May 27, 2009

Escape from Code Hell!

Although I've never met Dave Turner nor have I ever corresponded with him, there are days that I think of him as one of my best friends. Why is that? Because he has made my working life a lot easier. And he has done the same for many other users of CAT tools like Déjà Vu, MemoQ and Trados with his CodeZapper macro collection. Many of us have suffered with "rogue" codes (tags for you Trados users) in RTF and MS Word documents. A typical mess I see almost every day looks like this:
There are many different strategies for cleaning this up, but it is difficult to find one that works in every case. I often run the document through the OpenOffice word processor, but this is a bad idea for complex documents, because the format often gets trashed. Other methods like copying and pasting the content into a new document also have drawbacks. Dave's macros are about the easiest, most reliable way I know of escaping Code Hell most of the time. After running CodeZapper, the sample text above looked like this:
Now that's much easier to translate, isn't it? With results like that, which save massive amounts of working grief, you might wonder how much a cool solution like this will cost you. Update: A mere 20 euros. See the latest post on CodeZapper for information on where to get it.

This is one tool that is definitely worth adding to your bag of tricks.

May 24, 2009

Charging for formatting with CAT tool work

Last year I had the displeasure of translating a file with particularly heavy formatting. Not only was it loaded with colored text, bold and italic type, it also had a lot of hidden text notes that were not to be translated. It was so bad that it inspired me to write a short guide on how to prepare MS Word and RTF files with content to exclude for translation in Trados or DVX. However, it also got me thinking that I really ought to find a reasonable way to start charging for the extra trouble of all these formatting tags. Clients have advantages from their inclusion in a job, but translators have extra work because of them, and this extra work should be compensated.

One possibility might be to take the count of inline tags (or codes as DVX calls them) and count each as the equivalent of half a word in addition to the usual measured word count. This would represent a fair level of compensation for correctly placing tags for cross-references, character formatting, etc. in a target sentence. It is also simpler and makes more sense than other ideas I was considering which involved statistical measurements of translation time differences as correlated to tag density in a text. Any other ideas? Objections to charging for real effort?

May 17, 2009

Spring is here again!

... and with it in corporate speeches and newsletters throughout Germany the inevitable quotations from Eduard Mörike's old poem:
Frühling läßt sein blaues Band
Wieder flattern durch die Lüfte;
Süße, wohlbekannte Düfte
Streifen ahnungsvoll das Land.
Veilchen träumen schon,
Wollen balde kommen.
Horch, von fern ein leiser Harfenton!
Frühling, ja du bist's!
Dich hab ich vernommen!
Efforts to translate this poem are, in my opinion, decidedly mixed; some are truly awful. Some of the English texts published on the Internet clearly betray their authors as not being native speakers of English and don't work well no matter how "singable" they may be or whatever other virtues they may possess. Some are quite interesting interpretations.

After surveying the online poetic world for a historic, out-of-copyright version of that famous poem, I finally gave up in disgust and wrote my own bad version:
Spring sets free her ribbon blue
to flutter in the skies again.
Sweet, familiar fragrance drifts
full of promise o’er the land.
Violets do dream,
desire to burst forth soon.
Hark! the harp sounds softly from afar!
Yes, Spring, it is you!
It is you I have heard!

Translation (c) 2009 Kevin Lossner
Please note the copyright and that honor will compel me to pursue you to the Gates of Hell if you even dream of quoting this without permission ;-) You'll be paying license fees and contributions to the German artists' social insurance fund to the end of your days.

A bit of Google searching turns up many efforts. Here are some of the links I found:
There are, of course, many more out there. I would be most interested to hear what the thousands of poetry critics among my readership have to say about the virtues and failings of these and any other translations of this poem to be found on the Internet. Or contribute your own best attempt to the discussion :-)

Tweet, tweet, chirp chirp

When I logged in for my daily dose of Doonesbury today, I found Roland Hedley tweeting away with important messages for his follower base about the impending dismissal of his houseboy and whatnot. A few months ago I wouldn't have understood the joke; now I'm part of it. In February, my colleagues the Jenner sisters (Twin Translations) put a post on their blog about having joined Stephen Fry and other celebrities on Twitter. I was rather skeptical about the whole thing, being inclined to agree that this Web 2.0 "phenomenon" was blogging for those with ADHD. Recent endorsements by The Petshop Boys haven't done a lot to persuade me otherwise.

