Dec 31, 2009

Trados Classic as the fulcrum of collaboration

ful·crum (ˈfu̇l-krəm, ˈfəl-), n.
plural: fulcrums or ful·cra \-krə\
etymology: Late Latin, from Latin, bedpost, from fulcire to prop
1 (a): prop; specifically : the support about which a lever turns (b): one that supplies capability for action
2 : a part of an animal that serves as a hinge or support (also applies, given what a beast Trados is!)

Users of other translation environment tools often become irritated when Trados is referred to as a "standard". It is certainly not one in an official sense; no national or international body has recommended compliance with its formats and protocols. Yet as an early entrant to the field of machine-assisted human translation tools backed by ruthless marketing, for many it became a de facto standard, and in seeking to gain acceptance on the market, vendors of many better alternative tools adopted Trados file formats or enabled their users to work with them in some way.

I suppose that in ten years' time formats like TTX and the marked-up "bilingual" format of files processed with the Trados macros in Microsoft Word or some equivalent will be rare or non-existent. However, with other tools such as Wordfast Classic or Anaphaseus using this markup as a primary format and MemoQ and Déjà Vu X supporting it as an exchange format for compatibility and collaboration, the engine driving the persistence of Trados formats is no longer entirely of the original provider's making. So for a number of years yet, I think it will be important to understand the role that Trados data formats can play in information exchange and collaboration in translation projects. My comments below in this post can be understood primarily as tips and instructions for people who use the old Trados (version 8.3 or earlier) as a tool for a project where there is the intent to outsource some of that project's content to translators who use some tool other than Trados. Please note that I am describing only scenarios with which I am familiar; if there are important differences that apply to different tools, I encourage more knowledgeable persons to enlighten me and others in the comments.

The first thing an outsourcer must understand and decide is whether the "compatibility" that a translator offers by working in a tool other than Trados and exporting "Trados-compatible" files (bilingual files, TMs and terminology resources) is really sufficient. The answers to this question can vary a lot.
  • If you insist on a Trados project using a Trados TM server (TM Anywhere technology), especially where multiple translators must be coordinated, you are probably aware that there is really no substitute for the translator working in Trados itself in some way. None of the major TEnT vendors' servers are accessible by clients from other providers as far as I know. So here the translator will have to bend his or her knee and kiss the pope's ring or just skip the job. If you as an outsourcer are willing to accept compromises or the translator will be working alone (so you can perhaps provide a TM export and the translator won't miss out on contributions from others in a project), then keep reading for more options. I have a client in Switzerland that likes translators to work off their Trados server online. Although I have the technical ability to do this, I refuse to work this way due to years of bad experience with "enterprise technologies" from Trados. (TeamWorks put such a bad taste in my mouth that it would take an Act of God to make me willing to use such things from that source again.) So this client kindly provides TM exports with a password for access. For "confidentiality reasons" and because of contractual obligations to the end client (I am told) they cannot give me the password so I can use this database. However, this is a virtual fig leaf, because they know that I can find out the TWB password in seconds using TMPwdRec.exe from Kakeeware. It works with Trados versions through 8.3 (despite the fact that the highest version mentioned on the linked web page is 6.5).
  • If your source file is fairly complex or maximum leverage (i.e. highest quality matching) is very important in later projects, then you want to have your files pre-processed with Trados. How depends on your needs and workflows. As many who have moved from processing MS Word files with the macros in Word to translation of these files in TagEditor have learned, what should be a 100% match from the TWB TM often is not; the same issue will often be found if you get a TMX file from OmegaT, MemoQ or some other tool. Your translator may or may not have a copy of Trados to do this, but if you have special segmentation definitions or other unusual circumstances, you might want to prepare the files yourself. Also make it clear to the translator whether it is "allowed" to change your segmentation. I always assumed that combining bad segments and occasional adjacent ones in order to create more sensible and/or better content and avoid nonsense in the TM was desirable until I encountered a colleague in Colorado whose projects often demand such extreme levels of automation that he expects translators to change absolutely nothing with the default segmentation. This extreme attitude is an unfortunate byproduct of working with primitive technologies like Trados; with TM-driven segmentation like you'll find in MemoQ this is no longer an issue, as the best match can be created dynamically. Since my colleague is a smarter guy than I am, I assume he's already moved on to something better or will do so at some point.
    If you will prepare the Trados files for your translator, so-called presegmentation of the files will generally be necessary (unless the translator uses something like Wordfast Classic or Anaphraseus, which more or less follow the old Trados macro rules for segmenting as they work). Find out whether the translator wants files where the target segments are populated with an exact copy of the source (necessary at the current time for OmegaT as I understand it) or whether fuzzy match content - where present - should be written to the target. The latter option is best if the translator's software can handle it, and it will usually save the most time. If your translator does not have a licensed copy of Trados, you should also be kind enough to export the TM, usually to TMX 1.4 instead of the Trados TXT format, so that the translator can use it for concordance lookups. Instructions on how to perform this presegmentation procedure using the Workbench Translate function and particular settings for copying the source to target on no match will be found in my old published instructions for processing Trados RTF and Word projects with Déjà Vu or the information on handling TTX files with Dejà Vu. The preparation is generally the same for software other than DVX. (Both instruction sets are long overdue for an upgrade, but are still OK for orientation purposes. There is also a lot more information to be found in online forums and the Yahoogroups lists for various tools.)
  • If all you care about is getting a good translation and having something for your Trados TM that will usually give you reasonable matches and enable concordance use, then TMX or bilingual exports from tools like DVX or MemoQ are generally more than adequate. In fact, in some cases, this is the only way that an outsourcer can access Trados project content in Trados. I have one customer, a great EN>DE translator and Class A editor who subcontracts a lot of her DE>EN work to us. She works with Trados and expects to receive TM material for her Workbench TMs as part of the deliveries. However, many of her projects, including the MS Word files, require the use of TagEditor, and she has an old version of Trados which cannot handle most of these files in TagEditor. So we do the work in DVX or MemoQ and send her a bilingual RTF or MS Word file to clean, even if the source format is InDesign, Excel, PowerPoint, XML or something else. She can access the information in her concordance and she's happy. I like the true joke that, in many instances, third-party tools are more compatible with Trados than Trados itself. I have seen many examples of this. Even die-hard Trados users would be well-advised to keep licensed or unlicensed versions of a tool like MemoQ around to iron out such circumstances or to send a translation of an InDesign file to a translator with Trados who refuses to use Tageditor. Or to deal with cases where there are a lot of numbers and dates to fix, as noted in an earlier post.
  • Exchange of terminology data poses its own challenges at times and should probably be handled in a separate post. However, in my experience, there are few outsourcers who make sophisticated use of MultiTerm, and terminologies are usually maintained and exchanged in another format. There are, however, a number of good methods for receiving and sending terms, and the only scenario I see as an insurmountable problem for other tools beside Trados is one where dynamic availability of terms via an online server is important. Those cases are rare.
Except for the first case cited - translation projects that use an online Trados server - outsourcers really can be confident that "Trados jobs" done with a third-party tool really are 100% compatible with their processes. This is especially the case if an actual copy of Trados (licensed or demo) is used for pre- and post-processing steps. With regard to segmentation issues, there are possibilities for "improvement" in some cases, which have been discussed for TTX files in an earlier post ("Crossing Segment Boundaries").

As with any project, it's also important to remember to provide copies of the source material as a PDF where possible, so that the formatting and the purpose of mysterious tags/codes can be understood better and errors avoided. But this is true for any project, not just ones involving a mix and match of tools. Yet I am continually surprised by how many experienced project managers and translation consumers forget this basic principle.

Dec 29, 2009

Translating Trados TTX files with MemoQ

Quite some time ago, I summarized the techniques for translating TTX files with Atril's Déjà Vu X and published the information as a PDF file, which is available as a free download from one of my web sites (by clicking the link earlier in this sentence, for example). Now I would like to present how this task might be approached using Kilgray's MemoQ.

