Friday, July 10, 2009

China is the best!

Of late, I’ve been stationed at one of the many factories of one of the East-Asian electronics conglomerates.

This afternoon, I returned to our company’s little regional office to do some online work (made 2 comments on Facebook status updates, surfed through BBC news, and updated some drawings and sent a few email) as the client would not allow outsiders to plug into their computer network.

The accountant’s husband strolled into the office late in the afternoon to wait for his wife to finish work. In general, he is a friendly man, but he suffers from a severe case of the widely-prevalent disorder: the China-is-best mentality. Below are excerpts of our conversation:

[typing a text message on the phone to the gf]
[walks by behind]
It seems quite tedious to type using English isn’t it?
It’s ok, I’m used to it.
Yeah but it’s not as efficient as Chinese. You get half as many characters for each message, but each word only requires one character 2.
I think… that English is not as sophisticated as Chinese. Have you studied classical Chinese? Each word conveys so much information, that a short sentence is able to convey a very deep meaning.
And English is more of a mechanistic languages. There are only 26 letters, and words are formed by combining different letters1. For sure, it’s well suited for the purposes of computing, but for communication between persons, Chinese is still the better language.


Well, you can’t really tell if you don’t study it in detail. For example, if you use only conversational-grade English, it is impossible to judge the level of refinement in the language.


There must be a significant difference in the level of civilisation between the Chinese culture and the Malay culture right?
Well of course it’s different. The Chinese culture is from China and the Malay culture is from the Malaysia-Indonesia region.
So how old is the history of the Malay culture? (here it comes, a set up move for the all conquering 5000-years-of-civilisation trump card.)
[I somehow answered that question in a sideways manner and we got distracted by the details about how old other civilisations are, including European and North American. So no mention of 5000 years.]

At end of the business day he offered to drop me off at the train station, thus saving me an hour-long ride in a bus with no air conditioning (temperatures in mid afternoon is 30 to 36 celcius these days).

Thus, I shall not further vilify him here, tempting as it may be.


2. I am convinced all well developed languages contain a measure of combinatorics. For example, the expression “I need to have sex with a BMW” is conveyed by picking several words and grouping them into a sentence. The words, in turn, consist of a group of smaller objects lumped together.

In English, words consist of a series of letters arranged in one dimension. In Chinese, words consist of sub-words arranged in 2 dimensions. These sub-words consist of a certain grouping of strokes, also arranged in 2 dimensions.

The fact that English words are constructed in 1 dimension makes it easy to spell words by arranging the letters along the time dimension.

1. which brings me to the second point, how one can squeeze so much more information into a 70-word message compared to a 140-character English message.

Mobile phones contain a standard dictionary of common Chinese words (which is probably not a huge amount). Assuming that there are 16,000 common Chinese words, this requires 14 bits of information to correctly assign each word to a unique number.

Assuming that each character for the mobile phone carries 7 bits of data, this is enough for 128 unique symbols (26 lower case letters, 26 upper case letters, 10 numerals, and about 30 symbols). 6 bits can only give 64 unique characters, which is definitely not enough.

As above, assuming that each Chinese word requires 14 bits to encode, it will need 2 character’s worth of information to be transmitted.

This is advantageous compared to the regular way English is transmitted: 2 characters is enough to encode a word, while English requires up about 5 characters to encode a word (sometimes up to 22 characters, such as counterrevolutionaries)

Can this method be used to give a higer information density to alpha-numeric based text messages?

A proposed mechanism is described as below.

[ok I’m getting ahead of myself, this is supposed to be a footnote, not an essay. Next entry, perhaps]

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