May 31, 2010

The Oberhaveler Stammtisch returns!

This is a somewhat belated announcement, but hey - life is busy. Last year a group of local translators met regularly at a local Italian restaurant to enjoy a relaxing evening of wine and gossip until vacation schedules and the closure of the locale put things on hold. I wanted to revive things for many months, but I simply lacked the time for organization. Then one happy day, colleague Andreas Linke (NL/EN > DE) called to say hello and ask if I might be interested in a local gathering. Andreas has organized a translators' coffee chat in Berlin Kreuzberg for years (which in fact Jost Zetsche had recommended highly, for an extensive list of such meetings in Germany, see, but I never found the time to go into town and meet him. He kindly offered to take over the burden of organizing the local meetings, so I passed on the e-mail addresses of our little group.

Gatherings are planned for the third Thursday of each month at 7:00 pm. Our first get-together was in April at a local coffee house in Birkenwerder. Here are a few photos from the evening:

That's possibly the worst picture of me in the past decade. I didn't have that much to drink, really. Although the atmosphere and food in the restaurant were well suited to such a meeting, the attitude of the service personnel at Kaffeehaus Birkenwerder made it clear why some of the reviews on Qype were not very favorable. After my partner tried to meet us shortly before 10 pm and was turned away at the door, I resolved never to set foot in that joint again.

The following month (May) we switched to a beautiful lakeside restaurant about 10 minutes walk from the city rail station:

A bit more expensive, but you can't beat the view and the service is great. We had a good time; wine and beer flowed freely and everything eventually went to the dogs:

 So it looks like our new meeting location every third Thursday at 7 pm will be
Gasthaus am Boddensee
Brieseallee 20
16547 Birkenwerder

Anyone who would like to get added to the notification mailing list should contact Andreas Linke (linke.andreas [at]

May 30, 2010

Here Today, Gone Today!

I did something today that I don't usually do. I posted a response - no, two of them - to a thread on ProZ. I had pretty much taken the site from my radar, because the level of discourse there continues to drop, and the general environment has a questionable feel after several data theft incidents, the ongoing history of bad moderation and the ever mutating RuleZ for MutantZ. I do drop in occasionally to update my profile or check the payment practices of some agencies, but there doesn't seem to be much going on there lately from which I can derive much professional or personal use. Even the hosting service appears to be unable to resolve long-standing technical issues (mail server problems, lack of space and mysterious space accounting that seems to include temporary files), so that's on the plan to go out later this year.

But a colleague I like had engaged in discussion on the thread and obviously misunderstood the meaning of an English word, so I offered him an explanation. And then because his misunderstanding of the word was basically a correct understanding of the general spirit of the original post (pure trolling, so I don't even take much issue with ProZ for canning it), I vented a bit of sarcasm for fun, although I knew the NNSoEs would take my words quite literally in most cases.

Some hours later I received this:
Dear KSL Berlin,

This message is to inform you that the thread entitled "Tired of being paid peanuts?" has been hidden because the initial post was not in line with site rule

As a consequence your post "Clearinghouses " has been removed from public view together with the rest of the thread, not because it was in disagreement with site rules but because threads are removed completely when the initial post is removed.

Sorry for the inconvenience, and thank you for your understanding.
AEJ, moderator extraordinaire.
No comments about the moderation in this case or about the moderator. The thread was no loss really, just another lot of bitching about rates and the usual silly French calls for Translators of the World to Form a More Perfect Union as the French always seem to want to do. (What do French translators' unions do anyway? Block the roads by dumping dictionaries on them?)

But the incident is a useful reminder of something that is very important for a serious professional: the need for some reasonable degree of content control. Some readers may wonder, first of all, why that letter is addressed to "KSL Berlin" and not "Kevin Lossner" when for years I have criticized the use of aliases by serious professionals. That was before I discovered that my name generated nearly 60,000 hits in a Google search, most of those hits being trash like the Tamil page from ProZ with my instructions on how to convert a PDF to editable text. You would think that the Arabic, Malaysian, Urdu and Mayan pages would have been enough to get the same message across. Now, blessedly, the Google hit count is declining steadily. I have almost achieved the degree of privacy I desire; tonight the count is a mere 25,500.

Moreover, contributions in a forum are quickly buried, so the same questions get asked over and over again. That used to drive me nuts. Since starting my blog, I have more control over messages and their visibility, though I constantly tinker with ways to optimize that (like the keyword word cloud I'm currently using in a haphazard way for post classification). As a result, certain information remains more accessible to others and I don't get asked certain questions as often as happened in the past. Everyone wins. Important too is the ability to call the shots oneself on whether the message stays or goes (if you have second thoughts or it's simply no longer relevant) or gets updated. Usually this particular moderator deep-sixes my messages there because of her own personal quirks and understanding of the RuleZ (which is apparently often greater than her understanding of message texts in English and German). In this case, my message is just "collateral damage" and not even damage I really care about. On the contrary, I appreciate the reminder to stay out of that particular wallow.

In many ways, message control via social media has wrought the greatest transformation on my business since I started doing my own thing about 22 years ago. Experiments with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other media have yielded some very interesting and often unanticipated results. Not all of them what I want, but many have been pleasant surprises. And I would have missed much of this had I depended on ProZ or similar portals in the way that many continue to do today. Nothing against ProZ intended here: I have said before and will reiterate that i the past I have derived great benefit from my association with the site. I don't think that's a fair expectation anymore give the flood of cheap otherworld zookeepers inundating me with monkey mail every week, using the ProZ Connect system to bypass the filters I set up ages ago or simply pestering me through the mail link on my profile. (Takes time, I know, but time is cheap in some parts of the world.) But when I think about the latest ProZ membership campaign with its slogan "Grow Your Business" I can't help but think that it's really better and more responsible to yourself and your dependents to grow your own!