First of all, let's consider why you might want to do this at all. I think a typical situation might be where your customer insists on a TTX file as the deliverable translation. Another case might be where the files to be translated need to be pre-processed with TagEditor to reduce import time (like when MS Word files are heavily laden with graphics). I often use TagEditor to pre-process jobs I translate with Déjà Vu, and while MemoQ's import capabilities are generally better than those of DVX (and MemoQ sometimes handles files that TagEditor can't), sometimes everything just runs faster and better if I make a TTX to import into MemoQ.

You can argue about TMX compatibility with the customer all you like, but in many cases too much leverage is lost for future work if you deliver anything except a properly translated TTX file. So don't argue, just do it. In most cases you will want to pre-segment the file. The procedure for doing this is described in Steps 0 & 1 of the Trados TTX in DVX instructions previously mentioned. If you do not have access to a Trados license to use a TM provided and get the best leverage, you should ask your client or a colleague with a Trados license to assist you in the presegmentation (the latter only if the client's confidentiality rules permit).

When you are ready to import the TTX file into MemoQ, there are two options in the Project Wizard or in the Project Manager window: "Add document" and "Add document as...". The former is an import routine that simply brings in the segmented content. The second option opens the document import settings window (click for an enlarged view):  

Selecting the option to import unsegmented content (circled in red with a red arrow pointing to it) will cause numbers and dates, which are usually skipped by Trados, to be imported into the MemoQ project. I don't know of any other software that will do this currently. This is very helpful for technical or financial documents with tables of numbers to be corrected. It is not easy to find all this content in the TagEditor environment, so in this regard, this aspect of quality assurance is a lot easier for a Trados project if it is done in MemoQ.

Quick minds may have realized at this point that with this second import option, all the content of an unsegmented TTX file can be imported. While this is indeed possible, it's usually not a great idea, and it may upset the customer in many cases. This is because the the TTX file cannot be "cleaned" to transfer the data into the Trados translation memory. However, a target file can be saved from it. If for some reason you translate a TTX without segmenting it, the TM information is transferable to the client as a bilingual file (Trados-compatible Word document) or a TMX export from the MemoQ TM, but this is a rotten idea for all but the simplest files, because the segment leverage of the content imported into the Trados TM will probably be awful. You are much better off getting someone to segment the original TTX for you and "retranslating" it from the TM in MemoQ. The only time I would translate an unsegmented TTX myself is if I am using that format for expedience in the case of a huge Word file full of graphics or something similar.

After the TTX has been imported into MemoQ, if you want to clear the target cells, then right-click anywhere in the translation work area and choose Clear Translations... from  the context menu. If you want to clear only a specific range, select the beginning of that range, then shift-click at the end of the range to select all the cells in between. In either case, there are a number of options for what should be cleared (all translations, just unconfirmed segments, etc.). The way this option is implemented is less dangerous than the analogous function in DVX, where I have to remember to filter what I want to keep before clearing target cells. Filter functions can, of course, be applied in MemoQ too.

When you are done translating the (segmented) TTX file in MemoQ, your output is a "uncleaned" TTX file that contains both the source content and your translation. If you have a copy of TagEditor and the original file available, you can save a copy of the translated file in its original format by using the command File > Save Target As... in TagEditor. If you don't have the original file, you can't save a target file - your customer will have to do that.

If your customer has a translation memory relevant to your project, it should be exported from Trados Workbench in TMX 1.4 format and imported into a MemoQ database for concordance use. Please note that it is better to use these databases for the pretranslation/presegmentation step than to presegment the Trados file against an empty database (basically copying the source content 1:1 to the target) and then translate in MemoQ using the migrated TM content from Trados; the leverage will generally be higher (i.e. more and better matches).

This procedure is safe and 100% compatible with Trados. It can also be performed with the unlicensed version of MemoQ (MemoQ4Free) with the restrictions that apply to that product (only one file, no import to the TM, just to the termbase).

Dec 25, 2009

The new Déjà Vu

As the developers choose to classify it, it's only a new build of the current version 7.5 of Déjà Vu X. It was expected quite some time ago but was delayed for the testing and refinement of file filters among other issues.

I downloaded the update file (about 35 MB) from Atril's web site and ran the installation right away. As I expected, there were problems with the dongle drivers immediately thereafter, so that I was confronted with a dialog informing me that DVX would only run in demo mode. This is a common problem, which was dealt with as usual by rebooting and running the program to reinstall the drivers (path: C:\Program Files\ATRIL\Deja Vu X\Dongle\setupdrv.exe). Afterward, when I launched the application, I was pleased that my other settings, including recent projects, were all intact.

According to Atril's version history, the changes in the new build versus Build 303 are:

  • Added new filter for working with XLIFF files, including SDL Trados Studio 2009 SDLXLIFF
  • Added support for FrameMaker v9.0 in FrameMaker MIF filter
  • Added support for InDesign CS4 in InDesign INX filter
  • Microsoft Windows 7 officially supported
  • Microsoft Office 2010 (current at Beta 2) officially supported
  • Improvements in the RTF filter, including reduced extraneous codes and improved performance
  • Fixed issues with curly brackets in PO filter
  • Improvements in the XML filter, including better handling of large CDATA sections and improved performance
  • Improvements and fixes in the MIF filter, including better handling of index entries, footnotes and text insets
  • Various fixes to the SDL IDT filter
  • Fixed issues with exporting satellites
  • Improvements in number handling (particularly in Propagate) and case conversions
  • Fixes issues with filter on selection
  • Fixed various issues with mouse/keyboard focus
  • Fixed various issues with TMX import/export
  • Fixed various issues with MultiTerm import
  • Fixed various issues with TM import/export
  • Fixed various issues with TD import/export
  • Fixed issues with alternate portion handling when work with a separate edit area
  • Fixed issues with search and replace in TM and project

The points highlighted in red are ones that have particularly concerned me in my work; others will have a greater interest in other points, of course. I particularly look forward to seeing if the improvements in the RTF filter will eliminate the need to run Dave Turner's CodeZapper macro on almost every RTF or DOC file I translate with Déjà Vu. Also, the fact that all attempts to import MultiTerm data in the past year have failed has been very irritating. I look forward to testing the performance of the new InDesign filter; in prior versions the filter was vastly inferior to the one in SDL Trados TagEditor, and the best I worked with in most cases was Kilgray's filter for MemoQ.

As has always been the case so far, this upgrade is free to all registered users of DVX. Free upgrades forever aren't the smartest business model if you are trying to cover the cost of ongoing development and support, so I hope that changes at some point so we might see more frequent improvements to what is still in many respects the best translation environment tool (TEnT) option available for freelance translators and small agencies. When asked what I recommend these days, it's a hard call for me. Most of the time I recommend MemoQ now, because of the advanced features, momentum and support that product has as well as its affordable server capabilities, but for quite a number of project types I do frequently, Déjà Vu X remains a critical element. Right now it's very hard to state the best technical choice without knowing a lot about the asker's project mix, so my recommendation is usually based largely on support now. In that respect the team of Atril and PowerLing still has a lot of lost ground to recover.

Dec 22, 2009

The 2008 BDÜ rate survey

Last year's rate survey published by the German translators association BDÜ caused a bit of a stir; it was the first time that such information had been collected and published, and some looked at the published rates as being unrealistically high, while others considered them laughably low. In other words, the rate debates it inspired were no different than any others I've heard or read elsewhere.

This year's publication format is much nicer than the last one. The numbwits involved in last year's booklet were so afraid the data might be copied that they printed it on red paper. This made it very hard to read, and I was quite annoyed at the strain my eyes experienced when trying to read some of the interesting information at the back. This year, good sense prevailed, and the booklet was printed black on white with occasional bits of grey shading, the purpose of which escapes me (maybe it's explained somewhere - I haven't read everything yet).

What interested me was whether the reported rates were significantly different from last year. On the whole I would say that they are not. The number of respondents is slightly lower in most categories than last year (for my DE>EN pair at least), some rates are a bit higher, some a bit lower. No dramatic change in any direction, and I doubt that the changes found are statistically significant. So it would seem that, for German to English at least, the number of panicked translators slashing rates in anticipation of the End of the World (aka "the crisis") is balanced by those of us partying our way to Armageddon by raising rates (something it would seem daft not to do given the huge increases in utility costs and food in the past year).

