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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.