Mar 31, 2009

"Never let the cock beat loose...."

It's common enough here in Germany to complain about manuals written in Chinglish and other variations of Far Eastern pseudo-English or, often worse, attempts at German. But as they say, those who live in glass houses shouldn't cast stones. The people of my host country pride themselves on the "quality" of their English, but I suspect that the actual volume of garbage that translators here produce exceeds anything coming from the Orient. Many published examples certainly cannot claim to be better.

Take the operating instructions for the RG Rapid-Launcher from Röhm, for example. This is a device for training dogs, which is based on a modified 9 mm pistol. It launches foam dummies about 60 meters into fields and water, where the dog is supposed to retrieve them. I purchased one of these recently as part of the training program for my Wire-haired Vizsla Quodians Aristos and another dog who may join him soon. The German weapons law (WaffG, English information here) is very strict, and even blank guns incapable of firing projectiles require a license (in this case a "small weapons permit" or Kleinwaffenschein) if used outside one's property or certain other premises. In the special case of certain tested dummy launchers for dog training, however, these restrictions do not apply, and this status is indicated on the device by "PTB 795" enclosed in a square (as opposed to a circle for devices subject to a permit). Note that I use the word "device", not "weapon". According to an assessment notice of the German Federal Criminal Police, these dummy launchers are not weapons.

The monkey who translated the operating instructions obviously didn't understand what s/he was dealing with. The first page describes the device as a weapon. The terminology used throughout the text is inappropriate; being lazy, I scanned the English version first, and I was baffled at the frequent mention of a "cock". I then took a look at the original German text, which refers to a "Hahn", but for firing devices like this that is a "hammer". The clip which holds eight 9 mm blank rounds often referred to as a "cartridge bushing". A felt insert for adding scent to the dummies is referred to as a "headpiece". The whole text in English reads like a bad attempt by a high school student who never learned to use a dictionary properly. What concerns me particularly is that despite its classification as a non-weapon, the device is capable of causing severe injury if not handled properly, and the lousy English translation does little to ensure safety. There is a French version of the text too, but fortunately I don't read French, so I am spared whatever horrors are to be found there.

The ITI, BDÜ and other organizations have produced a nice brochure advising companies on why quality translation matters and how to obtain it. Versions are available in several languages. Perhaps I should send a copy of the German version to the manufacturer as a probably fruitless attempt to make them aware of how they are damaging their business with such trash.

Mar 29, 2009

German/English hunting terminology

Since our Wire-haired Vizsla, Quodians Aristos, joined the family a bit over a year ago, I've developed a growing interest in hunting dogs and hunting. A Deutsch Drahthaar will most likely be joining Aristos in the household in the next few weeks or months, and later this year I'll start studying for my German hunting license. This isn't something I had anticipated doing before; hunting is not part of my family tradition, and I'm the sort who is more likely to try to save whales and hug trees. At the same time, I have seen the unfortunate effects of hunting bans from California to Berlin, where the efforts of well-meaning animal protection advocates lead to cougars munching small children and joggers and dangerous wild boar wandering around in city traffic.

The German approach to hunting licensure has a very healthy part of intelligent wildlife and habitat management in it. And dogs represent a vital part of the efforts to ensure a humane hunt as well as track animals injured on the roads, for example.

Because of my new interest, I've been doing a lot of reading of German texts on hunting and kynology. Despite being reasonably fluent in German, I have encountered a lot of new terms which I have to look up or ask others to explain. There are also some interesting translation projects under discussion which will require a good mastery of Waidmannssprache. So with that in mind, I've done a bit of research on possible online and offline terminology resources, which is listed below for the benefit of anyone with similar interests or needs.

Hardcopy dictionaries:

Elsevier's Dictionary of Nature and Hunting in English, French, Russian, German and Latin.

Elsevier's Dictionary of the World's Game and Wildlife in English, Latin, French, German, Dutch and Spanish With Equivalents in Afrikaans and Kiswahi.

