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Dec 27, 2010

Life in the slow lane

There's an arrogance that some develop when spoiled too long by state-of-the-art communications infrastructure. I see this sometimes in discussions with web designers or software developers who refuse to consider the situation of those with little or no access to broadband. I remember as a young man being able to read faster than the 300 to 1200 baud text scrolling down down my CRT, and I was never a speed reader. Download graphics? Sure, if you've got a free afternoon. Movies? In your dreams. Well, dreams do come true, though often they have a darker side. I'm sure that many of my translating colleagues have received some short job to translate with enormous uncompressed graphics that destabilize the file structure and give translation tools fits. The sort of crap that makes many of us spend more energy as technotweakers than as translators. All this is facilitated by widespread firehouse bandwidth, which also raises customer expectations for a rapid return. Please remember, people, that rapids are often full of sharp rocks and other risky elements, and though you may come out fast, you may come out in more pieces than you went in.

So when I moved to the Schloss a few weeks ago and faced a few tricky decisions on how to configure my new infrastructure for communications, I decided to "go slow" for a few weeks and see what life is like. There's no DSL offered here, so blowing off Deutsche Telekom for good, a dream I have had for a decade, has finally been possible. I spent a week on Vodafone's UMTS and found it good for all my data and voice communication needs, then I applied the brakes and used my FONIC stick, which in this area only gives me EDGE service, which is like GPRS. (FONIC is an O2 subsidiary - I'm told they advertise widely and humorously on TV, but since I haven't looked at a working television since my last visit to the US four years ago I wouldn't know). EDGE really sucks in some cases. I remember trying for nearly two hours last July to send a small file (2 MB or so), before giving up in frustration and going up into the third story of the inn, where a weak UMTS signal was available and the file could be transmitted in less than a minute.

But perhaps I'm stricken with a bit of nostalgia for my old farm in Oregon now that I've finally made it back to more livable, rural settings. The bandwidth in county lands outside Scio was very bad for a long time, which was very good for web page design for medical company clients whose physician customers often had 2400 baud modems with which to crawl the World Wide Web. "Optimization" was a very relevant concept with regard to communications. Another reason for the present experiment is that I have encountered difficulties too often with mobile communications while traveling, and I wanted to explore the possible scope of these and prepare solutions before they are needed. The low bandwidth also gave me an opportunity to test my online project management and communications environment, which was never consciously optimized for such situations, but which seems to work well nonetheless. Given that an iPhone and iPad interface is soon to be available (or perhaps already is - I don't use that stuff, so it's only of peripheral interest) I suppose I should not be surprised. Working a lot with a remote memoQ Server under these circumstances is not something I would recommend unless you remember to create an offline version of the databases for synchronization. I did that on my old laptop, but not on the new one, so I was stuck. Fortunately, the job I had to do was only a short page, so I could live with the delays to confirm segments.

Even at 96% signal strength, EDGE is utterly inadequate for viewing video clips of more than a few seconds length. Thus I missed out on Jon Stewart's successful satirical advocacy that brought needed relief to 9/11 responders and various links that friends wanted to share. Professionally, this had little meaning, though I was bummed out that I couldn't listen to the music videos linked on patenttranslator's blog while reading his posts.

Should the need arise, I can activate and use my Vodafone stick in minutes and get high quality UMTS. I discovered recently that there are now solutions available with UMTS and mobile SIM cards, which offer WLAN access and VoIP telephony, much like the little portable WLAN routers that various colleagues have purchased and rave about. So when this old tortoise is ready to stop crawling down the road, he can climb into an affordable hotrod and tear up the asphalt.



The image of the tortoise on the road from Arria Belli is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. That's not really French Guinea, it's a road in Zehdenick in Brandenburg, Germany on Christmas Eve. Thus the promise of blooming landscapes made by Helmut Kohl has been kept thanks to Global Warming.

Dec 23, 2010

Life 3.0 and the holidays

The past year has been an interesting one; crises come in many forms, and the financial and economic ones, no matter how great their impacts may seem, are really the trivial ones. As we break bread with friends and family in the coming days, let's remember the purpose behind the business. If there isn't one, and it's an end unto itself, that's a problem to be addressed sooner or later. Alex Eames, whose humorous, on-target advice was such a help to me a decade ago when I started translating commercially in a serious way, expressed the importance of priorities with some eloquence, both directly and indirectly, in the updated version of his classic guide for creating a viable business as a freelance translator. If you are struggling financially or personally, there may be something there to guide you to a better path. Alex deals with the conceptual and personal side of the business as well as Jost Zetzsche does the technical (though I think he too has a great store of wisdom in non-technical matters). For many of us today, both sides are important to get right and harmonized, and I am personally grateful to both men for sharing their knowledge and advice with us.

Jost, by the way, did a brief review of my project management environment (the Online Translation Manager from LSP.net) in his latest Toolkit newsletter (#181 I think it is, but he hasn't updated the "current" link on his site). As usual, he showed great insight into the essentials of the software and where it may or may not fit in a freelancer's business. I think there are a few key issues that were missed, which I will deal with in a later article, but these are not obvious considerations until one has been broadsided by a serious business disaster and needs to ensure that processes and data are really, really secure in all circumstances. Nonetheless, I agree with everything said more or less, and as usual the rest of the newsletter's content offers me a lot of useful information to run my business in better ways and avoid potholes in the information highway. Jost has been promoting the Toolkit newsletter as a possible gift to colleagues or translators who work for you; he should have done this years ago I think, because this is actually a good idea. He's a good educator at many levels.


The past year has been one of considerable change for me as well, not all of it voluntary, though when viewed from a Nietzschean perpective all for the good. My headquarters are now in a former HQ used by Napoleon on his way to get his butt kicked in Russia in 1812: an old Amtshaus built during the reign of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Here I can train my dogs in peace, hunt and raise whatever pheasants, quail and ducks I need for various purposes. There are excellent facilities for keeping fowl here, and the keeper died six months ago, leaving the facilities abandoned, so perhaps I can make arrangements that will enable me to make a contribution to the attempts to support the gray partridge population in Brandenburg. Since leaving Oregon eleven years ago, I've missed my chickens, too, so 2011 will probably see a few of those scratching around my garden. But no bloody Araucanas. They are much too devious.

I'll also be spending a lot of time in the coming year rehabilitating my dog Ajax after he was subjected to about 5 months of ill treatment by a breeder and trainer in Lower Saxony.

This individual had expressed an interest in buying the dog from me after seeing him at a trial last April, but he's not for sale. In the summer after hearing about some distracting issues at home, the fellow contacted me again with an offer to put the "final touches" on the dog's training and take him through his hunting trials in the fall. Given that he has done this with more than 1000 dogs in the past with usually good results in two countries, I reluctantly agreed, because it had been emphasized to me time and again in a most penetrating way by some traditionalists that I lacked the experience to get the full potential from such a fine dog. The end result of my stupidity was a dog who is now afraid of his own shadow and who is 5 kilos below the trim weight he had when I delivered him in July. He was caked with shit from his filthy kennel when I finally managed to pick him up three months after he was expected. As for the testing, well... a dog raised on love in your home knows that there is more to life than confinement and isolation, ear pulling and other rough handling, and that life with a tail between your legs is no life at all. Prisoners with any spirit left seek to escape such conditions, and he did so, running away from the SOB on a number of occasions. He disappeared for a long while in the first few minutes of the most important test for a breeding hunting dog of this type in Germany and failed of course. Good for him. We'll work together over the next year to see what can be salvaged, but we'll do it at the dog's pace with respect for his right to exist.

I'm sure there's a parable there somewhere for the situation of some colleagues trapped in abusive relations with themselves and their customers. Another time. Go read No Peanuts for now.

