Aug 25, 2010

Преступление и наказание (and amnesty!)

The networks of Thought Police at ProZ are active again. Those who hold theories about the fondness of the company's management for using resources in countries with a strong tradition of totalitarianism may be on to something. It is seldom possible to have a reasonable discussion on the ProZ forums; where the silly RuleZ made for kindergarten don't stifle discussion from the outset, moderators with cultural or linguistic handicaps that render them incapable of understanding the discussions or the vocabulary used properly make up their own RuleZ. As usual, the interesting discussions are continued in other media, such as Facebook, Stridonium, blogs, etc. ProZ is essentially dead as a forum of exchange for serious colleagues, or at best critically ill.

The latest escapade began with a thread complaining about SDL's latest pathetic "amnesty" program for translators who have committed the crime of not upgrading to SDL Trados Studio 2009. For those who are actually interested in the upgrade, the dollars involved made a lot of sense, but as usual the ham-handed clowns who dream up SDL marketing campaigns under the influence of God-knows-what botched what could have been a nice campaign by using that ugly word "amnesty" again. Some of you may recall the last idiotic amnesty campaign before old Trados licenses of those not taking the bait would be sentenced to upgrade death. This historic blunder comes up frequently in private correspondence with a very decent, competent chap at SDL, who agrees (perhaps not just to placate me) that it was a pretty bone-headed campaign. So he goes on vacation and they do it again. Maybe he just decided to leave town before the turds hit the turbine again.

If anyone wants to see Soviet-style moderation at work, have a look at the thread. Before it was locked by the moderator, there were nine posts hidden or deleted with flimsy excuses. What sort of posts were removed? A few samples are given below. The original post looked like this:

The first response to be censored was this:

The second response was censored while the one above it was not originally. The "warning message" received was as follows:
This message is to inform you that your post "Just another reason not to bother with Trados at all", , is hidden from public view, but is editable and visible to you. You are kindly requested to edit along the lines indicated below, so it can be made visible.

Please edit your post to avoid such terms as \"rubbish\". Thank you.

Thank you in advance for your understanding and future cooperation.
Later, another moderator approved the censored post and censored the one above it. A voice of reason was heard shortly afterward, when Antonin wrote:


I received the "amnesty" e-mail as well, and was not really surprised or annoyed so much as some people on this forum. I think it is a clumsy marketing feature, and SDL's campaigns trying to persuade me to buy I have already bought are pathetic, but why should I lose my temper over such trifles? 

On the other hand, what does annoy me a lot is the fact that several contributions from those who felt bad about that e-mail, were hidden by the moderators on very dubious grounds indeed. I can say that because I received them by e-mail so I could read them anyway

I really dislike this approach of the moderators, and it is a matter of principle. No bad language was used and I have seen much stronger stuff on this forum in the past.
This, too, was censored. Thou shalt not question moderators in public. For shame!

Today there were punishments aplenty for criminal violations of RuleZ and criticism of the deep pockets at SDL which H & Co. like to keep their hands in. All of it really silly and unnecessary. There were no personal attacks involved, no over-the-top language or anything of the sort. Once again ProZ has succeeded in making the management and moderators look stupid. Perhaps they felt that the marketing geniuses at SDL needed company.

Aug 24, 2010

TM Europe 2010

Just got an interesting note from an industry acquaintance about the upcoming event in Poland. I would like to share it here, because it sounds quite worthwhile.
This year the conference takes place from September 29 to October 1, 2010 at the Qubus Hotel, Krakow, Poland. The updated program for the TM-Europe 2010 International Conference is available on the conference website.  The Early bird registration ends on Friday August 27th.  The attendance figures are very high, with many customer and translation company managers planning to participate, so I thought you might consider attending too.
This year’s conference theme is “Project and Technology Management, and Business Optimization for the Translation and Localization Industry”. The TM Europe 2010 program will cover the following topics, among others:
  • Project Management Workshop
  • Translation Technology Primer Workshop
  • The Warsaw Pact Debate - The Future of Translation Technology
  • Customer- vendor business case-studies
  • Translation technology and tools overview (MT, TM, TMS) and new developments
  • Business development, optimization and change management in times of recession
  • Budgeting, process and cost optimization strategies
  • Industry standards, business models and forecasts

Aug 20, 2010


Once in a while I find it useful to review the state of things in my life and business and consider what actions or tools have had the greatest positive impact. Ranking the effects is usually rather subjective, of course, but that's OK - we live by subjective impressions far more than most of us realize.

So I asked myself what has made the greatest positive difference in my translation business in the past year? In the past five years? In the past ten? It was fairly easy to narrow down the answers.