Blessed Is the Mess

Cleanliness is much overrated. Order too. Unfortunately for me, I live with a partner obsessed with cleanliness (she thinks of the dishwasher as a sort of autoclave where dishes are placed for sterilization after they are washed with copious quantities of soap) in a country noted for its historical obsessions with "order", a few wonderfully chaotic exceptions like my ex-nephew notwithstanding. I've never bought into that "next to godliness" nonsense, and I've always found that undisturbed paper strata on my desk, tabletops and window sills are a very cost-effective archiving strategy, but once in a while I'll let myself get tricked into a bit of spring cleaning. Always a bad idea, and today was no exception. I figured that after not seeing the naked ground under the present blanket of snow, I might fight cabin fever by getting the jump on spring and cleaning a bit now. Also, more than a year and a half after moving into the new house and offices, I figured it was time to unpack a few boxes.

One of the first things I found was an unopened Christmas letter from a cousin with urgent questions regarding our joint genealogy research which require my translation skills. He decided to send his query as a letter instead of the usual e-mail. I suppose I'll answer his question, but as a matter of courtesy to his wife, I'll check to be sure he's still alive. The letter was dated Christmas 2001, and I figure he's about 85 now.

The note from the IRS dated 2007 requesting that I clear up some matter isn't nearly as old, so I figure it still has time. I won't owe them anything, but I suppose I'll have to explain that to them before I turn 85 or change my citizenship.

There was a mysterious check for $73.48 from the year 2000. A refund for God-knows-what. Written to me at an address where I have never lived. Or so I thought; the address might be for a small office apartment I rented once. Maybe it's a refund on a deposit of some sort. Unfortunately, the bank on which it was written no longer exists. Washington Mutual melted down some time ago.

Somewhat more encouraging was the deposit slip from a business checking account which I forgot about when I left the country more than 10 years ago. It's probably been closed and the funds sent to some custodial account with the state of Oregon. At least that's what used to happen in California. So if I find the time to research the matter, there may be a bonus of some hundreds or thousands of dollars waiting for me. Perhaps I can buy that drilling after all.

Then there were the old court records detailing my attempts to enjoy a holiday with my daughter after I moved to Germany. Mostly it didn't work, despite the fact that I won every court case. De facto joint custody doesn't mean much here if you are a man. My favorite paper was the "contract" I signed pledging my dog as a hostage and promising not to leave Europe during two weeks of vacation. Can't risk the kid spending time with cousins, y'know. She might get the idea that there are real people outside of Lower Saxony.

The consulting contract I discovered in which I was to receive a percentage of revenues for sales of software in the Netherlands appears to be in force still. I think the board member who signed it neglected to cancel it when he was purged 6 years ago. Who knows? Maybe I can get a Maserati after I collect the overdue commissions and interest. Or at least a used 4WD jeep that can make it through a muddy field. But I don't look forward to the hassle of enforcement.

So the day is shot and tomorrow's translation is still on the to-do list. No sense of accomplishment at having emptied three of the twenty or so boxes taking up half my office. I'm not sure I want to know what surprises the rest hold. Some might find the accumulation oppressive, but I see it quite the opposite: let it rest in peace.

Colleague Chris Irwin comments:
Despite having a good idea of the exemplary and logically-reasoned thinking that you variously demonstrate in the 'how-tos' on your profile, in your blog, in various other forums and indeed in the course of chats together, I feel that you are (unusually) lost for the right word here.

it is in fact so: the "mess" represents a deeper order. In my case, that order is deeper than the Marianas Trench.

I think that you should mention that word to any cynics, be they domestic or otherwise: It is quantum physics. Tell them that the mess is a causal dynamical triangulation and challenge them to argue.

(a repost of the original contribution on the Watercooler, February 2010)

Wer arbeit sucht...

kann sich bestimmt über folgendes Angebot freuen:
Titel: Dolmetscher/in u. Raumpfleger/in Arbeitsort: Lingen (Ems)
Für ein Handelsunternehmen wird eine Kraft im Rahmen einer Teilzeitbeschäftigung gesucht. Aufgaben: - Reinigung der Büro- und Geschäftsräume incl. sanitäre Anlagen - Begleitung und Dolmetschen von/bei Montagearbeiten im Ausland (u.a. Niederlande, England, Belgien)
Erforderlich: - perfekte Englischkenntnisse (überwiegende Übersetzungsarbeit) und Russischkenntnisse - Sprachkenntnisse französisch und niederländisch - Zuverlässigkeit - selbständige Arbeitsweise - Flexibilität - Führerscheine: FS B PKW/Kleinbusse (alt: FS 3): Zwingend erforderlich
Benötigte Sprachen: russisch-verhandlungssicher, englisch-verhandlungssicher, französisch-Erweiterte Kenntnisse, holländisch-Erweiterte Kenntnisse
Anfangsdatum: 05/02/2010
Geografische Angaben
Land: Deutschland
Minimalgehalt: 500 Euro mtl.
Währung: Euro
Lohnsteuer: Brutto
Wochenstunden: 11
Vertragsart: unbefristet Arbeitsplatz (Teilzeit)
Übernachtung wird zur Verfügung gestellt: No
Notwendige Bildungs fähigkeiten: nicht relevant
Führerschein erforderlich: FS B PKW/Kleinbusse (alt: FS 3)
Name: Agentur für Arbeit Lingen
Information: Arbeitsvermittlung
Adresse: Jakob-Wolff-Platz 1, D-49808 Lingen (Ems), Deutschland
Telefon: +49 591 91212103
Fax: +49 591 91212701

Droht uns allen der soziale Abstieg???!!!

Wer sich von so etwas beeindrücken lässt, ist schon längst professionell abgestiegen, wenn er überhaupt mal
auf professionellem Niveau war. Dummheit ist so alt wie die Menschheit, und das freiberufliche Leben - oder das Leben überhaupt - erfordert viel mehr. Verantwortung unter anderem. Gelegentlich Kreativität. Die Beschäftigung mit solchen "Angeboten" wie oben ist schädliche Zeitvergeudung, nicht mal entspannend oder irgendwie seelisch erfrischend wie manche "Zeitvergeudungen", wie sie von Anderen wahrgenommen werden.