So why am I now GermanENTrans on Twitter? Rather often I've had short bits of news that I wanted to post to my blog, where there was neither good reason, nor sufficient information, nor time to make a "normal" post. A bunch of one-liners for stuff that might be valid for a limited time only would look really silly in the main text. Other thoughts also played a role, like being able to communicate availability or the lack thereof without logging in to and updating a dozen agency calendars (I'm asked to do this, but I ignore it, because it's an unreasonable waste of time I don't have).

Currently I'm only "following" a few people on Twitter, and I'm quite overwhelmed trying to keep track of that limited data feed. I don't send it to my mobile phone or any such thing, because the constant interruptions would be as bad as telephones that never stop ringing I think. I just log into my page once a day or so and scan for interesting tidbits. As you can see from looking on the left column of this blog, I feed my twitter posts to my translation blog, thus achieving exactly what I wanted in the first place: passing on short bits of information on (mostly) translation-related topics in an efficient, timely manner. Since I expect to have a lot of short messages regarding dog stuff in the future, I'll probably do a separate Twitter ID for that. I don't think there are a lot of translators out there interested in laying blood trails through the woods or dummy training.

At the ProZ powwow in Berlin recently, I met quite a number of other translators who have made Twitter part of their personal and professional communication toolset, including a number of old fogeys like myself. That's where I heard about hash tags and a number of other "insider tips" for the first time.

So is Twitter the crest of the wave of the future? I don't know and I don't care. It's accomplishing the limited result I want from it now with no bother, and that's good enough for me.

May 14, 2009

Kilgray gets it right again!

For about the past week since I bought my MemoQ license and sorted out what the Trados Studio 2009 upgrade really costs (excluding, of course, the opportunity costs of not using other software), I've had some private thoughts about what Kilgray ought to do to encourage users to give a better alternative a try. I thought it would be really cool if they were bold enough to offer a MemoQ license for about what a Trados upgrade would cost up front in cash. As a crossgrade, special promotion with ProZ, whatever. But that would be such a deep discount that I didn't have the nerve to make such a silly suggestion. Value is value, and it's worth paying for.

But as usual, Kilgray is reading minds and setting out to win another 20 translators' hearts with a great deal on MemoQ licenses for ProZ members. The regular price is € 620. The first 20 ProZ members to sign up at this URL will get the product for € 290 (plus VAT if relevant) or USD 395. I made sure my partner was on the list before I decided to post this; I expect the quota of 20 to be taken quickly. This is a seriously good deal for a superior product.


Update for May 15, 2009:

I told you so. In less than 24 hours the initial allotment of 20 licenses sold out, and the number available was increased to 40. One would have to be unconscious not to recognize this as the sort of good deal that does not come along very often.

May 12, 2009

Which 95% are you?

Something a lot of freelance translators (and perhaps a few agency folks) don't like to think about is the sales role of our chosen profession. Or if we think about it, we do so from a perspective that is not necessarily productive on any time scale you care to choose. Once in a while I find it useful to look "outside the box" of translation and see what those in other fields have to say about selling products and services and consider if any of it is relevant to my situation. Some time ago I became aware of Jeffrey Gitomer through another translator's blog. In some ways he seems just the kind of guy to raise my blood pressure and make me want to retire to a quiet, tenured teaching job somewhere. Over the top colors in his promo material, graphics in your face and fairly hardcore hype right up front. I can just see most of my translating colleagues run screaming from this.

Their loss. Some time ago I subscribed to his "Sales Caffeine" newsletter, which often makes a rather overcaffeinated impression. But when I manage to quiet my sensitive artist's nerves and look past the obnoxious graphics and the fact that much of the content is aimed at staff salesfolk, there is a lot of useful stuff left lying around for the likes of me to pick up. Often it's just reminders of things I learned long ago in sales training with Apple Computer or observations I've made in my own businesses over the years. But known or not, his tips are often good reminders of things I ought to do to improve my ways of doing business as a translator and consultant.

