Feb 4, 2019

Review: the Plantronics Voyager Legend monoaural headset for translation

Ergonomics are often a challenge with the microphones used for dictated translation work. I've used quite a few over the years, usually with USB connections to my computer, though I've also had a few Logitech wireless headphones with integrated mikes that performed well. However, all of them have had some disadvantages.

The country where I live (Portugal) has a rather warm climate for more than a few months of the year. Wearing headphones can get rather uncomfortable on a hot day, and even on a cold one, the pressure on my ears starts to drive me nuts after an hour or so.

Desktop microphones seem like a good solution, and I get good results with my Blue Yeti. But sometimes, when I turn my head to look at something, the pickup is not so good, and my dictation is transcribed incorrectly.

The Hey memoQ app released by memoQ Translation Technologies Ltd. underscored the ergonomic challenges of dictation for me; the app uses iOS devices to access their speech recognition features, and positioning a phone well in such a way that one can still make use of a keyboard is not easy. And trying to connect a microphone or headset by cable to the dodgy Lightning port on my iPhone 7 is usually not a good experience.

So I was intrigued by a recommendation of Plantronics headsets from Dragos Ciobanu of Leeds University (also the author of the E-learning Bakery blog). A specific model mentioned by someone who had attended a dictation workshop with him recently was the Plantronics Voyager Legend, though when I asked Dragos about his experience, he spoke mostly about the Plantronics Voyager 5200, which is a little more expensive. I decided to go "cheap" for my first experience with this sort of equipment and ordered the Voyager Legend from Amazon in Spain. I did so with some trepidation, because the reviews I read were not entirely positive.

The product arrived in simple packaging which led me to think that the Amazon review which suggested the "new" products sold might in fact be refurbished. But in the EU, all electronic gear comes with a two-year warranty, so I don't worry too much about that.

Complaints I read in the reviews about a short charger cable seem ridiculous; the cable I received was over half a meter long, and like anyone who has computers these days, I have more USB extension cords than I know what to do with should I require a longer cable for charging. The magnetic coupler for charging has a female mini-USB port, so it can be attached to another cable as well. Power connections include the most common EU two-pronged charger, the 3-pole UK charger and one for a car's cigarette lighter.

The package also included extra earpieces and covers of different sizes to customize the fit on one's ear.

I tested the microphone first with my laptop; the device was recognized easily, and the results with Dragon NaturallySpeaking were excellent. Getting the connection to my iPhone 7 proved more difficult, however. I read the Getting Started instructions carefully, tried updating the firmware (not necessary - everything was current) and tried various switching and reboot tricks, all to no avail.

Finally, I called the technical support line in the US in total frustration. I didn't expect an answer since it was still the wee hours of the morning in the US, but someone at a support call center did answer the phone. He instructed me to press and hold the "call" button on the device until its LED begins to flash blue and red.

I did that, and when the LED began flashing, "PLT_Legend" appeared in the list of available devices on my iPhone. Then I was ready to test the Voyager Legend for dictated translation with Hey memoQ.

Because I work with German and English, I rely on Dragon NaturallySpeaking for my dictation, and the iOS-based dictation of Hey memoQ will never compete with that. But I am very interested in testing and demonstrating the integrated memoQ app, because many other languages, such as Portuguese, are not available for speech recognition in Dragon NaturallySpeaking or any other readily accessible speech recognition solution of its class.

As I suspected, my dictation in Hey memoQ (and other iOS applications) was easier with the Voyager Legend. This is the first hardware configuration I have tested that really seems like it would offer acceptable ergonomics for Hey memoQ with my phone. And I can use it for Skype calls, listening to my audio books and other things, so I consider the Plantronics Voyager Legend to be money well spent. Now I'll see how it holds up for long sessions of dictated legal translation. The product literature and a little voice in my ear both claim that the device can operate for seven hours of speaking time on a battery charge, and the 90 minutes required for a full recharge will work well enough with the breaks I take in that time anyway.

