Learning Chinese: Who uses Simplified Chinese Characters?

In an earlier post, I discussed the difference between traditional Chinese characters and the simplified versions. What I didn't address in that post, is who uses which, and (importantly) which is best to learn.

The answer to this question is changing over time.

Adherents to traditional characters point out how much richer many of the characters are. Ironically though, there are characters that started more simplified, but which became more complex over time, and the current simplified character is closer to the historical one.

While the note on richness is very true, it's important to keep in mind why the simplified ones were created in the first place.

Many in Western countries will still see a lot of traditional Chinese characters displayed on signs, etc. This is for a number of reasons. One is that the calligraphy involved is a significant art form. But the other is that in the past, most of the Chinese diaspora (overseas Chinese) were from Hong Kong and Taiwan ie: regions where people readily traveled overseas in the past. Both these regions, along with Macau, still mostly use traditional characters.

Researchers in Taiwan point out the irony in simplification being introduced to assist literacy, yet the Taiwan region has a much higher than average literacy despite using traditional characters. Others question the measurement of literacy on the mainland, and many other studies however, have shown how much easier simplified characters are to learn, contrary to cultural biases.

It's interesting that other overseas Chinese communities like those in Singapore, Malaysia, etc. have already switched to using simplified characters. Painful as it might be for some (and it is painful and seen as an assault on cultural identity by many), I see it only as a matter of time before the vast majority use simplified characters. You can find more on the debate here.

My take on this (and I'm sure many will disagree) is that you have to look at what the Chinese government is pushing. One thing they are very big on is standardization.

With such a gigantic population, there is no other option.

And they've said that simplified characters are where they are now, and also where they are heading.

Now that's somewhat painful and confronting for those who grew up using traditional characters, but I see it as simple (no pun intended) reality.

One real challenge for this though, is that while the community might change over time, historical Chinese writing isn't going to. To read older documents, you will need to be able to read traditional characters. History is important, and even more so to the Chinese. It's common to hear:

中国已经有五千多年的历史。 (Zhōngguó yǐjīng yǒu wǔqiān duō nián de lìshǐ.)

This means "China already has more than 5000 years of history". While this is a claim that's often disputed, it is one of the items of pride you will hear Chinese people commenting on. They'll ask "how many years of history does your country have?" and proudly commenting on the comparison.

While the ability to read historical documents is important, most English-speaking people today would struggle to read English that was written more than a few hundred years ago anyway.

Today, I'd suggest learning simplified characters, and over time, picking up traditional characters that you need, as you come across them. Even in the regions that currently use mostly traditional characters, I'm sure that when people need to work or deal with the government, business, etc. that it will be increasingly done using simplified characters. My guess is that within a few generations, the move will be pretty much complete.

 

Book Review: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff – Richard Carlson

I've been going through a number of fairly famous books or ones that have spawned their own industry. One of those was Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson.

This one intrigued me as there are now so many follow up versions. There's a "for teens", "for men", "at work", etc. etc. etc. along with ancillary items like workbooks. So I presumed there must have been something to it.

Carlson has some great messages in the book. Clearly it's possible to have your life overcrowded with things that, in the end, don't really matter, and I do like the way he cut through to the essence of things. Althought, I think Greg McKeown's book Essentialism that I reviewed earlier did that better.

His thoughts on listening were nicely put: " Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond". That's one that it's really easy to mess up on.

This is another key insight: "We tend to believe that if we were somewhere else, on vacation, with another partner, in a different career, a different home, a different circumstance – somehow we would be happier and more content. We wouldn’t!"

I particularly liked the way he talked about imagining your own funeral. I've heard that from other writers before but he put it all quite well by adding the urgency of a timeframe: "Imagining yourself at your own funeral allows you to look back at your life while you still have the chance to make some important changes".

I can't imagine that I'd want to get the workbook or any of the other books in the series, but I can see why people do seem to like this one.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway 🙂

 

New online on-demand SQL Server courses from SQL Down Under

Hi Folks,

We have a whole series of online and on-demand courses coming. The first two of these are available right now.

The good news? The first one is free and the second one has a big introductory discount.

The first course 4 Steps to Faster SQL Server Applications is a short course for developers, new DBAs, and testers, etc. who don't know anything much about tuning SQL Server applications. It focuses on finding and fixing the most problematic queries, either in terms of index tuning, or removing repetitive queries, all using free tools.

Please pass details of this course onto any developers, new DBAs, or testers that you know who might benefit from it.

The second course is an in-depth look at core SQL Server indexing concepts called Designing Effective Indexes for SQL Server. It's $295 USD (plus VAT if applicable) but coupon code INDEXINTRO will knock 30% off that until September 30th.

And more courses coming online very soon. You'll find them all at:

https://training.sqldownunder.com

 

Shortcut: Adding additional parameters to connections in SSMS

When I am writing my own code using a .NET (or other) language, I have a great deal of control of how the connection string that my application uses to connect to SQL Server is configured.

