Apr 24, 2011


There are many things that sustain us in our lives and work: good friends, healthy food and a balanced lifestyle in general are essential for coping with the inevitable storms of a freelance life. For those who work long, crazy hours, coffee may well be part of that sustaining balance. I remember with some amusement the declaration of my friend Peter, a drug and alcohol counselor for troubled youths, who declared to me "this is a good drug!" as he presented me with a wonderful book on coffee specialties for a birthday or some other occasion. As I have experienced more refined ways of making the brew, my stomach has become less tolerant of that acid bilge that most "coffee machines" produce, and I have come to value a shared appreciation for the good stuff so much that I had to restrain myself recently from falling on my knees and proposing marriage to a colleague whose kitchen is filled with wonderful Bialetti paraphernalia. But sometimes even the best brew alone cannot give me the boost I need, and I seek the right company or atmosphere to restore my center and clear my mind for the serious work of translation.

The Viennese coffee house in the town where I lived until late last year, Morgenrot, is one such place. This charming café in a restored Jugendstil house in Hohen Neuendorf near Berlin-Frohnau is among my favorite places to relax, enjoy superb coffee or wine and excellent food with friends or alone. The competent staff and lovely proprietress and her husband make each visit a pleasant experience, a bit like a home I wouldn't mind enjoying more often. Today on this beautiful Easter morning, with nerves a bit frayed from the charged task of taking another load of stuff from my former home, I realized that returning straight to my desk at the Schloss was a non-starter, and something quick but special was needed to relax and focus on the work ahead. I stopped off at a nursery and got some strawberries for the garden as well as a few herbs I need for cooking; the garden is a very special part of my translation routine, providing a welcome break for exercise and the anticipation of delicious dividends later in the year. As I loaded a sack of rhododendron soil for the blueberries into the car, I realized that I was parked just a short way from the Kaffehaus. Übersturzter Neumann!!! I thought. Just what I need. It was a beautiful spring day, so I sat outside with Ajax to enjoy the vital restorative. The subtle mix of textures in the poured coffee played lightly across my tongue as the caffeine slowly kicked in, and small sips of water refreshed my palate to enjoy the experience fresh time and again. Another cup, and I was ready for the rest of the day.

Working with a laptop in Starbucks or other mass-market outlets for better-than average coffee and tea has almost become a cliché for mobile professionals. However, a place like Kaffeehaus Morgenrot adds a special dimension that is well worth seeking out if there is such a place near you. So take your laptop and enjoy a relaxing few hours. Or better yet, leave the damned computer in the office and just enjoy the good coffee and atmosphere.

A sitting room at the Kaffeehaus. Grab a book and enjoy the afternoon!

Apr 23, 2011

Monkeys in the zoo

Ooh. There were so many little monkeys in the zoo this weekend! And the one was a real genius... I wouldn't be surprised if he manages to break out someday soon. It was in an open area, one of the old brick enclosures. He grabbed this really long stick and kept leaning it against the wall and climbing up it, reaching towards the top. Every time he realized it wasn't high enough, he climbed down again and propped it up higher.

It was hilarious to watch, it was just a shame we couldn't give him a longer stick.
One of the other monkeys was watching for a while and once it got what he was trying, it grabbed its own pole.

:D I wonder whether they'd make it out if they worked together.

-- from a Skype chat with my daughter, a beginning university student in translation studies

Doug McCarthy's recent blog post about the Future of Translation discussion at memoQfest 2011 offered a good perspective worth considering. In particular, I think it is good that he has highlighted once again the problems created in generating translation statistics and carried forward the discussion of what is a fair and appropriate basis for the pricing of translation work. Standardizing these factors or at least approaching them in a more educated, understandable manner, is as important to the future of translators as anything that will happen with technology.

Another point that was raised in the panel discussion in Budapest is that the most important elements of the future in translation are the same as its present and past: the people and their relationships. A vision of the future driven purely by technology is a peek through the gates of Hell. So many of the problems we experience in our society, our professions and our personal lives have their roots in a world where too often in crunching the numbers, we crunch our spirits and those of others as well, and the failed crop is called "progress" by those disconnected from their own humanity.

