Babelcarp FAQ


  • What is this?
  • It didn't work. What now?
  • What's your privacy policy?
  • Why did you make it?
  • What's it made of?
  • Where else can I go to find out more?

  • What is this?

    Babelcarp is a web site that lets you type a tea-related phrase in Chinese characters or romanized Chinese, click a button, and see the phrase's translation into English. If you're lucky. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, including the possibility that Babelcarp doesn't (yet) know some or all of the words in the phrase. The other possible reasons for Babelcarp disappointing you are fascinating, to me at least, but we won't go into them yet.

    Even if Babelcarp doesn't know the whole phrase, chances are that it will tell you what part of it means. In the course of defining the whole phrase or parts of it, the Carp might also use romanized Chinese words that are highlighted. These are hyperlinks; click on a link for the definition if you don't recognize it. (You know what a hyperlink is; you're a Web user!)

    It didn't work. What now?

    If the Carp drew a blank on part or all of what you typed, you don't actually have to send me email, because every failure gets logged. Not that I don't enjoy getting mail from Carp users; I do.

    But that doesn't solve your immediate problem. First, consider the possibility that what you typed is misspelled. Then: is it really about Chinese tea? Darjeeling isn't Chinese. Ping Wei Pian is a Chinese herb. Let's not get hung up on whether Chinese herbal decoctions are or aren't teas, but note well that the Carp deals with Camellia sinensis only, leaving Chinese medicine to those fish who actually know something about it.

    There's an extremely common case where you type, say, four romanized Chinese syllables and the Carp blanks on the first couple but defines the rest. Let's make up an example: Qiao Xuo Hong Cha, which to the best of my knowledge doesn't actually exist. The Carp'll tell you what Hong Cha is, but what's Qiao Xuo? Well, more often that not in this situation the first couple of words constitute the place name associated with a tea. There are countless villages in China whose names begin the names of teas, and the Carp will never learn them all.

    Speaking of logging, what is Babelcarp's privacy policy?

    As mentioned above, Babelcarp logs requests it is unable to satisfy so its database can be enlarged later. It does not log IP addresses or any other identifying information regarding where the requests come from. Babelcarp does not use cookies. It doesn't even use JavaScript, though it's conceivable that in the future some compelling reason for JavaScript may arise.

    Why did you make it?

    I love Chinese teas and was frustrated by not understanding the terminology. I'd seen a number of web sites offering valuable knowledge on Chinese tea, but:

    I'm a programmer and it didn't seem like such a big job to write thecode for the Chinese tea terminology equivalent of the redoubtable Babelfish, so I went and tried it.

    What's it made of? (programmers only)

    Babelcarp is basically a small Python program and a lot of data. The program uses the CGI module, thereby winning points for the virtue of laziness. The CGI runs queries against an SQLite. There's also a Python program that converts the text I manually edit into the database, which is what makes possible the cross-referencing. Are you glad you asked?

    The data in its textual form, that is, the form in which it gets edited by me, is just a series of pairs: phrase, definition, phrase, definition, ...

    The search algorithm is basically to try to find the whole phrase; failing that it backtracks to find subphrases as big as possible.

    The search is done once to define the phrase. Then the each definition gets searched for Chinese tea subphrases to hyperlink as Babelcarp invocations.

    Where else can I go to find out more?

  • What do they taste like? That's what it's all about, isn't it? If you want to read what actual humans experienced when they brewed specific Chinese teas, you should probably read tea blogs and find a few written by people whose sensibilities seem to match yours. A good place to look for tea blogs is the Alltop tea blog aggregator.
  • What about tea in general? The best starting point for learning about tea in general is the FAQ for the newsgroup maintained by the stalwart Chris Roberson.
  • Is there a good list of Chinese teas? Sure there is - the only trouble is, it's in Chinese.
  • There's a dictionary with a somewhat broader scope than the Carp here.
  • Are there tutorials on Chinese tea? Yes, there are. A good one is here. You can probably learn a lot there; you probably won't be bothered by its author's command of English because you've developed enough humility fumbling with Tea Chinese.

  • Lew Perin Last modified: Wed Sep 01 10:06:03 2010