Today we visited Bangkok’s Snake Farm, one of only two in the world. They study all of Thailand’s 160 species of snake, milking venomous ones to assist in the production of of antidotes, and educating visitors about the many positive aspects of snakes (ie that most snakes hunt things we don’t like, such as rats).
Matt and I are currently writing a program to extract all the legal syllable clusters that can occur in the Khmer written language.
Text is usually represented inside a computer using ASCII, which can handle 255 possible letters. That’s fine for English, but to work with the tens of thousands of characters found in the world’s more exotic languages, you use ‘Unicode’. We’ve never worked with unicode before, so there’s been a learning curve for both of us.
We’re working with Diethelm Kanjahn, a translator and font designer (he created the Khmer font ‘Mondulkiri’). He’s part of the global translation organisation ‘SIL’ which works with non-Roman scripts around the world. We had a chance to meet up with him last week to discuss the intricacies of Unicode Khmer rendering before he returned to Mondulkiri.
Didi needs to check how each syllable looks visually, since Khmer vowels can appear above, below, in front of or behind their consonant (and sometimes in front AND behind!). Runs of dependent glyphs need to position themselves relative to each other, like successive toppings on an ice-cream sundae. Fortunately Didi will handle all of that, we’re just coding a Python script to extract all the possible clusters from a large body of text: the entire bible, plus lots of modern sources of Khmer language, like news sites.
The SIL team are also using the Khmer glyphs (letter shapes) to give a written form to five other indigenous languages which have never developed their own written scripts. The plan is that our program should also work for them.
This is Matt’s first time coding something ‘real’ for a client other than himself, so he’s learning about testing and quality assurance: the code isn’t finished when you’ve typed the last line, or when it produces something that ‘looks’ right, but when ALL your output tests pass and you can’t think of any new ones to add.
This year we thought we’d be unable to create our traditional Chocolate Easter Garden, but Mrs Kershaw came up with the goods (chocolate, rice crispies AND the little people) and all was well. Nom nom.
It was Tom’s birthday this Friday so we took a 3-day break at the White Elephant hotel, East of the city. Normally this would be a 1-1.5 hour drive depending on traffic – but there wasn’t any! It was Khmer New Year, so EVERYONE had gone back to their home province to visit family, leaving the capital a near ghost town.
We swam, we read, we relaxed. We played pool, table tennis and “Go Fish”. A great end to a good break.
On Saturday we had pizza and made Tom a cake in the shape of his current favourite TV show, “Gravity Falls”.