While I support many of the goals of the No Peanuts movement (linked in my blog roll to the left), I do strongly reject what I often perceive to be the confrontational tone and bad attitude toward agency partners. Now anyone who knows me knows very well that I do not shy from confrontation, but the conflict must make a certain amount of sense for me to engage in it. If someone wants to declare war on the TransPerfects and Lionbridges of the world for their ridiculous practices, abuse of translators' and customers' trust and more, count me in to ship a few boatloads of ammunition. The Quadaffis of the translation markets do not deserve our support. But there are so many others, small and medium-sized agencies, and even a few large ones, who are honest partners working diligently in the interests of both freelance contributors and translation consumers (private individuals or organizations of all sizes), and these we should embrace and support. In our relationships with peers and clients, cooperation and respect are the best modus operandi, and in many cases, it's the only way we'll make it over the walls that keep us from where we want to be.

Apr 22, 2011

A medley of mischief

I don't know how many readers pay attention to the somewhat neglected links in the navigation bar of this blog; I myself often forget what is there. The other day I was telling someone about the excellent translations of the comic poetry of Wilhelm Busch which my ex-wife and another translating friend did many years ago, but I could not say where to find the link (in my navigation bar, of course). Although German, Gabriele used to have quite a gift for written expression in English, and I hope she still does. There's a lot more from Wilhelm Busch, which could inspire future generations of miscreants in English-speaking countries if translated with the right touch. Comics and doggerel poetry are perhaps beneath the dignity of some as they see it, but these media, singly or in combination, often prove just the right elixir to dissolve the angst and confusion of daily routine, yielding a clear solution through which we see the refreshing absurdity of our lives. So have a look at some hilarious 19th century slapstick and have a good Easter weekend!

Apr 18, 2011

German BDÜ plans to publish directory of translators for technical documentation

I received the following notice (edited slightly here) describing an offer open to all BDÜ members.

Nach dem Erfolg der "Exotenliste" in den vergangenen Jahren und der im vergangenen Jahr erstmals herausgegebenen "Fachliste Medizin, Medizintechnik und Pharmazie" planen wir, nun erstmals auch eine bundesweite Liste von Übersetzern für das Gebiet "Technische Dokumentation" herauszugeben.

Diese "Fachliste Technische Dokumentation" wird von der BDÜ Weiterbildungs- und Fachverlagsgesellschaft mbH (vormals BDÜ Service GmbH) verlegt und soll in gedruckter Form als Beilage zur Fachzeitschrift "Technische Kommunikation" (Herausgeber Tekom, Auflage 9.500 Exemplare) verbreitet werden. Zusätzlich soll die "Fachliste Technische Dokumentation" in den "VDI-Nachrichten" beworben und auf der BDÜ Homepage zum Download bereitgestellt werden.
Die Liste wird - nach Sprachen sortiert - die Kontaktdaten qualifizierter Übersetzer in Deutschland enthalten, mit Angabe der jeweiligen technischen Fachgebiete und Unterlagenarten. Es werden bis zu neun technische Fachgebiete in die Liste übernommen. Wir wissen, dass viele Kollegen - wahrscheinlich auch Sie - in den letzten Jahren Zeit und Geld in einschlägige Weiterbildungsseminare investiert haben. Ein Eintrag in die "Fachliste Technische Dokumentation" bietet Ihnen nun mit geringem Aufwand die Möglichkeit zur gezielten Akquisition neuer Kunden in diesem Bereich. Die Eintragung steht nur den BDÜ-Mitgliedern offen, die - wie Sie - ein technisches Fachgebiet in der Mitgliederdatenbank angegeben haben.

Ihren Eintrag können Sie ab sofort über www.bdue.de/techdokliste zu einer Eintragungsgebühr in Höhe von EUR 70,00 zzgl. MwSt. pro Sprache bestellen (siehe Link auf der Startseite von MeinBDÜ). Die Eintragungsfrist für die "Fachliste Technische Dokumentation 2011" endet am 06.05.2011. Die "Fachliste Technische Dokumentation" für das Jahr 2011 soll im Juli 2011 erscheinen und jährlich neu aufgelegt werden. Die Kosten für Herstellung und Versand der Fachliste werden mit den Gebühren für die Eintragung finanziert.