Wörterbuch der Weidmannssprache für Jagd- und Sprachfreunde - A monolingual German book explaining hunters' terminology

Wörterbuch der Weidmannssprache - Another monolingual German book explaining hunters' terminology

Online glossaries:

Jagdwörterbuch - a nice little lookup tool that shows "normal" German, the English term and the special German hunting terminology.

Waidmanssprache - A monolingual German reference explaining hunters' language.

WebTerm hunting dog terms
- A fairly sophisticated taxonomy of terms in German and English. I think it uses MultiTerm Online, and it doesn't work very well with the Firefox, though all functions seem to be OK with Internet Explorer.

Jagd und Wild Wörterbuch - Sloppy but possibly useful. There are serious problems with the English spelling and capitalization in the octolingual glossary. The sorting function is nice. This looks like another one where Internet Explorer may be necessary; I looked at it in a Firefox tab too, and the scroll bar wasn't visible and sorting didn't work.

The other resources I found were too awful to list. If anyone else knows of good terminology resources for German in this area, I'd like to hear about them.

Mar 27, 2009

Stammtisch report and upcoming local events

The Oberhaveler Stammtisch powwow met last night here in Hohen Neuendorf with five attendees at the Vinoteca Positano near the city rail station for the S1 and S8 lines. Most of those gathered began their studies and careers in other fields such as international relations, civil engineering, chemistry and biochemical research; the working languages represented were English, German and Russian. Quodians Aristos provided security and entertainment services. I greatly enjoyed meeting two new colleagues, one of whom I have had contact with occasionally for a few years but never met personally until last night. And I was pleased to meet another chemist/translator with solid research experience whom I can recommend for the other direction of my language pair. That's been missing for a long time.

By request of the attendees, another get-together will be planned for April, probably at the same place on Thursday April 30th around 5 pm, at which I can report on the trip to the MemoQ Fest 2009 in Budapest and current developments on the CAT scene. Watch this blog and the ProZ powwow list for schedule information and related announcements.

On May 9th, Steffen Walter will be hosting the annual Berlin powwow, an event not to be missed. Attendees will be travelling from far away (North America among other places) to attend - for good reason. This is one of the best opportunities I know of for meeting lots of colleagues in a fun, informal atmosphere.

Mar 22, 2009

Dilbert must work for SDL

This all sounds terribly familiar....

And now the same text round-tripped through the infamous Babelfish via German:

This is Phil, our new Vice President of Marginally Legal Activities.
Dieses ist Phil, unser neuer Vizepräsident der am Rand zugelassenen Tätigkeiten.
This is Phil, our new vice-president of the activities certified at the edge.

He’ll be leading the effort to make our user interfaces so confusing that people have to pay us for training.
Er wird die Bemühung führen, unsere Benutzerschnittstellen zu bilden, die so diese Leute muss uns für Training zahlen verwirren.
It will lead the effort to form our user interfaces which must so these people us for training pays to confuse.

We already do that unintentionally.
Wir tun bereits das unbeabsichtigt.
We do already that unintentionally.

Sure, but we can’t always rely on luck.
Sure aber wir kann nicht auf Glück immer bauen.
Sure however we cannot always build on luck.

MemoQ Fest 2009

On April 23-24, Kilgray will host the MemoQ Fest 2009, an event with seminars and workshops to present the latest details of one of the new heavyweight contenders for the CAT championship title. I've been testing the software intermittently for nearly a year now, and while it does not meet all my personal expectations, which are closely attuned to the features of Atril's Déjà Vu X, the product has been closing the gap rapidly as Atril appears to have gone into hibernation.

Tools for computer-assisted translation (translation memories, concordances, terminology databases, etc.) are critical for my work, so it's important to keep up with developments and look for the best tools to create the best workflows. MemoQ is increasingly looking like a candidate for this category, so I've decided to take a few days off in April, attend the event, learn what I can about future directions and admire the Vizslas in my spare time.

Very fine web design, hosting & tools

I discovered the web design templates of Andreas Viklund when I first looked at the web site of Stefanie Sendelbach, an English/Chinese to German translator, who used one to create a pleasant, harmonious site to describe her professional services. I was impressed by his modern formats and clean (= easy to maintain) HTML code, so I looked through the collection and chose one as the basis for the long-delayed rewrite and translation of our company web site.