This year's data included not only the averages but also the median values to give a better picture of the distributions. Personally I would like to see the raw data or at least some standard deviations. Then I can aim to become a "six sigma translator" :-)

Here are some of the current rates reported for the DE<>EN combinations:

For those who want these data as word rates, go query Ms. Muzzi's Fee Wizard or do some word counts on a few of your own documents and figure it out. There are word rate data published by the BDÜ as well, but the number of respondents was much lower (5 for court work), so the data are less indicative I think. It's important to remember that these are average data from an ordinary range of presumably qualified translators. Although the BDÜ does require various types of translation credentials for membership, there are plenty of credentialed translators who would make much better gardeners and pastry chefs or something else. Anything but language service providers.

Averages and median values for hourly rates published for German to English range from 40 to a bit over 60 euros for all the categories. English to German is a bit less, probably due to the competition in Germany.

What's the situation for other language combinations? There is data for language pairs that do not include German, such as FR<>EN. The number of respondents for those combinations is low, but the numbers they report would probably cause some translators in the US and UK to respond with disbelief. On the whole, however, the data reported by the BDÜ is plausible and fits what I have see in recent years. There is a huge range of rates in the real world, and it's as much a matter of marketing and customer service as it is linguistic skill.

Once again, the full booklet with all rate tables and other useful information can be ordered from the association at It should be noted that the booklet is in German; the tables above are my translations of an excerpt of the information.

Dec 19, 2009

Translation tool interoperability: Achieving more without the war

A Call to Armistice

Those involved for years with the language services industry have become accustomed to arguments about the best translation environment tools or related programs. To someone familiar with the IT scene for over three decades, these discussions have a very recognizable tone, one often found in the pitched battles between acolytes of IBM, DEC, Sun, Apple and a long list of software and hardware providers too numerous to list in a hefty telephone book. A bit of quiet reflection and a bit more well-grounded understanding then and now, however, lead to the same conclusion: there is no ideal, universal solution to be found anywhere. Some solutions are better on the average for most situations than others, but even the worst tools on offer probably have some scenario which they handle better than any others. Aside from human stubbornness and greed, a good reason why there are so many solutions available for computer-aided translation technology and other IT technologies is that nothing does everything well.

The IT departments of companies came to this realization long ago, not only for practical reasons, but also due to budget constraints. After IT had matured somewhat as a discipline, it was no longer cool to buy the whole package from Big Blue or another source if the mix-and-match approach could produce a better solution for less money. This led to the situation we have today of alliances between vendors co-promoting each others' products and ensuring reasonable degrees of compatibility and interfacing.

Providers of tools to the language services industry have by necessity worked with some common standards, albeit imperfectly in many cases, and have provided compatible or at least semi-compatible solutions for working with file formats from competitors. However, a true commitment to interoperability has not been apparent up to now; such work has typically been presented as a necessary evil if a client expects deliverables in a format out of the ordinary for the translator's preferred tool. There are, however, situations in which parts of a project simply work better with a certain tool and other parts are better done with other software. Sometimes these processing advantages for certain operations are great enough to justify the purchase of software licenses which one does not intend to use to the full extent. What these advantages are in specific situations will be described in later articles, and the judgment of whether they justify learning new software and possibly spending money is left to the reader, who is presumably a competent adult able to make independent decisions and accept responsibility for errors. Each project has its own unique set of criteria, and I make no claim that the techniques discussed will lead to an acceptable solution in every case. The information will be presented as food for thought, which may be of benefit in the some circumstances, and discussion and amendment is encouraged.

I think the time is long overdue to call an end to CAT fights and encourage courtesy and cooperation between solution providers. I would go as far as to call for common interface standards for server communication to allow translators to do client projects on remote servers using the TenT client of their choice. Unrealistic? I don't think so. Solutions like that are not uncommon in mature areas of IT. We need more than browser interfaces. I think that even with the discipline of common communication and exchange interfaces for TEnT data, there is a lot of value to be added by the individual providers such as Atril, Kilgray, SDL and a host of others as they optimize ergonomics and improve data management features.

MemoQ Fest 2010

Earlier this year, Kilgray held the first MemoQ Fest in Budapest after a year of rapid development and progress with the company's flagship application that brought it from the status of an interesting but somewhat impractical newcomer to the TEnT scene to a serious contender for a championship title. Before attending the event last April, I had tested MemoQ off and on for about a year, but I had not been satisfied that it would work for me. Then along came version 3.5 shortly before the conference, and an introduction to it as well as success stories from corporate, agency and freelance users finally pushed me to use the latest version for serious work, not just tests. And for the last seven months I have done just that.

On the whole I am very satisfied with MemoQ as readers of this blog have probably noted. There are some behaviors of the editor module which drive me nuts, and I am not very happy with the program's performance tuning when I use large databases, and I miss certain basic features that I have taken for granted with Déjà Vu X, but MemoQ has brought many unique capabilities to my business which were lacking in the tools I used otherwise (mostly DVX, Trados and Star Transit). The filters for various formats often proved better than SDL Trados or DVX, the ability to import unsegmented content from TTX files (or even do a TTX without segmentation), reasonably stable bilingual Trados exports (though perhaps in need of a few rules, like blocking or converting hard returns within segments), seriously cool server capabilities, relatively fast, trouble-free data import and export, TM-driven segmentation and more. Oh yes, and my favorite, if trivial feature: the ability to customize and save keyboard configurations, so the ergonomics of my MemoQ installation are much like my DVX. No disorientation like I used to experience all the time when switching between DVX and Trados.

MemoQ Fest 2009 opened up more than just technical possibilities for me. It gave me several days of opportunity for private discussions with ordinary users, who shared personal stories of the excellent support they had received from the Kilgray team long before I ever heard of those guys. And of course we all had a lot of fun. Hard not to in a city as beautiful as Budapest when you get to spend the days around nice people with good attitudes and ideas.

So when I got the e-mail from Sandor Papp of Kilgray announcing the call for papers and registration for MemoQ Fest 2010, the decision to attend was pretty much a no-brainer. Especially given the impending release of MemoQ version 4. A rather awful personal schedule in the last few weeks has prevented me from attending the various overview webinars so far, but I know enough about the plans for version 4 to know that it will only improve my opinion of this software and the team behind it. The development and release schedule has in fact slipped a bit compared to announcements earlier this year. But not by much, really, and not without significant advance notice and good justifications. (At the same time various competitors have either released crap on schedule that should have been kept in development for another 6 months or passed a promised release deadline and said nothing at all.)

I'm looking forward to a few fun days with the Kilgray team and its fan base... uh, I mean customers... and the opportunity to learn a lot more about how to get the most out of my personal software investment as well as how clients of mine might benefit from developments in MemoQ Server technology. Since it's a particular interest of mine, I'm also considering a brief talk on tool interoperability for those who must in one way or another integrate MemoQ with other tools such as Trados, Star Transit or DVX in a project. With that in mind, I'll probably publish snippets of relevant information here or on my Facebook page (depending on which format proves more practical for organizing) as preparation. Stuff like the old instruction sets I wrote for editing Trados bilingual files with DVX, etc. If there are any particular things on your wish lists in this regard, let me know.

Nov 29, 2009

Cleaning up more source file messes with Dave Turner

I don't know if the rumors are true that the beatification process has begun in the Vatican by grateful translators there whose prayers for an efficient way to deal with superfluous format tags were answered with Mr. Turner's Code Zapper macro. If not, surely his latest contribution will send him further along the path to Translation Sainthood: the Format Fixer macro, which in his own words
  • deletes leading spaces and tabs inserted typewriter style to indent text, and sets the equivalent indent,
  • deletes excess spaces between words,
  • deletes excess paragraph marks and sets the equivalent vertical spacing, 
  • attempts to correct frequent punctuation errors (space before comma or inside a parenthesis for example),
  • tries to fix PDF converted files (removes hard and soft returns to make text wrap properly),
  • adds a space between a number and a letter as in 20ohm, 10daN -> 20 ohm, 10 daN
It's available free on the Yahoogroups dejavu-l forum (path:, but obviously it's useful to anyone who works with text in MS Word or RTF files regardless of CAT religion.