Da die Liste erst dann erstellt wird, wenn mindestens 300 Einträge zusammenkommen, erhalten Sie auch erst dann Ihre Rechnung für die Eintragungsgebühr. Die Anzahl der Eintragungen ist aus versandtechnischen Gründen zunächst auf 400 begrenzt. Alle darüber hinausgehenden Eintragungswünsche werden zunächst auf eine Warteliste gesetzt und dann bei Fertigstellung der Liste je nach tatsächlicher Kapazität der Liste übernommen. Wenn Sie sich Ihren Platz auf der "Fachliste Technische Dokumentation" sichern möchten, sollten Sie also rasch Ihren Eintrag buchen.
Wir würden uns freuen, wenn dieses neue Angebot des BDÜ auf Ihr Interesse stößt!

Questions can be directed to service@bdue.de

No time for customers!

Translation: "I have no time for occasional customers who require a translation in two days but need thirty days to pay."

When I read that little shocker in the twitstream of a colleague I respect a lot, I figured he was having a bad day as I often do, and then I chuckled to myself that Italian translators would surely like to trade places with him given their net-never world. It's a pretty fair bet that if a customer (agency or direct) in the "DACH" countries (the German speaking ones, where translation pays well enough that you can usually afford a roof over your head) takes more than the 30 days' standard from EU guidelines to pay, that company has major cash flow problems and should be handled with care (low credit lines or cash in advance), or they are simply shady. Or disorganized.

But 30 days? C'mon! In a B2B world, which is the one freelance translators mostly live in, some agreed time on that order of magnitude is usual practice. It is important to remember that private persons (B2C) should indeed usually be cash in advance or on delivery, and some project management systems such as OTM actually let you set default terms according to the type of business and your likelihood of carving out a pound of flesh with lawyers if the company turns out to be a deadbeat (i.e. "risk management").

In a well-run freelance business with prompt invoicing, cash flow should be relatively smooth on average, and there are well-known strategies for dealing with the potential "bumps in the road" from big projects (advances, milestone payments, just saying "no", etc.). And there are other options.

Recently, I went through a period where my cash flow was hit with a bucket of ice water from a combination of vehicle and moving expenses as well as a deliberate slowdown in billable projects to give me time to adjust to changes in my personal life and relationship status. With the additional recent addition to overhead of a kid starting university studies, it was clear that some action was called for. So I raised prices in a number of significant cases and introduced modest net 10 day payment discounts, which most clients were pleased to take advantage of. Problem solved quite nicely with very little effort on my part. My project management environment in OTM also enables me to do these little incentives as one-offs or a default for certain customers. This is a common practice in business, where prompt payment discounts typically run between 2% and 5%.  I noticed a 10% discount being offered in a spam mass application that one of my agency friends forwarded to me tonight. Don't go there. An excessive early payment discount is stupid, as it only makes you look unprofessional and desperate. Stick to the usual percentages that a healthy business would offer.

There are probably other good strategies to encourage payment in less than 30 days, and if you've got one, please share. I have another informal policy that I implement quietly as a reward, though I can't say if the clients affected are even aware of it. I have a few clients who for years have made it a practice of paying invoices so quickly that I almost don't have time to lick the stamp to send them before the money is in my account. For some reason they often get priority in scheduling, and it's hard not to do the occasional spontaneous favor for someone who has you covered this way.

But do I blow off a customer who wants to pay me in 29 or 30 days or think ill of them? Certainly not. I screen the people and projects I work with carefully, and even the occasional customers who make timely payment after a month are part of a circle I appreciate deeply.

Apr 14, 2011

Coming to terms with Kilgray

The pre-conference day for memoQfest 2011 offered dual tracks in the morning session for the TM Repository and qTerm, the advanced, server-based terminology module for memoQ. Ever since attending a webinar when qTerm was released last October, I've been intending to blog on it, and since I already had an overview of what I needed to know about the Repository from last year, I chose the qTerm track. However the Twitter feed from Polish translator @wasaty made it clear that I was missing a lot of interesting news about Kilgray's TM management technologies.