Jeder Tag ist ein neuer, jeder Kunde anders und jede Situation eine genaue Betrachtung Wert. Möglichkeiten, auch gute, gibt es zuhauf. Die Kunst besteht darin, sie auszulesen und umzusetzen. Ihr behauptet, Künstler zu sein. Beweist das mal. 

(reposted from the Watercooler)

May 29, 2010

The Scribe Who Came in from the Cold

The freelance life has its ups and downs. For me the upside by far predominates, but the administrative downside can be rather wicked, particularly in an arrangement where I have more than my own personal administration to deal with. I like to create products, write, negotiate and find innovative ways to solve problems, but the mundane tasks involved in dealing with local authorities (even trying to get them on the phone when they aren't on vacation) can inspire great feats of cursing. And when writing invoices at 4 am after a long, long day becomes routine, one's health and a lot more suffer, and it's time to consider alternatives, even exit strategies.

My myriad business partners are, for the most part, well aware of what I do well and what I don't or cannot in a situation of administrative duress. As part of my long effort to find solutions, on the recommendation of colleague Ralf Lemster I tested's Online Translation Manager (OTM) for the first several months of this year. Ralf managed to switch his entire business to use the system within two days I think. With three dogs to walk and a large house full of sandy dog tracks to vacuum, I progressed more slowly, but my impression of the solution and its potential to make my life easier was quite positive on the whole. A key factor here for me was the secure online access to my data, projects and project correspondence from anywhere and the ability to offer my clients secure, encrypted deliveries via HTTPS.

I like AIT's Translation Office 3000 and use it routinely for billing, but it falls completely flat if you are trying to use it in a team situation. The agency version of the software, Projetex, never got off the ground for testing with me, because the database update scripts required to make it work were screwed up somehow, and while I still had the time to deal with it, I never really understood the suggestions from tech support on how to sort things out.

So when a trusted acquaintance at a local agency which uses OTM proposed a novel solution to my administrative challenges as well as a unique cooperation, I was intrigued but disinclined to go for it. I am so thoroughly allergic to German employment laws and practices after sucking up smoke in the workplace in Mülheim an der Ruhr in the first years after my arrival in the Fatherland that I've flatly turned down every offer of an in-house position from partners whom I trust completely and for whom I have the greatest admiration both personally and for their business practices. So the idea of turning over my client billing to a "competitor" is daft on the face of it.

Or maybe not. Individual translators and SME LSPs face many challenges in today's translation markets, the diversity and scope of which are so great that it is often difficult to have a coherent discussion on matters. In Zurich after The Great Pig Hunt, I had the pleasure of spending some hours dining, drinking coffee and gossiping with the proprietors of a local agency (not a client, just friends), who complained about how it was becoming more difficult to get their standard rates from end customers. These rates are, on the whole, about 30 to 40% less than most Swiss agencies (which often charge well in excess of CHF 3.00 per line of 55 keystrokes), but more than twice what I know many German agencies charge. With about 400 agencies in Switzerland (their estimate), it's also hard to stand out in the market when your administrative work is handled in Excel and on the backs of envelopes. Different agencies in different countries face different challenges, even for services in the same language pairs.

My language pair, on the whole, is an easy one with which to make a living (that's part of my problem - the demand for good German to English translation is so high it's often hard to get translation work and administration done); the challenges faced by those in other pairs are often far more complex and usually more difficult.

But I do believe that certain common principles apply to all our situations, and one of these – which applies to any business – is the need for flexibility and openness to creative solutions to improve the quality of life and work. And that is indeed what my new back office partner offered. For my clientele, all that will really change is the e-mail address for inquiries and a series of multiple confirmation mails for various project steps, different bank details for payment and more secure delivery options. If anyone is freaked out by seeing an actual quotation attached as a PDF document to a mail message, I can turn all that off and just let them know when the job is done. I can e-mail it, give them a download link or provide a secure area where all projects are safely archived for access at any time. And the invoices will go out on time. If I were inclined to outsource (which I generally am not), the interface of the online tools supports that beautifully, and there is also a network of registered, fully evaluated translators to draw upon.

Those are probably among the reasons why Ralf swears by this system. For me the reasons are simpler: more sleep, more time for quality work and more time for my dog and the rest of my life.

Ridin' that train....

May 26, 2010

Sitting in the Bordrestaurant of the train from Hanover to Zurich I contemplated the differences between Hungarian and German trains with a grimace. Hungarian trains have good food. German ones have good electrical connections for laptops. I think the two national railroads have agreed not to tread on the other's area of strength. DB cappucino is probably the nastiest drink invented since Folger's coffee. This thought was reinforced as it occurred by the crash of breaking glass in the Zuchtanstalt that passes for a kitchen on board the ICE.

Preparing for the trip was an adventure. After wasting valuable hours online trying to find out more about train pass options, I finally took time I didn't have and headed to Berlin's train station, where a Deutsche Bahn employee kindly misinformed me of my options regarding an Interrail pass. It wasn't until I was on my way home that I discovered it wasn't valid in my country of residence (Germany), but said employee even more kindly recorded the wrong country of residence after looking at my passport. Just to be on the safe side, however, I don't speak German to the train conductors while I'm travelling within German borders. They're used to stupid tourists and rather tolerant of them or at least more so than I would be.

Once home I started to pack and sort the information for the district court in Zurich until I was interrupted by a call from my high school German teacher, Mad Marianne, who explained at length how her return flight schedule for her planned visit in August had been changed to reduce the length of the flight segments. The most significant part of the change for me was the change in departure time: from 7:05 am at Tegel to 6:55 am. Good thing I found out early enough to adjust my plans.