After rescuing Ajax, I had the pleasure of spending a few days visiting colleague Alison Riddell, riding horseback for the first time in 19 years (well, on a saddle at least - a bit of bareback on my Arabian in Oregon or my donkey doesn't count), and hunting with her boyfriend in the Alsace.

Now Alison has got that work/life balance thing pretty much right, but it's hard not to living at the top of a mountain in wine country with a stable of friendly equines.

The coming year will see a lot more changes in my life and in my business, perhaps in some of the topics covered in this blog. A Canadian colleague of mine whose insights I have always appreciated but whom I lost track of for a while after the purges of thoughtful moderators and colleagues at PrAdZ remarked that there really isn't an adequate forum for dialog anywhere. I'm not sure I agree with that; there are many places for collegial exchange, but the dispersion of bodies and talent in our profession does complicate things. Just be grateful we don't always rely on letters, ships and other life-threatening means of travel to enjoy a bit of professional company any more.

If anyone has some topics or questions they might like to see explored, I welcome a comment here or a private e-mail to that effect. I can't guarantee I can write competently on those subjects, but maybe I can whisper the suggestion in other, better ears.

Dec 8, 2010

Good group purchase deal on memoQ translator pro edition

If you've been thinking about getting a memoQ license for use as a translator or project preparation as an LSP, here's a good deal: 40% off until December 13th or until the last units reserved for the ProZ group buy are sold. This is a hot deal. With the latest enhancements in version 4.5 like the LiveDocs corpora reference features, or the recently introduced qTerm for high-end terminology management on memoQ servers, this tool is increasingly becoming the choice of discerning translation providers and consumers who want usability and good results, not arcane, buggy BS.

With collaboration features like Trados-compatible biligual DOC exports and RTF table views of any content and XLIFF (all exportable and re-importable after translation or review), as well as the ability to read project formats from other environments (such as Trados TTX or Star Transit PXF) memoQ is probably the most widely compatible translation environment tool on today's market.

Dec 2, 2010

Cover your assets!

The last two days have demonstrated the importance of disaster recovery planning once again. The fun started when I was rousted early after working until about 4 am and greeted with the news that someone's computer "wouldn't boot". This same computer had experienced various "issues" for nearly a year, giving more than fair warning of its impending catastrophic failure. The trouble had started about the same time as the same person had lost about 6 months worth of invoicing information on a hard drive that was not backed up. Live and learn. Really?

This time there was a bit of a silver lining. Most of the critical business data - project archives and billing - was online with LSP.net's Online Translation Manager. But that didn't offer much comfort in dealing with a current urgent project for which no reliable equipment was available. Upgrading and reconfiguring other equipment for emergency use has taken up most of the last two days. I had other plans, but I was volunteered for the job. Oh well.

In the course of messing with mail configurations in Outlook (to get the other person up and working on one of my old computers) I managed to wipe out all records of the last two week's mail. This was a bit of a surprise, but apparently this was possible, because my new Outlook 2010 configuration had left the mail on the server and the old equipment (with other settings) deleted it. I was a little annoyed at losing a few good e-mail jokes, but everything relevant to ongoing projects for clients is archived in OTM. So my bases were mostly covered. Then I thought to contact my hosting provider and learned that nearly all the data could be restored from a backup (good to know!). So in the end little harm was done by the mail misadventure.

The clearest lesson here for me is that it really is time to return to my old "paranoid" practice of having as much redundancy in equipment and software as I can afford. The five or six working computers I used to maintain may be more than is called for, but at least one backup machine with all my critical applications configured is clearly mandatory. I was actually almost there with my netbook, but I hadn't bothered to install my second MS Office license on it, so the I/O functions of memoQ and other important tools were limited. I'll be fixing that tonight.

How many of you can keep working smoothly if your main workstation suddenly experiences smoking death? (I had this once - my Macintosh 512K caught fire while I was down the hall chatting with my secretary. We smelled burning plastic....) Are all your important tools configured exactly as you need them on a backup computer? Backing up your data is not enough! The processes are just as important.

It's easy to come up with other priorities, especially easy if you have the misfortune to work subprime translation markets and money is therefore tight. But disaster planning and preparation for your business is not an option. It's a necessity.

Nov 27, 2010

Subprime

One of the links in my blogroll - Patenttranslator's Blog - is becoming a favorite for its strangeness and irreverent insights. I don't remember where I found it, but as patent translation is one of those activities that I usually pursue recreationally, I probably bookmarked it thinking I would learn the occasional interesting, new thing about patents. Instead I've enjoyed music video links with each post which often have no discernible bearing on the matter discussed but which make good background music as I read the text. Yesterday's interesting post was about agencies who send out silly sign-up forms for folks like you and me to become part of the great feed lot of translating cattle waiting to be slaughtered by translation consumers hungry for low rates.

I see this time-wasting nonsense a few times a week. Mostly I ignore it , though on rare occasions I might bite if the letter is from a specialist agency with subject matter of great interest. Such agencies are relatively rare, however. The sheer inefficiency of most of this is appalling; too few use web technology for collecting their data, and those that do usually have horribly designed forms and databases. (I speak here as a user of these forms and as a former developer of database-backed web applications.) Even the better ones like I know from outsourcers using OTM (see the form on the demo site here) can be exhausting if you deal with all the subject area specialties (and try to navigate the categories), though the basic input is straightforward.

Patenttranslator (PT) suggested that the PMs that send out these cattle call information requests have way too much time on their hands. I would add that some of them are not too bright or not entirely honest. I had a request from one fellow in the US last week who said that he had seen my resume and might be interested in services for a patent project and wanted me to sign an NDA and provide him with a bunch of information including my resume, which he claimed to have read. Smooth move Ex-Lax!

How you deal with these inquiries is a matter of confidence between you and your priest. Those of us who have been around a while can usually sense when it's worthwhile to acknowledge this form of spam and when to ignore it (most of the time). Why would I give a rat's tail about the database of some bunch I don't know and don't have any particular reason to know as they beg for my data and please-don't-forget-to-include-your rates? You show me a specific project that interests me and I'll show you a relevant rate that fits the project's parameters. Most anything else is a waste of time.

In his commentary, PT introduced the concept of the subprime translator as a target group that should and probably does take an interest in these cattle calls, because they have time on their hands and no more profitable way to spend it. "Subprime" doesn't necessarily mean bad translators. But I find the term interesting in this context, and some of PT's associated comments got me to thinking that there is potential in that word to describe some of the high-risk behavior of LSPs who package and resell services from way down the food chain like others packaged and passed on junk loans until banks and other institutions started suffering a bit of a melt-down a few years ago. The sort of melt-down I've seen in the historical slag of past translations from a few major direct clients who used to deal with Top Ten Volume LSPs.

Some of these LSPs who make elaborate marketing promises for multiple levels of review and other crap they probably never bother with in reality probably have a lot in common with the sharks who sold subprime loans to borrowers who never understood the hook that was being set. Translation consumers (individuals, companies and organizations who pay the ultimate bill for the work) are too often unaware of what really goes on with their projects. Some are unaware that the databases (translation memories) with their company's data may pass through more hands in the course of a year than an "entertainer" at a busy Hamburg port brothel and that the hygiene practiced at such places probably exceeds that being practiced with their critical technical and marketing text.

Time and again I am amused by the purveyors of subprime translation projects who contact me here in Germany expecting me to embrace offers that good Indian translators I know (yes, there are good ones in my pair!) would not consider. Well above the three cents a word that everyone likes to bitch about, but marginal at best for generalist work and an utter joke for a project that requires the special scientific knowledge one can usually find only with a qualified engineer or chemist. Even if they do find a hungry engineer with the language and writing skills one almost never finds with engineers and that person is eager to do skilled work at a receptionist's pay, this is no more a relationship with a future than the encounters in the aforementioned Hamburg establishment.