István Lengyel and Gergely Vandor of Kilgray served a lot of meaty technical details on qTerm, many of which could be the subject of an entire blog post. It's a product with great potential I think, and I expect it will evolve considerably in the course of the next year. Gergely's technical insights on problems often encountered in data migration and how non-standard the TBX "standard" truly is were particularly interesting to me personally, revealing some useful and interesting information about data exports in that format from SDL's MultiTerm. And I thought the world of TMX was a big mess....

István's telling of the history of term management at Kilgray offered me a look at the very different world of translators of technical information working with small distribution languages. In some respects, that is a very different world from mine, and I very much appreciate how being shaken out of my comfortable German/English language pair perspective can sometimes help to flush my hardened arteries and get a little more oxygen to my brain. And the repeated reference to the role of terminology in branding by all three speakers in that morning session gave me some new ideas for how to help my direct clients and agencies understand even more clearly the importance of getting terminology right.

But like yesterday's train-the-trainer session, the real highlight of the day for me was not a technical presentation with specific details of a product I find interesting. It was a general discussion of purpose and philosophy in terminology management, by expert terminologist and consultant Barbara Karsch, who was deeply involved with terminology at JD Edwards and Microsoft before becoming an independent service provider to LSPs and corporate translation consumers. Her web site offers a lot of interesting information and definitions that are well worth reading. Her methodical presentation of the real costs involved in terminology mis- or non-management left little room for excuses and made a strong, objective case that any sober business person can appreciate. What I learned from her will help me make a better case to clients I value so they can help themselves. I very much look forward to getting a copy of the slides from that presentation.

Among all her valuable advice, however, one particular point stands out for me, an obvious one that I know well from my own experience. It applies to both terminologies and the collections of data often used inefficiently for terminology: translation memories. Without maintenance and updating, terminologies (and TMs) eventually become worthless. There is a definite life cycle which applies to a lot of this data, and all of the babbling about matches, fuzzy matches, etc. and the inertial complacency of many of us and our clients with regard to existing collections of data can too easily cause us to lose perspective and sacrifice future quality and reputation while indulging in the illusion of cost savings.

Those who make an effort to think clearly about the real costs of processes and decisions very often discover truths at odds with lazy common wisdom and benefit accordingly. When we get beyond the fear, uncertainty and doubt invoked by dishonest companies and "experts" with an agenda at odds with the interests of freelancers, public bodies and LSPs of acceptable size, we are very likely to arrive at decisions that seem risky to those blinded by propaganda.

Viewed objectively, the case is very clear for efficient, modern management of terminology with technologies such as those offered by Kilgray. And considering the larger technological context of the integrated environment in which tools such as qTerm work, the case for memoQ as a mother lode of value for translation management is just as clear. That is perhaps why I will be able to greet esteemed colleagues from SDL and other important contributors to the translation tools industry who will be attending memoQfest this year to divine the future directions of translation technology :-)

Apr 13, 2011

memoQfest 2011 off to a strong start training trainers

Though it's hard to have a bad day in Budapest, where even the police are uncommonly kind to stupid foreigners who can't deal well with their nightmarish traffic messes and troublesome parking, both serving to highlight the value of the city's excellent public transportation system, today was an especially good day thanks to a well-organized, superbly presented "train the trainer" session at Kilgray's headquarters. The instructors were Gábor Ugray, one of Kilgray's founders and current head of development, Gergely Vandor, Life Cycle manager at Kilgray, and Angelika Zerfass, one of Europe's finest trainers for translation environment technologies such as Trados and memoQ.
Angelika Zerfass sharing her expert understanding of
      effective training for any translation tools.
The guys from Kilgray shared important insights into memoQ technologies such as the termbases and recently introduced LiveDocs feature, and advanced tool for creating collections of reference information from monolingual and bilingual sources. Gábor gave an excellent summary of important configuration techniques in memoQ termbases to increase the value and effectiveness of the automated quality assurance tools for translations.Almost as an aside, he shared gold-plated tips on approaches to setting up projects to take advantage of folder structures, future plans for qterm, Kilgray's advanced server-based terminology module, which will soon include reporting features which will facilitate compensating translators for their contributions to a project's terminology. But the most valuable part of his presentation I think was the absolutely basic advice on how to use stemming techniques to improve term matching and QA in many languages. Trainers adopting his approach to sharing this information with memoQ users will make a great contribution to their clients' productivity.