By then I was too tired to pack or do other work, so I decided to get a few hours of sleep before making an early start. Preparations the next morning quickly nixed the possibility of an early start, especially when I remembered the deer I had stuffed in the refrigerator and needed to finish butchering. But eventually with the help of the neighbor who had kindly agreed to feed my menagerie while I'm on the road I made the last train of the four for which I had a printed schedule.

I almost missed that train. The night before, I had reconfigured my memoQ installation, removing several older versions and getting my licenses sorted out, including a quick upgrade to the project manager version and access to Kilgray's test servers again for a little show & tell planned for various clients in the coming weeks. To my horror, about an hour before I planned to leave, I discovered that memoQ crashed shortly after each launch with an error regarding a custom keyboard file I had created for an earlier version. The keyboard map formats differ between versions 4.0 and 4.2, and there are some problems that can arise during an upgrade.

As usual, Kilgray's super support team came to my rescue, this time with the latest white knight at the Hungarian round table, Denis Hay. Kindly ignoring my very bad mood, he quickly instructed me on how to make a remote connection available so he could examine the problem directly on my computer, and in less than ten minutes I was out the door and on my way to the train station. Would that have happened with the competition? Answer that question yourself the next time you need support.

Losing my UMTS stick somewhere on my last trip to Budapest made Internet access during the journey a lost cause. For a while I dared to hope when I discovered WLAN on the ICE, but the German telephone company Telekom makes it impossible for current customers who don't have a recent telephone bill in hand to sign up for the discounted monthly access rate, and I saw no point in paying more than 300% of that amount. So I was rudely reminded of my dependence on online research and confirmation as I translated various texts on cranes and health insurance and made notes in memoQ on terms to check before delivery. A constant loop of Simon & Garfunkel and Grateful Dead travel tunes in my head also offered a bit of unwanted distraction. I assume that regular drug testing and the heavy hand of DB management encourage Casey Jones to watch his speed when running the ICE down the rails. And reminders of the trouble ahead and behind I can do without; I'm dressed in my threads for a proper pig hunt and plan to drop the bore with a single well-placed shot in court tomorrow....

Train travel is fantastic for getting work done, even with screaming kids, gossiping fishwives in the compartment, rotten coffee (note to self: get a thermos for travel) and whatnot. It's been wonderful blasting through projects with relatively little disturbance.

May 28, 2010

On the train to Munich after The Great Pig Hunt in Zurich. (Der Keiler hatte doch keine Waffen, ist vermutlich 'ne Bache, aber 'ne schwache, keine führende. Auf jeden Fall 'ne alte Sau :-) Eight shots of espresso in the youth hostel finally got my sputtering motor started after I inexplicably woke at 5:30 am, even more inexplicably without a headache after celebrating the night before with pear brandy from the silver and leather vest pocket flask I bought in the fine hunting shop yesterday after completing my business with the court and public prosecutor dealing with the frivolous attempts of Mr. Dominic de Neuville to become the arbiter of free speech and payment practices information in the free world. I learned a few interesting things which may be of use to those who are currently frustrated in their attempts to collect monies long overdue. When I get back to Berlin and catch up on my projects I'll explain in the blog. It seems that there may indeed be a possibility of collective action, though perhaps only with regard to criminal matters. I'm quite interested to see how things develop.

Shortly before my departure from Zurich, Mr. Gramlich, the Bergstockpapst, called to inform me that the wire transfer payment for my combination hiking staff, shooting support and boar spear (Saufeder) had been completed and wanted to know if I'd be picking it up when I pass through Bavaria or whether he should ship it. Since I hope to spend a few pleasant hours with a translation colleague and friend in Munich before continuing home to my dog Ajax, I told him to ship it. I could have used the thing yesterday at the Bezirksgericht, but now it'll probably be a week or so before I can think about Saujagd again.

May 29, 2010

After a fine afternoon of sightseeing in Munich with friend and colleague A.S., I boarded the Train to Hell. The engineers failed to load enough brimstone to keep the fires burning, and as we arrived in Nürnberg well behind schedule and I faced the prospect of being stranded in Göttingen (a suburb of Hell) overnight, I boldly switched trains and took a different ICE to Berlin. But the Devil would have his due, and a freight train stalled on the tracks ahead of us cost that train another hour. I arrived in Berlin at about one in the morning to face a drifting crowd of drunken, pierced, technicolor zombies who are sure evidence that Catholic priests also engaged in unnatural relations with mackaws. I finally dragged myself through the door at home at 2:30 am to be greeted by an overjoyed Ajax, who insisted on a late-night cat-hunting expedition. I think he was most disappointed that I didn't give him the opportunity to lift his leg in Zurich and shower due compliments on the learnéd opposition. Despite all the chaos I managed to get about 150 lines of translation out of the way. I love trains.

No Monkeys!

The recent launch of colleague Wendell Ricketts' No Peanuts blog got me thinking. I endorse the basic concept that translators who do decent work deserve a decent living or better yet an indecently good one, but in our discussion of "living wages" and "sustainable fees" let us not forget the elephant in the room... and the monkey riding on its back.

Frankly I wouldn't pay peanuts for some of the work we've been asked to review in the past. I doubt that a bad rate was a primary determinant of the quality in those cases; though a hurried, overworked translator is likely to deliver sub-par translations at least occasionally no matter how good her skills, it's those monkeys banging away at the keyboard on the way to randomly reproducing the works of Willie Shakespeare that do the really spectacular damage. And there are, alas, quite a few of these. It's a scary day when I have to agree with a PM that a machine translation would at least be consistent in its awfulness, but I have more weeks of those days in a year than I have vacation.