Nov 27, 2009

Pure productivity: 50,000 words translated with Déjà Vu during a toilet break!

This has been a week for ludicrous but probably true claims. SDL, a company noted for sleazy advertising on its path to World Domination, started off with an e-mail advert claiming that past ATA president Marian Greenfield translated 34,501 words in 10 hours using the new Trados Studio 2009. Soon after, translator Wolfgang Jörissen revealed that he had processed over 50,000 words using Atril's Déjà Vu during a toilet break. I'm still waiting for the corresponding revelation regarding MemoQ. It's sure to be a good one.

What has all this got to do with translation in the real world? Not much. SDL, it seems, was boasting about features not available in its previous software versions but functionally available for years with the competition. No news there. But the outrageousness of the claim ignited heated discussion on ProZ, Jill Sommer's blog and elsewhere. Admittedly, some of the discussion is Greek to me, but I think many people are just fed up with the failure of SDL to promote the features and advantages of the company's software without distortion, deception and hyperbole. And unfortunately this means that sometimes their good support people (there are some) and others end up as collateral damage. What's wrong with a little sobriety and balance in marketing? In an ideal world, I'd like to see SDL, Atril, Kilgray and others collaborating on interfaces so we can all use whatever tools we prefer and connect to whatever server solutions some of our clients might prefer. Dream on, I know....

Nov 26, 2009

Zetsche's Tool Kit newsletter still rules

Today I got an e-mail notice telling me that my premium subscription to Jost Zetsche's Tool Kit newsletter had run out and reverted to the standard (free) subscription. My how time flies. A year ago tomorrow I wrote a review of the newsletter after receiving a few issues with premium content. After six months I added a comment that I was still satisfied, and after a full year I can honestly state that it has been quite worthwhile. So of course I renewed. For a mere $15 per year this gives me access to valuable insights from one of the best, objective translation technology gurus I know. He is very thorough in his research, and his recommendations are carefully considered, with solid context. If you don't know the newsletter, click the icon above and sign up for the free version, and if keeping up to date with the most important developments in technology for our profession is worth at least $1.25 per month to you, then treat yourself to a premium subscription. It's worth it. Apparently as an owner of a previous version (7.0) of his e-book The Translator's Toolbox I also get an upgrade to the new version 8.0 for the newsletter renewal. I would have gladly paid at least $15 for that anyway, because I found it to be a useful reference work. Thank you, Jost.

Nov 17, 2009

A good book revisited

The flu is not one of my favorite experiences. Whether the illness that felled me last week, screwed up the quality of my work and kept me in bed unable to do any work for a few days was the swine flu I cannot say, but it left me feeling like an old, roasted pig. Being on my back for a while did have one good side, however: I could finally get around to reading the hardcopy version of a very interesting book for international freelance translators.

A year ago I published a short review on this blog of Oleg Rudavin's Internet Freelancing: Practical Guide for Translators. The original review was based on two incomplete preview chapters from the Translator's Training site. Now that I've read the whole thing in preparation for writing a review I promised to do for the BDÜ, I can repeat my earlier recommendation without qualification. Sure, the English is quirky in places and makes me smile, but big deal - I would be a dishonest fool to ignore the fact that this is a clearly expressed overview of a huge number - dare I say most? - of the issues that face freelance translators on the international markets today. Best of all, it's written by a fellow faced with brutal competition in a language pair often noted for its cut-throat pricing. Mr. Rudavin does well I think, but he doesn't live in the German-English Land of Milk and Honey, so he survives and thrives by his wits and learning from experience.

As I mentioned in my last review, I love the first-person narrative of this book. Examples given are based on real experience, and some of that experience is pretty damned embarrassing. This gives the book as a whole a lot more credibility. A wide range of issues, including all-important matters of rates and reality as well as the complications of international banking are discussed. For those outside the US and Western Europe, this may be thought of as a critical business survival guide for Internet freelancing. For those like me inside the walls of Western Europe, it's a real eye-opener to see what a colleague in another country sometimes has to put up with just to accept a payment. Useful to know if I plan international cooperations or activity as a new agency.

Reading this book, I have the feeling that Oleg spent the week as my personal advisor, helping me to review my business and find ways of restructuring it in a more effective way. (And coincidentally, that's what I'm doing.) The advice in this book - the lessons to be gained from "listening" to his narrative - is worth a lot more than the cover price. If I stated the multiple I believe applies, I'm sure I'd just start a useless argument, but I'd laugh my way to a better business while arguing. Let's just say it's a fun and worthwhile reference book that has something of value for most freelancers, from rank beginners without a clue to old hands. You won't find every answer there, but you'll surely find more than you expect.

Nov 11, 2009

In the echo chamber of social media

Rod said...
I see you're going hog wild in the social media echo chamber ;-> I bet in the end that quietly doing translation work and then enjoying your free time will prove more profitable than chasing after loopy followers.
This comment on my Listening to Jeffrey post by our colleague in Japan reflects the confusion that a lot of people have with regard to so-called "social media" and the role these now play and will play in the future in our business and others. In fact, the latest newsletter from Mr. Gitomer included an interesting article on this very subject. According to Mr. Gitomer's definition of social media and my own understanding of the term, this "echo chamber" is where I and many others make a living. All of it.

Nitpickers will point out that Gitomer's definitions of social media confuse Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 media, but I don't think such distinctions are particularly productive. I think it's important to consider one's online presence as a whole. This will include e-mail, static media, dynamic media and interactive media, and the lines are not always clearly drawn between these areas. In the end what matters is that potential clients and colleagues with shared interests can find you and interact in some useful way, with the ultimate result hopefully being that the electric bill and a few other things get paid.

My business uses no local advertising. I have a sign next to the door so temporary postal workers don't walk away with my business mail undelivered, but local directories, yellow pages, etc. are not graced with my business presence in any form. And as much as I agree that it is valuable to attend local business chamber mixers and get involved in other community organizations, time is short, and I usually prefer to spend that limited time exercising the dogs, hunting or studying for a test. The time I spend "advertising" my business - or more correctly making the world aware of the fact that I exist and offer certain services - is generally better leveraged online. The experience of others may differ, of course. And along with the inevitable echo that over 30,000 Google hits brings (one friend recently complained that Google autocompletes my name, but I think that's normal), comes a steady stream of interesting professional contacts and inquiries resulting from the full range of online media I use.

What are these media and how do I use them? Some of this is covered in many earlier posts, but I'll take this opportunity for a recap and overview, because my approach is developing as I learn more, and it might be useful in six months to a year to see what has changed.

Let's start with e-mail. That's not really what one thinks of under the category of social media, but it is the most frequent direct means of communication that many of us use with our clients and colleagues, and it is often a gateway to social media interactions. How is that? In my e-mail signature I list addresses for my business web site, translation blog and translation-related Twitter account (so far, perhaps more to be added). I don't list my Skype account, though many do, and many use that tool to communicate with agency PMs and direct customers. Some of my signatures also include my pompous-sounding, legally protected German professional title as a state-examined, court-sworn translator. As silly as it sounds, it does carry weight with some clients, and it answers the question "Can you certify a patent translation?" without anyone saying or writing a word. There are many opportunities to use an e-mail signature effectively as a tool for improving communication and promoting your business.

There's this blog. Despite the irritating overabundance of comments on translation portal politics and other irrelevancies from time to time (virtual watercooler gossip, not to be confused with Any Bell's excellent Watercooler site), most of the posts reflects my professional interests as a translator in some way, including resources and tools which I think make my work easier. In some cases this provides information to prospects or current customers that make it clear that a particular project might be a good fit. Or tips I provide in the blog or a public forum may head off a private e-mail request or telephone call asking for help on a subject I have already explained a few hundred times. I began to write and publish little "how to" guides in PDF format a few years ago, because colleagues, customers and complete strangers were asking an enormous number of questions which often could be grouped in a few simple categories and handled in a 5 page written guide with a few screenshots. I usually give these away or actively promote them on web sites, public portals, Facebook, etc. This ultimately saves me time that I can spend on other things, and it demonstrates my competence in certain subject areas, which is often good for business.

