Jan 28, 2011

Another scam bites the dust?

You know what they say: "If it walks and quacks like a duck..." or in this case smells seriously of fish. A few days ago on ProZ (The Translation Workhouse) there was a series of projects posted for German to English "Wind Power" texts from a certain "Annie Jones". I haven't quoted on projects there for a long time, not so much for the usual reasons I hear mentioned, but simply for lack of time or interest. However, in the past few days there have been a few things of interest to me, so I've played the game, with quite acceptable results (new direct customer, reasonable rate).

In each of my submissions, I quoted no rate but instead requested a copy of the text to examine and use as the basis of a binding quotation. The first request I sent to "Ms. Jones" went unanswered. Nothing fishy there; if someone is too busy to respond to every quotation in the inbox I'm the last to be offended. If I responded to everyone who wants to offer me Bulgarian, Spanish or Arabic translation (of no use to me whatsoever), I would have very little time left for real work or anything better.

The second got a response from a "rocketmail.com" e-mail address. Rocketmail appears to belong to Yahoo; the domain redirects to there. "Her" mail had three files attached and the following text:

Dear Kevin Lossner,

Thanks for applying.  I would like to assign the project to you.

I have attached source files so you can check it.

Looking forward to your reply


Whoa! Assign the project to me? Before I even say what I'll charge? Of course I'm worth any price, but still... no contact details here at all. I checked out "her" ProZ profile: pretty, fresh face, reminds me a bit of my daughter. Even fresher membership date: January 2011. Mackerel, anyone? The salutation is also a bit odd for someone whose alleged name suggests a native speaker of English.

At this point I sent a quick support request to ProZ. Since the responsibility for job postings was taken from former moderators like Ralf Lemster and others who tended to screen posters with some rigor, rumor has it that the ProZ staff to whom responsibility have been given are less discerning. That's not necessarily a fair criticism: it's hard to imagine (probably non-translating) employees having the experience, skill and dedication in sniffing out phoneys and frauds as the jobs moderators on ProZ a few years ago. For any system of screening to be effective, there are many factors involved, and experience is required to develop a workable heuristic.

I sent "Miss Jones" a response with a quotation for the 5000 words of highly technical vibrocoring and cable route analysis (not exactly the windmill technology I was originally expecting) together with that statement that acceptance of the project on my part would require verifiable business details, including a VAT number, since this person claimed to be based in another EU country.

The text itself was interesting: it was in German, but parts had Latvian set as the language. The author name in Word ("Jurgis") was also Lithuanian. I checked out the source of the document and found an extensive list of contacts, no Lithuanians among them. Curious. Not necessarily a big deal, however. I've seen source documents with Swedish, French and other language markers from large, international organizations where they may pass through many hands. Meanwhile, I got a brief, unsigned return note:
Thank you for the quotation, but it is too high for our budget.

I have just received more affordable rate.

Thank you, Mr. Checkov! Our fresh faced beauty was so appalled at my rates that she was temporarily unable to remember the proper use or articles in English! Perhaps I am a little too expensive....
Still no contact details. Rather unprofessional for an outsourcer I would say. Several hours later I received the following note from ProZ staff:

  Ticket title: "You might want to verify this person"
  Reply title: "Appropriate action has been taken"
  From: Alejandro Cavalitto
  The ticket has been closed.
  See ticket for details (and to reply or give feedback).

Another note also arrived from the big P:


I just wanted to let you know that job posting "Technical translation - 5000 words" by a profile named "Annie Jones"
has been removed after doubts were raised about the supplied contact information. If you are considering this job you are encouraged to proceed with caution.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Alejandro Cavalitto
ProZ.com Staff

A quick check revealed that "Ms. Jones" had also disappeared from the site (profile removed). I presume that the investigation by staff failed to turn up any acceptable answers. This was, as I recall from the little "full member" ribbon icon on the profile, a paying ProZ account. But 100 euros or so is small change to invest for a quick return with a fraud that can net you an order of magnitude more in returns. (Please don't try this at home!)

So KudoZ to ProZ staff on this one and better luck at screening the fakes in the future. Perhaps some screening before posting projects might be in order? Before I let someone set up shop in my front yard, I at least want to be sure he's not dealing drugs or kiddie porn.