In particular, I might need to add another parameter or two.

As a simple example, you might have a multi-subnet Availability Group, spread across a production site and a disaster recovery site. It's common to then have an Availability Group Listener in both subnets.

If you add the parameter MultiSubnetFailover=true to your connection string, when SQL Server attempts to connect to the listener, it will send a request to each IP address concurrently, not just to one at a time. It will then connect to whichever server responds first.

This is great, but how do we do that with SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) connections?

The answer is that in the database server connection dialog, we can choose Options:

In the dialog that appears, there is a tab for Additional Connection Parameters:

On that tab, I can enter the required details:

Note also that if you enter a value here that is also on the graphical connection pages, the value that you enter overrides those values.

SDU Tools: ExecuteOrPrint – Printing large strings in T-SQL

The PRINT statement in SQL Server's T-SQL language is useful but one of the biggest restrictions with it is the size of the strings that it can print. Where this becomes a big issue is if you are needing to create dynamic SQL statements (which you obviously need to be careful of in the first place) or scripting database objects, and the statements need to be either executed or printed.

In our free SDU Tools for developers and DBAs, we added a procedure ExecuteOrPrint to help with this. You can pass it a large string (nvarchar(max) typically) and tell it to either execute the value, or if you are using it for scripting or debugging, to print the value.

The default action is to print the value.

We designed it to help with both scenarios in the same code. For example, in scripting, you might want batch separators (ie: GO) but when executing, you don't want to send those to the server, you want to carve up the script and send it in batches, based upon the separator. It can also add carriage returns and line feeds as required.

The parameters are as follows:

@StringToExecuteOrPrint nvarchar(max) -> String containing SQL commands
@PrintOnly bit = 1 -> If set to 1 commands are printed only not executed
@NumberOfCrLfBeforeGO int = 0 -> Number of carriage return linefeeds added before the batch separator (normally GO)
@IncludeGO bit = 0 -> If 1 the batch separator (normally GO) will be added
@NumberOfCrLfAfterGO int = 0 -> Number of carriage return linefeeds added after the batch separator (normally GO)
@BatchSeparator nvarchar(20) = N'GO' -> Batch separator to use (defaults to GO)

You can also see it in action here:

To become an SDU Insider and to get our free tools and eBooks, please just visit here:

http://sdutools.sqldownunder.com

SQL: Use elevated procedure permissions instead of elevated user permissions

Choosing the right database permission can be hard. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard a discussion like this:

I need to let Mary restore truncate one of the tables but I don't want to give her permission to do it, in case she stuffs it up.

or

I need to let Paul restore this database but I don't want him to be able to restore other databases, and I'm worried if I give him the permission, he might accidentally do something bad and I'll be blamed for it.

Whenever you have this type of discussion, the problem is that you're looking to give the user a permission, but only in a very limited situation and the DCL (data control language) statements (ie: GRANT, DENY, REVOKE) are too coarse for what you're trying to do.

Instead, what you need to do is to create a stored procedure, to give the stored procedure the permission to do what's needed, and then just give the user permission to execute the stored procedure.

There are two basic ways to do this.

The first is to create the stored procedure with a WITH EXECUTE AS clause. For example, I if write this:

CREATE PROCEDURE Utility.DoSomethingPotentiallyScary
WITH EXECUTE AS OWNER
AS

then whatever the procedure does is executed as the owner, not as the user. And this includes any dynamic SQL code. It's documented here. For stored procedures, instead of OWNER, you can also have CALLER (that's the default anyway), SELF (ie: the person creating the procedure), or a specific user.

To create or alter a procedure to execute as someone else, you need to have IMPERSONATE permission on that user. (That's already there if you're an admin).

That's a pretty simple solution but it has a few limitations.

For trickier scenarios (such as some cross-database scenarios), you can do this instead:

  • Create a certificate
  • Create a user from that certificate
  • Add the required permissions to that special user
  • Digitally sign the stored procedure with the certificate

Now when the stored procedure runs, it will acquire the permissions associated with that certificate, but only while it runs. An added bonus is that if the stored procedure is changed in any way, the digital signature is removed, along with the permissions.

 

Upcoming: User Group Tour in New Zealand soon

Hi Folks, we're looking forward to doing a number of presentations across New Zealand starting around the end of this month.

Aug 27th (Mon): SQL Server User Group – Wellington (Things I wish Developers knew about SQL Server)
Details here

Aug 28th (Tue): Data Management and Analytics Meetup – Wellington (A Comprehensive Look at What's New in SQL Server 2017 – and ongoing product directions)
Details here

Aug 31st (Fri): Pre-conference Day  for SQL Saturday – Auckland (Developing SQL Server Applications that Perform)
Register here

Sep 1st (Sat): SQL Saturday – Auckland (Keynote)
Register here

Sep 1st (Sat): SQL Saturday – Auckland (Database on a diet – taming a large database)
Register here

Sep 3rd (Mon): SQL SERVER & Data Management User Group – Christchurch (Things I wish Developers knew about SQL Server)
Details here

Sept 6th (Thu): Venue TBA – Dunedin (Database on a diet – taming a large database)

Would really love to see you at any of them. Please come and say hi.