So if the translators and the end customers are getting screwed in these subprime relationships, cui bono? The pimps as usual.

Fortunately, in my experience, this does not describe all of the MLV landscape, which is usually populated by diverse and interesting people, at least among SMEs. The serious ones worth working with add real value and can educate their customers to understand how this works so that they pay the rates needed to support viable results. One interesting organization that I know even follows a strategy of basing its offers to translators on a share of the gross rate from which the known overhead and target profit share are deducted, so depending on the particular deal negotiated with an end customer a translator's proposed compensation may vary widely. The intention behind that is certainly honorable and reflects good business planning at the MLV level, but I do wonder whether the translators taking everything that comes their way at whatever price are keeping an eye on their fixed overhead costs. I personally find it tiring to see fixed rate offers for which I have to calculate constantly whether it's worth getting out of bed and putting on the coffee. The MLV relationships that really work for me are the superprime ones where my target rate is respected and I don't care if the agency has a 300% markup, but where my time and effort is clearly respected and appropriate surcharges are offered for anything rushed or unreasonable before I have to bring those matters up. I've also noticed over the years that these MLVs usually practice the best hygiene with their customers' data, and even over years I see little unacceptable content infecting the TMs.

But how shall the translation consumer tell the pimps from these princes?

Nov 23, 2010

memoQ brain surgery: getting rid of unwanted languages

This tip is by no means new. The discussion of this issue goes back at least to 2007, when Kilgray's head of development stated that it was planned to make this particular configuration a little user-friendlier but that it wasn't a high priority. He was certainly right about that given all the challenges the software has met in the meantime in its development. I think that memoQ is clearly the best value today for freelance translators and SMEs (LSPs or companies that require a lot of translation) on the market today. Costs are modest and the usability is usually much better than the competition. However, there are still a few geeky potholes left in the configuration where even a geek can step in and break his foot if he isn't careful.

This feature isn't as annoying as, say, any memoQ configuration involving regular expressions. If you want to learn some creative Western American English, come to Berlin, buy me five or six beers and say the words "regular expressions". Wear a flak jacket just in case.

Every time I set up a memoQ project I have to go through the project setup wizard. This is a routine that users of many similar tools must endure as well. Some of us try to get around this by creating pseudo-templates or "master projects", but for me these workarounds are simply annoying. I want real project templates I can invoke from a list.

In the project wizard, one of the chief annoyances for me is the list of languages from which I almost always choose the same settings: German and English (the generic variants for both). Rarely I'll go for the EN-US setting and once every three full moons maybe a bit of EN-GB if I've had too much cider. So when I see that long dropdown list with every sort of Chinese, Edo, French and a zillion other languages of no use to me, it's hard not to grumble. Even the shortcut of hitting the first letter doesn't help that much in German, because there are a good number of other languages that precede it under "G".

There are a number of possible solutions to this issue in software design. One fairly simple method used by a number of applications is to place the most frequently used languages at the top of the list. Microsoft Word seems to do this with its language settings, for example. Another approach I found interesting for a web interface is the one used by LSP.net for the Online Translation Manager, where the administrator can specify a list of languages that appear as shortcuts under the dropdown field:


The screenshot above is from an agency that works with quite a few languages; I think those are the nine most frequent ones. Oops. Make that ten. I have enough trouble keeping track of the two I work with.

If you want to cut down the list of languages in your memoQ installation, the procedure is "simple", but not really user-friendly and not without risk. You also have to remember to back up the altered configuration file, because it will be blasted into oblivion by the next update. (Not sure if this tip from Kilgray refers to major updates or the frequent little improvements that are released almost weekly.)

The procedure was described like this in an online wiki:

Hide target languages you don't need
  • Edit the LangInfo.xml file and comment out or delete the languages you don't need. You can use Notepad or an XML editor, your choice. Note: Be sure to save a copy of your edited file in a safe place, because a program update will overwrite it.
  • The file is found here:
    C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\MemoQ\LangInfo.xml
Actually, this applies to source and target languages. And the path may vary depending on your version of memoQ and installation settings. I found the file on my new system here (after I changed the folder settings in the Windows to show hidden files):

With your handy MS Notepad or an XML editor, you're ready to perform brain surgery on the XML configuration file and comment out the languages you don't need using the HTML/XML comment markers to enclose them in the list:


Here I used the free application XML Marker for convenience. However, this can be done in any text editor. The result in the LangInfo.xml file looks like this:




And in the Project Wizard of memoQ, the streamlined menu looks like this:

Really, I could and should trim it further. In any case, this is a small time-saver, but little bits of time add up. Many people have wished for some sort of improvement to the process of selecting project languages (defaults, anyone?), and I hope that one of these days this can make it a little farther up the feature priority list in some form. Until then, Dear Reader, you know what to do. (And if you do it, don't forget to back up the file!)

Something completely different: Language2Language

Janet Rubin has been one of my best recommendations for a while for certain specialties in my German to English language combination. My former partner has proofread her work for over a decade, and every time I saw a contract or other text she translated, I was pleased with the result and found very little if anything to criticize.

For years, her web site consisted of a quick list of contact information (sort of like mine at present, after I took it down for re-planning). With active telephones for the US, Germany and Australia, the list reflected her fast-paced international lifestyle. I copied and pasted it into more recommendation e-mails than I'll ever remember. All the time, however, she kept telling me about the web site that was "in the works" and "coming soon".

When I needed to look up her e-mail address to check her availability for a proofreading job recently, I went to http://language2language.net as usual expecting to find the old list. There I discovered that I had missed the rollout party. Instead I was greeted by one of the most interesting, sophisticated web sites I've seen in a while for a freelance translator. I worry about how it will play for customers with lousy bandwidth, but it looks rather good on my DSL connection, and the information on it is comprehensive and well-organized. I like it, though I'm not generally a fan of fancy animation on web sites.

The site is available in English and German. Have a look; I'm sure you'll agree that it is something completely different!

Nov 16, 2010

The zero-sum game is bunk

If you aren't a reader of or subscriber to Alex Eames' tranfree newsletter, I encourage you to read his latest (issue 75), which contains an interesting and thoughtful discussion of customer loyalty. He also has a great offer for previous customers interested in purchasing his new e-book, Business Success for Freelance Translators, which I had the privilege to review in an early draft. I have always enjoyed and benefited from what Alex has to share on the subject of translation business. His original e-book with the original controversial (but actually understated) title was the first business reference I acquired for my translation business, and in many respects it is still the best. The new edition is better. One of the things I appreciate most about Alex's writing is his ability to mix humor in with the message to make it sink in better. I recommend him to any freelancer looking for the right road to get started on and keep traveling on to success and sanity.

I do take issue with one little point he made in his latest newsletter, however:
Economics is a “zero-sum game”. There’s only a finite amount of tangible resources available in the world to go around. So if you are going to be rich, someone else is going to be poor. (Probably more than one “someone else” – that’s the way it is.)
Nonsense. Complete nonsense. Granted, there are players in our game who feel that the way to get ahead is by squeezing others, but there are enough examples in our profession and in the long history of human enterprise which prove beyond all doubt that cooperation is a value multiplier which often produces a result far greater than what the individual actors in sum could accomplish alone. Nor is it necessary to impoverish anyone in such an enterprise.

Even when we speak of scarce resources, if one considers the enormous waste of these resources as they are used to day, cooperation to find better solutions for consuming them "creates" wealth through savings which can be shared without anyone being the loser.

