real names. Again from Global Voices: “Once installed, the app requires the user to sign up with her real name (which will be pre-filled with the name she eventually configures on her iOS or Android phone), a username and an email address.”

This is especially troubling because police have arrested at least two people in Hong Kong who posted protest-related messages online. See Quartz’s “police are using Hong Kong’s computer crime law to crack down on pro-democracy organizers.”

 

5. Protesters did use its mesh networking capability, but there’s only one report of it

Of the dozens of articles published on FireChat during Occupy Hong Kong, I only found one report that found evidence of mesh network usage. From Rebecca Chao on TechPresident:

As a volunteer, Ip was among a group of roughly 60 to 120 that monitored the supply stations. He used FireChat to recruit more volunteers. While verification is an issue in the app’s anonymous chat room settings, Ip says that given the proximity needed for off-grid use, “we could meet up instantly to confirm who I was and what volunteers we wanted and to ensure they got the right information.”

The other reports sadly only pointed to evidence of use of its internet (not mesh) chatrooms:

  • In a Wall Street Journal video cited in The Atlantic, The Verge, and TechCrunch, a Hong Kong student protester who shows off FireChat only uses its internet-enabled chatrooms, not its mesh network chatrooms.
  • When FireChat talks about its explosion 2M chatrooms created last month, they are referring to internet chatrooms. As Forbes’ Parmy Olson says, “Once a FireChat user goes off the grid like this, San Francisco-based Open Garden can’t track them anymore. That’s why they have no idea how many people are actually using its off-the-grid feature.”
  • In another Wall Street Journal video, the reporter and FireChat CEO are testing the mesh network function in the middle of the protests. It’s clear they are the only two chatting on the mesh network channel. My own experiments with my friend in the middle of the protest fared similarly.

 

6. FireChat is an IRC-like chatroom app, not a messaging app

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Figure 2: A 12-second clip of FireChat in action (as of 11am, January 12, 2015). Picture shrunk in order to conceal username + locations.

As Nathan Freitas and Oiwan Lam write in Global Voices: “FireChat is not a messaging app. FireChat is a chatroom, a platform to send insecure and public messages to people over the Internet or within your geographical vicinity.” As such it is not a replacement for Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line or WeChat.

During the Hong Kong protests, everyone I spoke to said that Facebook and WhatsApp were by far the most commonly used communication tools. This isn’t to say FireChat wasn’t used, but it’s good to put its popularity into perspective.

 

P.S. The Hong Kong mobile network did not “collapse”

Nellie Bowles writes in Recode that “during the recent enormous pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the city’s cellular networks got so jammed they collapsed.” I have seen no reports to that effect (congestion yes, collapse no). As one protester stated in TechPresident, “I found that my LTE [4G] connection was pretty solid in most cases, even with tens of thousands of protesters around me.”

Localized WeChat ad sells its animated stickers, nails it

Created by Hong Kong-based artist-designer Ping Wong for the Hong Kong market.

Book Review: Understanding China through Comics, Volume 4: The Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1912)

UnderstandingChinaThroughComics4

The fourth volume of “Understanding China Through Comics” takes us through the final six centuries of imperial rule in China. In it, we find the final emperors of China attempting various reforms in the face of foreign invasion, occupation and, ultimately, humiliation.

Liu continues his formidable task of tackling the entirety of Chinese history, with an increasing focus on policy and governance (in this case, its failures). As with other volumes in this series, emperors rise and fall within the span of some short pages, which makes for a great, if somewhat curt, summary of events.

You can find the book on Amazon or on iTunes.

霓虹的製作 The Making of Neon Signs

Who knew that neon lights (powered by neon gas, not LEDs) were such an artisan’s craft?

More details about this preservation and exhibition project here.

A Figurine Maker’s Journey Through China

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Boing Boing recently published a great feature from Jared Zichek, an avid entrepreneur who manufactures and sells classic-comics action figures. In the feature, Jared talks about his prototyping, manufacturing and sales process – part of it happen in the US, part of it in Hong Kong and part of it in China.

Here’s a juicy excerpt:

Finding a factory. The safest route is going through a trading company; reputable ones I’m aware of are Lucky Group International Ltd. and Point East Ltd., which act as middlemen between you and the factories. You will not be scammed, though they will pressure you to order a minimum of 500 pieces; you will also pay more than dealing directly with a factory. To cut out the middleman, go to Alibaba.com and search for “resin character statue” or the like and start contacting companies which look promising; I don’t deal with anyone that hasn’t been a Gold Member for at least three years due to the many incidents of fraud that have occurred on the site. I email them my production guide and wait for a few days to receive all the quotes; several will not respond if you are not ordering at least 500 pieces. The quotes you receive will be all over the map, though you shouldn’t necessarily pick the cheapest one without first doing a lot of online research. Be advised that the quotes never include shipping, which is a substantial additional expense to consider.

Read the full article on Boing Boing, or buy Jared’s action figures from GoldenAgeFigurines.com.

Drawing inspiration from China’s subtitling and dating communities

Editor’s note: Our very own Jin Ge recently spoke at The Conference by Media Evolution 2014 on how designers can draw inspiration from China’s subtitling and dating communities. You can watch the entire talk above.

Some of the highlights include:

  • How his team at IDEO learned that subtitling groups, who volunteer to do the grueling work of English-to-China video subs, are driven by a combined sense of a higher calling (making global content available to China), community (help each other out with hard word), competition (whoever gets the subs out first wins), accomplishment and expression (creative translations or subtle commentary).
  • For another project, they studied the weekend dating fair that happens in public parks: parents physically post and check out profiles of eligible single men/women, and will talk shop with each other about whether, for example, the income stated is pre or post-tax.

Watch the talk above, or if the embed doesn’t work go here.

 

 

Kendra Schaefer’s Field Guide to Implementing Chinese Fonts in CSS

Beijing-based designer Kendra Schaefer has created an incredibly valuable resource in writing up: Chinese Standard Web Fonts: A Guide to CSS Font Family Declarations for Web Design in Simplified Chinese. While you’d best head to Kendra’s site for the full details, we’ve included some highlights below:

Good Rules for Using Chinese fonts in CSS

Use the Chinese characters, and also spell out the font name

Example:

font-family: Tahoma, Helvetica, Arial, "Microsoft Yahei","微软雅黑", STXihei, "华文细黑", sans-serif;

Declare English target fonts before Chinese target fonts

Code example:

font-family: Georgia, "Times New Roman", "Microsoft YaHei", "微软雅黑", STXihei, "华文细黑", serif;

微软雅黑 – Microsoft YaHei

Microsoft YaHei is in my opinion, the Helvetica of the Chinese font world – it looks nice in most sizes (the Mac font equivalent is probably STXihei, the “light” version of STHeiTi). I find it’s modern, fresh and clean, and like a Rubenesque lady, is thick in all the right bits.

Declare that shit (updated to add Simsun fallback):

font-family: Tahoma, Arial, Helvetica, "Microsoft YaHei New", "Microsoft Yahei", "微软雅黑", 宋体, SimSun, STXihei, "华文细黑", sans-serif;

Read the full details on Kendra’s blog.