Gergely gave a comprehensive overview of "LiveDocs", a simple yet sophisticated set of tools for automated alignment and collections of reference documents that currently has nothing on the market to offer it a real challenge for the convenience and efficiency it offers users for looking up information and applying it to their translations. His presentation was also sprinkled liberally with valuable tips such as the use of memoQ's backup feature to create "jump points" for training presentations. Another important point made was that a LiveDocs corpus can be a simple way to organize projects and create multilingual reference collections for large team projects involving many languages.

About half the day's training was offered by Angelika, whose presentations rank at the top of all the software training (and other training) I have attended in the past 25+ years. A respected leader for Trados training and project consulting, she has had an eye on memoQ since its earliest day and now gives the product her full endorsement as the best solution in most cases for SMEs. Although her presentation often included specific examples and structures relevant only to memoQ, the majority of what she shared is relevant to any training. I have been involved with adult continuing education in many forms for 27 years now, and the only training I have experienced in that time which offered clear, relevant insights at this level was the training for Apple Education Sales Consultants, which was one of the key factors for Apple's early dominance in the education markets. The high opinion I have had of her work for a decade now has been confirmed time and again by colleagues who have had the fortune to be trained by her. Every time she opens her mouth I learn something important, and she's one of those rare German trainers with modesty, subtlety and insight that would make her effective with most international audiences. And the partners in her consultancy are of equal caliber. It's a privilege to know people of their character and competence and an even greater one to be able to learn from them.

After a brilliant conclusion to the day's training (with a rhetorical trick that still has me smiling), there were a few hours to relax and eat before the evening party at Kilgray's headquarters. It was a great pleasure to meet familiar and new colleagues from Canada, Latvia, France, the US and many other countries and chat about anything and everything. The only downside to the evening was the shocking absence of Unicum. How a Hungarian company can hold such a gathering without one of the country's key drivers of innovation is utterly baffling to me. But then Kilgray is good at offering alternative solutions for the challenges faced in our profession, and Kilgray's general manager Peter Reynolds deftly mixed several Irish coffees that caused the Unicum problem to be forgotten quickly. Throughout the evening I was impressed time and again by the openness of Kilgray's team and the respect they have for their competitors. When I hear serious praise for other industry leaders backed by real expressed intent of cooperation, it's hard not to believe that some of my silly hopes for great advances in interoperability for competing translation tools might not in some way become a reality that will benefit all of us. In the next few days, some of these important competitors will be here in Budapest at memoQ to share ideas, build trust and explore models of cooperation and probably spy a bit on the most innovative provider of translation technology on today's market. I look forward to meeting them and doing all I can to see best practices combined in the interests of translators, translation project facilitators, and translation customers.

Apr 6, 2011

Atril is dead!

Long live... ? The e-mail messages the other day announcing the "investment" in Atril by PowerLing, the odd French company hastily formed a few years ago to botch the marketing of Déjà Vu X, and the subsequent merger of the two companies under the name "Atril" was no great surprise, but it was a disappointment nonetheless. The "Atril" web site has a new look, in your face right away with the option to add products to a shopping cart, though at the moment it's really not clear which products:

Like any site managed by the clueless crew formerly known as PowerLing, the content is unfinished, chaotic and will probably mutate into something over time. And yes, it is true that Jesus is coming soon. He's tired of waiting for the promised new version of Déjà Vu to be released first.

Atril and its product Déjà Vu were critical to my translation business for many years. But markets evolve, and the product has failed to evolve with them in an effective way. Right now if someone were to ask my recommendation for a translation environment tool offering a broad scope of source format access and good productivity features, I could not recommend this tool with a good conscience any more. I think the best picks for freelancers these days among the commercial tools are probably SDL Trados Studio if you like pain, memoQ if you prefer pleasure. For LSPs and corporate users same deal (memoQ being the best for performance, flexibility and ease of maintenance, SDL being... well... SDL) unless you need something like the Ontram workflows for your production of marketing brochures.