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Expat Tech: Google Translate

Today I thought I would start a series of posts about technology solutions that I have found to help deal with a number of common problems that I have encountered.  These are some technical ways I’ve been dealing with issues that I have run up against.

One of my ongoing issues is not speaking or reading much (any) Spanish yet. While this presents some problems in the real world, it also means that it is more difficult to navigate some of the local web sites which are entirely in Spanish or to email some of the people I deal with while here.  Luckily, Google Translate makes all of this a lot easier.

Google Translate has a lot of features and options. From the main page, you can enter a block of text and have it translated from one language to another. This is great for handling email conversations.  You can also translate a web page by entering its URL and clicking translate. They also have a feature to add 1-click translations to your browser’s toolbar, so whenever you want to translate a site you’re viewing, all you have to do is click once.  The translations may not be perfect, but they definitely do the job. Note that this only works well on basic text and does not help with Flash-heavy web sites.

In addition to this, they have Translated Search which takes your search query in English, converts it into Spanish, searches Spanish language sites, and then converts the results back into English. There’s also a dictionary for looking up words and they’ve just released Google Translate for the iPhone too, so now it’s portable.

It’s an indispensible tool for anyone learning a new language or needing to view a foreign language web site.


Random Observations: Week 2

Welcome to the second part in my series. 🙂 Remember, some of these may be huge generalizations, but that’s ok.

Random Observations: Week 2

  • There is no sugar free Red Bull in the country. This was one of my favorite drinks with vodka in the US.
  • There are (almost) no obese people in Argentina. There may be some people with pot bellies or a few extra pounds, but you do not see people who are extremely overweight like in the U.S. This is surprising because:
    • There is an ice cream store every couple of blocks.
    • There is a pastry store on almost every block and they use dulce du leche in almost everything.
    • Most people eat dinner after 10pm.
    • Everyone seems to love McDonald’s and Burger King. They are always packed and usually have really long lines.
  • Speaking of lines – lines seem to move a lot slower here. This is probably why they have special lines that pregnant women can cut to the front of in most stores.
  • Speaking of ice cream – the size of the ice cream cones here are ridicuously small, but they heap the ice cream onto these tiny little cones. The ice cream is delicious too.
  • Purple is the color of the season (winter). All the stores have mannequins dressed in purple outfits. I have not bought anything purple yet.
  • Restaurant observations:
    • You seat yourself at most restaurants.
    • Remember to say “con gas” (sparkling) or “sin gas” (flat) when ordering water.
    • Every place gives you a huge bread basket before dinner.

Going to the Movies

It’s funny, but when you don’t speak the language, everything becomes a bit of an adventure. Tonight I decided to venture out to the movies – something I wouldn’t have thought twice about back in the States. I walked over to Cinemark 10 Palermo to catch The Dark Knight, also known here as Batman: El Caballero de la Noche. Being my first time at the movies here, I checked out the show times on their web site and realized that they have two versions of the movie being shown – one in castellano and one in English with subtitles. Obviously, I opted for the second one.

The theater was no different than any multiplex that you would find in the U.S. Once inside though, there were a few differences:

  • Tickets were AR $15 each (U.S. $5) and seating was not general admission. When you purchased your tickets, you also selected reserved seats for your showtime. Luckily, the cashier helped explain this by showing me a map of available seats on his screen and letting me point to the ones I wanted.  When you go into the theater, an usher is there to help you find your seats.
  • The concession stand had a number of different items than you would find in the U.S., but the old standby of popcorn and a soda was available. I opted for Combo 1 – a large soda and popcorn for AR $13. The cashier asked if I wanted salted or sweet popcorn, and butter was not an option. Salted it was and probably a bit healthier than the buttered option back home. Next time, I’m going to go for the sweet popcorn.
  • There were no ads on the screen before the movie and no trailers. The movie had an 8pm start time, but didn’t actually start until 8:10pm. Good to know if I’m ever running late for a show.
  • Finally, as you’re watching the movie in English, you have Spanish subtitles across the bottom of the screen. It doesn’t take too long to forget that they’re there though. The interesting thing is that the movie had some Chinese in it with subtitles that would be in English in the U.S., but were only in Spanish here. This was just one scene, so not much was lost.

While this may not be all that interesting, I had actually wondered about whether movies were in English or dubbed in Spanish before I came down. So, now I have the answer. Believe it or not, in the two weeks I’ve been here, being at the movies was the closest thing to being back at home that I have experienced so far – probably because no one was speaking.



Yes, it is with a heavy heart that I must announce some really horrible news that befell me recently..

I have not had an Internet connection at my apartment since Thursday! Yes, it is probably one of the worst things that could happen, and I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t have been so greedy. You see, I asked my landlady to increase the Internet speed from 1.5 Mbps to 5Mbps. It was working fine, I had Internet, I had wireless, I had my Vonage phone, but it just seemed like it could be faster. So, on Thursday, I was supposed to be switched over. Obviously, that did not go as planned. Something happened that completely knocked my DSL line out!

Now, the landlady is very nice, but she does not speak English, nor has she ever used a computer, but on Friday, she and her friend spent all morning on the phone with Arnet trying to get the service back up.  No luck. She came back with her friend on Saturday. Again, no luck.  Now, I’m very technical, but not speaking Spanish has put me at a severe disadvantage since I could not explain much to her or Arnet. The other problem is that the representatives at Arnet will try a few things and when those do not work, simply say they have to call you back. Of course, they never do. There seems to be no way to get to a higher level of support, or even get a manager on the phone, and they don’t seem to be very concerned that you don’t have any Internet either. Don’t they know that this blog has to be updated?!?!?

This morning, after begging our Spanish teacher to come over, we again called Arnet – translator and me. We tried with the first rep. No luck. She said she would call back at 8pm. Right.  Marco decided to call again. This time we got someone else. Again, no luck. BUT, he did say that the problem was on Arnet’s side and it was related to a problem with the speed upgrade from last week. Aghhh! Well, at least we know knew what the problem was. When would it be fixed? Well, that seems to be another story entirely as he could not give us a date or time that it would be back up and running. We had to hang up and try again tomorrow. Marco explained to me that this is how things work in Buenos Aires. I guess I have no choice but to accept it… So, we’ll try again tomorrow.

I do have to thank my friendly neighbor (whoever they may be), I’ll just call them “Señor Dlink.”  They are the only ones with an open wireless router that has been feeding my addiction… I have my laptop set up as a router, plugged into my Vonage phone and giving my desktop PC Internet access as well. Señor Dlink, I’m trying not to use too much of your bandwidth, I promise. Please don’t decide to password protect your wireless Internet like all the other neighbors.  And, if I ever find out who you are, I owe you dinner…

Oh yeah, and to make matters worse – Gmail is down too! And Craigslist was down yesterday!  What is this world coming to?

UPDATE (8.13.08): My Internet access was finally restored today! All is once again good.