Of course there are many Bluetooth microphone devices which can be used with speech recognition applications, but what distinguishes this one is its great comfort of wear and the secure fit on my ear. I look forward to a closer acquaintance.

Jan 22, 2019

The Ultimate Comparative Screwjob Calculator for translation rates

Some years ago I put out a number of little spreadsheet tools to help independent translators and some friends with small agencies to sort out the new concepts of "discount" created by the poisonous and unethical marketing tactics of Trados GmbH in the 1990s and adopted by many others since then. One of these was the Target Price Defense Tool (which I also released in German).

The basic idea behind that spreadsheet was the rate to charge on what looked to be a one-off job with a new client who came out of nowhere proposing some silly scale of rate reductions based on (often bogus and unusable) matches. So, for example, if your usual rate was USD 0.28 per word and that's what you wanted to make after all the "discounts" were applied, you could plug in the figures from the match analysis and determine that the rate to quote should be USD 0.35, for example.

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
Fast forward 11 years. Most of the sensible small agencies run by translators who understand the qualities needed for good text translation are gone, their owners retired, dead or hiding somewhere after their businesses were bought up and/or destroyed by unscrupulous and largely incompetent bulk market bog "leaders" with their Walmart-like tactics. Good at sales to C-level folk, with perhaps a few entertaining "inducements" on the side, but good at delivering the promised value? Not so much in cases I hear. And many of the good translators who haven't simply walked away from the bullshit have agreed to some sort of rate scale based on matching (despite the fact that there is no standard whatsoever on how different tools calculate these "matches" and now with various kinds of new and nonsensical "stealth" matches being sneaked in with little or no discussion).

So now, it's not so much whether a translator will deal with a given rate scale for a one-off job, but more often what the response should be to a new and usually more abusive rate scale proposed by some cost- and throat-cutting bogster who really cares enough to shave every cent that an independent translator can be intimidated to yield, thus destroying whatever remaining incentive there might be to go the extra mile in solving the inevitable unexpected problems one might find in many a text to translate.

And this, in fact, was the question I woke up to this morning. I told the friend who asked to go look for my ancient Target Price Defense Tool, but I was told that it wasn't helpful for the case at hand. (It actually was, but because of the different perspective that wasn't immediately obvious.)

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
So I built a new calculation tool quickly before breakfast which did the same calculations but in a little different layout with a somewhat different perspective: the Comparative Screwjob Calculator (screenshot above), because really, the point of these match scales is to screw somebody.

Shortly after that, I was asked to include the calculations of "internal matches" from SDL Trados (which are referred to as "homogeneity" in the memoQ world, stuff that is not in the translation memory but where portions of text in the document or collection of documents have some similarity based on their character strings - NOT their linguistic sense). And of course there are other creatively imagined matches in some calculation grids - for subsegments in larger sentences (expect to get screwed if an author writes "for example" a lot) or based on some sort of loser's machine pseudo-translation algorithms that some monolingual algorithm developer has decided without evidence might save the translator a little effort - cut that rate to the bone!). So I expanded the spreadsheet to allow for additional nonsense match rate types ("internal/other") and to compare a third grid which can be used, for example, to develop a counterproposal if you are currently billing based on an agreed rate scale and a new one is proposed (all the time keeping in view how much you are losing versus the full rate which might very well be getting charged to the end customer anyway).

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
The result was the Ultimate Comparative Screwjob Calculator (screenshot above). Now that's probably too optimistic a name for it, because surely those who think only of translators as providers of bulk material to be ground up for linguistic sausage have other ways to take their kilos of flesh for the delivery mix.

If this all sounds a bit ludicrous, that's because it is. I am a big fan of well-managed processes myself; I began my career as a research chemist with a knowledge of multivariate statistical optimization of industrial processes and used this knowledge to save - and make - countless millions for my employers or client companies and save hundreds of jobs for ordinary people. I get it that cost can be a variable in the equation, because starting some 34 years ago I began plugging it in to my equations along with resin mix components and whatnot.