My business web site is horribly outdated. I think it was last worked on seriously in December 2004, though a few minor changes have been made since then. Its successor has been in the works for over three years, but lack of time and my teenage daughter's opinion of my bad German have caused some delay. (I have been criticized for having a business web site only in English when I live in Germany and have most of my customers in German-speaking countries. However, the glass can hold only so much fine wine, and the tablecloth is ruined from the overflow as it is. I also got a belly laugh that the fellow with the harshest critical comments is a German who has French, German and English listed on his web site's landing page, but only the English link works, leading to pages that are shockingly ungrammatical.) In any case, with all its flaws, our site brings in steady business, even from customers who don't speak much English. Some day I'll do these nice people the favor of introducing myself online in German, but not before I have a full time secretary or project manager in my office to answer the phone and say I'm busy.

Online professional forums. For me these include the closed BDÜ members forum (not viewable by the public) and ProZ. Significant business volume and professional support from colleague has been derived from both platforms. I also have profiles registered with at least half a dozen other portals and forums, but these have not been very productive for me (and I haven't invested much time in them to be honest, so that may be the result), and if I could figure out how to delete some of these profiles (often quite difficult), I would.Depending on your location, qualifications, etc. the ITI, ATA and other organizations may offer other useful alternatives. These forums also contain searchable directories which have resulted in many referrals and excellent new clients over the years.

LinkedIn and Xing are favored platforms for "connecting" with business clients in the opinion of many. I'm present on both, and I find them to be useful tools to keep track of some colleagues past and present as well as clients, but I spend more time reading the Xing hunting forums in German than I do looking for business there. I think there's a lot of potential there, but my presence is and will probably remain largely passive. The structure of these environments doesn't really fit how I prefer to communicate, though I think forming ad hoc groups to discuss issues like crowdsourcing has some value.

If I did training videos as a way of promoting training or other services, I would probably use YouTube. I don't.

Even flawed online content publishing sites like eHow, where I have invested a little time, have brought in interesting business inquiries, though so far nothing of note has come of these. However, the fourteen short articles (11 related to translation) have been viewed over 2700 times in the past 5 months, which might prove beneficial in a business sense at some point if it has not already.

When Rod refers to "echo chambers", I presume he means Twitter and Facebook. I've written enough about the former I think; while I get irritated with one translator who seems to feel the need to let the world know every time she washes her hair, for the most part I have found the Twit Stream useful for communication in both directions. However, I am concerned about the manageability of that data stream, so I follow very few people. I think I've added one (Kilgraymemoq) in the past three months. Twitter has actually become the major mode of communication with a few colleagues who are very high on my professional respect list. Most of our useful exchanges fit well in 140 characters, and I'm sure they're glad not to see my pompous e-mail signature several times a day.

Facebook. Although I've used that platform to keep in touch with old high school friends and college buddies, FB has been a dilemma for business. I have a few friended colleagues there, most of whom I would consider actual friends in the real world or persons whom I would gladly have in that role, but when I get a request from a stranger or business I don't know I am not comfortable with given them access to my personal profile. I really don't think they need to see rude remarks from my sister, the stoned ravings or a high school friend who still hasn't overcome his substance abuse problems after 30 years or the political and military commentaries of my Texan cousin. Recently I read a blog post by Pat Flynn which seems to offer a solution to this problem or at least a plausible approach: Facebook "pages". I looked into this function and discovered that it works almost like a second profile and allows me to collect translation business information in a way that might be useful to my colleagues and clients without annoying the motley crew that constitute my friends and family. For the most part, I've found the setup and maintenance of my Facebook page for translation to be simple, and it lets me organize a few things in a way I cannot currently do with other tools. It feels comfortable. One thing that annoys the heck out of me, however, is the term used to refer to persons who subscribe to the profile stream or request access: fans. Elton John has fans, but until I learn to play piano and sing, I'd prefer a different word. I'm just not sure which one. My Facebook page allows me to organize information I may have published elsewhere in more useful, accessible ways. My "target price defense tool" - a spreadsheet for calculating a word or line price to counteract a Trados scale one disapproves of - has been available for some time on the How To tab of my ProZ profile for over a year and was even mentioned on this blog in its early days, but except possibly for members of a Bavarian BDÜ chapter who may have received the German version on a CD, I don't think many are aware of it. FB provides another channel which allows me to help fellow translators with information like this or agencies and direct clients with other issues.

As for chasing loopy followers, if henna gaijin applies, it's your issue, not mine or anyone else's ;-) Doing business involves letting people know what you do in a variety of ways, and I don't generally find it useful to put a money meter on every activity. Really understanding the changing world of online media means hands-on involvement, not eternal grumbling over a sake flask. Moreover, teaching and communication are important to me, and I will offer information in any channel which I think is of potential use to those who may benefit. Sometimes this may involve looking beyond the edge of my plate as the Germans are fond of saying. The world continues to change, and the long term viability of a business may very well be tied to taking steps today to explore communication media which may be important tomorrow and which are not obviously related to my main professional activities. If in five years most translation buyers and translators hang out on Third Life, I'll probably be there somewhere.

There are some things I plan to publish on my business page on Facebook which I really don't know where I should put elsewhere. I have a huge number of links to online dictionaries and other resources which follow various topics I translate frequently. I suppose I could do a "Links" page on my business web site, but I would really rather not for various reasons. It seems to me that the Facebook "Notes" function might be a more useful way to organize links related to hunting terminology, sustainability and corporate responsibility, materials science, etc. If desirable I suppose I could even use the Facebook pages or groups functions to organize information on specific translation topics. I might have to look into that someday.

And the next time I am accused of robbery, I'm sure that my participation in Facebook will prove useful :-)

Nov 8, 2009

Google Books

I'm sure we've all read the press reports about Google Books over the past year and the ambitious attempt to put a kazillion books online. From time to time when doing terminology searches, I have run across useful technical dictionaries that are not part of my private library but which are at least partially viewable on Google Books. Today, for example, I discovered a searchable version of Goetzel's German to English Dictionary of Materials and Process Engineering there. The hardcopy resides permanently on my desk, but it was actually quite nice to be able to keyword search the scanned version through Google. Curious to find out how many other of my favored paper references are to be found, I did a bit of searching and make a few other nice discoveries. This might be worth a look - see if your favorites or other useful reference works are available.

Some scanned books can even be downloaded as PDF files. Just for fun, I used the GB search engine to look for fully viewable books and used the keyword Wörterbuch for the search. I came up with 3,653 hits, including interesting gems like a dictionary about bees from the year 1765. Now this isn't the sort of thing needed every day, but just a few weeks ago I got a request to translate an 18th century biology text. Google Books might very well be a useful reference source for such historical work.

I hope this sort of thing continues. When I think of how hard it used to be to find books and how much time I used to spend driving from one library to another around Southern California, I wonder what wonderful place I've woken up in. A few years ago my mother sent me a digital photo of an old theological work inherited from one of my grandfathers. The thing was in Latin and alleged to be from the 16th century (based on oral family history). With the help of online search tools it took me about ten minutes to find out what the book was, which later edition that specific book was and what historical context it fit in. That probably would have taken me a month to figure out twenty years ago, or at least a long afternoon at the Huntington Library. I suppose that if I look on Google Books I'll probably find that one too....

Nov 2, 2009


It seems even familiar acronyms are now forbidden at PROZ:
Dear Kevin Lossner,
This message is to inform you that your post "RTFM" has been removed from public view because it was not in line with site rule:

Dear Kevin, I have changed the title of your posting.
Thanks for your contributions in DVX Support forum.
Kind regards,

Thanks in advance for your understanding and future cooperation.

