Nov 25, 2014

My first project with memoQ 2014 Release 2

When I got my first look at the test version of the upcoming memoQ release, memoQ 2014 R2, I argued with  Kilgray that it ought to be called memoQ 2015 instead, not only because the year 2014 is almost over, but because this software represents a major break with the old interface design. Kilgray likes to point out that there are not so many new features being introduced here - perhaps a mere "dozen" give or take a bit - but just one of these - the new ribbon interface - has its own 50 page manual. Meu deus.

On the whole I am coming to view the rapid pace of development for some CAT tools in a rather negative light. I rather like the current memoQ 2014 release, but I am not even close to coming to grips with the 70+ new features introduced earlier this year (which has probably grown to 100+, depending on how you want to count them). I think back to my experiences as a corporate systems consultant in the archiving and document management sector and those working with a state department of transportation before that, where many thousands of networked workstations and other systems had to be managed for maximum productivity and minimum disruption. It took me a while back then to understand why, after many months of thorough testing at enormous cost, an upgrade for  something like Internet Explorer was permitted for the version two whole numbers below the current one. I eventually learned that these big organizations were not so dumb after all: being on the "leading edge" is too often the same as the "bleeding edge", which can have considerable, unanticipated costs.

This is the reason why for years I have advised my clients and colleagues not to consider new versions of any tool for routine production use until several months at least past its release date, and to use "roundtrip testing" in every instance to ensure that a technically usable result can be obtained from every project. Ultimately, Kilgray and others are going to have to determine whether constantly stirring the feature pot in a way that too often makes established workflows obsolete is in the best interests of their clientele and market future. Despite all the trendy talk of the benefits of disruption and "creative destruction" I am unconvinced that this is the case.

However, I do see very good reasons for the major changes to the interface in memoQ 21014 Release 2, and I think that new features like the limited sharing of online translation memories and termbases (with an open API in the future to allow access by other tools I'm told) are an excellent intermediate stage for those who aren't quite ready to move up to a team server solution like memoQ Cloud or the greater access capacity of the full memoQ Server license but who still need realtime data sharing for projects with a partner from time to time.

Kilgray's blog has a good post describing the basic shift in the logic of the environment from cataloging commands as one might in a library or inventory system to organization by the normal sequence of work. This makes a lot of sense, and this is also the way I teach new users to use the software, with small sets of features organized according to the sequence of typical work.

After spending about a week just staring at the new ribbons, I decided to do my first small, low-risk commercial project with the test version. Everything went quite well, but I had to fight a sense of disorientation as I kept looking for commands in the lower area of the screen, which is now free for viewing more files and file information in a project. In some cases, I had to get used to clicking on the little arrows under icons rather than the icons themselves. Nothing I needed was difficult to locate, but as a longtime user of memoQ with many ingrained habits, I will take some time getting used to this, after which my work will probably proceed even more smoothly. In any case, it is clear to me that new users will find their way more quickly with this new, workflow-based interface.

This impression of greater ease for new users was reinforced by remarks from a colleague in my office a few days ago. Her professional background prior to her activities in translation was as an educational psychologist and adult education teacher, and when I began to complain about how awful the new ribbons were and how uncomfortable I felt with them, she patiently explained how I had it all wrong and why the new design was much more logical and easier to use. Years ago I teased SDL Trados users who bitched at first about the change from the nasty old over/under TWB interface to the tabular working environment of SDL Trados Studio only to become enthusiasts later when they realized how much their workflows had improved; I fear that I will also become a just target for such teasing.

I don't want to admit it, really, but I am already beginning to like those awful ribbons, which are perhaps rather useful after all. And if I really don't want to look at them, they can be hidden with just a click, leaving me with even more working space on my screen. So all right, I'll say it. Reluctantly. Good job, Kilgray.

Now who is going to re-do all the screenshots and videos for my tutorials?

Nov 22, 2014

Put on the red light at thebigword!

For those of you who thought that "House of the Rising Sun" was an Animals original, think again. It's likely that the song predates the recording of Leadbelly's wife here; the traditions of translation and the often similar business described here go back a long time, and these days, they seem to intersect particularly, particularly if one is "in a relationship" with a large Linguistic Sausage Producers (LSPs) like thebigword, which recently issued one of its periodic demands for translator rate cuts in a year in which record profits were posted and fat bonuses paid (see "Meaty Payday for thebigword Director").

Often when veteran translators gather at conferences, online or even down the road for coffee, the subject of project management quality - or the lack thereof - at companies like thebigword, TransPerfect, Lionbridge et alia comes up. There is a widespread impression that these big agencies hire recent university graduates as staff to recruit, test and manage translators, editors and interpreters for their corporate and government clientele. I cannot count how many times some outraged language service greybeard like me has griped about the stupidity of some PM who is presumed to be not only wet behind the ears but in other ways as well, not having yet graduated from diapers.