Postscript: After some consideration, I contacted the author of the report to ask whether he had requested a translation. In fact he had, from a local translation agency, not from an "Annie Jones" with an e-mail address on the Rocketmail domain. So it appears that the agency gave the job to someone who is either to lazy or too unqualified to do the work him- or herself, and that person has tried to get it done in a surreptitious, likely fraudulent way, by a more qualified person. The author is now in possession of the relevant communication and will discuss the matter with his service provider, who is most likely the innocent victim of an unscrupulous "translator".

Jan 26, 2011

A time for travel

A local friend of mine spends an awful lot of time not being local. That's understandable if you know the clammy cold and icy roads of German winters in Berlin/Brandenburg. I love snow, mind you. It makes it easy to see the boars at midnight even without a full moon, and my dog is very fond of doing snow angels or frosting his beard. But I do get tired of walking like I'm twice my age because I've forgotten the slip-over grippers for my shoes to keep from breaking my legs on the ice and, although I'm not terribly fond of my native region of Southern California, my skin occasionally craves a bit of sun. Probably a Vitamin D thing. In any case, now that I'm getting settled in the Schloss, I've been giving some thought to all the other great places I might be in the coming months. There are some tempting options.

For me, of course, one of the most attractive is a return to Budapest in April. Kilgray is hosting the third memoQfest from April 13 to 15. Rumor has it this year's speakers will include competitors. I hope to see a number of Kilgray competitors at the event; while they are spying out the lead they should follow, I hope they also engage in useful discussions that will lead to better interoperability and results for everyone. How about some open server interfaces to connect with 3rd party clients, huh? Do an SDL server project with a memoQ client, and a memoQ server project with an installation of SDL Trados Studio 20xx. &c. Aside from the mememoQfest simply being a good time, a chance to mingle with interesting colleagues and enjoy wonderful food, Budapest is one of my favorite European cities, and I'll probably pad my trip with a few days on either side of the conference to explore the city and relax.

Despite my skepticism regarding ProZ and its ever-dumber pandering to the clueless masses, the company's conferences and site user organized pow-wows usually afford a good opportunity to meet colleagues and some agency clients, and see interesting cities. I might never have seen Edinburgh otherwise, and I wouldn't mind seeing it again. In May there's a conference planned in Rome, but in what appears to be a spectacular feat of dysfunctional planning, the day after the Rome conference ends, there is another ProZ conference in Cairo. What's with that? It's obvious that someone either thinks there will be little or no overlap in the groups of persons interested, or someone just wasn't thinking. And the big P seems to be somewhat challenged when it comes to the numbering of its events. There seems to be an obsession with everything somehow being the "first". With more than some multiple of ten conferences having been held around the world so far that just seems silly. I'll probably make it to Rome, if only to ditch the conference and go check out the restored ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, which I've been intending to do for so long now that it's probably time for another restoration. But Cairo is just so tempting, especially because I could skip the conference and take some sort of transportation to Luxor and other places that have been on my mind for a good three decades.

The British Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) also has an interesting conference program - er... programme - at the beginning of May in Birmingham. Although somehow the phrase "dark, satanic mills" comes to mind when I hear that city's name, the ITI is quite a respectable organization, better organized (or organised at least) than my own BDÜ and populated by interesting, competent professionals. If I attend that conference, I probably would be tempted to stay and participate and wait until afterward for trout fishing and pub crawls.

And I suppose there are other events in the translating world that may be of interest, which I may stumble upon in due course. One of the wonderful things about this business these days is that one tends to collect clients around the country and abroad, so there are many good reasons and excuses for a road or rail trip.

Jan 16, 2011

Smartphone interfaces for the Online Translation Manager

In recent years it seems that quite a few of my colleagues and customers have made smartphones part of their business. I'm not part of that crowd; years of being an early adapter of PDA technology (Palm devices, Sharp Wizards and a host of other long-forgotten gadgets) and other computer-related junk has made me a bit allergic to the technology, and the trauma of short-circuiting a 500 euro mobile phone by dropping it in a toilet and having another phone of the same class fall from my pocket as I ran to catch a train has made me a stubborn minimalist when it comes to phones and other electronics. Add to that the fact that I've found myself up to my hips in swamp water a few times in recent years while hunting boars, I tell myself that the last thing I need is an iPhone in my back pocket (where I once sat on and broke two Sharp Wizards).