The template pages make excellent use of stylesheets and are easy to adapt for multi-lingual and multi-path navigation. The one I chose is a sort of multiple column news format, quite different than any page design I've worked with before, with a lot of special elements like highlighting boxes and unique menus. I like it. I'm curious to see if anyone else does when I relaunch the site.

For site editing and maintenance I chose the free Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition. I used to program a lot with Visual Studio, so the environment is a very comfortable one for me to work with, and the price is right.

I've also decided to migrate to a new provider later this year, because I've grown very dissatisfied with ProZ's hosting. The mail server intermittently and inexplicably refuses to allow various mail accounts access, with the problems lasting anywhere from minutes to days. Appeals to ProZ support have gotten to no good solution. But that isn't what irks me most. We are busy translators who get a lot of mail with large attachments from our clientele and strangers. The space allocation for the "advanced hosting" package simply isn't enough, and several times we've collected so much mail in a few days that the mailboxes are nearly full. All requests to support to sell me more file space have been ignored, and I'm simply not going to chase the company with my money if it's not wanted. A BDÜ colleague recommended ALL-INKL.DE, and I am very pleased with my experiences with that company so far. I won't deal with the heavyweight on the German market, 1&1, because of our very bad experiences with them as an ISP in the past.

Mar 21, 2009

And another one gone, and another one gone....

As noted in my March 6th post (Another one bites the dust...), ProZ moderators are dropping about as fast as Seung-Hui Cho's victims at Virginia Tech and probably number about the same in the meantime, if not more. Some of the most competent and principled moderators that I know (1, 2) have called it quits, and promising new ones have found better things to do (such as 3). In some of the now unmoderated non-English forums, the ever-quoted "site rules" are weeks-old roadkill that even carrion are reluctant to touch as various misfits cheerfully serve up rounds of insults as they did in the good old days before the volunteer moderators did so much to clean up the collegial atmosphere.

I don't have the statistics at my disposal, but I have a definite subjective sense that forum activity has declined considerably since the bloodbath began. Some prominent users have declared their intention to withdraw from the site entirely, some are retreating behind pseudonyms out of disgust at the sex-oriented Google ads prominently displayed to site visitors who are not logged in, others are obviously keeping quiet and taking the real discussions to the back channels where threadlock doesn't threaten and the couch candidates don't disrupt the useful exchange of ideas. Attrition of good translators on the site is an old phenomenon; in any environment, people come and go, so the departure of one or a dozen good ones isn't necessarily unusual or catastrophic as much as the individuals and their contributions may be missed.

However, there does seem to be a general pattern emerging, which is part of the "growing pains" experienced by ProZ as a company as it adds staff to cope with a rapidly expanding user base. Some have suggested that the focus on revenue - from any source - is now so strong that the portals "mission" as a platform for translation professionals is really secondary: the three most critical concerns at ProZ are said by some to be traffic, traffic and traffic to maximize revenues from click-throughs on ads, user information sold - in some cases possibly in violation of European data protection and privacy laws or other regulations - etc. Maybe. Being an optimist, I'm inclined to take a less cynical view of the issues, but at the same time it appears to me that important concerns, some of them legal, are not being addressed in a way which inspires confidence among many of the site's users. It is to be expected that a growing business will face challenges and critical choices. That is clearly where ProZ is today. The choices that are made now may very well determine whether the portal continues to be one of the leading international communication platforms for translators or whether it gradually drifts into irrelevance as the less professional elements gain and retain the upper hand. Although I often disagree with developments on the site (or better said, find them trivial and irrelevant), I am very grateful for the contribution has made to my own business in this decade, and I hope that the management will think carefully, make the right choices and continue to prosper.

Mar 20, 2009

Oberhaveler Stammtisch near Berlin

On Thursday, March 26th at 5:30 p.m. the "Oberhaveler Stammtisch", my fanciful designation for an informal gathering of translator colleagues and their significant others from the Oberhavel and northern Berlin area, will take place here in Hohen Neuendorf at Positano, a small Italian locale near the S-Bahn station. Details, including a map, are found here. No end time specified; the place usually closes too early, but it will be open as long as anyone is inclined to hang out and chat.

