Sufficiently Advanced Technology

In which The Author works his magic

As I noted in my other blog O’Gorman’s Unfamiliar Quotations last week, the late great Sir Arthur C. Clarke once wrote one of my favourite sentences ever: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’
I had occasion to quote that memorable quip at the last meeting of our local Plaid Cymru branch. With just over two months remaining until the Welsh Assembly elections, I’d suggested reviving our blog idea (originally mooted last year), and also expanding our presence on social media generally.
We had a fairly low profile already. Cerith and David have been tweeting regularly about the campaign; Danny and Barry have been putting stuff on Facebook as well. But I suggested that we could present a united front by having a dedicated Twitter feed, an Instagram feed, and even a YouTube channel, as well as a WordPress blog a bit like this one. I could use the handy ifttt tools to connect them all together as well, so that an update on one would feed through to the rest automatically.
Cerith was very enthusiastic about the idea. Peter (the treasurer) was even more enthusiastic when he found it was all going to be free of charge. John thought it seemed like a reasonable plan. Only Brian, who’s well into his seventies, seemed a bit baffled by the whole idea.
‘How are you going to do all that?’ he asked.
I quoted Sir Arthur’s line, and then said, ‘Brian, I’m going to do it by magic.’
Everyone laughed, and I knew I’d won them over.
The following day I set to work. I made a new Gmail address specifically for my purposes, and registered Plaid Cymru Cwm Cynon as a new user on WordPress. Then the fun started.
I knew I had to make the site bilingual. I only had Welsh lessons for a couple of periods a week in school, and dropped it in favour of French when I chose my O level subjects. I knew I could rely on Cerith and David to translate the content when the time came, but I was hoping to arrange the site so that Welsh and English appeared in parallel columns. I nosed around the page designs for a while without finding anything suitable. I logged into the support forums and asked if anyone had any suggestions for a workaround.
Within half an hour one of the WordPress tech support team replied. She said that they didn’t have any themes which would meet my requirements. Instead, she suggested setting up two parallel blogs – one in English and one in Welsh – with a menu option to toggle between them. That seemed like a sensible compromise, so I thanked her for her advice and set up Blog No 2.
While I was nosing around the settings, I discovered that there was a facility to change the language the content was ‘primarily written in’. It seemed intriguing, to say the least. I put some content up just as an experiment, and was quite pleased to learn that the whole page now displayed in Welsh – even the menu options and widget headers. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. It would have been daft to have a Welsh blog with English text around it, so it was a nice little bonus.
(I briefly went a stage further and tried changing the interface into Welsh, too, but that changed everything to Welsh. It’s a good thing I can navigate the dashboard with my eyes shut, as otherwise I might never have been able to change it back.)
Anyway, I decided that the first entry on the new blog would be the party’s Nine-Step Plan for Wales (not to be confused with the 12-Step Programme, which is something quite different). I had the little booklet in my pocket, so I laboriously typed it all out and then started formatting it. The English was straightforward enough. I played with the font size and colours until I was happy with it, then saved the whole HTML page as a text document so that I could carry the layout over to the Welsh site.
The only real problem I encountered was when I came to the special characters. Some Welsh vowels are written with a circumflex, and not all of them appear in the extended character set of WordPress. I made a comment about this little snag on Facebook, and was extremely grateful when my old friend John J. told me how to work around it.
I’ve come across Unicode before, of course, but I didn’t know how to go about embedding entities into HTML. Luckily for me, John is a very experienced web designer who’s worked for a lot of clients in Wales. He knew exactly what I was up against, and I learned something new as a result. Next time I need to type the word grŵp (Welsh for ‘group’), I know what to do. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, eh?
Anyway, the blog is taking shape slowly and surely. I’m still waiting on photos of some of the main players, and bits of text from some others. I’ve used Google Translate to cobble together the Welsh content, and I’m waiting on some of the gang to sign it off before it goes live. But we’re on Twitter and Instagram as well, so the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together nicely.
Why not stop by and check out the English language part of the site, and then use the menu options to switch to Welsh? I modestly think it’s looking quite good. Even Brian the muggle will be impressed.
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