Selcuk Akyuz, Moderator
This was in response to my posting a link to the user manual for the DVX Editor version for a user who apparently never thought to look at the program's documentation. At least Selcuk didn't feel obliged to delete the post like Miss Presbyterian Manners might have, but then Turkish manners usually do have better polish than what I see in other places. I suppose my response is
You're welcome and goodbye!
Really. Funnily enough, my use of BOHICA on previous occasions (probably referring to SDL Trados quality and support) never got censored. In any case, with the ProZ Puritan nonsense getting more ridiculous by the week, I am increasingly less inclined to give any help at all to the many clueless beginners there. Recently, a German acquaintance of mine shared his support correspondence after an Indian moderator deleted his post entirely because it linked to a drawing that showed some leg and cleavage. In India I am told that you can be arrested for holding hands in public; many probably remember the scandal over Richard Gere's innocent public kiss. That someone from there is given the ability to impose her backwater standards on the rest of the world I find greatly offensive. Los Angeles is not Calcutta. Shall I return the favor by sending her pictures of cattle being slaughtered? A bit of tolerance, not pandering to the lowest prudish denominator, is called for in international exchanges. Or shall Germany be forbidden to send its new foreign minister Mr. Westerwelle on a mission to Iran because the mullahs there like to hang gays?

I do not consider it professional to pander to the medieval revivalists or those who have never made it past that period culturally. I have seen ProZ job notices looking for translators for adult content. Surely this offends many, and it's not exactly my cup of tea, though I had no problem with translating a text for a gay outcall service that placed a strong emphasis on health and responsibility. I refuse to translate for tobacco companies, and I have a strong personal reaction to the products, which include an allergy and clear memories of the misery of family members dying of lung cancer, but I think it would be overreaching for me to call for such job postings to banned or to curse my colleagues who do that work. And in that spirit, I will repeat my advice to the novice who will probably face many puzzling moments with many software programs - advice which most of us should probably follow more often: read the fucking manual!

Oct 27, 2009

Listening to Jeffrey

I'm a big believer in interdisciplinary principles. General education. Cross-fertilization. Recently I had a very disappointing conversation with a bright 16-year old planning to go to the university next year, who informed me that German education was superior because no time was "wasted" on general education and there was far greater rigor in the individual disciplines. Right. I suppose that's why the "best" university in Germany is ranked something like #65 in the world. And why objective studies place the country nowhere near the top of the European scale.

Germany has a lot to offer. And there are many brilliant, creative Germans in academia, industry and elsewhere whose contributions will stand up to those of any others. But I could probably say the same for Iran. The stars here, as in most places, do not draw their experience and ideas from one well; instead they synthesize information from many sources and look for underlying, general principles which often apply across disciplines.

Often, translators are far too insular. We spend our days with translations. We talk to translation clients about translations. Agencies about translations and translating. Colleagues - the same. I'm sure some of our pets are damned sick of hearing about Trados. (Yes, Astrid and Russell, I can say damned and even make it red, bold and italic here ;-)

Some of my translating colleagues - successful ones generally - draw their business inspiration from many sources, most of them having nothing to do with translation when taken at face value. But these smart people understand that the principles of general education apply throughout a lifetime and are usually the basis for success. That's why so often you'll find the English major with eclectic minors and broad general education in the board room raking in the multi-million dollar salary while the specialist Ph.D. labors unloved and unnoticed in the lab. I've been there and seen it in action at Avery and elsewhere. That's reality in the professional world, and the "nerd" who makes it to the top probably has a lot more on his shelf than the engineering degree would suggest.

This long, dull pontification is my silly way of leading up to a recommendation for a man who is on my list of must-read inspiration sources. If I met Jeffrey Gitomer in person I might have to step out for air after ten minutes. Maybe not. Sharp sales types get on my nerves big-time, unless they are 100% genuine, like a certain ex-decathlete sales and marketing executive I know who cares more about the well-being of his customers and his family than he does about making a sale. He is, of course, superbly successful, and he sleeps well at night with a good conscience. Mr. Gitomer is the author of a number of books on selling and related topics, none of which I have read, though perhaps I should some day. What I do read, however, is his weekly newsletter with advice on how to meet the challenges of selling. Lately - not surprisingly - his emphasis has been on how to survive and thrive when so many do not in the current economy. On the lower left side of the home page of his frighteningly bright web site, you can subscribe to his Sales Caffeine newsletter. Some days it is really a major jolt of java.

Mr. Gitomer makes a very real impression. At least the advice he dispenses fits with the experience (good and bad) I've gathered over the years, and his suggestions for doing better are plausible. Some are dead obvious, but many are not. A lot of what he says is directly applicable to the freelance translating professional, even though his main audience is very obviously salaried salesmen and -women. Ditto for agencies looking to save their businesses. This weeks's jolt is titled "Take a Internet lesson from the big companies. Don't do it their way." Gotta love it. Don't let the screwed up indefinite article upset you, my pedantic peers, the man is sharing the wealth there, and you'd be fools not to fill a sack or two before you move on.

Oct 24, 2009

Seminar in London for translating annual reports (German to English)

City University, London, is running a one-day seminar addressing content, style and process issues for German->English annual report translations – perfectly timed for the annual report translation season that starts in December 2009/January 2010!

Annual reports present significant challenges for translators. They span multiple registers and subject areas, require both absolute accuracy and impeccable style, and seem to get longer and more complex every year. This seminar looks at how translators can successfully provide the product and the service clients need for these projects. Topics covered will include the following:

- legal and accounting requirements
- target audiences and text registers
- translator roles and requirements
- bridging the cultural divide – or not…
- critical success factors and golden rules
- clients and all who sail with them
- project framework, planning and processes
- general stylistic considerations
- weasel words, bugbears, and dead horses
- participants’ questions

Presentations on the issues above will be accompanied, where appropriate, by textual analysis and translation exercises. Group participation and discussion is actively encouraged. The seminar will be led by Deborah Fry, Fry & Bonthrone Partnerschaft.

Seminar details:


Course cost: GBP 150, incl. lunch, coffee, tea.

This seminar will only go ahead if a minimum of 12 registrations are received in the next two weeks, so if you’re interested in attending, register soon!

Oct 21, 2009

Full speed ahead with the MemoQ Server

Some weeks ago I was invited to join a team of freelance translators working together (without an agency) on a joint project in MemoQ. I found the idea rather intriguing, and since the subject matter is something I can handle, I agreed despite my usual reservations about group projects. Early last year I was asked by an agency client to join a similar server-based project with MemoQ, but I had concerns about the quality of the work in that case and also did not want to take on a big project under time pressure with an unfamiliar tool.

My initial experiences are very, very positive. At the end of the project I hope to persuade the project leader to write a full summary of the experience to include on this blog as a guest post. But things look so good that I cannot restrain myself from making a few comments before then.

The setup of the MQ server appears to have been the easiest part of the operation. We did experience a lot of trouble at the beginning, but none of this was related to Kilgray's product; rather, there were issues with the router and its use of dynamic IP addresses. These problems were resolved with the help of an expert technician.

The time to download the server project update via the Internet seems rather long. But once that step is completed, the translation using a remote TM and termbase is actually faster than I experience locally using my huge TM migrated from DVX. (I have been advised by Kilgray to chop this up in a few pieces due to the optimization parameters for TMs in MQ, but haven't gotten around to it yet.) My project partners also reported that simultaneous translation in the same document by two translators worked like a dream, with updates appearing quickly on each translator's screen. Wow. One of them is in Germany, the other in the US.

Kilgray also offered a very, very friendly option for this project. The full server version with "online docs" (I think this means documents residing on the server instead of locally) costs around € 5,000 (for 5 concurrent user licenses) - not a lot, but still more than a few freelancers want to pay for what may be a one-off project. So the software is being made available on a limited term monthly lease. I don't know all the terms, but what I've heard sounds like spare change to me, and it gives us the ability to lease as needed for future projects AFAIK. Very, very good for ad hoc teams like ours, and one more example of the creative, customer-friendly approach the Kilgray team has adopted.

The actual working environment in MQ differs slightly in the server project, with the addition of a communication tab with a chat stream to discuss or point out important project issues.

All of this is extremely encouraging to me. The environment is clean, fast and offers top performance and productivity for collaboration. I see this as a real alternative for freelance teams and my agency clients who want to improve quality and efficiency.