And yet... after a friend recently showed me how to go offline with my phone the other day so I could avoid interrupted naps and sleeptalking with puzzled clients and friends, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, there could be a place in my routine for a little more gadgetry if indeed I can switch it off at those times when the 24/7 world does not interest me. Over the past year I have come to rely on the security and efficiency of the Online Translation Manager from LSP.net, which offers greater scope and scalability than any other business management tool for translation that I have seen and can fit in my budget and temperament. Now my #2 business tool (after my main squeeze, memoQ) has a rather functional interface for smartphones, and I'm very, very tempted. What the heck: I need a new digital camera, and my iPod died a horrible death a few years ago as I was backing up my translation archives onto it (how would you like to choke on a folder full of German patents?), so maybe I need to make a quick trip to the UK and get an unlocked iPhone. AFAIK the German market is still rather monopolistic. (Update: Perhaps that's not the case after all. FONIC sells the iPhone 3GS 8 MB without a contract for just under €500, which usually means it's not SIM- or net-locked. Combined with Skype for iPhone, the iPhone's WLAN capabilities and my Skype flatrates, this is starting to look very good. I've also been reminded that Apple's exclusive contract with a certain mobile service provider in Germany has expired, so the German Apple Stores sells devices with no lock. Nonetheless, I'll find an excuse to visit the UK. It's been too long.)

The iPhone screen shot here was made while the developers were showing me the new interface last week. It tells me as a project manager that there is a new quotation request (don't let the date fool you - this is on a test system where the wildest things happen), unread incoming on another project, and unread incoming e-mail and a delivery from a subcontractor on another. I can now assign tasks, respond to the mails and carry out other necessary project management activities. If this interface had been available in recent months (and I had a device to use it), a number of urgent requests from cherished clients during the busy holiday season wouldn't have gone to the dogs. (Other dogs, not mine.) For reasons I have not yet fathomed, a number of clients who used to pick up the phone to communicate an urgent request now assume that I'll be sitting in front of my screen to respond ASAP. Come to think of it, most of these send me e-mail where the footer indicates that the message was sent from a CrackBerry. OK, OK - I surrender.

Seriously, though: this is an extremely useful feature that I hope to see expanded soon to include the customer and supplier ("resource") interfaces. It makes a good business management environment even more useful and relevant.

Release update (compatibility): This feature was developed with and tested on Apple iPhones for the most part. A Blackberry interface was developed as well using a simulator from RIM, due to the wide variety of devices and the unavailability of many for testing. It seems that the display does in fact function differently between different models, so the optimized smartphone interface may not be ready for many Blackberry models; these will have to rely on browser access that is unoptimized. Other smartphones may be able to use this feature by changing the value of the user agent (in Firefox there is a plug-in for this), which usually involves some seriously nerdy settings tweaks in the browser. In summary: iPhone? Not a problem. Anything else? Maybe, but expect to work at it. I'm betting that there will eventually be a generic small device interface parallel to an optimized one for popular devices such as the iPhone. It would make sense. Even with one, however, I'll eventually join The Cult again and visit the Apple Store.

Jan 14, 2011

Price and project templates!

One of the things I look forward to the most in the version 4.0 release of the Online Translation Manager from LSP.net is a new feature for price and project templates. It has been discussed for quite a while, and the lack of a price list feature up to now has put off some of those who tested this project management environment, but in the end the implementation is better than I had hoped for. I saw a live demo of the feature for the first time last Tuesday while I was visiting the company's offices to discuss localization and training issues.

It has been possible to keep price information for customers in OTM in the past, though not quite in the way to which one is accustomed to seeing in similar software solutions. Notes features in the customer master data as well as the ability to store documents and contracts for particular customers does provide a useful way of keeping track of rate agreements and terms. But what has been "missing" up to now is the ability to plug in volume information for a service and have quotation amounts calculated automatically. Such features are probably found in most language service project management software, from TO3000 and TOM to Worx, Plunet, Project ]open[ translation et alia.