But the objective I never lost sight of was to deliver real value. And that included minimizing defects (applying the Taguchi method or some other modeling technique or just bloody common sense). And ensuring that expectations are met, with all stakeholders (don't you hate that word? it reminds me of a Dracula movie in my dreams where I hold the bit of holly wood in my hand as we open the coffin of thebigword's CEO) protected. That is something too few slick salesfolk in the bulk market bog understand. They talk a lot of nonsense about quality (Vashinatto: "doesn't matter"; Bog Diddley: "no complaints from my clients who don't understand the target language", etc.). But they are unwilling to admit the unsustainable nature of their business models and the abusive toll it takes on so many linguistic service providers.

So use these spreadsheets I made - one and all - if you like. But think about the processes with which you are involved and the rates you need to provide the kind of service you can put your name to. The kind where you won't have to say desperately and mendaciously "It wasn't me!" because economic and time pressures meant that you were unable to deliver your best work. That goes as much for respectable translation companies (there are some left) as well as for independent service professionals who want to commit to helping all their clientele receive what they need and deserve for the long run.

Jan 14, 2019

Specialist terminology taxonomies from Cologne Technical University

Click and thou shalt go there!

Early in the last decade when I lived near Düsseldorf and began translating full time, the nearby technical university in Cologne had an excellent terminology studies program run by Prof. Klaus-Dirk Schmitz, who also had a long history in Saarbrücken back in my exchange student days there. I had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman at various professional events for Passolo (before it was swallowed by SDL) or other occasions, and I remain impressed by the professional qualities of some of the colleagues he helped to educate. At some point he or one of his students pointed me to an interesting online collection of specialist terminologies created by students at the university as part of their degree work. While student work must be viewed carefully, on the whole I found these collections to be of better quality than quite a few put together by "professionals", and their structured taxonomies were also interesting to people like me who enjoy such things. And occasionally the terminologies were rather helpful for certain technical topics I translate.

But over the years I simply forgot about them for the most part, and when they did come to mind I assumed that the old MultiTerm engine used to handle the data on the site would no longer work. That latter assumption may be partly correct; I found the collection again, noted that the most recent addition to the term library was a bit over a decade ago and that the search functions don't seem to work with Chrome, though I am able to browse the structured taxonomies without difficulty.

Looking through the list of term collections, I saw one that would be particularly useful for a current personal effort: beekeeping. One of my projects for the year ahead is to add some hives to the garden to see if I can improve some of the vegetable, fruit and nut yields. A local Portuguese beekeeper and I have been trading poultry, and he kindly provided me with a copy of his thesis on apiculture and offered assistance to get me started. So I am reading up on the subject in several languages, thinking to put together a good terminology to make cross-referencing the concepts between English, German and Portuguese a little easier.

One thing I never tried to do before was to extract data from the FH Köln (Cologne Technical University) site into any sort of terminology management tool. I don't think they were ever intended to be used that way, and at the time most of the collections were put together, translation environment tools were much less widely used by professionals and university study programs than they are today. But after a little thought and experimentation, mining the pages proved to be quite simple.

Here's how I did it:
  1. Opened a collection of interest and expanded the folder tree for a particular language completely, then selected and copied all the text in that frame:

  2. Pasted the copied content as plain text (no formatting) into Microsoft Word. The numerical codes were followed directly by the text entries.
  3. Removed parentheses by searching and replacing with nothing.
  4. Inserted a tab between the number codes using search and replace with wildcards (regex of a sort):

  5. Switched to the other language in the term collection and repeated steps 1 through 4.
  6. Transferred the contents to Excel (various ways to do this).
  7. Imported the Excel file with the specialist terms into a term base in my translation environment tool of choice.