For the past year, the increased use of online management tools for project management, deliveries and invoicing has helped me the most.

In the past five years, two things have mattered most: greater collaboration with a competent partner (which made many projects possible which I would otherwise not have touched) and joining a professional translators' organization (BDÜ in my case) after passing the state exams in Berlin, Germany. That has brought in many nice referrals. I don't think I can narrow down the five-year factors any more, because the impact of all three actions has been huge, and all are rather closely related in various ways.

The greatest impact over the course of the ten years I have been engaged in significant volumes of translation has surely been the use of translation environment tools such as Déjà Vu, SDL Trados and memoQ (just to name the primary ones I work with). That's also why these are discussed so often in this blog. Properly applied, these tools can play a positive role in nearly any commercial translation business.

Of course, every translation business is unique, and needs and priorities differ. What has had the biggest impact for you in the past year, the past five and past ten?

Aug 11, 2010

Sometimes a great customer

I think that sometimes we get so caught up in the often nutso routines of the translation business that we don't recognize a big gold nugget in our own pans. Someone has to take it out and hit us over the head with it first.

Communication is important in most businesses, and translation is about communication really, so I would suppose you could say this applies even more so to translators. But there are many forms of communication and each exchange is unique. Maintaining the alertness to recognize that uniqueness and to respond in the best way to each individual situation is not easy at all, even for some people who are considered "good communicators".

I had an interesting project several months ago that was a bit of a nightmare in several ways. The source document was in MS Word format, but heavy footnoting and commentary as well as a huge number of hefty graphics caused most of my various translation environment tools to choke. After two days of trying to get the project set up, I finally discovered a complex conversion workflow involving several tools that enabled me to translate. Then the real nightmare began. The source text was a disaster. Written by Germans living abroad for many years, some of whom had no access to a German keyboard and showed obvious signs of having forgotten the proper use of their native language, it also showed signed of having been slapped together in a big hurry. Whole paragraphs were repeated, sometimes consecutively. Sentences ended like staircases into the ceiling at the Winchester Mystery House.

The rational thing to do in such circumstances is to have a chat with the customer about the state of things, perhaps suggest a bit of editing if possible before the actual translation begins. But I think more than a few of us have dealt with customers who become irate at the suggestion that a source text could be less than perfect, and too often I've received responses that essentially mean "shut up and translate what's in front of you". In one case there was a mushroom cloud seen over a small city in North Rhine-Westphalia as an end customer responded to ten pages of corrections for bad grammar, typographical errors and mislabeled diagrams in a source text. So gradually I've begun to give less feedback on the problems I see with source texts unless I see them as precursors to inevitable death or lawsuits. Simply looking stupid doesn't always count any more.

Well, as luck would have it, there were complaints about the aforementioned project. The exchange dragged out for more than a month (largely my fault as I tried in vain to get someone else to review the text and identify serious translation errors that were not apparent to me and I simply didn't feel like engaging in a conversation that seemed a bit Kafkaesque in the clarity of its issues). The customer asked repeatedly that I look at the edited text (which had been subjected to extensive, necessary editing of its content, the faults of which were the legacy of the source text) and make a "proposal" (for some sort of discount, obviously). I had told the customer that I was quite willing to reduce the invoice for the tardiness that resulted from the difficulties involved, but that I couldn't see anything in the translation to fault beyond a few typographical errors my proofreader had missed. In fact, the editor engaged by the customer had introduced serious errors into the text while making a few good suggestions for alternative terminology. That answer wasn't satisfactory.

Finally, after weeks of stress over the matter, I had largely ceased to care at all about the rather large invoice. I decided to put the ball back in the customer's court, accept whatever suggestion was made and if I didn't like it, then I was unavailable for further work. End of story. So in a relaxed state of mind, I called up the customer and we resumed our chat. I asked for a "wish", saying I simply wanted the matter resolved to their satisfaction, and they know better than I do what they might consider "satisfying". I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been) that the requested invoice reduction was less than what I would have considered acceptable. So that point was resolved immediately, and I could feel the muscles in my back loosen a bit. Then the interesting part of the discussion began.

My understanding at the end was that the real issue was not quality of the translation per se, but the quality of communication. The person with whom I had dealt with for years was rightfully upset at not being informed that she had passed on garbage to me for translation. And I was so caught up in various matters that I didn't stop and consider the particular nature of that specific customer relationship and the fact that this was a customer who is open to criticism and wants to see the best result in the end. A customer who understands that things can go wrong when people work under pressure and who tries to make intelligent decisions if the information to do so is available. In other words, for many of us the ideal customer! Gold in my pan, and I was too blind to notice. My other half, who had been very irritated about the whole matter, nearly broke out the champagne to celebrate when she realized how reasonable our customer really is. This is the kind who is really worth extra effort.