There are, however, some problems with data maintenance in the other applications that I have used. I have worked most extensively with LTC Organiser (the predecessor to Worx) and AIT's Translation Office 3000 and used them to run my business since 2003. (Before that I used Excel templates. Yuck. Don't ask and I promise not to tell.) In both environments I maintained customer-specific price lists, reflecting individual terms, subject areas, rush job policies and more. After a while I found that the data were not very easy to keep current (my TO3000 master price list was rarely useful for anything, as it was always hopelessly outdated or irrelevant to the individual terms), and so many types of projects required special quoting that the price lists were often useless anyway. When my partner tried to use the software for quotation, she could rarely remember the various surcharge policies negotiated with customers, which occasionally led to confusion. I think that is pretty typical of current solutions. You have to work hard to stay on top of things, and that's not always easy when things are hopping or your day is filled with interruptions.

The OTM 4.0 solution I saw appears to solve that problem nicely from several directions. There are no price lists as one usually sees them, no Excel-like grid of rates and services to be maintained. There is something which I believe is much better: general templates for project structures including prices as well as the ability to use any project from the customer's history as a template for a new project. In fact, several templates can be applied to a new project if it uses the combination of services from those individual templates or past projects. A simple interface for sorting project histories also makes it easy to find the right similar project to use as a template.

All this saves a lot of time and is closer to the reality of our workflows! And if I increase rates, then I can simply use the date-sorted project history to choose "templates" reflecting the new rates. Any completed project can also be used as a template. Template access can also be governed by rights in the system, so project managers at an LSP can have their own personal templates and choose to share these or not.

There are some rather interesting discussions about building on this feature for CAT analysis integration, but in its first released form I think this is a powerful, unique tool that will save me a lot of time personally. I appreciate the fact that the system architects didn't just pull a "me too" and implement pricing tools the same way most others do it; they were aware of the problems of data maintenance and had left the feature out for that reason. Only after careful consideration of possible solutions and testing was a decision made to introduce something that is more powerful and sustainable than anything I had available before. Thumbs up!

Jan 11, 2011

Changes ahead for the OTM trial period

It's been a year now since the Online Translation Manager (OTM) from LSP.net was opened up for pilot testing by companies beyond the original international group of companies for which it was developed a number of years before. The year has seen enormous development progress, as greater flexibility has been added to accommodate other business models while at the same time maintaining the unique rigor of the software's commercial and legal features. Upon the recommendation of financial translation specialist Ralf Lemster I was part of the original pilot test and adopted the system for my former translation partnership before becoming more deeply involved in the software's English localization and educational efforts as well as working closely with one of the companies in the original group of users. In late spring the pilot testing was complete, and after some significant updates, the environment was made generally available via the software as a service (SaaS) model. As far as I have been able to determine in my testing and research in the area of project management tools for a translation business, there is no other system available which is truly comparable when one considers the range of features, the legal security, data protection and very low costs (starting at € 29 per login ID per month).

Since last May it has been possible to test OTM for one month free of charge with an unlimited number of login IDs per account and an unlimited number of projects. Next week that will change.

As one portal provider in the industry observed, the major barrier faced in any system migration is the length of time needed to fully evaluate a new system. In fact, the one month trial period often proved too short for busy LSPs testing alongside the challenging routine of daily operations. Although one can get fully up and running with OTM in a day, for some who have yet to draft terms and conditions and consider other basic issues of business, the setup phase can last longer. Often features such as iFrame integration of quotation request forms in existing web sites require coordination efforts that may run into difficulties with a 30-day time limit.

Thus as of next week with the release of the new version 4.0 of OTM, the trial period will be extended to three months with a maximum of five projects. Persons evaluating the tool can still set up any number of login IDs for project managers, administrators and bookkeepers during the test period, and all the setup features can be tested throughout the period. But no more than five complete projects can be carried out during the trial. This is, in my experience, quite adequate to get a good sense of how typical projects would work with the system, and learning will also be facilitated by new "live" tutorial projects (available on request) to familiarize project managers with the basic processes of quotation, project acceptance, job assignment, delivery and invoicing.