So in the spirit of quality, reform and professional development, I urge you all to join the No Monkeys movement. Ours is not an exclusive movement; we welcome even those stricken with Simian Syndrome and support them in their search for a cure. Career change is an obvious step in this direction, and I have long suspected that many of those slaving away at new translations of Dostoevsky would make better plumbers and bricklayers. But for those who have dreamed since childhood of translating corporate financial reports, instructions for use for toothpaste and high school diplomas, I propose a twelve step program for shedding the tail, thinning out the fur and participating in the Ascent of Translators.
  1. Acknowledge that you are powerless against Human Stupidity, including your own, and follow the plan of a Higher Power. That HP would be me, so pay attention.
  2. Do your homework on sustainable rates, quote them and stick to them. This one is just so basic that you'd think the discussion would have ended long ago. If you think that as a house hubby, student or a reeking rank novice you shouldn't be charging full professional rates, think again. Forget all those whining arguments about undercutting your colleagues by charging less than the typical translator in Peru or Bangladesh. Heck, you might live in those countries for all I know. No, there are better reasons to do this. Greed first of all. Greed is good. Just ask Gordon Gecko. Or your favorite outsourcers. There's also the little matters of self respect (ignore that, it's a vicious myth intended to inspire peasant and worker revolts), the need to pay bills even if the main breadwinner ends up on the dole or worse (on second thought, who needs to eat? lean translation, like lean software development and all the myriad starvation diets are surely healthier alternatives....) and a professional future. If you're not at the top of the game, give yourself a chance to develop and charge a top rate and pay the extra to the best editor willing to overhaul your junk language vehicle and make it run like a well-tuned Ferrari.
  3. Do your homework on sustainable rates, quote them and stick to them. Yes, yes I know. This was Step No. 2. It's good that you've noticed; there's hope for evolution. But I'll bet those simian synapses are still not firing fully. Just for fun, take your current rates and double or triple them. If you live in Bangladesh or Peru, please pentuple them at least. Make that the goal for your evolutionary plan and set a date for new clients to pay those rates. Now move the date up by a few years. Try setting it about three months from now.
  4. Now think about what you can add in value to your translation and other language service work to achieve those rate goals. What? You lack the education to offer a credible specialty? McDonald's is hiring I hear. Or we can start with an English lesson. If you don't know the word autodidact, look it up and become one. Good translators who get top rates are usually autodidacts, and that club's membership is open to any aspirants. Of course you've already created style guides for your target languages which you share with clients and prospects when planning projects and adjust to fit their interests and specifications. But have you thought about how you might leverage your terminology expertise to squeeze a little extra out of a project, even if it's just extra smiles and warm thoughts of a client looking forward to the next project with you? Do you have a colleague who's a super proofreader or editor and has capacity? Have you made arrangements to join forces for greater client satisfaction?
  5. Join a real professional translators' association, and if you don't qualify, figure out how to close the gap and do so. Sure, some of these people are snooty twits who waste far too much energy wishing that it were possible to close off a wide-open profession, and there are just as many clueless newbies (including many with translation degrees) who have never learned how to write an invoice as you'll find on the ProZ forums. By professional association, by the way, i most definitely do not mean public translation portals, even if these do pass out shiny red virtual "pro" badges and the like. Think ATA, ITI, those NAATI Australians, AdÜ, BDÜ, all those French associations that I'll never learn to pronounce or spell or whatever else may be within your reach. It's best if the association offers a member's directory which is popular with local or national businesses looking for a good translator. Oh, you don't want to evolve into a good translator? Like I said, McDonald's is hiring. And that's a disciplined company that might teach you some skills you need to succeed in translation. 
  6. Find a mentor. This one is not optional. Most twelve-step programs involve a sponsor, usually one who has struggled with the same issues in the past. In our movement we offer more latitude: you don't have to seek out a recovering monkey as your mentor. You can also work under the watchful eye of someone who got things right the first or second time.
  7. Develop your writing skills in your target language. If you think this is for monkey only, think again. If you think you've got this one down, learn more about when to break the rules. But make sure you actually know those rules first and are capable of applying them. Seek lots of feedback from your mentor and other Higher Powers, because it's easy to develop blind spots on this point. How often have I re-read my own texts and thought "quam tauri merda!"?
  8. Improve your source language comprehension. Doh. Or maybe not. Those with very long tails may need to brush up on grammar basics, learn about false friends and other beginners' stuff, but for those who are new to the business or are simply thick as bricks with respect to linguistic awareness, it may be important to point out that most authors of texts are not fully in control of the language they write, even if it is presumably their native language. Learn about screwups. Dialect. Guess what? Engineers writing repair manuals in Stuttgart are too often heavily influenced in their writing by the Swabian dialect. You might think of them as linguistic monkeys, but get over it. You have to make something comprehensible out of that mess, preferably something which will keep the client from getting sued very often.
  9. Just say no! This one works for drugs, excessive alcohol, extra-marital affairs, the seduction of translating into one's second, third and fourth languages and taking on that extra 20,000 words for the weekend. No is a wonderful word, worth learning in every language, even if you learn nothing else. Can you really, honestly handle the subject and register of the text on offer? Not sure are you? NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!!!!!!!
  10. Learn an effective project management system and apply it religiously. This can start with something as simple as the project folder system I developed for myself years ago. It might involve software tools, such as Translation Office 3000 or OTM, but a good spiral-bound notebook with tab dividers or a paper-based organizer or chalkboard on your home office wall or some combination of these and other options might do as well or better. Find a system that works for you and improve it as you make mistakes. That improvement is critical to evolution.
  11. Get a good translation environment tool, but understand clearly that it's your brain that does the real work! Even if you have Jurassic aspirations, you can use these tools to filter much of the crap people want translated and put it in a nice format you can handle in any word processor on most any computer platform. MemoQ version 4.2 with its exportable RTF tables for any source file format is a good example of this, but by no means the only useful one. But never forget: a fool with a tool remains a fool and trägt er auch 'n goldn Ring, der Affe bleibt a häßlich Ding.
  12. If you can't handle Steps 1 to 11 and anything else necessary to evolve as a translator in the modern world, consider joining a monastery or choosing a different pursuit. Actually, the monks I've known (I used to teach for the Capuchin Franciscans) won't cut you any slack, so think about doing gardening service, cleaning houses, dog sitting or anything else you can enjoy some measure of real success doing. My first choice would be gardening. It's how I earned a lot of my pocket change as a kid and college student, and it gets me out of the house into the sunshine and fresh air. Or the rain, which is also pretty cool for someone who grew up with the perpetual curse of heat and dry, polluted air in the LA basin. I would dearly love to be a professional musician or at least a singer, but I can't carry a tune and Chopsticks is the best I can manage on the finest grand piano, so I'm doomed to pursue the lesser path of the linguist. Any honest work is honorable, even the much-maligned role of the translation project manager or agency owner. (Just be careful not to follow bad examples.) Pursuing something you're not good at and never will be good at is of no sustainable use to anyone. I'm not one of those who believe that translation is an art requiring an artist's talent and temperament; it is a craft with many aspects, at least some of which can be mastered by most people with sufficient basic competence in two languages. But success requires more than just talent or desire. Commitment and right action are absolute fundamentals.