That human reality is often dominated by loss and suffering due to greed and ignorance is another matter altogether and should not be taken as a validation of the "zero sum" philosophy. "Cast your bread on the waters, for you shall find it after many days." Sound familiar? I have experienced the truth of this too often to allow myself to be confused by the cases where I do not get what I want or expect. I believe - I know - that we are richer through wise sharing of resources, tangible and otherwise, than we can ever be through zero-sum throat-cutting. I am not in a zero-sum game with my customers. They do not have less when they give me more, nor do I always have less when I take less. We buy our nourishment with many currencies, and I've never found it difficult to do that with cash if called for, though what I want may not be available for that medium.

Nor are we in a zero-sum game with our professional peers. I know there are many who will disagree strongly with me on this point, and they have lurid tales of hatchet jobs by reviewers, backstabbers and others to back up their beliefs. This is not unfamiliar territory to me, but though I know it is on the map, I choose to travel elsewhere, and for the most part I find welcoming partners in that other place. As does Alex. As do many of us.

How wise are we, really, when it comes to accurately determining the value of our resources and actions? Probably fairly accurate in the very short term if we have half a head for business. But the complexity with which our actions propagate over time, like the wind of the butterfly's wings, makes sure knowledge at a greater remove impossible: will it come to nothing or become the seed event of a great storm? I won't break my head with such speculations. I try to let go the worry and simply live and act as I feel is right. There is no zero-sum game for me, but instead many and varied rewards to be discovered in places often unsuspected.

Nov 15, 2010

Counting text in Microsoft Word 2010 (and 2007 apparently)

A few weeks ago I had a call from a new client regarding a small job, and when I was asked about my rates, I tried to explain briefly how translators in Germany often calculate these and how he might estimate costs himself. Unfortunately, the explanation got "stuck" at the time, because we were using different versions of Microsoft Office. I was still enjoying the old Office 2003 package with a few upgrades to enable me to deal with Office 2007 files, but he had a shiny new computer with the latest MS Office 2010. When I referred to the "Tools" menu ("Extras" in German) and said to find the word count function under it, he informed me that this menu didn't exist in that version. Score another one for Microsoft in its 24-year effort to keep its users of Word teetering on the brink of frustrated insanity as the interface cards get remixed and the rules changed with every new version.

Last Friday I finally got my long-awaited new laptop to replace my utterly decrepit Toshiba with its troublesome keyboard that my local repair shop was unable or unwilling to replace. With it I got the latest MS Office version, so I too have made the Great Leap Forward into the abyss of the new interface. And although it may be a very obvious thing for many readers, I want to take this opportunity to show graphically how to find the new word count function in Microsoft Word 2010. If you are using an older version of Word and need to explain this to a client who has the latest version, perhaps this will help:


Addendum: Another alternative in Word 2007 & 2010, which was kindly pointed out by Victor Dewsbery in the comments for this post, is to use the function at the left of the bottom bar of the Word document window:
Double-clicking the count on the bar will open the word count dialog with the full statistics.

It is also interesting to note that text in text boxes is apparently counted, which was not the case in my old 2003 version of Microsoft Word. Here I created a small text file with 12 words distributed in the ordinary document body flow, a table and a text box. Then I selected three words in the table. The count shows both the selection (3 words) and the total (12 words):



Resending mail from Outlook 2010 vs. 2003

In a previous post, I described how to forward e-mail in a different way, using the "resend" function in Microsoft Outlook. The main point of doing this was that the e-mail arrives at the account to which it is forwarded with the original sender in the corresponding field (as opposed to the account which forwarded the message). This is important to me, because the Online Translation Manager that I use for administering my translation workflows and billing has a number of useful sorting and assignment functions that use e-mail addresses in that field. The function is found in the menus for the actual mail message (not the general MS Outlook menus). In MS Outlook 2003, it is at the bottom of the Action menu:


Since upgrading to a new system at the end of last week, I have been discovering that many familiar functions in MS Office applications are no longer so easy to find (or when found, their details often work quite differently). Outlook's menus in the 2010 version are utterly different. Here's a screenshot to show where to find the resend function in the menus of a message in MS Outlook 2010:
 

Not only do I use this function when working with OTM, I have also begun to use it to forward inquiries that I don't have time to handle to a few colleagues. This may also be a useful function for cases where lines get crossed between personal and business e-mail accounts and you want to move a message from one to the other without losing track of where it came from in the first place.

Nov 11, 2010

Think small, developers!

For the past week, my main working machine has been largely crippled by display and performance problems I haven't been able to figure out. It has made working on it nearly impossible, so I shifted most of my projects to my trusty little Lenovo S10-2 netbook. Working intensely on the smaller keyboard for longer than a long train trip has revealed the need to retrain myself with regard to hand positioning and consciously relax certain fingers in order to avoid exacerbating problems of numbness and pain that sometimes result from using a keyboard too much. (Yes, I know... it's time to update my old Dragon Naturally Speaking license!)

The biggest ergonomic issue for me, however, isn't the two fingers without much feeling. It's the lack of adaptation of many software applications to a small display.

There are a lot of translators travelling with netbooks these days. Other professionals too. Yet as far as I can tell, despite the popularity of these devices for several years now, if software displays correctly on it, this is likely more a matter of accident than design. The TWB macros in Trados Classic won't be much of a problem nor will similar applications. But the whole collection of tools with the SDLX / SDL Trados 2009 / Déjà Vu X / memoQ layout style have moderate to serious issues on a netbook display. SDL Trados 2009 actually comes out best in that regard at the moment from what I've seen, but it's far from perfect.

I think this is a niche that could be exploited successfully by a tool vendor willing to help customers who want to work better while travelling light. I include vendors of other translation-relevant tools, such as business management, word count and invoicing tools in this suggestion. If you are a part of one of these shops, run your application on a netbook and work with it for a few hours. Then think of ways to relieve your suffering.

I see developers sweating over interfaces for iPhones, Blackberry devices, and other hand-sized junk. Frankly, a netbook optimization would be easier and more useful. I use my netbook all the time for remote telephony when I'm on the road. Using my Skype account and local wireless networks, I have saved a huge amount of money calling from Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere using my netbook. And when I want to take notes, write or translate it offers me acceptable options, unlike hand-held devices.

Fortunately I can overcome this trouble at my desk by attaching a large second monitor to the video output on the netbook. But it would be really nice if one of my main TEnT tools offered a better interface for working on a netbook by the next time I go on a long train trip.

Nov 7, 2010

Portuguese children's book reading in Berlin with Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters

Berlin is a wonderfully international city, offering a delicious cultural buffet in many languages. On December 11, 2010 at 4 pm at A Livraria bookstore (Torstrasse 159, 10115 Berlin) the feast will include a reading in Portuguese by Brazilian children's author Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters, whose works are available in English, German, Spanish and Portuguese.

Ms. Rodrigues-Peters is married to Carsten Peters, who recently launched the publishing venture Ceditora announced on this blog.

Nov 3, 2010

Long-awaited Déjà Vu X update released (Build 335)

The following notice was received today via the dejavu-l list on Yahoogroups, one of the best sources for information and support for Déjà Vu users. Build 335 includes the following fixes/improvements:
  • Added support for Adobe InDesign CS5 IDML
  • Added support for Office 2010
  • Performance improvements to SGML/XML filters (including Adobe InDesign INX and Office 2007/2010)
  • Performance improvements to DOC/RTF filter
  • Performance improvements to XLIFF filter
  • Improvements in MIF filter handling of markers and character sets
  • Number-only segments present in the TM are now retrieved correctly
  • Fixed bugs in XLIFF filter
  • Fixed performance issues when using TeaM Server with AutoSearch enabled
  • Fixed a bug in match sorting for AutoSearch/Assemble
  • Fixed a bug where PowerPoint 2007/2010 slides were imported in the wrong order
  • Fixed issues with missing spaces in Office 2007/2010 files
  • Fixed bugs in AutoSearch
  • Fixed bugs in Assemble
  • Fixed bugs with renumbered matches
  • Fixed issues with incorrect characters in External Views
  • Fixed bugs in the Alignment Wizard grid
The update can be downloaded from the Downloads section of the Atril website or directly from one of the following URLs:
http://www.atril.com/dvx/current/Update.exe
http://www.atril.com/dvx/current/WebSetup.exe
The link for the full setup package is http://www.atril.com/dvx/current/Setup.zip

As usual, it is  recommended that you unplug your dongle before updating, since the installer will need to update the dongle drivers. If you are prompted for the location of the drivers when plugging your dongle back in (this is a signal that the old drivers were not updated properly), you can point Windows to the \Dongle subfolder of your DVX installation folder (usually C:\Program Files\ATRIL\Deja Vu X\Dongle).