This is an opportunity to meet local colleagues, relax and talk shop or anything but shop depending on how one's day has been. No formal agenda or instructional content is planned, just a chance to unwind and enjoy good people and a bottle of wine or water, according to taste.

Although this is officially listed as a ProZ PowWow and ID verification will be possible at the gathering, anyone with an interest in translation is welcome to show up.

Mar 14, 2009

Would you like a date with that translation?

In its effort to generate more revenue, is now navigating treacherous waters infested with Google ads. Many members have expressed concerns both publicly and privately about the display of ads offering sexy ladies looking for love, treatments for urinary problems, etc. Here's an example of Google offering Ukrainian girls for sale on a page announcing the new ProZ office in the Ukraine:

I presume these ladies are not staff members :-)

While ProZ staff are apparently beavering away blocking various unsavory ads, more crop up like mushrooms after a warm fall rain. I'm sure the revenue from this source is very attractive, but I really don't think it's worth the image damage. I've seen similar nonsense on other sites that have opened the door to uncontrolled ad placement, and my dislike of what I saw led me to reject the possibility of any such thing on a site I control. Any advertisement or promotional links that appear here are there because I know and like the product(s) concerned.

I do hope ProZ gets the Google ad fiasco sorted out. This is just another one of a number of incidents recently (gold stars, anyone?) that some feel are trivializing the site and possibly hurting the reputation of translators associated with it. I'm not sure I would go so far as to agree with the latter statement as it affects individual translators in a personal way, but to the extent that the site appears unserious in its structure and content (and certainly, Google ads offering sex do not make a positive impression on a professional translator's site), the interests of the sites clients - the paying members - are indeed harmed.

Déjà Vu wiki on ProZ

A few years ago, a wiki project was started on, but for various reasons (most of which I know nothing about), it never got very far. Now there are some efforts to get it started again and perhaps resolve the server capacity issues which makes the management afraid to have the project be easily accessible.

More out of curiosity than anything else I decided to start a Déjà Vu wiki there. I've been intending to translate the biographies of a few old professors of mine on Wikipedia for some time, but the peculiarities of syntax in that medium have kept me from getting far with the little time I have. In any case, I hope others will take this small, initial effort (called a "stub", right?) and expand it into something truly useful. There is a lot of knowledge out there in the Déjà Vu user community, but it's not very well organized for the most part.

30% discount on Déjà Vu upgrades in March!

Yesterday I got an e-mail I wish I had received three months ago. Atril is offering a 30% discount on all DVX upgrades until the end of this month. This means that an upgrade from the Standard to the Professional version costs € 340 and from the Professional to Workgroup version it's € 950. A comparison of the features for the different versions can be found here.

I upgraded from DVX Pro to the Workgroup version last November in anticipation of having to train one of my corporate clients in the use of the program. I have found the ability to use more than two TMs and two termbases, the addition of Trados RTF as an "external view" format and the ability to generate external views (such as bilingual RTF tables for editing by people without CAT tools) without restrictions to be very helpful.

Mar 13, 2009

A polite "no" to free work

Translators aren't the only ones who are often asked to work for free in the hopes of landing a contract. Designers call this "spec" work, and there is now a web site devoted to saying no to this practice. One designer describes how his polite refusal to waste his time on a "free test" actually got him an invitation to work with the company. This sounds familiar. If I approach two translators about taking an unpaid test, and one says "no problem" while the other is simply so loaded with paid work that s/he hasn't got the time for freebies, there are certain conclusions I might draw....

Mar 7, 2009

Another one bites the dust....

Another ProZ moderator resigned last night. Recent changes in the moderator policies at have led to a wave of resignations by the volunteer moderators (1, 2, 3, 4). Formerly involved with behind-the-scenes testing and other quality measures, they are now, as far as I can understand the new policy, reduced to a role similar to hall monitors in elementary school. At the same time, individuals known for their inability to understand mature discussions and tolerate differences of opinion are proposing further restrictions on ProZ forum discussions and apparently being taken seriously by the site management.

