суббота, 30 января 2016 г.

Paris historical views in 3D

Recently I was looking through the notes on my phone and came across the entry which dates back to my visit to Paris in September of 2014, to the day which I spent on the Île de la Cité where the Notre-Dame de Paris is situated. Just in front of the cathedral you can notice the stairs leading underground, to the Archaeological Crypt. This crypt is basically the museum built around the exhibits which are dating back to the times of Lutetia, the ancestor of Paris. Like many other European museums, the subterranean one contains interactive displays. There is a couple of them just in the midst of the Roman ruins. One of those displays presents 3D models of the Notre-Dame de Paris at different stages of construction. Touchscreen monitor allows you to zoom these models in and out and literally to fly around them. Near the monitor I found a tablet with the link on it. This link – Paris.3ds.com – is the contents of the above-mentioned note.

Being under the Parvis Notre-Dame – place Jean-Paul-II (it is the name of the square where both the Notre-Dame de Paris and the Archaeological Crypt are located), I thought that this website contains something like what I was watching on the monitors at the moment. I totally forgot about this note when I came back home. Finally, I checked it out. Well... it is much more than what I've seen staying amidst the ruins of Lutetia.

Not only Notre-Dame de Paris but many other famous Paris sights are reconstructed in the virtual space. On the screenshot below you can see only some of them:

Click upon any of the sights and after several seconds you will find yourself flying around it. You will be also proposed to listen to a short lecture (available in French and English) on its history.

Isn't it incredible?!

This website will meet you with several obstacles:

  • You will need to install a plugin or two.
  • It takes some time to get accustomed to the controls.

Good quality of internet connection is vital to experience the greatness of this portal. You'll also need to show your patience because each page may take a couple of minutes to load.

But it's worth the price!

When I tried to remember any other ways to "walk around" the beautiful European cities while sitting at home, I came up only with Assassin's Creed videogame series and Google Street View. Both of them have serious pitfalls. As for the first option, I believe, it's hard to concentrate on perceiving the beautiful while playing a stealth-action game. As for the second one, it lacks smooth moving (and thus reminds old-style quests if I continue making comparison with videogames). Moreover, Google Street View's time machine allows to go back in time only to 2007. But what if I want to walk around the Louvre in 1810? Oh, it's not a problem anymore :)


суббота, 23 января 2016 г.

Learning foreign languages with songs

Do you use foreign-language songs for your listening comprehension skills improvement? I do. Sometimes it is hard for me to make out the words of a song. Until recently, in such cases I searched for the lyrics on the Internet and ended up either on some lyrics online base or on Youtube, watching a lyrics video (by the way, such videos can be true objects of admiration... and blinking causes of eyes ache at the same time). This approach has one serious disadvantage: I have to look aside each time I need help to understand the words. Several weeks ago I've found the way not to waste any time for it. Here is how my iTunes looks now:

The solution is called MiniLyrics. Each time a new song starts playing, this app automatically searches for the song lyrics in a large user-generated database.

MiniLyrics is supported by various operating systems and media players.

You can view the lyrics not only for the English-language songs. However, since the online base is user-generated, you would fail to find the lyrics for most non-English songs. I don't consider this as a serious drawback: I regard French-language songs as much more understandable ones than the English-language songs (probably, this is because I prefer different genres of music in these two languages), so I need English lyrics more than anything else. If your preferences both in music and in language learning differ from mine, here are the examples of lyrics in German, Finnish and Russian:

Lyrics are time-synchronized. On one hand, it's another source of bad user experience (because of wrong timestamps in the lyrics file or a truncated audio file). On the other hand, you can use your favorite media player as a karaoke tool. For some songs, the line which is currently being played is highlighted as if MiniLyrics tries to resemble karaoke even more.

MiniLyrics requires an Internet connection to find and download the lyrics. Once downloaded, they can be stored on your hard drive (if you configure the application properly) and later be used again even if you are offline. This is one more great advantage of MiniLyrics over other ways of searching for songs words.

As for you, what features would you include into an application/plugin for the audio player aiming to help language learners?

суббота, 16 января 2016 г.

What dictionary do you use?

Over the last month this blog, initially devoted to self-development, began to resemble a travel blog. Now it's time to join these two principal topics. What helps us when we travel abroad and can be referred to self-improvement at the same time? Yes, I am speaking about foreign languages, even though I do it in a roundabout way (if you have other suggestions about what lies at the intersection of travels and personal development, feel free to share them in the comments). Now let's turn to one of my favorite hobbies, language learning.

Core part of each language is its lexicon. In case of second-language acquisition, you have to build your vocabulary proactively. Thus, a dictionary becomes your close friend. But nowadays there are hundreds of dictionaries available in both printed and digital form. Which one to pick out?

My choice is Word Reference. Here is why I like it:

  • It has many dictionaries gathered in one place. English ↔ French, Conjugation of French verbs, English synonyms, English ↔ Russian, Explanatory English – these 5 (or 7 if you treat a dictionary with two-way translations as two dictionaries) items constitute the full set of dictionaries which I need. But Word Reference has much more: for instance, French ↔ Spanish, Explanatory Spanish, Spanish ↔ Portuguese, English ↔ Romanian, English ↔ Turkish, English ↔ Korean, etc.
  • Most articles of bilingual dictionaries of Word Reference comprise illustrative examples of a word/phrase usage in both languages. Honestly speaking, these examples are quite poor in case of English ↔ Russian dictionary, that's why I still prefer ABBYY Lingvo for this kind of translations. But I'm absolutely satisfied with the quality of examples in English ↔ French dictionary.
  • When you search for some combination of words, Word Reference provides you not only with the corresponding dictionary articles but also with the links to relevant topics on its forum. Sometimes native speakers' posts there shed light on a slight difference between the meanings of two similar words which cannot be grasped from the dictionary article. 
  • Finally, it is handy for translating when you are working in a web browser. When I want to use Word Reference I just type in the address bar a dictionary identifier and a phrase I'd like to work with. For example,
  • To turn the above-described magic on visit this page and follow the instructions.
As for you, what dictionary do you prefer and why?