Those who wish to test OTM intensively with a large number of projects in a month should request a free trial this week. Otherwise, look forward to a less hurried option next week, which will give you a better opportunity to understand the strengths and other aspects of the system before making a choice for your business.

Jan 3, 2011

Mobile monkeys: Vodafone

My new location makes it necessary to rely on high speed mobile communications for Internet and VoIP telephone connections, as there are no broadband options available for land lines. That's just as well; I like the idea that my entire electronic communications infrastructure is "ready for the road". But I do find it irritating that the provider I use (because the other networks' bandwidth is insufficient here) obviously uses monkeys for its translation. Drunken monkeys like in those old Kung Fu films I used to watch with friends in a Monterey Park cinema in Southern California. Except that those had better translations in their subtitles than Vodafone Germany typically has on its English web pages!

Jan 2, 2011

Dining on Tag Salad

Often translation environment tools make our lives easier, but there are cases where this is clearly not true. Files and formats with a lot of mark-up pose particular problems in some cases. The screen shot above is just one (fairly mild) example of what one can encounter in a Microsoft Word file when the author has a psychedelic obsession with changing colors and fonts within a sentence (and, unfortunately, throughout a long document); more extreme examples can often be found with layout formats such as InDesign. (I have opted for an abbreviated tag view here; the full descriptive tags for the formatting would fill a page.) I had once had a file in which I counted about 100 tags embedded in a single word. Three hundred words of easy text took a full day to translate. Files with a high density of tags are also highly prone to spacing errors and other problems in many cases, and it may be extremely difficult to identify these in anything but the final format.

The Devil is in the details, and the details of a typical CAT analysis with the same content untagged in the TM will show a high fuzzy match, which will be minimally compensated with the all-too-popular discount schemes for matches that one often encounters. The reality, however, is that arranging these formatting tags can cost more time than actual translation.

The text analysis of Déjà Vu X from Atril includes a count of tags, so one could in cases like this use that information to charge the tags in some quantified way. However, most other tools do not offer such a capability, leaving us to consider the best approach to negotiating fair compensation for such a mess. Hourly charges come to mind in this particular case, though I seldom favor that for translation work.

It is a great convenience for end clients to work in complex, native or tagged formats, but it is important to recognize the extra effort this may involve, discuss this with the client and make appropriate arrangements. What approach have you taken to this problem in the past?

The Entrepreneurial Linguist and Online Media

One of my goals for 2011 is to catch up on a backlog of reading that has been accumulating on my shelves and disk drives. One professional resource that was particularly high on my list is the Jenners' book The Entrepreneurial Linguist; I had followed reports of its production with great interest for about a year as well as enjoyed their business tips on the Translation Times blog. I enjoy the perspectives and tips shared by my colleagues in a number of publications, and I have learned something valuable from every one I have read. I particularly value, perhaps more than many would, subtle variations on the same theme, because these help me to discover the context that works best for my business.

But how much is there to be said about the business of freelance translation that is really different or original? More than I realize, as I am reminded time and again. This profession is evolving quickly, though not always in the ways that the prophets of machine translation and others would have us believe.

The Entrepreneurial Linguist starts off with an excellent discussion of the business mindset needed for successful positioning and negotiation and follows with a chapter on organization and accounting that is for the most part good and relevant, but not particularly distinguished compared to similar expositions I've seen. The third chapter, however, on "Social Media and Web 2.0" is gold. As can be expected in a rapidly evolving field, some minor parts are already in need of updating, and I was surprised to see an excellent, extensive discussion of Facebook without a mention of Facebook "pages". But this is the best overview of the various online media options that I have seen yet for language service professionals, covering blogs, professional networks such as XING and LinkedIn, Twitter and more in a very focused, relevant way.

Innumerable times I have listened to friends and colleagues who "just don't see the point" of various social media for business or personal use or who are put off by all the stupid hype. In thirty well-written, balanced pages, Judy and Dagmar Jenner make the case and the limitations very, very clear. That by itself is worth the cover price of the book and a lot more.

Of course there is a lot more useful content as one would expect from freelancers with business degrees who successfully work exclusively with direct clients rather than agencies. What the authors excel at most of all is communication, both in online media and more traditional venues, and this provides the reader with a lot of unique, valuable and highly digestible fare.