I won't speculate on the reasons behind all of this, though some suggestions I have heard of an impending sale of the platform to SDL, Google or another company seem plausible. Many of the current "problems" actually seem to be old issues, and I understand the need of the commercial enterprise to experiment with ways to satisfy a large, diverse and growing customer base.

There are many criticisms of the ProZ platform for its policies, the sometimes disconcerting disparities of expectations regarding pricing between translators and translation customers in different segments of the global market and the huge numbers of incompetent wannabes listed in the "translator" database. But there are many serious professionals there as well, and ProZ has been one of the most useful forums I have encountered for the exchange of information between internationally distributed professional translators - despite its many serious flaws. The openness which allows the truly unqualified to register and promote themselves as translators - to the detriment of the profession - is also its strength, because it does not exclude highly qualified professionals as the professional associations in many countries do. There is an interesting mix of people, top-notch professionals, students, struggling amateurs and complete charlatans. In this mix, the volunteer moderators have played many valuable roles, and in many cases I think these contributions will be missed.

Toxic for OmegaT!

Finally, a short announcement of a little project which it has been my pleasure to support. Marc Prior and his OmegaT team have developed a new tool which enables users of the free Open Source software to take on projects involving Trados TTX files. The solution is, as Marc describes it, a bit "geeky", which means that those who don't have a firm grip on some computer arcana may not get far with it. But it represents huge progress, and it opens up significant economic possibilities for translators who use this tool. Here's some descriptive information from the "read me" file:

"Toxic" stands for Trados-OmegaT-eXchange. The purpose of the Toxic utility is to enable users of OmegaT to receive and deliver files in the Trados Tag Editor TTX format. Tradox TTX files are produced in Trados from a number of initial source-text formats. Toxic should therefore extend the range of file formats that can be handled in OmegaT. In addition, it enables OmegaT to be used in customer workflows which require Tag Editor.

Toxic is a set of tcl/tk scripts. The tox script converts Trados TTX files to an intermediate format (the TOX format). This format in turn can be handled by OmegaT's existing HTML filter. After translation, the detox script converts the TOX file back to TTX. The TOX format is unique to Toxic utility and is not designed to be read by any other application (although it is intended to follow XML conventions as far as possible).

Intended users
Toxic is intended for end users of OmegaT. It does not require any programming knowledge, but does assume more than just basic computer knowledge. Users who are familiar with using the command line should have no trouble using it.

Toxic (use of) requires:

- The toxic scripts themselves (the toxic.tcl file)
- Tcl/tk

Tcl/tk must be installed. Any current version of tcl/tk is likely to be adequate.

Mar 3, 2009

Advice on business aspects of OCR in Italian

Last year I published a short article on adding OCR services to the translation business model, which was generally well received. Sergio Alasia, who runs a small translation company in Spain, requested permission to translate the information into Spanish and Italian. The Italian version is now finished and available for viewing here. I know a grand total of five words of Italian, so I can't judge the result, but one of my Italian translator friends was very complementary of the language of the translation. Thank you, Sergio, for the effort of making this information more widely available.

Mar 1, 2009

US Embassy in Berlin looking for translator

The closing date for applications is March 8, 2009. Details are here.

This is a part time position for 24 hours per week, paying
about € 31,000 annually. Here is a brief description of the job responsibilities:
The incumbent exercises editorial oversight of Information Division publications, including the German-language publication Amerika Dienst, which she/he posts on the Embassy homepage and e-mails to subscribers; provides the same editorial oversight for the content of the German-language texts that are put on the Internet. In producing the Amerika Dienst publication, the incumbent selects, analyzes and, as necessary, rewrites, and translates English language materials into German and, on occasion, German-language materials into English. Provides interpreting and translation of speeches for the Ambassador or other senior Embassy or US Government officials, as required. The incumbent also proposes and develops special thematic German language publications as appropriate, and assists in other Information Division activities, as necessary.