Version 8 of the application, expected to be released in 2009, is on schedule to arrive before Godot.

Update: The word on the Yahoo user list is that there are a number of bugs in the new build and there have been two "patches" for it already. Some of the issues seem to be very configuration-specific. I'm going to wait a while with the upgrade myself until the bug reports on the list subside.

Nov 2, 2010

Dancing in the lion's den

By now I suppose most of us have read or heard about the arrogance of Lionbridge and its Vice President of World Wide Vendor & Supply Chain Management, Didier Hélin, whose name appeared at the bottom of a ransom note sent to the company's "partners", which demanded a 5% cut in fees for future work. Though there is no hard evidence presently available to confirm rumors that the company is in the process of merging with a well-know organized crime family as a means of improving its organizational discipline, this letter does at least indicate that the extortionist traditions of such families are not unappreciated by senior management at the Big L.

I must admit to feeling a bit left out, not having received an invitation to the discount party. In this Age of AIDS, I am a bit careful in the choice of my associates, and I never felt the urge to catch what Lionbridge has been so generously passing around in our professional circles, though I've seen the drill with similar organizations. Nonetheless, the wealth of responses to the company's initiative to increase the bottom line by flogging the bottoms of its vendors harder has been commented upon widely in our circles. Interesting reading can be found
and many other places. The response triggered by Mr. Hélin's brilliant missive has led to the coining of a lovely new word, crowdscorning, which is sort of like the shunning practiced by the Mennonites in my old home in Scio, Oregon (population less than I could pack in my house for a party if we're all really good friends) and elsewhere but which has the scope one would expect in this global age. I expect Didier Hélin will become the new poster child for No Peanuts, and he and other Lionbridge executives will be greeted eagerly at industry events by others hoping to learn what other measures are required by a company that claims to have achieved record profits recently.
    None of this is new, really. Those accustomed to dealing with the supply chain etiquette of many large companies will recognize the uncouth, predatory practices that are encouraged in this environment. That is perhaps not universally the case, but it is close enough to universal that it is a good working premise when dealing with organizations like the top volume LSPs. You might as well dance in the lion's den, but don't count on coming out of it as well as Daniel.

    My experiences in dealing with LSPs are largely positive. In thousands of interactions over the past decade, I can probably still count the issues of concern on my fingers and have a good number left over. This is in part due to careful screening of my agency partners, a selection process which includes a very conscious preference for smaller, specialized agencies or at least SMEs with a very personal touch. They don't spam me with cattle call project "inquiries" sent to hundreds of translators, they don't play twist-my-arm-to-save-a-penny games, but they do work with me rather often as real partners to get jobs done, deliver some real value and retain our dignity while we do it. These are the LSPs who deserve our best efforts and support. For all the talk of "consolidation" as the big fish try to swallow each other and encourage the little ones to feed on their excrement, I believe that disciplined, well-focused small LSPs have a bright future. For all the mindless babble about our collective future as post-editors of MT-spew, I know that there will always be room at the top for real translators and LSPs able to do real, crafted translations for a clientele that not only cares about quality but needs it as well.

    Addendum 2010-11-17: Thanks to Kirti Vashee for tweeting this bit of news from today's Wall Street Journal online:
    Lionbridge Technologies Inc. topped the list of Biggest Percentage Price Decliners among common stocks on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
    Looks like shareholders know value when they see it ;-)


    Oct 31, 2010

    Scalability

    In one way or another, issues of scalability have been with me for a long time. In one dramatic lesson in the thermodynamic considerations of scaling a picric acid synthesis during Easter vacation in my sophomore year of high school, I leaned that the consequences of getting it wrong could be rather corrosive. In later research efforts, the scalability of formulations and processes was just as critical; what looked good in a small flask on the lab bench didn't necessarily translate to success in pilot-scale or commercial formulation equipment. To make things work on a large scale, different models of thinking were often called for.

    Scalability isn't just an issue for chemistry and engineering; businesses face these challenges in many ways. The business of language services is no exception. If we intend to allow our business to grow in volume (as opposed to focusing on other kinds of development and growth), it is imperative that the processes used in running the business be scalable. "Good enough" for today could mean hopelessly over your head with a modest increase or interference from other factors like health problems. In addition to being scalable, processes must also be robust - well designed and well documented - so that they can withstand setbacks and/or be delegated to trusted others in an emergency or when the growth of the business makes this a necessity. Or when you simply need a holiday.

    If you never feel the urge to write a business plan, you should at least be clear about the basic goals of your translation business and think carefully about the implications of growth, demand cycles, illness or family troubles and other major factors we inevitable encounter time and again in our careers.

    Think of processes and issues like

    • receiving and responding to requests for quotation
    • safely transferring and archiving information to meet client needs and the legal requirements of the relevant jurisdictions
    • scheduling
    • outsourcing
    • invoicing and collections
    • efficient retrieval of information even after long intervals
    • limited retention periods required by some clients
    and others that may affect you now or in the future. Are you ready to deal with the events and changes ahead? Growth? Or shrinkage?

    Where is the most time "lost" in your current processes? Most of us probably don't even know. Time and again I read surprised comments by fellow translators or others who actually begin to track the use of their time, only to discover that it really gets spent in ways they did not realize.

    I'm not proposing solutions this time around. There are many good approaches to these issues, but the best ones will generally depend on the goals you define. I make a lot of suggestions in my other posts, but these are often filtered by my personal goals or the particular characteristics of the country I live in or the markets I serve. Some or all of what works for me might be irrelevant or actively detrimental for you.

    I can't say that I'm entirely in agreement that those who fail to plan plan to fail. A random walk through life can take us to some interesting places, but the experience is generally enhanced by some sensible guidelines and good support processes.

    Oct 28, 2010

    Try the servants' entrance? Freelancers not welcome at the ProZ virtual conference for translation buyers!

    How very curious. After a successful first foray into virtual conferencing last year, ProZ planned three for this year; one focused on freelancer interests, one for agencies and one for translation "consumers", which I presume means corporate buyers of translation services. I missed the freelancer's event when I got bogged down in work, but I did attend the agency event as part of the support team for LSP.net, the provider of the Online Translation Manager SaaS solution for scalable management of language service businesses. Freelancers were welcome at the agency conference, and I encountered a number of them in various virtual corners of the event.

    So I was quite surprised - indeed shocked - to find that freelancers are excluded from the conference aimed at end customers. Does ProZ think that freelancers don't work directly with enterprises in need of translation? Some of us do so to quite a significant extent, and participation in that event by freelancers could benefit the main target audience in a number of ways. I find it quite interesting that vendors and advertisers to the translation industry (such as SDL) are welcome. For once, I'll spare the world my commentary and analysis on this point; I think the situation speaks loudly enough by itself with regard to a number of issues.

    Those of you who do maintain some sort of relationship to the Translation Workhouse might want to let staff know how strongly you support the exclusion of those pesky freelancers.

