Mar 6, 2015

What's your addiction?

Bet you didn't know this use for an iPhone! Free app available in the Apple Store....
Yesterday was not a great day. In fact, it's been a bad past week. The downward slide started with an unrecognized synonym when talking to a receptionist at a medical clinic where I had gone to get my foot x-rayed. Out of nowhere, a panic attack. I began to hyperventilate and stepped quickly into a nearby courtyard outside and around a corner to face a wall and calm myself. But they found me. Would not go away. Then it got worse. Thinking I was having a heart attack, they called paramedics. How do you tell someone to fuck off and go away when you just need some quiet to get centered and you cannot remember the words in a new language?

Yesterday, again. I went to the post office to pick up a package. Took a ticket, waited for my number to come up. It did. At the counter the clerk looked at my ticket, made a face and began to berate me in somewhat harsh tones, almost as if she had learned her manners in Oranienburg, near where I used to live in Germany. As the rush of incomprehension took my ears, I left quickly, sat in the car nearby, hyperventilating. Coffee, I thought, and headed to my cantinho for a galão. Still feeling the alienation and panic I remembered an unpaid vet bill, so I went by the clinic and settled it, though the tightening of muscles amplified the pain in my feet and caused me to move in a way that added half a century to my chronological age. Afterward, I sat in the car, hearing the rush of traffic behind me, fearing I could not pull out of the parking space and drive home safely. Back then to the cantinho for another dinner seasoned with solitude and muito vinho tinto.

In the two years I have lived in my new home, I have acquired an ever greater appreciation for what involuntary migrants, aka refugees, might experience in their dislocation. It's not the country. It's not the language, which is usually a musical massage to my ears and spirit even when I cannot yet discern all of its meaning. And it is certainly not the people or their culture. In fact, I say truthfully to my friends and others here that the worst of my days in the Alentejo are better than most days for me in a place like North-Rhine Westphalia or Brandenburg.

I have spent a lot of time meditating on what it was that I sensed in my first days in Évora more than two years ago which makes this place feel more like a home or a potential home than any I have experienced in decades. My stress reactions are minor and normal for anyone in a new environment where the networked roots of existence and social life are barely sprung from the seed. But the soil here is fertile, and those roots do grow, albeit sometimes not quickly enough to support the plant, windblown and wondering and alone in its field of dreams.

The answer to that question and many others came in an article referenced by a faraway friend this morning. The essential message for me was nothing new; in fact, I have been stating it quite plainly in other words for most of the past week. But the article did solve a few other mysteries, like how it was that I kicked a pain pill addiction last autumn and realized only weeks afterward that I had done so after simply forgetting to medicate my arthritic foot because I was busy.

About the time that I moved to Europe 15 years ago, Portugal had the worst drug problem on the Continent. Then the natural, good sense I appreciate so much in this culture took over, and the society surrendered in the War on Drugs and embarked on a very different path to peace than the usual one taken. Not only was drug use completely decriminalized, but steps were taken for the social integration of addicts. No big deal I suppose, not here where respect for human dignity is so deeply ingrained in the culture that so many of the Portuguese do not realize the extent of their true wealth.

But look at the results: drug use has plummeted. Addiction rates are half of what they were. And the prisons are not full. Alas, there is not much future in a career as a prison guard in Portugal unless you feel like watching over corrupt politicians.

The article shared by my friend and colleague is one of a number I have seen lately about drug use and treatment and the "astonishing" success of Portugal where every other country I can think of has lost the war. Portugal's surrender is a victory in fact, one which we can all share. But it's not about decriminalization. It's not about drugs. It's really about human connection.

The article referenced talks all about the "chemical hooks" we all know that drugs have for us. But what about gambling? Or porn addiction? Or any of the many other addictions comonly spoken of today. Power? Money? Smart phones? Software solutions to human problems? Machine pseudo-translation, anyone?

We talk about "addictive personalities". You know, that common flaw of that weak and worthless human refuse found in our dirtiest, most dangerous alleys. Or corporate board rooms.

Are these personalities truly more prone to addiction? Controlled studies do seem to indicate this. But the gifted scientists who were my teachers, Frank Lambert in particular, often warned me about drawing such conclusions without looking carefully at the design of the system and my assumptions and whether I was dealing with a closed or open system. And that, my friends, is the real problem.

As we translators like to say, context is everything.

As Johann Hari wrote in the article:
".., in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently?
So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died." ...
"... addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage." ...
"After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for 57 days—if anything can hook you, it’s that.
Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is—again—striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them." ...
"Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find—the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe [or a smartphone]. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else."
This is the sort of thing which bothers me deeply about the profession of translation in its current state. It's not about machine translation. It's not about technology of any kind, nor about "linguistic sausage". But it is very much about Linguistic Sausage Producers and processes, very much about technology as The Golden Calf and very much about the sausage into which we grind and extrude people when we put the tools and methods above them.

I was told once by a friend that "the world needs the machines made in small German villages to run". No we fucking don't. That statement upset me so much that I gave away most of what I owned some weeks later and simply got in the car, drove 2800 kilometers and started a new life. A good life, even when the inevitable isolation at the start of it makes some days hard.