May 25, 2010

The TM Repository

One of the most interesting presentations for me at this year's memoQ Fest in Budapest was the presentation by Kilgray's CEO Balázs Kis on the company's new product in beta testing, the TM Repository. The concept was actually discussed at last year's conference, but it has matured a lot since then and developed into a web-based application (based on Microsoft IIS, ASP and SQL Server) for sophisticated management of translation memory resources from any source. Here are two more slides that emphasize aspects which I find particularly useful:

The complete presentation slide set can be downloaded here, and I think the talk will eventually be made available on YouTube.

It's important to understand that this is not a memoQ add-on. It is a tool intended to manage TMX data from any translation environment without metadata loss and allowing mapping of attributes for other systems, data maintenance and much more. It could be used by LSPs and corporations with extremely large Trados data set, for example, and it offers version control for the data. I'm not aware of another translation environment tool that does this in an efficient way.

Organizations interested in learning more about this technology and how it might support their workflows should contact Kilgray.

May 19, 2010

My cell runneth over

Once again I'm sitting over a patent translation, and like many German patent source texts, this one has some damned loooooong sentences. That used to drive me nuts when Déjà Vu was my primary translation environment tool. I was constantly changing the view to use lower fonts and rearranging the panes in my working window to try to get a full view of the current segment cell for translation and editing. Often, in desperation, I would introduce segment breaks where I could at the start of some dependent clauses. With memoQ I don't have to go through that any more. If there is too much text in a cell to see it all at once, a vertical scrollbar appears to facilitate editing. This makes the interface a lot friendlier when dealing with really large chunks of text:

Now some fans of the Word macro interface for the classic Trados Workbench and its clones may point out that this isn't a problem with that interface. Quam tauri merda. Try working with those macros for a sentence that covers more than half a page. No fun at all.

May 11, 2010

Moving to memoQ

The day before the main memoQfest 2010 conference was dedicated to all-day workshops to allow the participants a chance to get into real depth with the subject. And that's just what we did in the memoQ master class focusing on migration. Taught by Angelika Zerfass, one of the top trainers in the German-speaking countries for translation tool technology for nearly a decade and assisted by Kilgray's CEO Balázs Kis, adding a lot of content not shown on the agenda slides as well as revealing newly released and future memoQ features, this day was simply a gold mine of content for me. It answered a lot of questions on compatibility issues that have nagged me for a while and offered clear guidelines for migration project planning and best practice. Here is the title slide (with the contact e-mail address for the presenter) as well as the list of topics covered in the plan for the day:

The workshop got into a lot of detail on the various topics, as much as would be required by any LSP or corporate user I know. Here's an example of the comparison of TMX export structures in Trados and memoQ:

Ms. Zerfass does not work for Kilgray; she is an independent consultant and trainer who works with a broad range of tools, including SDL products and Across. She does do occasional webinars in German for Kilgray, and her workshops and training courses are available anywhere in German and English. This is a good person to turn to if you want a sober, accurate analysis of your situation and best options. And she's the only German trainer I know who doesn't put me to sleep by starting a presentation with the Big Bang, the course of human evolution and the work of Charles Babbage to show how to use Windows-based software.

She's also part of the newly-formed Loctimize GmbH in Saarbrücken, Germany, whose CEO Daniel Zielinski described to me last Thursday at Kilgray's wild birthday party how although memoQ may be the best general solution for SME LSPs and corporations in other sectors, advanced applications often require integration and customization involving other tools. That's exactly the approach which mature IT operations have taken for a long time now and which language service providers and their IT staff are starting to wake up to. With its founders' long experience in translation technology, programming, integration, migration and training, Loctimize is well able to help customers in German, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Swedish to make the right move.

May 10, 2010

Human Interoperability

Anyone who is bored enough and has enough time on her hands to read my shot-from-the-hip presentation description from last fall, published in the conference schedule for memoQfest 2010 and who then compounds her error by watching the YouTube version of the actual talk delivered in my green hunting drabs (at least I took the hat off so more light could diffuse in the room) will notice that there is a bit of a difference.

By the time I got up to talk, my slides were best described as a palimpsest; I had scraped off the original text and written Something Very Different, something heretical. Like Ol' Ned, I've forsaken technology.

I'm quite pleased to see that other, more technically competent persons have taken up the banner of technical interoperability and come up with more permutations than previously imagined in my philosophy. I nearly swooned with pleasure as Angelika Zerfass deftly explained how to fix every mistake I've ever made migrating data to and from memoQ as well as a few more mistakes I was planning to make next week. Balázs Kis, Denis Hay, Gergely Vándor and an army of API-savvy LSPs charged the ramparts of monolithic software solutions and competently routed the enemy. And Tom Imhoff was there to pick off the stragglers who doubted the depths to which Trados integrations might go.

The best thing about a battle like this is that I don't expect any dead bodies, but rather healthier practices and, I hope, healthier translators.