    Oct 27, 2010

    New terminology macros from Dave Turner (the PhraseMiner collection)

    About a week ago Dave Turner, the creator of those incredibly useful CodeZapper and Format Fixer macros that so many of us rely on to clean up crappy OCR'd documents and other source document problems, was kind enough to send me his latest efforts to try out. Now he's turned his mind to terminology tools and created PhraseMiner, a collection of macros to facilitate the exploration of texts for potential terms and repetitive subsegments. Some of it is a bit similar to the LSC feature in memoQ, but these are MS Word macros. A demo of the macros can be found here in the files area of the dejavu-l Yahoogroups list.

    It's an interesting approach. Some of the macros really only work with English text (but a French version either already exists or is in the works), while others are more general. So far it looks like this might be a useful addition to my terminology screening toolbox; my current methods tend to a bias in favor of single words or short phrases, and Dave's macros are good at picking out longer structures.

    Download the demo and give it a try. For those who see useful potential with the demo, a full version (for handling longer texts is available for a modest fee. If you've been enjoying the benefits of CodeZapper for a while and haven't offered remuneration for the major pain relief, consider this opportunity to do so.

    memoQ 4.5: Making editing life easier with LiveDocs

    It's been a rather busy past few weeks with work, dog trials, bad colds and getting consigned to the scrapheap of relationship history. So I allowed the most important event of recent weeks (after the revelation of the latest Google technology, naturally) to pass without comment, even without trying it myself. I am referring, of course, to the release of memoQ 4.5. Today, however, I read the following fascinating comments from Guus Visser, an EN/ES > NL translator, in the Yahoogroups memoQ list, which spurred me into evaluation action:

    "I just wanted to report that I tried a new way of reviewing yesterday, using LiveDocs. The scope was pretty limited (a simple 2 page MS Word file), so I may have missed some problems here and there, but overall the experience was great!
    In this case I had a very bad translation that needed to be reworked into good Dutch. I hate reworking translations in Word (single source file, single target file, syncing, searching, comparing, grrrrrr), so I imported a LiveDocs alignment pair of the source and target file and then added the source file to my project. It almost felt like translating the file with constant fuzzy matches. The only thing I had to do is change or overwrite the automatic LiveDocs match and go to the next segment. It all felt very natural, and I could even benefit from repetition changes in my review. Great!"
    When asked how the process differed from previous efforts, he explained further:
    "Without LiveDocs... you would ... align and create a new TM with these matches (another extra step) ... with LiveDocs, I simply add the files and they are available for matching in my project immediately. No need to export, create a TM, import etc."
    Now I was aware of this new feature in memoQ version 4.5, and the application is fairly obvious, but this got me to thinking about the potential convenience of dealing with bad editing situations or updated source documents where no TM is available for previous translations. As Guus mentioned (at some length in text not quoted), this approach is also less onerous than correcting bad bilingual files when there are repetitions to deal with.

    So I was inspired to install memoQ 4.5 at last and start working with it. I created a test scenario using some files I had edited recently, and I was delighted by the quality of the automated alignment and the ease of use of the new LiveDocs feature. As is typical of me, I also failed to read the help instructions, and I found that the module was so well designed and intuitive that it didn't matter. I look forward to testing other aspects of LiveDocs, like the monolingual corpora features!



    Oct 20, 2010

    Ceditora: a new literary publishing service for authors, editors and translators

    Today Carsten Peters and partner Thomas Brandon announced the formation of Ceditora, a unique publishing service based in South San Francisco, California and Koblach, Austria. Earlier this year I was talking to Carsten about technical aspects of the sophisticated memoQ Server system and workflow he has introduced and supported at an industrial company, and we started chatting about a subject we both love: children's literature. He mentioned plans for a different kind of publishing company, and I was both intrigued and excited by what I heard, because I know some wonderful illustrated work by an acquaintance hidden away in drawers for decades that would fit his model well.

    So this morning when I received the official announcement, I couldn't help but grin. I wish them the best of success. I'll quote from the press release here:
    Ceditora is a publisher with a unique focus on collaboration in the areas of literary translation, editing, and global marketing.
    Authors, editors and translators can register at the Ceditora website free. Ceditora will only accept registration from editors and translators with relevant degrees and significant experience. Published or unpublished authors may register with Ceditora.
    Ceditora maintains a searchable repository of available editors, translators, and author manuscripts as well as previously published books available for translation. Authors sumbit their manuscripts or books, editors and translators post their resumes, interests, and samples of their work. Tools to search, create a team, collaborate and present a book proposal are available to those who register with Ceditora. Every book project selected for publication by Ceditora’s management will be published in at least four languages, and marketed worldwide.
    Ceditora presents an opportunity for editors and translators to examine multiple projects before deciding which author’s work is the best fit for them. In addition Ceditora offers professionals the opportunity to work with peers from all over the world. Generous commissions per book sold are paid to authors, editors and translators. This is matched with individual service and world class collaboration.
    Ceditora is committed to literary excellence and will publish only books that reflect this ideology.
    In the launch phase Ceditora is working with a select group of professionals by invitation only. Ceditora will be open to everyone in 2011.
    The first step is to visit our website: http://www.ceditora.com




    Oct 13, 2010

    Running memoQ on two computers

    Most of the major translation environment tools have some sort of mechanism for dealing with the occasional need to take your work on the road or do it on a different machine than the one you usually work on. For Atril's Déjà Vu it's the dongle: plug it in to any machine and you're ready to go. Just don't lose it. (Speaking of which, where did I leave that thing???) SDL Trados acolytes can perform the mysterious rituals of online activation and deactivation, returning their sacrifice - uh, license - to the altar server and the reclaiming it in a triumphant process that unleashes productivity and great relief if it works.

    I knew there was something I could do to make memoQ run on both my main machine and my Netbook for travels. In fact, I thought I had done this, but at some point it stopped working, and I simply did not get around to clearing the matter up. Then I finally asked Denis Hay on the support team, who confirmed that I had taken the right steps. Almost.

    Your main memoQ license will end in -001. To run the license on a second machine (like your netbook), install memoQ and change the license number to end in -002.

    What I had forgotten has nothing to do with the second installation per se. Some memoQ upgrades require one to re-contact the license server briefly for a update. This process can be initiated from the dialog under the Help menu and takes just a few seconds. I had apparently forgotten to do this about half a dozen upgrades ago. (Which isn't really that long ago. The pace of progress and bug fixes at Kilgray is very satisfying.)

    So now, the next time I have to travel, I won't be lugging my boat anchor laptop with me but rather my light little Lenovo netbook.

    Oct 11, 2010

    Kirtee's TAUS review and the SDL APIs

    Kirtee Vashee recently posted an interesting summary of the TAUS annual conference which he attended. I myself have a hard time getting behind the TAUS goal of sharing massive amounts of data; it's sort of like asking your neighbors to swap garbage cans and contents. As many are discovering (sometimes painfully late), data quality actually matters. The amount of garbage I see in supplied TMs give me about the same enthusiasm for sharing on a large scale that a swim in the Danube would inspire right now. Predictably, MT was also a big focus at the conference this year. Those who believe that MT will soon displace the professional translator might enjoy the recent post on Machine Translation and the Philosopher's Stone.