I saw some of this last week in a professional context when I had lunch with Joaquim Alves, owner of JABA Translations in Porto, who is now starting a new venture, the JABA Academy. He told me the reasons for starting this new company and his goals to promote better professional skills in the translating communities His translation company does not rely on massive databases of virtual slavelancers. His slaves are right there on the plantation, in-house.Making a decent wage for Portugal, with health benefits and paid holidays. And educational oportunities, paid by the employer, like mine were in the US decades ago before neo-Regeanite madness and Randian cults took over.

Is JABA an evil sausage shop like thepigturd and others? I don't think so. The Devil is in the details, but so are the angels not yet fallen. What I see there is an environment, perhaps not one for which I am personally suited, but in which professional language workers are part of a supported community of work, with integrated training and support. I imagine they are less likely to go shoot heroin, talk to their smartphones instead of their girlfriends or neighbors, less likely to live their "lives" on Facebook.

ISIS has ambitions to take over the world, with vegans in hot competition. Both will inevitably fail, above all for their lack of respect for other people. My money is on Portugal to conquer, at least by example. The addict in me certainly hopes so.

Feb 21, 2015

Veganazis in translation: a fifth column for ISIS?

The Translation Conference Organizer's Final Confession
First they asked for kosher food and separate plates, and I gave it to them, because after all, religious practice should be respected—
though I am not a Jew.
Then they asked for halal food, and I thought "why not?", the Muslims I know are mostly cool—
though Islam is not my Way.
Then they asked for vegetarian food and got it—
Because I am a vegetarian.
Then they asked for vegan fare and it was done—
Because that diet helped Clinton lose weight.
Then they asked for "raw vegan" and I said, "What?"
Because I know raw text, raw emotions, raw deals, raw sex, but can't get my head around a raw vegan.
Then they came for me—and put me on trial for eating honey and contributing to the enslavement of bees. Please God, let them kill me now before I eat another carrot stick.

CAT tools re-imagined - an approach to authoring and editing

I am often asked about the monolingual editing workflows I have used for some 15 years now to improve texts which were written originally in English, not created by translation from another language. And I have discussed various corpus linguistics approaches, such as to learn the language of a new specialty or the NIFTY method often presented by colleague Juliette Scott.

However, on a recent blitz tour of northern Portugal to test the fuel performance of the diesel wheels which may take me to the BP15 and memoQfest conferences in Zagreb and Budapest respectively later this year, I stopped off in Vila Real to meet a couple of veterinarians, one of whom is also a translator. During a lunch chat with typically excellent Portuguese cuisine, the subject of corpus research as an aid for authoring a review paper came up. I began to explain my (not so unusual) methods of editing and existing document when I was asked how the tools of translation technology might be applied to authoring original content.

The other translator at the table said, "It's a shame that I cannot use my translation memories to look things up while I write", and I replied that of course he could do this, for example with the memoQ TM Search Tool or similar solutions from other providers. And then he said, "And what about my term bases and LiveDocs corpora?", and I said I would sleep on it and get back to him. In the days that followed, other friends (coincidentally also veterinarians) asked my advice about editing the English of the Ph.D. theses and other works they will author in English as non-native speakers of that language. One of them noted that it would be "nice" if she could refer to corrections made by various persons and compare them more easily. I said I would sleep on that one too.

A few days after that the pain in my hands and feet from repetitive strain injuries and arthritis was unbearable, aggravated by a rope burn accident while stopping an attack on sheep by my over-eager hunting dog and by driving over 1000 km in a day. I doubled down on the pain meds, made a big jug of toxically potent sangria and otherwise ensured that I was comfortably numb and could enjoy a night of solid sleep.

It was not meant to be. Two hours later I woke up, stone sober, with a song in my head and the solution to the problem of my Portuguese friends writing in English and Tiago wanting to author his work in memoQ for the convenience of using its filters to review content. Since then the concept has continued to evolve and improve as others suggest ways of accommodating their writing or language learning needs.

After about a week of testing I scheduled one of my "huddle" presentation classes, an intimate TeamViewer training session to discuss the approach and elicit new ideas for adapting it better to the needs of monolingual authors. The recording of that session is available for download by clicking on the image of the title slide at the top of this post. (If you have the free TeamViewer software installed, unpack the TVS file from the downloaded ZIP archive, double-click it, and the 67-minute lecture and Q&A will play.)

I'm currently building Moodle courses which provide more details and templates for this approach to authoring and editing, and it will be incorporated in parts of the many talks and workshops planned this year.

I am aware that SDL killed their authoring product, the Author Assistant, and that Acrolinx offers interesting tools in this area, as do others. But I'm usually hesitant to recommend commercial tools in an academic environment, because their often rapid pace of development (such as we see with memoQ) can play serious havoc with teaching plans and threaten the stability of an instructional program, which is usually best focused on concepts and not on fast-changing details. So I actually started out my work and testing of this idea using the Open Source tool OmegaT, the features of which are more limited but also more stable in most cases than the commercial solutions from SDL, Kilgray and others. But as I worked, I noticed that my greater familiarity with memoQ's features made it an advantageous platform for developing an approach, which in principle works with almost every translation environment tool.

Part of my motivation in creating this presentation was to encourage improvements in the transcription features available in some translation environments. But the more I work with this idea, the more possibilities I see for extending the reach of translation technology into source text authoring and making all the resources needed for help available in better ways. I hope that you may see some possibilities for your own work or learning needs and can contribute these to the discussion.