суббота, 9 января 2016 г.

Tampere. Part IV. Särkänniemi

Do you know any success story in the world of game development more amazing than the one of the Rovio company? At the beginning of 2009 it was close to bankruptcy. Next year millions of people all over the world enjoyed shooting green pigs on their mobiles using undoubtedly the angriest weapon in history. Soon after that plush birds of various colors and sizes flooded shops. Next summer we'll watch the movie based on the most successful product of the company which almost went out of existence seven years ago. And at the end of last summer I visited Angry Birds Land - large area in Särkänniemi park in the northern part of Tampere.

When I entered the park and saw dozens of attractions, gigantic Angry Birds themed store, kiosks selling Mighty Eagle Snacks and Red Bird Sweets and, of course, a multitude of cheerful children with their parents, I realized that I failed to grasp the greatness of Rovio creation. By making relatively small mobile game (and later its sequels) they actually built a brand new universe for kids.

Even litter bins are "angry-birdish" here. Isn't it a nice approach to teach children not to leave litter about?

By the way, the park in Tampere is not unique. Here comes the proof. I didn't say that Angry Birds is a brand new universe only for Finnish kids because it is an object of worldwide worship!

Angry Birds Land is only a part of Särkänniemi. There you can also find lots of other attractions, a dolphinarium, a planetarium... I had only a couple of hours before it gets too dark. I decided to spend the most part of that time outdoors trying to visit every corner of the park. Have you ever seen anything like this?

Yup, it's a water rollercoaster, called "Log River". Definitely too hard to withstand for my vestibular system but looks thrilling from the outside and should be an exciting experience for those who enjoy ordinary ("dry") rollercoasters, slides in waterparks or even kayaking.

In each city, which I visit, I try to find an observation deck. So I can't help taking a view of Tampere from the top of Näsinneula observation tower situated in Särkänniemi as well. Before that day, I looked from above only at old cities with ancient buildings, tiled roofs and narrow streets. They were great but pretty much the same. Tampere is newer, it was founded less than 250 years ago. Moreover, Näsinneula is situated not in the center of the city but on its side, near the lake. That's why this time the view was a novelty for me. Tampere looks like a cozy place, don't you think so?

суббота, 2 января 2016 г.

Tampere. Part III. Moominvalley

After the visit to the Spy Museum I was not in a very good mood. I expected better exposition and I didn't suppose its political orientation. I had to find something capable of raising my spirits.

According to the plan, I headed for the Moomin Valley museum. When I arrived at the place, where I supposed it was situated, I found nothing more than a gift shop, a sheet of paper telling the visitor that Moominvalley is relocated to another place and this funny creature:

The notice on the doors of the previous location of the museum assured me that it wouldn't take me more than five minutes of walking to get to the new place. Oh, it definitely wouldn't, if each building had a nameboard specifying the street and the house number. However, I haven't found a city, where each house is equipped with such useful features, yet. On the contrary, most of them usually do not reveal where they stay, and sort of laugh at me: "No, you won't find the place you're looking for!" In this case, it took me around a half an hour to get to the destination. Are you curious whether my goal deserved such efforts? Yup, it surely did!

Before we take a step inside, it's worth specifying that the world of Moomins was barely familiar to me at that moment: I haven't read any book, watched any cartoon, etc. In other words, I knew Tove Jansson's characters as the objects of mass culture, but didn't know any detail about them except their amusing appearance.

It was not allowed to take photos inside so all the pictures below (featuring the displays which impressed me the most) are what I memorized then and googled later.

The main exhibits are 2.5 meters high Moomin house and the Moomins' ship being prepared for departure. They're amazing! Such a considerate attitude towards the smallest details delights my eyes. By the way, the house was constructed in the late 1970s and one of its builders was Tove Jansson herself.

The house is not the only work of the famous Finnish novelist presented in the museum. Tove Jansson illustrated her books about Moomins herself, and some of these works are demonstrated in the Moominvalley. Besides them, there are hundreds of other miniatures created by numerous artists.

Isn't that yet another book torn into single pages and called a museum? Probably, it is so (omitting several large exhibits including mentioned above). I don't think that the museum walls help to perceive small pictures better. However, this "book" deserves much more attention than the previous one. Have a look at this "page":

Don't you find the composition interesting?

And what about this?

As for me, I'd like to visit a theater where the spectators watch the performance from the floating boats. That should be an exciting experience!

So... After the visit to the Moominvalley, I decided it's a pity that I disregarded this marvelous world in my childhood. But... it's never late to rectify a missed opportunity, even at the age of twenty-two :) Less than a year ago I discovered for myself the greatness of "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry reading it once again after ten years or so. I saw the things which cannot be noticed at the age of 10-12 when this book is usually read. Probably, reading in the original in French helped me a lot in that case. I don't think that I will learn Swedish in order to read stories about Moomins in non-translated versions. Hope that English or Russian would be enough for another literary discovery :)

By the way, do you know that there is a Moomin museum in Saint Petersburg? Also the temporary exhibition opened not long ago in Moscow. Have you visited any of them? Don't hesitate to share your impressions ;)