    Some of Kirtee's comments referred to the "walled garden" of SDL technology and the lack of openness and high cost of its API. I was a bit puzzled by this, as I had heard other things for a while from different sources, and my comment (in which discerning readers will note that my "n" key still hasn't been fixed)
    was met with a invitation to SDL to clarify the issue. I think this clarification is forthcoming. As I have been given to understand
    All that is needed is a license and then you have access to the API’s and the fully documented, and regularly updated, online SDK.  Just apply to the developer program, free of charge, and you’ll get the details.  This applies to desktop and server. 
    Being out of the development game for about 8 years now, I can't comment on the quality or versatility of anyone's APIs except in the most general way. Nowadays I feel a sense of victory if I waste a day writing a WSH script for a data transformation that should reasonably have taken me an hour. But I think it is still fair to say that all tool vendors have a long way to go for interoperability and that even the best APIs need to be expanded. I won't be satisfied until I see Open Source clients capable of connecting to and working with the Ontram, SDL, Kilgray, Atril and other servers. The alternative is that those of us working with those servers will have to deal with the nonsense of keeping track of the functions and changes in all these environments. This is certainly not in the spirit of Saint Ludd, the patron of today's frustrated technovictim translators.


    Oct 5, 2010

    7th ProZ.com Conference - Prague 2010

    The Czech contribition to world culture is unmistakeable: what would we all do without Semtex and the uplifting contributions of Franz Kafka, who was inspired by the perpetually sunny dispositions of the residents of his home town, Prague? Indeed, my visit to Prague took me back to an earlier, better time, when you could be sure that your товарищ was looking out for you. Or at least watching you.

    Another visitor to the Prague conference from Vienna also remarked on the nostalgic impression made by the chosen venue. The last time she had visited Prague was 35 years ago, and she commented that the service had remained at the same level as in the good old days when the land was ruled by the people (albeit the people of another country).

    Indeed, outside the Olde Towne, with its tourist-friendly cobblestones, crystal sellers and "special" tobacco shops, it was often made it abundantly clear that we are all created equal in our misery. It was in this zone of reality rather than the fairytale setting of historic Prague that the venue for the 7th ProZ international conference was chosen, and it was rightly so: at an event with the theme of increasing one's prestige and visibility, the hotel staff took care to see that the translators did not forget their place and make off with the flatware or a cup of coffee between breaks. A very useful reminder that we must fight our own battles for recognition, success and caffeinated rewards, and whining on the sidelines probably won't get the káva.

    On the first morning of the regular program, a Serbian English professor who professed to know English took her class through a bizarre and ungrammatical exercise in analyzing English texts which somehow would set us on the Golden Path to Prestige. A good number in the audience walked out; probably the same twenty percent that Oleg Rudavin, in his talk at the end of the last day, estimated would have a chance of a prosperous life in the Brave New Global Market.

    After my confused retreat from the English lesson, the program improved: presentations by Hynek Palatin (who spoke on tools for added productivity), Sameh Rageb (who gave a fine overview of MultiTerm and Babylon applications) and others gave me good technical bones with lots of meat to chew on. I was a bit disappointed that sponsor SDL failed to take the conference seriously enough to offer more than a timid standard overview from a frightened new cog in the corporate gears, but the rep from Moravia made up for that with a detailed presentation of corporate everything and a lovely tap dance as we shot at his feet for suggesting that his company can produce top quality German to English translations paying the translators half to a third of the going rate that good linguists typically get in that language pair. Although he could not provide a clear answer on why one should go to the Czech Republic for quality FR<>EN, DE<>EN work & the like, he did mention a need for Inuit translators. I suppose he pays them in seal blubber. I wouldn't mind branching out and offering services in that language and doing on-site quality inspections of my service providers' translation offices provided that the social customs I heard about in elementary school have not "progressed".

    I'll admit to playing hookey for about half the lecture program, not because the topics didn't interest me, but because the people attending did very much. It was a great pleasure to see old colleagues and acquaintances again and meet new, interesting people from around the world and talk about other stuff. I also suffer a bit from information overload with too many talks and need even more breaks that the generous number provided in the conference schedule.

    The logistics of the event worked better than any similar ProZ event I have attended in the past. It seems that ProZ.com made the right decision in hiring a staff member to work full time on organizing conferences, and I was favorably impressed by Anne Diamantis when I chatted with her about the 18 she has done so far. That's a lot of experience in a short time, and what I saw on the whole is moving in the right direction. The teamwork between her and the local organizer, Pavel Janoušek, appeared to be very good. In any case, there were no more causes for complaint than I have experienced at most professional conferences of various kinds in the past 30 years. However, ProZ has a looong way to go before they can live up to the standard of the events for eye surgeons that I used to attend. The sponsors and exhibitors there really knew how to bribe those doctors, and I still have fond memories of all the food and loot. The talks were often worse, however.

    My main reason for travelling to Prague beside retracing part of the historic route of others who felt the need to escape from a Germany into the arms of Helmut Kohl was to talk a little about my reasons for using online translation business management tools and how these have help to solve or improve serious problems I faced. I spoke mostly from the perspective of a busy individual or small team, while Ralf Lemster shared his experience as the owner of a small agency with a demanding clientele and the need for careful coordination of complex projects. We also spent a lot of time in breaks and out of sessions providing individual consultation to translators, project managers and agency principles looking to reduce their risks and improve their business processes.

    For me, the conference was wrapped up with the talk by Oleg Rudavin at the end. There were closing remarks and ceremonies afterward, but I think Oleg provided a good summary and ended on an appropriately confusing note as he spoke about the future of translation and translators. I was tired – very tired – by the time he spoke, so his clear, strong speaking style and presence kept me awake and interested when I was sure I would melt into a pool of snore in my chair. He talked about changes and trends in the market and gave me a view of the recent economic crisis from an experienced, competent colleague living in very different circumstances. But regardless of whether or not we are affected economically by the global tides, at some point a crisis wave of some kind will wash over most of us, and the reflections on goals and lifestyle he shared at the end should at some point engage all of us. The sooner the better. Often, those most bothered by issues of prestige, recognition and career seem to be those who are least clear about their goals and the steps to reach them. Or who lack the courage to take those steps.



    We have met the enemy and he is the customer

    The Twitter stream from a colleague taking the train back to Berlin after the ProZ conference in Prague was unexpected and shocking. German railway employees assaulting unarmed Czech passengers, abusing them ever more loudly as their confused, embarassed victims waited for the boot to descend and the police arrive, which they finally did to back up their uniformed brothers from Deutsche Bahn. Only spirited resistance by other passengers and reminders that Kundenservice doesn't always mean serving your customer's head on a platter finally caused the uniformed tormenters to relent. Service is a foreign word, taken prisoner to do duty where no native word for the concept exists, and when it comes time to enjoy this serrvice, one is too often reminded that Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland, especially not for such ideas.

    Face it, customers are the enemy. Isn't that so? My business isn't Burger King. How dare they presume to have it their way! You don't have to be a German railway employee to understand what a bother these people are, disturbing our perfect routines with their perfectly unreasonable projects. Vee muss train zem. Kundenerziehung. Now that's a word to export along with all those Mercedes cars and cool machine tools. Maybe it can come in a boxed set with a leather corset and a whip.

    It's simply too much to ask that we recognize, accept and forgive the human fallability of our customers. That we forego the opportunity to enlighten them with brutally frank commentary on their second language competence and offer to let them kiss our college class rings in exchange for the grammar lesson. Emotional intelligence is a moron from Oxy when you're right.

    Years ago, Mike (a consulting customer of mine) told me about his "big break" as a salesman for some sort of parts. His stuff was simply the best. Best quality, best price, best delivery time. Probably bore God's Own Seal of Approval, too, since he was in Oklahoma at the time. But the purchasing agent at the prospect was simply too stupid to realize that he and his company were missing out on the real deal. Mike tried for years to get that account, but the dummies just kept buying inferior stuff from the competition. And all the while he had to listen to the puchasing agent's piteous whining, his inferiority complex about being whupped by his brother-in-law at bass fishing. Finally, Mike couldn't stand it any more and brought him a package of his favorite rubber worms and explained how to hook and use them. The next time Mike visited, the guy surprised him with an order and bored him to tears with the tale of the jaw-dropping bass he caught the day bro-in-law got skunked. And he kept on ordering after that. But what did the customer learn about the better product he was now buying? Not a damned thing. Don't be like Mike. Teach your customers a lesson!