Oct 13, 2009

Sillier and sillier

Recently, colleague Jeff Whittaker started a discussion thread on ProZ regarding bottom feeders and the suckers who beg to work for them. Some of the "offers" are quite entertaining, really, but they don't have much to do with professional translation. At about the same time, I got one of those frequent unsolicited e-mails from an Indian agency begging for work and promising to be cheap. I commented on this and shared a few excerpts from my correspondence with the agency, because I hadn't found time to blog about it as I would like to eventually.

Later in the thread, I responded to a point about the bottom of the market, relating my own experiences with an agency here in Germany. After a day, the post was censored by moderator Russel Jones for alleged offensive language:

Dear Kevin Lossner,

This message is to inform you that your post "No, the bottom in Germany is below that" has been removed from public view because it was not in line with site rule:

Thanks in advance for your understanding and future cooperation.

Russell Jones, Moderator
It seems that pew is getting crowded :-) As usual, here is the original post:
No, the bottom in Germany is below that Oct 12

Posting not yet approved

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:
... as a general trend in France, the Netherlands and Belgium (sometimes even Germany), I can see that agencies tend to pay the translator about 0.07 euros ex VAT per word and to sell the translations at no more than 0.12 euros ex VAT per word.

In Germany I know an agency seen here from time to time that is worse. Back in 2002 or so when I was building my client base, I took on one job with a really interesting topic for 6 cents/word, with the understanding that the usual rate for jobs to follow would be double that. I got a long whining list of excuses about how the budget for this one was exceptionally bad, etc. etc. and I though "what the heck, they don't know me, so it's an intro for us both". Well, these jokers turned out to be time-wasters, because every subsequent inquiry was offered at the same low rate. Seven years later I still get occasional contacts from these losers at the same rate, and I offer to do the work for triple that as a special favor for old time's sake. For some reason we never do business any more

That was the last time I fell for that sh*t. Either a job is serious and properly funded, or they can take it to Bangladesh for all I care.
Terribly, terribly offensive, though not necessarily for the language. And I'm sure that these days, if you are a ProZ moderator, yours doesn't stink ;-)

After I complained about the censorship, I received this kind note from Russel:
Kevin; I'm sure you can edit with an alternative to sh*t. You wouldn't believe how many complaints I get about such language! I don't find it all offensive but I'm afraid we need to recognise that is an international site and not all cultures share the sensible approach of the English speaking community!
Many thanks.

So the mods are "forced" to carry out actions against content that they do not find offensive? Interesting. Just following orders we wuz. Used to be a tradition of that here in Germany, but fortunately the populace has grown beyond that. Not so elsewhere it seems.

In memoriam: Richard Davey Benham

Our colleague Chris Irwin has written the following text to honor the late Richard Benham, a man noted for his professional competence and wit and whose untimely passing reminds us to appreciate our lives and the people we share them with today, because tomorrow may not count.


August 26, 2009 was a sad day for some in our profession, seeing the untimely demise of highly-respected and popular professional linguist Richard Benham in Australia at the age of 52.

Richard was well-known to many members of the community for the extent of his knowledge, his integrity, wit and the unique character traits that emanated from his entries in forum postings and terminology questions.

As a member of the UK Chartered Institute of Linguists, he held their DipTrans award for translation from both and French and German into English.

Richard’s fields of speciality were primarily in technical, including IT (he had experience as a programmer), automotive, electrical engineering and marketing work of a technical nature.

His elder brother Chris wrote: “Richard was the 'great brain' of the family, and the only one to have mastered more than one language. He had massive, massive knowledge and some great personal qualities. He could remember some of the things that happened in my childhood that I'd forgotten. He was the family champion at card games.”

Richards’ mother Daphne added in a letter to a colleague: “From early childhood, Richard loved learning and won state-wide prizes for both French and mathematics twice. He had suffered a fall last year on wet Geneva cobblestones and broke his left shoulder, which was a personal and financial disaster, severely affecting his ability to be present at the University of Geneva at the time. He was happy to be back in Adelaide uni doing a maths course and co-writing a paper on Dirac Delta Logic with an old friend who was a professor of philosophy, as well as finding time to do a bit of translating. It was all blue sky, or so we thought. Richard had a recurrence of stomach problems and the day after he had had both an endoscopy and colonoscopy he started vomiting in the night, subsequently passing away.”

Comments on an ‘R.I.P.’ forum on the site included these statements:
“I knew him only through this site and he was an inspiring and good person.”

“Oh damnit. This hits me pretty hard. We had emailed extensively a few years ago but were out of touch more recently. Am very sad to hear this and extend my sincere condolences to his family.”

“A much valued and respected colleague. I shall miss him.”

“He was someone I admired enormously, who was clearly a very talented person with excellent translation skills. I'm very saddened by the news of his death and I am sorry that I never had the opportunity to meet him in person.”

“I am shocked and saddened to hear of Richard's passing. Richard will be sadly missed by the many colleagues who got to know him over the years when he was an active member of the site. His outstanding skills as a translator, his sparkling wit and his frankness and honesty made him a colleague so many of us admired.”

“I had many great collegial discussions with Richard on KudoZ and respected him very much. I always valued his frank opinion and feel his contributions really helped.

Richard was truly a gentleman and a scholar. His passing is a huge loss to the translating community.”

Part of Richard’s integrity was indeed in his frankness, which led to his activities on the site being restricted. Some comments about this were edited out of the above forum; a tasteless action which caused disgust among several members.

Sep 28, 2009

Four months of Twitter

Last May I finally decided to become a tweeter on Twitter (or a twit some might contend). Four months on, my use and perceptions of that medium have changed little. I follow few and am overwhelmed by those feeds , so I simply can't imagine how anyone following hundreds can pan the gold out of all the mud. Major filtering tools I suppose. However, I am finding it an interesting channel of communication, particularly with colleagues and strangers who go light on the self-promotion and details of when they take showers and point me to interesting resources. I also appreciate the pointers to news I might otherwise miss.

It's a medium that is clearly abused by some. I killed one feed, because the woman writing it seemed to be intent on retyping an entire book of crappy aphorisms. Multilingual feeds in languages that I don't understand are occasionally frustrating (and I'm sure some reading my feed feel that way about my German tweets), but it's also fun to puzzle out the odd tidbit of Portuguese or Italian with no pressure. Lately I've been getting spammed by "nice" girls offering themselves for sale, and I wish I knew a way to block nonsense like that and not restrict others with reasonable intentions.

On the whole I think that Twitter has been a worthwhile addition to my communication toolset. I'm not sure where else I could get a bunch of good, fresh tips on children's book reviews and publishing like Carsten Peters (calutateo) provides or follow the tasteful reading lists of others. Since I'm not selling anything at this point (plans for a technical book have been delayed indefinitely due to surprise developments in the technology in the past year), I can't confirm or refute any of the claims of Twitter's importance for marketing, and I really don't care about that point. I'd rather trade work philosophy one-liners with colleagues, point to useful sources for self-education and have a bit of fun.

Sep 24, 2009

Toss a grenade in the network

Over the course of years, errors have accumulated in the Windows registries of our working computers. So we were informed by RegistryBooster, a tool from Uniblue, which I tested as part of a WinZip promotion. I have a natural suspicion regarding utility software, which comes from nearly over three decades of seeing the damage it can do if there are differences in one's system compared to the systems for which the tool was developed or on which it was tested. Today's nifty partitioning tool might be tomorrow's data killer. And given the value of my data archives, this inspires a lot of caution.

However, sometimes caution gives way to frustration. Although little software has been added to our systems since they were initially configured, enormous amounts of disk space has mysteriously been gobbled up by some process, and system responses have gone from snappy to very, very sluggish. Registry problems seemed a plausible explanation for at least some of this. So we bought a license for Uniblue's tool and tested it on one of the production systems, unfortunately at a time when a lot of work was scheduled. (Yes, I know this isn't a good idea. I found out about the action while it was in progress.) The initial results looked good - performance did in fact improve a bit. However, suddenly the shared folders on the "repaired" system were no longer accessible.