I'm sure this won't be the last such mistake in what I hope will be further busy decades of translation. But I hope that the lesson will stick for a while, and I'll ask myself more often if I am really responding to the situation now confronting me or to a completely different one with a different customer last week.

Aug 5, 2010

Results of the Trados user survey

After my first fling with the Google Blogger polling tool, I decided to look a little more closely at the breakdown of the "Trados users" who had responded to the poll.

The new poll asked about the use of various Trados versions. Personally, I use two older versions (2007 & 2006) and once in a while I trot out MultiTerm 5.5 for clients with Stone Age termbases. I'm still testing Studio 2009, though most of my objections have been dealt with adequately over the past year, and if good people like Paul Filkin and Roger Lai can effect a change of culture at SDL Trados so that insulting marketing campaigns like the disgusting "amnesty" a while back are not seen any more, I could envision myself accidentally recommending an SDL product beside MultiTerm or Passolo for productive use. It might take a lot of Unicum to get there, however.

But SDL Trados Studio 2009 looks good on a netbook for the most part. I'll have to give them that. The Hungarians in whose technical footsteps they follow have some optimization to do for that environment. And as requests for Studio 2009 projects pick up, I'll inevitably look more closely at interoperability issues with that environment, and from what I've seen so far, I don't expect to be terribly irritated.

The responses in this poll were not exclusive (as anyone with rudimentary addition skills can discern). So someone who uses both the latest version and the previous one for various clients should have (and presumably did) mark both responses. To me, the results indicate however shakily (due to the low number of poll responses) that SDL has moved successfully to the new generation of technology and established a sufficient base of licenses that it will remain viable for the present generation of translation environment technology. That was to be expected given the momentum involved. But there remains great skepticism among the old user base, and when I talk to agency owners who describe the technical challenges they face with data conversion and interoperability, very often I must point out that what they are looking for is currently offered only by the memoQ Server at a friendly price that might make those who invested in other TM server technologies reach for the Alka Seltzer. In one big Berlin agency I'm close to, the license for SDL Trados Studio 2009 was purchased months ago, but there's no hurry to install it as the project managers ask me to write up procedures for Déjà Vu and memoQ to handle insane character mapping problems for Java properties files in Greek, which the last Trados 2007 could no longer handle well. I assume Studio 2009 can deal with the problem, but the trust seems to be gone. Similar reservations have been expressed by other agency owners who have used Trados since version 1 and are frustrated that when problems arise, the chaps on the support line know far less than they do and read from a script. Meanwhile, in the Wild East, software-slinging CEOs and heads of development still provide competent, detailed, personal support for devilish technical challenges at odd hours.

On the whole, I would say "good job" to SDL for having kept so many users "in the boat" by getting them to buy Studio 2009 licenses. And I hope they can keep them there by expanding the usefulness of the product for all by not only improving its performance (use of resources) but also all aspects of interoperability so that it can become a true universal work tool for translation, even including connectivity to other server systems for its desktop users. To the extent that one can claim any tool provider is in that race, they are not yet in the lead.

Aug 1, 2010

Crowdsourced language learning

A recent New York Times article made me aware once again of something I've heard of a few times and encountered occasionally on places like the BBC web site: online opportunities for learning languages. The sites mentioned in the NYT article are a bit different though. Many are a form of crowdsourcing, with ordinary people interacting with voice and written submissions, coaching and correcting each other. Not what you need to get a bit more polish as a university lecturer, perhaps, but this strikes me as an interesting opportunity to be exposed to the rough-and-tumble of everyday usage. Where else will you get skateboarding Algerian teenagers to tell you how much your Arabic sucks?

As an experiment I set up a free account at one of the sites mentioned by the article (Livemocha). It's interesting correcting little exercises from learners around the world or putting together online flash card sets for German hunting terminology and other subjects. Read the article, try out one of the sites that interests you, and enjoy! Even for professional translators, exposure to an environment like this may have value, depending on the types of texts you do. Some of the authors of the German texts I translate have rotten educations, or they simply can't write, or they simply can't write High German. Texts like these might be a problem for someone in Kansas who never encounters the language of the street in Stuttgart until they have to translate a manual patched together by an overworked, verbally challenged engineer.

In my copious free time I'll try to revive my Russian and pick up a bit of Farsi and French this way. (The latter two will surely come in handy when I start selling nuclear secrets on the international market.)