    Oct 2, 2010

    Poll: Barriers to Cooperation

    Recently in the sidebar of this blog, the following question was asked:

    What are the significant barriers for you in collaborative projects with colleagues?


    The responses were distributed as follows:

    12%    None. I do it all the time without trouble
    25%    Organization: coordinating & scheduling tasks
    29%    Technology: suitable means and methods of resource sharing
    45%    Networking: I don't always know suitable people to work with
    31%    Trust: I'm afraid of having clients stolen or being held responsible for the failures of others
    6%    Other reasons
    It's interesting that the most frequent response indicated a lack of suitable partners for cooperation. Whether this is a perception issue or a real matter of getting out and getting to know qualified peers is probably very much an individual issue. In my case I simply don't know a lot of linguistically qualified German to English translators with a significant knowledge of chemistry and related sciences and a healthy dose of legal competence. When I see otherwise very good translators going at such texts armed with a dictionary and boundless confidence, I can't help but cringe, especially if I'm involved in the review somehow. I have bad flashbacks to the day that a superb legal translator took on an IT text on entity/relationship modeling and asked me if some key term had the same meaning as it does in contracts. Not even close.

    Trust was another major issue. This was not unexpected given the paranoia I observe at times in various fora. I don't worry much about client "theft" and often freely pass on contact data for qualified colleagues, with the understanding that the parties involves in any transaction bear all the responsibility for the results. Concerns about responsibility for bad quality from others is understandable, but here proper project management - enough time allowed for review and rescue and a sufficiently high margin to allow for any contingencies - can offset a lot of potential trouble. This is an important organizational issue that many freelancers are neither prepared to qualified to handle, so caution in this regard is probably praiseworthy.

    Technology as a barrier is more a matter of knowledge than the actual technology available. Not everyone has the resources or inclination to maintain a translation server with SDL solutions, memoQ, Déja Vu or other options, but new entries to the market like Wordfast Anywhere (a free collaboration tool with privacy features) could be game-changing here, and little birds tell me that SaaS solutions may soon be available at affordable cost for small freelance teams. About a year ago I had the pleasure of being involved in a nice project where a memoQ server license was leased for a month; the only down side to that was the hardware problems the project coordinator had figuring out the IP addresses with his router. Technical options for collaboration outside of agency structures are increasing, and it is worth investigating developments in this area. In one case we brought a collaborative project to an agency that had the necessary infrastructure (a memoQ server), and the results were quite satisfactory, so this is one option that may be worth exploring with small, flexible LSP partners.

    The challenges of coordinating and scheduling can be considerable. Many freelancers lack experience as project managers and may not have had occasion to develop the necessary interpersonal skills and "toughness" to deal with difficulties that may arise. The *technical* aspects of assigning, scheduling, coordinating and delivering jobs can be handled adequately with affordable software solutions. The best option I currently know for this is the Online Translation Manager (OTM) from LSP.net, which for a basic monthly fee of 29 euros per month gives anyone full access to all the IT infrastructure needed to run an agency of any size. It's "software as a service" with automated backups and top-notch security; the cheapest option for setting up my own server and other software adds up to several years of OTM fees at the very least. OTM also gives me completely secure file transfer for clients and cooperation partners. This is important for paranoid patent lawyers and others. I've been looking for and testing solutions in this area for seven years now, and although there is still significant optimization needed by the provider for the average freelancer or small team, OTM is the best option for small teams looking to grow on a budget or medium-sized LSPs who need competence, security and cost control. The provider currently offers free trials to interested parties.

    Of course, collaboration isn't for everyone. I'm often of two - or even three - minds on the subject. But for those who are interested in working together with others as a way to grow their business, there are many options and many exciting developments ahead.

    Sep 21, 2010

    Free fax to e-mail service

    While browsing the blogs of various colleagues, I ran into an interesting note from Céline Graciet mentioning her use of a free fax to e-mail service as part of a planned move to the UK. I followed the link out of curiosity and decided to give it a try. Signing up took a few minutes, then I was give a local telephone number to use for receiving faxes. However, the web page that communicated this information didn't say where it was local. My best guess was somewhere in the UK, so I tried faxing from my real landline fax number, adding the +44 prefix to the number from the web page.

    It worked. In just a few minutes I could see TIFF files for the faxes on the account area on the web site. A few minutes later I received copies of the faxes as e-mail attachments.

    I haven't looked into the security issues with the site yet; I'll probably be appalled when I do. Maybe not. It's an interesting application and one for which I can see some integration possibilities with other applications I use, such as LSP.net's Online Translation Manager. I can see this being useful when I'm travelling or to save me the trouble of re-scanning faxes for OCR purposes. I used to use a fax modem many years ago for similar reasons, but faxes have become such a rare thing in my business over the past decade that I haven't bothered about such solutions in a long time.

    Sep 16, 2010

    Java properties files in memoQ

    This overview shows the behavior of the Java properties file filter in memoQ version 4.2.20 and how to configure and work with it to manage projects with a small or large number of files successfully. In the current version of memoQ (unlike Déjà Vu, for example), the output format must be selected when applying the import filter. It is currently not possible to change the output encoding "on the fly".

    Default settings for the filter

    Default_settings_for_the_filter.jpg

    The current default settings for the filter will often not lead to the desired result, which is an output file with the same escape coding found in the original properties file. (An example for the German letter "Ü" is marked with a red box.) An example of the output with these default settings is show below.

    Output of a French translation with the default settings for the Java properties filter

    Output_of_a_French_translation_with_the_default_settings_.jpg

    This looks good, but it's useless. The file would have to be converted using an external utility like the Rainbow tools. The problem here is that the wrong output format is used for the translated file. The proper settings are show below.

    Set the output encodig to US ASCII

    Set_the_output_encodig_to_US_ASCII.jpg

    This screenshot actually specifies the input encoding incorrectly (it's an ANSI file I'm importing), but that doesn't matter in this case. because the preview displays the input text correctly. The important thing here is that the output is set to US ASCII, which forces the Unicode escape coding for all the "special" characters used in the language (i.e. those which are beyond the character set of US ASCII).

    Output of the correctly escaped Java properties file

    Output_of_the_correctly_escaped_Java_properties_file.jpg

    The example above shows the text as it is required in a Java properties file using escape coding. The same procedure applies to other languages, such as Greek. The memoQ translation and editing enviroment displays these escaped characters in a proper, readable format which allows you to work on the translation without undue stress. Examples of the view in the various memoQ environments and bilingual output formats are show below.

    View in the memoQ application's translation and editing environment

    View_in_the_memoQ_application_s_translation_and_editing_e.jpg

    Here all the escaped characters are displayed in a legible manner as they should be. Conversion to escaped ASCII text occurs only when the translation is exported as a Java properties file.

    View in memoQ's Trados-compatible bilingual DOC export

    View_in_memoQ_s_Trados-compatible_bilingual_DOC_export.jpg

    The Trados-compatible bilingual format from memoQ allows the content to be translated using the TWB macros of Trados Classic or using other tools such as Wordfast Classic or Anaphraseus. Here the text is also displayed in a legible format for working. Tags are displayed in red and must not be altered by the translator.

    View in memoQ's multi-column RTF table export

    View_in_memoQ_s_multi-column_RTF_table_export.jpg

    This view is also interesting because it incorporates the memoQ comment fields, which in the case of a Java properties file contains the key of the key/value pair. This is useful context if you need to ask questions of the programmers.