But the Devil never sleeps, and his Infernal Engines are ready to receive the best of tools placed in the wrong hands with a wrong heart. Aside from its insatiable appetite for resources, there probably isn't much wrong with Trados Studio 2009 SP2. What I saw in the beta looked OK; I intend to purchase an upgrade to one of my Trados licenses at some point if only to write more accurately about it, but more likely to integrate it in my workflows where it makes sense to do so. SDL has some super employees on board who work late into the night helping users, and who have a sense of balance and fairness. I think they've done a lot to repair the damage done by insulting SDL marketing campaigns like the infamous "amnesty" offer to those who had dared to pass up a few upgrades. I look forward to writing about the good side of SDL products, particularly how they can finally help bring about those blooming landscapes that my neighbors in Brandenburg have been waiting for for so long.

memoQ too can be straight from Hell. Not in the usual CAT tool way, crashing and destroying your 300-page translation five minutes before it's due. Well, not usually anyway. If you want that, the best thing to do is re-install the original release of SDL Trados Studio 2009 from last June. The worst a beta of memoQ has been is a bit of frustration, and I got used to that in my first marriage.

No, the hellish aspects of memoQ – or any other tool – come to the fore when Good Tools fall into the hands of Bad People. Or Good People with Good Intentions, which as we all know are the paving stones on the path to Hell.

Think of those Trados word count logs. Useful things, actually, even if they aren't all that accurate as tools for assessing real effort in many real cases. MemoQ offers something better/worse. Homogeneity. For those of you in Kansas, yes its implementation can indeed be a sin, just not the one you think. Last year at memoQfest 2009 the evil I had anticipated was revealed in the form of a fallen angel from a French agency who spoke of using the memoQ homogeneity anaysis for text, which "anticipates" fuzzy matches that will arise in the course of a translation, to reduce the rates paid to translators. Boo, hiss. Actually, the angel in question was a nice guy doing his job trying to keep his staff off the dole, and I really felt bad about throwing him to the wolves when I asked for clarification of the matter in front of an audience. So I was more restrained this year when one wiry LSP rep spoke of accelerating workflows and 15 minute turnarounds that would make the Dark Lord's Turncoat Translations concept seem sluggish. All this with the power of the memoQ server that many of us hold dear. Satanic mills indeed.

It's not about tools, it's about people. Nothing less.

If it's too risky, too rushed, let it go. Walk the wire over the chasm of drop deadlines long enough, and eventually you'll fall into the Pit. Go slow, like food should be to digest in a settled stomach. Remember those twelve-course Belgian dinners that start at six and go to midnight before she asks you to go dancing and how well you sleep afterward. And when you plan your translation processes, remember that there are no processes without people, and if you insist on thinking of people as tools, then treat them as fine ones, restore them, not discard them, when they lose their edge, and show them greater respect than the finest heirloom plane in the chest of tools from your great-grandfather.

True interoperability is whatever it takes for people to work effectively and happily together. Technology may facilitate this, but never, never confuse the technology with the concept it should serve.

Listen to your lady

One of my personal projects which I enjoy greatly is translating choice passages from Diana, Hubertus und Ich by the once-famous equestrian and author of sports literature, Oscar Caminneci. I know some of his surviving family through breeders' circles for wire-haired vizslas, and Oscar's nephew Manfred and his wife Ingeborg have an excellent kennel in Germany, Haus Schladern.

The author had the misfortune to be caught up in the intrigues of the Third Reich when Ulrich Scherping, the regime's Oberstjägermeister, conspired to confiscate his hunting lands. Oscar was subsequently murdered in a concentration camp.

This light-hearted tale from his book of adventures demonstrates a lesson that all men must eventually learn if they are to succeed in life. Here is the German original, published in 1935, and my free adaptation in English, published with the permission of the Caminneci family.

A Lovers' Hunt
by Oscar Caminneci

in Five Acts

translated and adapted by Kevin Lossner


Place and circumstances of the play:
Forested lands, a raised blind, a December evening and moonlight

Dramatis personae:
Mr. & Mrs. Caminneci, newly wed. It is the wife's first time in a raised blind.

Purpose of the evening's activity:
Waiting and watching, a boar hunt


Act One

He: Now you must sit still as a mouse, and in the event that something comes, you must not move nor say a thing, otherwise there's no point. I'll pay close attention and let you know if necessary.

She: Don't worry, I'll sit quietly.

The moon rises. It is peaceful, a time for meditation.


Act Two

She (barely audible): I believe something's coming.

He (somewhat more audibly): Be quiet!



Act Three

She (quietly): Oscar, there's a boar standing there.

He (somewhat louder): My God, will you shut up?!



Act Four

She (still quiet, but urgently): There it is. Very close. And it's scratching itself.

He (still quiet, but... ): Why won't you shut up at last?! If you can't clamp your beak then nothing will come for sure and we might as well go home now!


Act Five

Silence in the forest. It gets colder. It is late.

She (with resignation): Now it's gone.

He (loudly): Where? What? I didn't see a thing!

She (puzzled): But the boar was standing right there! Right in front of us! Why didn't you shoot?

He (somewhat sheepishly): Don't be silly. You just saw a ghost!

Her "ghost" left deep tracks in the virgin snow. A fir branch had blocked Oscar's view....

First impressions

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression". We've all heard that old saying, intended to strike fear into the hearts of new graduates and make them obsess endlessly on what shoes to wear for their first job interview.

It's a relevant saying for translators as well. Not so much for the shoes, but for starting a relationship which might come to remunerative fruition. Make a bad first impression and you might not get a chance to make the second, third, fourth and fifth impressions that are on the path to a long-term relationship with a client.

Maybe your shoes are tasteful ands shined, your suit is well-tailored, your dialect and accent(s) are attuned to the selling situation, your CV is perfectly polished, and your web site is a showcase of competence. But while you are fine-tuning your professional packaging, have you had a look lately at what your professional associations and translation provider portals are doing for you or to you?