Jeffrey's latest article, "The 95/95 proposition" emphasizes once again the importance of structuring your marketing efforts so customers contact you rather than you spend your time chasing them with cold calls, Dear John mailings, etc. That is a goal that cannot be emphasized enough for people in our business, which is why advice to improve one's online presence is so valuable. It does indeed draw business over time if done right, and having the service requests come to you put you in a better position for negotiation. If your online presence draws only bad requests from cheap time-wasters, take a careful look at it. Statements about "competitive prices" signal a willingness to work for peanuts or sacrifice quality for price. Comments like "Holder of in with top grades" on your home page might not interest a customer who is more interested in sound experience and the quality of your work than what your GPA was 20 years ago.

If you want to catch a certain kind of fish, you have to bait the hook correctly: present the value your ideal customer is looking for and eventually customers of that type will come to you. Like Jeffrey says in his article: there are two 95% selling scenarios. Which one do you want?

May 8, 2009

Amper Translation Service: high information density

I'm a sucker for blue, so even if I didn't like Carl Carter's site I would probably like it. The web site for his company, Amper Translation Service, represents an interesting approach to design and an attempt to pack a lot of information in a little space. The content is very good: Carl knows his business, does it well and is refreshingly articulate, and that is reflected in the way he presents his services on the site. But the need to scroll on most pages bothers me a bit; it gives me a bit of a claustrophobic feeling at times. The site might benefit from a more open design that ditches the scrolling field. And the use of frames - something I used to be very fond of for my own web site - has the disadvantage that one cannot bookmark pages of particular value for fast reference.

And there are a lot of good resources here. Links to dictionaries, articles and all kinds of other useful stuff. When I rummage around the site I keep discovering more useful links or other things that I wish I had known about earlier. That's one of the real highlights of the site and make it worth a leisurely browse. I love the calming colors and tasteful graphics, and I have returned to the site time and again in the year and a half or so that I've known Carl, because I find it useful and learn from it even if the navigation drives me a bit batty at times.

In my experience, this is also a highly professional small agency, the sort I prefer to work with. The company profile is similar to many other agency clients that I prefer: personal in approach, competent, scrupulously honest and concerned with adding real value in its role as an intermediary. There are only a few editors that I really respect for checking German to English translations and Carl is one of them. He's British, and my opinion (based on experience) of most British editors checking American texts is one that cannot be expressed in polite company, but he's a refreshing exception and has even taught me a thing or two about American grammar. Fancy that. In any case, our collaboration on patent abstracts has been a great pleasure. No compromise on quality and absolute, friendly courtesy is a combination that will score with me every time.

May 7, 2009

Translation cartoon blog

Jill Sommer recently posted a note about a new blog by a cartoonist-translator-engineer, Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. It's called Mox's Blog and consists entirely of cartoons so far. I particularly like the one that discusses "exorbitant quality". Check it out.


Last month while I was sitting in a session of the MemoQ Fest listening to the presentations, I received an interesting e-mail from Atril, the maker of Déjà Vu X, my primary translation environment tool (TEnT). I should have been excited. One of the reasons I was in Budapest was because I have grown discouraged at the failure of Atril to show signs of life: support its users, keep us informed of release dates for new versions and the usual stuff one expects. Oh yes, and fix bugs too. By doing nothing, Atril still does better than the market leader SDL Trados, where marketing bullshit long ago replaced real innovation and "support" is infamous. But as my partner is fond of saying, that comparison is "bog standard". I'm not alone in my concerns; many long time users are worried and are looking at their options.

So we should have been excited about an announcement that Atril had signed an exclusive agreement with PowerLing, a French company, to distribute and support Déjà Vu in a number of European countries, right? It makes a certain weird sense I suppose: "déjà vu" is a French phrase, so why not a French company to support it? Even if no one has ever heard of this company. The French under Napoleon once conquered most of Europe, so maybe these guys can march the product across Europe to victory, to the very gates of Moscow and beyond - or at least to Budapest.

Well, before they get marching, they'd better take a look at their boots and check their provisions. After a major announcement like that, you'd expect some action, right? More press releases, a bold training initiative perhaps? Something? Instead we have silence. I see that the PowerLing web site is localized into Dutch, because the idiot who designed the site failed to build in language detection, and I see Dutch right now as the default language. I like Dutch a lot, and I can even understand it somewhat, but this seems rather amateurish to me, because even ten years ago it was child's play to build a language-based redirect into a web page. Then there's the DVX blog. Or not. They set one up - two weeks counting and still no posts beside the welcome post - but it's done on, not on a site they control. I currently manage two blogs - this one using free hosting from Google and another using Wordpress software on my own domain. This blog was my first experience with blogging, and if I had known at the start what I know now, I would have gone for my own site right away. It's much, much more flexible. So for serious business and support it really is the most professional way to go (hint, hint).

