Thursday 8 August 2019

A chocolate teapot in anyone's language

What is the most useless thing you can think of? A chocolate teapot, perhaps? A chocolate fireguard? A pair of spectacles for a one-eared man? Append your own – but I think I have found a new and singularly useless thing, and it’s in the world of wine.

The world of wine has, of course, been responsible for some spectacularly stupid items, many of which we have highlighted in our annual Xmas Gift Marts.  But surely this takes the (chocolate) biscuit.

It is an augmented reality app, which translates wine labels.

Created by two immensely hairy men, their spiel suggests that this app might ultimately provide users with a load of the other stuff which a winery often wants to show you, but you really don’t need to see; probably sunset over their vineyard, or gnarly old peasants picking their grapes, or a trendy-looking winemaker swirling, sniffing and tasting their own product with smug satisfaction. Rather like a dog. But let’s focus on this translation business.

Why oh why would you want to translate the name of a wine? Surely the name of a wine is its brand – you don’t want it translated. A bottle of Sides of the Rhône, anyone? Vineyard of the Sun? Écho Cascades? Would anyone, anywhere ask for a bottle of Latour as a bottle of The Tower? Or for that matter, La Torre?

Translating a wine’s name strips it of its authenticity. There may be some people challenged by pronouncing Casillero del Diablo, but that’s its name, and there’s no reason to translate it into The Devil’s Cellar. And if you did, no wine merchant would have the foggiest idea what you were asking for. If you asked a wine merchant for holy wine, would he give you a bottle of vin santo or just a very funny look?

No, this app is of no use to consumers, partly because you need to have the label, and therefore bottle, in hand in order to scan it. You can’t just point the app at a distant bottle behind a bar, or up on a shelf, in order to discover how to ask for it. In fact, even if you could, why not save the download time and point at it with a finger?

And by the time you have it in hand, why would you need to translate its name? No further discussion is needed. Brandishing a credit card is usually sufficient for a perceptive retailer to grasp the idea that you wish to purchase something. Or you can do that traditional mime of someone signing a cheque, surely due to be replaced by a mime of someone keying in their PIN.

At most – at most – a winery itself might want to translate the name of their wine once, in order to communicate with markets unfamiliar with their native alphabet. But if we wanted apps we would use only once, we would all have installed iBeer.

Also, I’m afraid it’s not even very good at translating. I’m no multilinguist, moi, but even I know that if Pinot Noir appears on a Spanish wine label, it should remain exactly that on a French label – and not be “translated” into the utterly meaningless Pilote Noir. You had one job…

Heston Blumenthal did actually create a chocolate teapot, for Easter last year.  It was, said his Fat Duck Group, “filled with whimsical wonder”, which I suppose makes a change from sweets.

(“A surprise awaits chocolate lovers,” they said, “who are able to actually eat the sweet teapot.” In what sense is that a surprise? What are you supposed to do with something made of chocolate – drive it? A far greater surprise would have awaited chocolate lovers if it had been made out of bacon…)

Anyway, a chocolate teapot (not one of Heston’s) was actually tested for its efficacy, by filling it with teabags and boiling water (as opposed to whimsical wonder). It was found, perhaps not surprisingly, wanting. “The first evidence of loss of containment was observed at approximately T+5 seconds,” it was reported. “This had reached catastrophic proportions by T+15 seconds, with total loss of H2O containment.”

The researcher concluded that, “On the basis of this test we felt it safe to conclude that, in respect of its suitability for the role that its design suggests, a chocolate teapot is of no use at all. As such, such an item should serve as an excellent baseline of uselessness against which to compare other, similarly dysfunctional, items.”

Like this app.


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