I am pleased to report that these assumptions appear to be baseless, at least as far as thebigword is concerned. After a tip from one colleague, I began to research the impressive qualifications of the human interfaces at this LSP using their LinkedIn profiles. Here is some of what I found:

Clearly, the next time I do a translation related to veterinary science or training dogs to track and hunt, I will need to take care, because my work might be reviewed by a volunteer dog handler. And I'm sure that these big sausage shops have the erotica angle covered too.

Reviewing the educational histories of some staff at thebigword who claim to recruit and test translators, I found it interesting to note that university education did not appear to be a job requirement. No matter; I can name two good linguists who never attended university, and I'm sure there must be a third one out there somewhere. With project management skills, of course.

So, dear colleagues and corporate clients, the next time you are frustrated in your dealings with some large translation agency and start to grumble about the qualifications of recent university translation studies graduates, be careful. My initial research shows that you may owe a big apology to some recent grads.

If you are looking for an exit strategy from the bulk market bog, don't let the glass door hit you in the a**e!

Nov 20, 2014

Well MET near Madrid.

It's been nearly three weeks since I returned from my first meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators association, METM14. In that time I've wondered how to share all that I brought back from the gathering, and I'm afraid I still don't know how to put it all into words. I've become increasingly reluctant to participate in translation conferences in the past few years, took a break of about a year and a half from them, because too many had become venues for pushing a corporatist agenda which I feel has little to do professional language service of real social value. The unexpectedly excellent IAPTI conference in Athens last September marked my return, and what pleased me most there was the clear focus of the event program on the professional practice of freelance translators and interpreters. No sales pitches, no Linguistic Sausage Producers explaining their multiphase chop-and-grind workflows to redefine quality as a complex function of engineering incompetence, empty promises, pseudoscientific LQA scores and extrusion rate. MET's outstanding 10th annual meeting in San Lorenzo de El Escorial near Madrid was an exquisite dessert after the feast in Athens: once again I had the great pleasure to meet a number of professional peers with experience and competence well beyond my own, some who have been mentors of mine for years with their contributions for practical corpus linguistics in translation and other topics dear to me.

And once again I had the delight of a program that was, for me, truly something completely different. In all the professional conferences I have attended in the past 15 years, this was the first one where a substantial number of attendees were serious, professional editors. Many translators take on "editing jobs" for better or worse, but at METM14 I was surrounded by people who pursue this activity with a professional seriousness and rigor which was quite frankly new to me. And their perspectives on some matters which are routine in my own work seemed more than a little weird at first.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone on the pre-conference workshop day as I sat in an excellent session by Mary Ellen Kerans on corpus-guided decision-making. A paper that she co-authored years ago with two other colleagues gave me my first exposure to the effective use of corpora for my translation work, but I had always applied these techniques from my own rather settled perspective as a translator. On that day, I saw how editors use the same techniques for very different purposes, and after about a half hour of considerable confusion, I enjoyed surprising new insights in how I might improve my own work by considering these other perspectives.

The editors' perspectives continued to alternately confuse and inspire me for the next two days. I learn something at most conferences, but usually what I walk away with are ideas that are not too far from my usual professional comfort zone. Here I was challenged in new and different ways, and I really loved that. I had been aware of MET for a number of years because of a few colleagues in Stridonium who were members, and I've looked at the conference program off and on for about five years and was always impressed by their focus on peer-to-peer teaching, but what I found was really well beyond my good expectations.

I attended the event with another colleague from Portugal who is relatively new to translation; she was a little nervous about her first professional conference, and although I expected she would gain some useful insights, I did not really know what would await a new professional at METM14. Any concerns were quickly dispelled; I was extremely pleased to see how many new professionals were welcomed and encouraged to participate by so many with more experience than I am likely to gain still in what remains of my professional life.

My friend was thoroughly inspired by the people she met and the presentations and workshops she attended, and on the long drive home after the last day she put together puzzle pieces from a number of talks and hit me with new ideas for teaching translation support technology to new users that still have my head spinning and will be the foundation for my next book, which I hope to release by early next year. This was just one of many occasions where I have found that newcomers to a profession can contribute some of the most important insights for improvement.

Defenders of the Portuguese language at METM14
Next year's annual meeting (METM15) will be held at the end of October in Coimbra, Portugal at the university there. If you are getting tired of the same old topics presented by the same old suspects and programs clearly driven by agendas at odds with the ethics and interests of freelancers and staff professionals who put quality first, then you may want to join me next October in Portugal for another healthy serving of professional dessert.

Emma Goldsmith has blogged a good overview of the sessions she attended at METM14, which can give you a feel for some of what you may have missed. The conference program offers more, less personal information. But don't rely on the impressions of others; come next year to a great event in a great country and then tell others yourself what this unusual mix of extreme professional competence has to offer.