Pages

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 ;-)