This isn't another rant about half-naked fat ladies and prostitution ads on ProZ. The Master of the Translation Workhouse has gots RuleZ agin dat sorta ting nowdays. But while the wannapro PortalZ are repainting the walls and job posting boards as part of the Great Reformation Inspired By The Terrible Swift Petition Against Low Rates and the More Respectable Associations For Highly Qualified And Moral Superior Professionals are promoting the highest standards of practice and educating the world about just how necessary we micro-SLPs really are and why our rates really need to be much, much higher, honest truly, has anyone bothered to have a look at these jokers' home pages?

If I fork over $150 each year or some other amount of money I might otherwise spend on wine, song and women (not necessarily in that order, though I've found that this progression is generally suited to maximizing ROI), I want to see that the recipient of the money is making an effort to give me a good return on my money.

These returns can take many forms: access to information, professional fellowship (of rings and otherwise), training, legal advice, service directories which may lead to potential client contacts, payment practices databases and much more. One portal for hire noted for its security breaches and the theft from its servers of translators' personal data even offers online project tracking, customer lists and invoicing. The value propositions are staggering in their variety and occasionally in their audacity.

But this little tour will focus on one small thing. I put myself in the role of a translation buyer who speaks only English and who has an important contract to be translated from German into English. Price is no object, quality – especially legal accuracy – are essential. No monkeys, please! My choice of this scenario is based on my own language pairs and the desire to end up as the "winner" of this prospect's search. You are welcome to try a similar case for whatever language pairs interest you. Post the results in a comment here; there may be others interested in what you observe.

I decided to have a look at the "first impression", defined as the area visible on my Lenovo S10-2 netbook's restricted screen. If what I see doesn't make me want to go further, I'll give up and turn the task over to my purchasing agent, who understands that price is the only real determinant of quality and that the best German to English translators are hiding in the hills of Mongolia in a yurt with UMTS connectivity. Best of all, you can pay them in yak butter, which is currently trading at a favorable rate with peanuts.

I chose the home pages of various translators' associations in English- and German-speaking countries as well as the home pages of various portals on which I have had or do have a "profile" of some sort. (Whether I maintain that profile is another matter and a subject for a future essay.) So now it's time to go on tour in search of the Perfect German to English Translator for my contract:

The American Translators Association
I like blue, so I'll stick around and admire the colors for a few seconds in any case. Need a translator? Well, yes I do. So I'm off to look for Mr. or Ms. Perfect in the online directory... and those hints about costly translation mistakes will keep my mind focused on the real priorities. No monkeys, please!

Learn the basics? I don't want to learn anything. Looking for work? Free account? Well, my boss is a bit of a jerk, but I'm sleeping with his wife, so I'd like to keep my job. So no thanks. I'll look for that translator, thank you. But wait! 30% faster translation with that Trados AutoSuggest thing? Sounds great, I want one of those. And a side of fries. And a bag of peanuts. But wait! Over 300,000 registered FREElancers? And 77 of them logged in? The other 299,923+ of them must be working hard. And while I'm at it, sure I'll collaborate. It was good enough for the French, wasn't it, and they make those great fries. I'll take mine with mayo, European style. And in this globalized world, I am ready to buy online now. SDL Trados Studio 2009 here I come, sell me a translator. With or without a tail.

The Mouse That Roared (ADÜ Nord)

Great. "About us" in English and that's it. Does "us" include that translator I want? The right one? Where do I find him? This form you mentioned is all in German, what am I supposed to do with that? To hell with it, the purchasing guy took German in high school and he's got a fresh supply of yak butter. Let him deal with it.

Translators Café

Busy place. Yes, I'll take a cup of java. Black, like my soul. Am I a language professional? Well, I'm a professional and I use language, so I suppose so. And I've always fancied myself as a cunning linguist, so if this is the place to meet clients, I'm game. Love that rogues' gallery. I wonder if one of them is the rogue I'm looking for. The maverick translator who will do my contract and give me what I want. The one on the left? She can go on top! Now I was looking, looking for....


Maybe they've got some issues. Maybe they're invalid, not sure. Maybe I'll check 'em out and see if I can find a translator. After this sobering experience (sober? in Melbourne?), let's look at

Go Translators

Go directly to translators. Do not waste time. Just get your project placed and move on. OK, I can do that.

Those Funny Swiss

When the Gnome of Zurich isn't busy taking my money and sweet-talking my wife, his fellow travellers in the local translators' association are trying to let me know they're available in what I think might be French, German and Italian. Too bad, this contract is from my partner in Zug, and a local might have known better about the Swiss legal terminology, which I'm told differs from real German. All I know is English. And a bit of Spanish from my friendly neighbors. Tu madre que hombre, y'know? Chungo, chungo, chungo.


We're past the Dawning of the Age. And our prime, too, it seems: What can I expect of you? Probably not much. Let's start by looking for that translator. But not here I guess. I don't need tweeting twits, I need a translator. A good one. But how am I supposed to sort out all these bozos?

The Canadian Translators, Terminologist and Interpreters Council

Canadians are nice, if a bit boring. Maple syrup is cool. And I hear they were nicer to their native peoples. If I want a vision I can follow Siberian tradition and take some mushrooms for that, but I'm on a mission to find that translator right now, so I'll be moving on....

to those University Guys in Austria

Well, they have a search function to find my translator. That's good. But I'll have to check my document carefully when it gets retyped in the other language, because I don't want those funny question mark diamonds for apostrophes.

The German Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ)

Hm. German ads. Frames. Reminds me of those web pages my grandfather used to program. But hey, I can search in English for the translator I want. I just hope that person knows more about capitalization in English than the author of the home page.


Trust those Brits to get an unruly guy like me sorted out and back on track to find a translator. I think I'll just select that Directory of Members wherever it is and get right on with it, cheerio. But first I'll stay here for a while and absorb the rays from that blue layout. Love that blue. But lose that stupid animation at the upper right.