Since I no longer deal with niggly system software issues on a daily basis, it took a while before I figured out that the helpful system utilities from Uniblue had trashed the name of the workgroup on our network and activated the computer's firewall - without asking I am told. Not nice, really. For the average user without a lot of network expertise - and I'm not far from that category these days - this is a bit like tossing a grenade into the network. Certainly it bombed my productivity for a long afternoon.

The real moral of the story, though, is never, never, never make major interventions in your computer system software when deadlines are looming!

Sep 23, 2009

Infix PDF Editor: useful for some jobs

A few years ago a Brazilian colleague of mine recommended the Infix PDF Editor from Iceni Technology with great enthusiasm. I tried it at the time, but it was obvious that we had very different PDF types that we worked with and different philosophies of translation, so I concluded that the tool was of little value to the translator except in special situations, and I set it aside. What were those situations? For me, it seemed a decent tool for minor touch-ups of a PDF about to go to print (but I don't do a lot of pre-press proofreading), and for translating simple flyers where work with a TEnT makes little sense it also seems useful. For larger documents I did not see the value, because typeovers of large blocks of text in a PDF document, where possible, run just as contrary to my methods of working as typing over large chunks of text in MS Word or another environment. There is too much risk of content being skipped or deleted, and there is no access to integrated TM and terminology tools.

Recently, however, I discovered another area in which PDF Infix Editor makes a very useful addition to my toolbox. Occasionally I am asked to translate large batches of engineering drawings which have been scanned and reduced to A4 in PDF files. These do not contain editable text. The quality is also usually so miserable that one can forget OCR. Years ago I developed a procedure which the client is fond of: I save the individual pages out as graphics, embed them in an MS Word document and then overlay the portions to translate with text boxes in Word (with appropriate opacity settings and rotation). This can be quite time-consuming.

When another batch of some 120+ of these awful documents arrived recently, I thought of trying the Infix PDF Editor, because I remembered that it had a decent text tool. By overlaying white rectangles followed by text boxes, I was able to accomplish the translation task in the PDF document with less effort than required for my previous work in MS Word. Here's an example of the change:

This saves me time and irritation, and the client will save money. Everybody wins.

Since my initial brush-off of the tool I have also discovered a few other positive aspects for translators that overcome some of my initial objections: text copied and pasted from the Infix interface to MS Word or another environment does not contain all the awful line breaks that one usually sees when copying from Acrobat reader. And text pasted into the Infix interface takes on the properties of the text segment over which it is pasted. This has the advantage that I can copy awful, small text out of a PDF in Infix, paste it into a DOC or RTF file, change the font size to something my old eyes can read and translate it there or in another environment such as DVX or MemoQ (where the font change is unnecessary). Then I can paste chunks back into the original PDF and the fonts and formatting will be largely correct. Mind you, this can be an awful way to work in a large document, but it has advantages in some situations. And I can, in fact, by copying out and pasting in, make use of by favored TEnT methods, with the benefit of translation memory and terminology management.

So now I would say that the Infix PDF Editor is in fact a useful addition to the toolbox for handling PDF, which still must include a first-class OCR tool, such as ABBYY FineReader or OmniPage. PDF is by no means a uniform format but rather a "wrapper" for making many formats accessible to readers, and it will continue to be a time-consuming challenge to translators which must be reflected in appropriate service charges for the extra effort involved.

Sep 22, 2009

Planning to fail

There are days when I think Armageddon would be a nice alternative to yet another urgent emergency translation delivery. There are days when sleeping under a local bridge, barbecuing sausages over an open campfire and listening to the rustling of wild boar in the bushes seem a desirable change from an office piled high with dictionaries, technology new and old and - my favorite - ringing phones. Four of them. Five if you count the fax. There are days when I hear the words "surely, you can fit this one in somewhere" and know just exactly where I would like it to fit.

There are days when failure seems like a pretty cool option.

For those of us tired of freelance success, there is help to be had. A number of colleagues offer advice on how to extricate oneself from the trap of success. A recent contribution is the excellent self-help article 10 Ways to Make Your Freelance Business Fail, though classics like 40 Fabulous Faults of Freelance Failures are old sources of inspiration not to be overlooked. These can be useful references even if you haven't decided yet that life in the soup kitchen line would be a lot less stressful.

One of my favorite lines of inspiration from the second source is something to remember when you consider continuing education options:
Why should you get certified when you’re already certifiable?
Indeed. A point worth considering carefully.

When I follow many of the online discussions on ProZ and elsewhere, it's clear to me that many colleagues and wannabe colleagues have discovered such useful advice long ahead of me and use it as the "secret weapon" pointed at their own temples with the thought of putting themselves out of the misery of being independent business people responsible for their own fates. It really is much better to live in a tightly controlled environment with strict rules and assigned roles, one in which only electricians may screw in light bulbs and only those with degrees in translation are permitted to translate complex procedures involving the handling of toxic chemicals or radioactive materials. Prices should be set by a Higher Power (that's HP, not HD) and apply universally - in every country - so that everything is fair. (Perhaps some mechanism will have to be found to keep those living in the "developing world" from living above their station, but the main thing is that we concern ourselves with these important, fundamental principles and shift the focus away from mundane matters like reality and how to compete effectively in a modern economy.)

Unfortunately for my long-suffering clientele perhaps, I usually awaken from these Walter Mitty as hobo reveries and realize that I actually like what I do and the people I do it for and just need a bit more time off occasionally. So if I start blogging from the Bahamas for a year, you'll know why.

Sep 18, 2009

In search of the perfect caffèlatte

There are rumors in Budapest that this blog is powered by Unicum. That is only occasionally true. For the most part, inspiration comes from steady, massive doses of caffeine, administered in a variety of ways as teas or coffee, most especially caffèlatte. If I'm feeling ambitious I might do a nice cezve of Turkish coffee, but my comfort drink is the latte, with strong coffee made in my French press. My espresso machine and steamer died long ago (worn out), and I prefer the greater control that the press gives me over the quality of the brew. For quite a while after the steamer got tossed out I used an electric whisk to foam the milk to varying degrees of stiffness until I discovered the pleasures of milk foam prepared in a ceramic frother for hot chocolate that I bought under the mistaken impression that it was another version of a French press. There are apparently milk frothers widely available for this very purpose, and foam prepared in this manner has superior stability and texture. Foamed hot chocolate milk in combination with coffee so strong you can stand a spoon in it is definitely the thing to keep one charged up for a long evening of patent translation. And usually the preparations are topped with a grind of spices obtained from our local Viennese coffee house.

I find that the rituals in our office for preparing teas and coffees, with each of us relieving the other under pressure with a fresh cup of a favorite brew, provide a bit of needed sanity and friendly communication on days when it's hard to speak two sentences before the phone rings.

Rates and guidelines for writing and translation

Translators are often obsessed with size, in this case the size of the fee that can be charged for work. It's understandable: we all have to eat and most of us have to pay for at least part of the food and perhaps the roof over our heads. And insurance, software, equipment, electricity, water and more things than I care to remember. For reasons I fail to grasp completely, many translators have a hard time figuring out what to charge for their work and look for comparative data, then argue about whether it is even relevant. When I talk about rates in Germany as reflected in the BDÜ Honorarspiegel, some scoff that these are obvious lies, because nobody can get that much in today's global economy, while others (perhaps financial translators) snicker at the thought of qualified colleagues prostituting themselves for pennies (albeit a lot more pennies than you'll see offered in a typical ProZ job post).

This afternoon I followed a link from a discussion thread to an interesting page from the Society of Authors in the UK, which offers some guidance on pricing for translations of various kinds. From there I ended up somehow on another page with suggestions for minimum freelance translation rates for various language categories. So the next time, dear Reader, when you are tempted to take that fantastic opportunity from a UK agency for twenty quid per thousand words, have a look at these pages (which do not show particularly high rates) and think again. Oh yes... hourly charges are discussed as well, albeit rather low ones. For those who don't think in GBP, have a look at and convert the numbers to your preferred currency.