The press release (see the Atril site to read it) didn't say much of a specific nature about PowerLing. Just a lot of vague statements that failed to inspire confidence. Everything has a rather shoddy, improvised feel to it, which is disappointing given that Déjà Vu has been the leading professional productivity software for translators for years. And seeing Atril surrender control to a French company for supporting the German-speaking world just seems strange to me. I don't think this is going to work, though I hope it does somehow.

In the future I hope I can report enthusiastically on the turnabout that has resulted from this new partnership between Atril and PowerLing. But right now it looks like the victory march may be headed to Waterloo.

May 1, 2009

Financial Terminology for Translators

My partner just registered me for what promises to be an excellent seminar for financial translators. It is scheduled in London on June 19-20 and is titled "Financial Terminology for Translators: Terminology of Advanced IFRS Financial Reporting Issues". Details of the course content can be found here.

I am not and never will be a financial translator. However, I support the financial translation work of my partner by proofreading it, and financial aspects are unavoidable in some of the other work I do. We also work with a number of major bank associations in Germany, and a knowledge of financial terminology often proves useful for them, so I was very pleased at this opportunity to acquire more knowledge in this area. I decided to attend the seminar after talking to a colleague in Hilden who attended it twice, because she found the information so valuable. And, as she noted, some parts are really focused on the needs of German to English translators rather than those who, like her, work in the other direction. So I suppose that means I'll end up attending three times....

Why not now?

In my last post, I mentioned that the product manager for the new release of SDL Trados Studio 2009 informed me that the limitation on Freelance licenses being used on the same network will be removed in the new version for workgroup-based networks. That is, of course, very good news, and I applaud SDL for addressing the concerns of small teams like mine. However, after talking about this at the translators gathering here in Hohen Neuendorf last night and sleeping on the matter, the thought occurred to me: why not now? There really is no reason I accept for continuing to disallow multiple freelance licenses to operate on a small home network like ours.

What about it, SDL? Why not do your users a big favor and look good by killing this limit now? I know it's possible, because your technical people did it for me in Trados 2006 while refusing to release that fix to the rest of the world. This is "low hanging fruit" as some like to put it: an easy win for the company and the product to counteract the enormous amount of bad press you get for obnoxious marketing, bugs and usually deficient support.

Some may get the impression that I have an axe to grind with SDL, and over specific issues - like the lack of a reasonable upgrade path for my MultiTerm Extract license and the refusal to replace my very expensive Passolo Team 5 dongle - I do indeed. But if even the worst of sinners can come to Jesus and be forgiven, companies can put their past behind them and take a new path for the benefit of all, and I would like to see SDL and others address their problems in a useful way and become worthy competitors on the market that can be respected for the quality of their products and service and bring out the best in the competition by continuously innovating instead of pretending to do so behind a smokescreen of propaganda. There is real value in SDL products. There is a real return on the investment if one knows how to use them and knows how to market one's services with them. But right now - today - the best value for most freelancers and LSPs lies elsewhere, though this may not be clear given all the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) marketing. In a year my opinion might be different, but that opinion will be based on facts and real experience as a user and not be influenced by the resolution of my current disputes with SDL (except with regard to my feelings about customer service) or the spam mail I receive almost daily.

I want to see SDL, Kilgray, Atril and others engaged in a healthy competition, with each offering useful unique innovations to address the needs of various markets, not engaged in copycat development and IBM-style cut-throat marketing based on lies. In one way or another, I'll probably continue to use TEnT tools from all three according to the needs of specific projects and my desire for efficiency. The history of user treatment and marketing tactics by Kilgray and Atril that I have observed over the years has been rather positive, and I respect that a lot. With Trados, later SDL Trados after the merger, I have often felt insulted and manipulated, and my actual encounters with "support" have been very mixed: super, helpful responses from some followed by complete idiocy and unreasonableness in the next encounter. It's time to put that all to rest, but that's something SDL will have to do by making an extra, real effort. That effort might include unlocking Trados Freelance versions for concurrent network use now - in the current version.