Learning Chinese: Can't we just translate between simplified and traditional Chinese characters?

Last week, I discussed the meaning of simplified vs traditional Chinese characters. I had discussed the differences in them, and pointed out that in most sentences, there are only a few characters that are different between the character sets.

So, it would seem that the obvious question is why we can't then just simply translate between the two character sets.

Ironically, it is the simplification process itself that has made this difficult.

It is quite easy to have a computer translate traditional Chinese characters to simplified ones. The problem is the reverse.

This is well-described in the academic paper Key Problems in Conversion from Simplified to Traditional Chinese Characters by Xiaodong Shi, Yidong Chen, and Xiuping Huang.

The first reason that this is a problem is that in some cases, more than one traditional character was mapped to the same simplified character. Let's see an example:

Each of these four characters:

Traditional characters
Traditional characters

was translated to this character:

Simplified character
Simplified character

as you can see in the main image above this post.

So when you need to translate back the other way, which character do you translate it to?

The answer is that you need context, and that's where over time, computers will get better and better than humans at doing this, but not quite yet. Here's another example:

Translate to traditional
Translate to traditional

This one is easy for the system as it knows that Táifēng (a typhoon) is a specific thing and knows which character to use.

A second part of the challenge though is also shown in the example above. Note that the name Táifēng is somewhat similar to the English word typhoon. That's no accident. It's what's called a 通假 (or Tōngjiǎ) which is called a loan word, based on phonetics, not on the meaning of the characters directly.

Loan words are very difficult to translate back to traditional characters because the only context is the loan word itself. These groups of characters often have little meaning by themselves.

For example, my name Greg is often written like this:

Greg translated
Greg translated

But now look at the meaning of the individual characters:

Components of Greg's name
Components of Greg's name

Note that "grid, mine, grid" isn't particularly meaningful on its own. It's only when the entire name is present, that Google Translate has any clue about what it means, and then it's only an "educated" guess.

As an interesting side note, it's also why a lot of westerners spend ages trying to find a suitable Chinese name, much the same way that I have Chinese friends who have chosen western names.

The most notable of these is probably Mark Rowswell (大山 or Dàshān) whose name means Big Mountain. That's more exciting than grid mine grid. If you'd like to see him telling an old Taiwanese joke (with subtitles), check this out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Higher Loyalty – James Comey

I don't tend to read all that many books on US politics but I had heard interesting things about A Higher Loyalty – Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey.

I was especially interested to hear this one on Audible, given the author was also the narrator. I really wanted to hear him explain his view on the situation.

Generally, I'd avoid a book like this because I was assuming it would just be a self-apologetic or self-aggrandizing account of recent events. What I found though was very, very different.

I was genuinely surprised by how compelling I found the book to be.

Most of the book wasn't about the current Trump situation, etc. It was about his background, the New York mafia, and a lot of information about earlier investigations in the FBI.

I found the discussion around Martha Stewart particularly interesting. It seems that many times when people are brought in for questioning, that if they had just told the truth, the outcome for them might have been quite minor, but lying in the interviews is where things start to go very, very wrong for them.

I've heard a lot of people who support the current US president maligning Comey but I was left wondering that if they'd read this book (or listened to it), if they'd have either moderated or changed views.

US politics seems irredeemably polarized but regardless of your political leaning, given the background coverage in this book, and the timeliness of its later content, I'd suggest that it's worth your while reading or listening to it, before forming any further opinion on it or him.

What can I say? I found it fascinating and I wasn't expecting to.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway 🙂

 

Shortcut: Using "surrounds with" snippets in SQL Server Management Studio

In previous posts, I've been talking about how to use snippets in SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) and how to create your own. There are several types of snippets and one of the special types of snippets that I want to mention are the "surround with" snippets.

If you look at the following block of code:

Imagine that you want to execute the four highlighted lines only when a condition is true. If I hit Ctrl-K and Ctrl-S while they are highlighted, I'm prompted with this:

Note that I get an option to surround them with a BEGIN/END, or an IF or WHILE. Let's choose an IF. I just double-click the If option and this happens:

We can then just type the condition. Notice that because I was using multiple lines, it put them all in a BEGIN/END block for me.

This is all quite good but I still might want to create my own instead, and I can do that. An example of why I might want to do that, is that I might want a statement terminator after the END.

If we go into the Code Snippets Manager (from the Tools menu), and expand the Function category, we can see this:

I can't say that I think of IF as a function but none-the-less, note that the type is a SurroundsWith snippet. Let's see how it's defined. The Location is here:

If I open that file in NotePad++, I see the following. Note how the value called $selected$ is enclosed within the snippet.

I could then either modify this one (probably not best), or use it as the basis of a new snippet for myself.