Dec 25, 2014

Holiday cookies for the Portuguese, Part 2

Feliz natal, everyone. Around this time of year, I think of various friends and family members with their particular repertoires of seasonal cookies and other treats, which are always something I look forward to and tell myself I'll learn to make one day. This year I decided to try my hand at a favorite German cookie, which is a bit like a shortbread with its high butter content and low sugar. There are, of course, a number of recipes available online, but I wanted to try one I've enjoyed intermittently for 24 years now, and when I asked for it, this is what I got:
Heidesand: 250 g Butter schmelzen, etwas bräunen, wieder fest werden lassen. 100g Zucker und etwas Vanillezucker damit verrühren. Ein Ei, zwei gestrichene Teelöffel Backpulver und 400g Mehl hinzugeben, verkneten, kalt stellen. Rollen formen, in Zucker wälzen, in Scheiben schneiden. Ca. 15 Minuten backen bei 180°C.
Heidesand: Melt 250 g butter and brown it a bit, then let it solidify again. Cream in 100 grams of sugar and a bit of vanilla sugar. Then add an egg, two level teaspoons of baking powder and 400 g of flour; knead the dough and chill it. Form the dough into "logs" and roll these in sugar, then cut off rounds of the dough and bake them at 180°C for about 15 minutes.
I was a bit suspicious of that baking time in my oven and reduced it by several minutes, which was still too long. The first successful batch of cookies baked for about 9 minutes and probably would have been better with a bit less time.

Adjusted for US measurement units, the recipe would be
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
½ cup sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 level teaspoons baking powder
3 cups white wheat flour

Melt and brown the butter somewhat, then let it cool and cream it together with the sugar, add the vanilla flavoring and egg. Then add the flour, sifting it in with the baking powder, and form the crumbly dough into rolls, which can be rolled in sugar if desired (or sugar can be sprinkled on the cut cookies before baking). Wrap these in parchment paper or other suitable material and chill the rolls in the refrigerator or freeze them. Cut off slices from the rolls and bake these at 350°F (180°C) for about 8 or 9 minutes, depending on the conditions in your oven.
I used self-rising flour for a little "boost" and carmelized the sugar, though not completely to a liquid state (throwing in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon in the process), so after it cooled I had to crush and grind it in a mortar. This resulted in cookies with an interesting speckled appearance. I also didn't bother adding extra sugar in most cases, as I prefer these cookies less sweet. They are a little dry, and crumble like sand into one's mouth when bitten.
No matter how much leavening agent is added to the mix, these cookies will not rise much due to all the butter and can be spaced closely together on the tray. This recipe is not very sweet, with about half the amount of sugar found in other versions, so those with more of a sweet tooth could adjust the sugar content accordingly.

Dec 23, 2014

SDL Trados Studio in Lisbon – January 22, 2015 – possibilities, experience and expectations

Thursday 22 January 2015, Auditório 2, piso 3, Torre B, FCSH

The Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of the New University of Lisbon is pleased to invite you to a day of talks on SDL Trados, with special guest speaker Paul Filkin, Director of Client Communities for SDL Language Solutions.

Event schedule (subject to updates)
10:00 Welcome 
10:15 – 11:30SDL Open Exchange” with Paul Filkin 
11:30 – 13:00Voice Recognition (Portuguese and English) and CAT Tools for translation and PEMT” with David Hardisty, Isabel Rocha and Joana Bernardo. This session will show how to use voice recognition to post-edit machine translation, how voice recognition is available in Portuguese, and how it can be used to cope with physical disability (such as cerebral palsy). 
14:00 – 15:40SDL Trados Clinic” with Paul Filkin. In this session Paul will invite the audience to raise common issues they have with Trados, and cover other common issues and solutions. 
16:00 – 17:00SDL Trados and Interoperability with other CAT Tools” with Kevin Lossner. This session will present various ways to use SDL Trados to work successfully with those who have other translation environment tools such as memoQ, OmegaT, etc.


Paul Filkin has worked for SDL Language Solutions since 2006. His main focus is evangelizing and helping users of SDL technology get the most out of their investment and is often found on social media providing advice wherever needed.  His blog “Multifarious” describes some of the practical challenges for translators and translation companies and how to resolve these with SDL technology in the mix.

Kevin Lossner has a healthy skepticism of translation technologies where it is not clear if they serve their users or the other way around. His blog “Translation Tribulations” discusses SDL Trados Studio, memoQ and more and is the ultimate authority on chocolate chip cookies in Évora, Portugal.

David Hardisty has taught Translation Tools at FCSH/UNL to undergraduate and postgraduate students since the inception of the Translation Programmes at FCSH. He has also worked with Technology in the teaching of ELT and in the last 25 years has co-authored five books published by Oxford University Press.

Isabel Rocha is a Spanish to Portuguese translator with thirty years of experience. She has completed the curriculum component of the Masters in Translation at Lisbon University and preparing to write her thesis.

Joana Bernardo is a Masters Student at FCSH/UNL. She has also studied Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the same university. She became interested in Translation after a summer internship at a subtitling company.

All professionals and students with an interest in modern translation technologies and working methods are welcome to attend this free event. For more information, please contact: David Hardisty [david1610.dh (at)]  or just surprise us with your smiling face at the door.

Where the heck is this?

Click this graphic to see the location using Google Maps!

Dec 11, 2014

memoQ 2014 Release 2: beware of Hungarians bearing updates!

Just kidding, actually. Facebook groups are, of course a buzz with tales of bugs and crashes the day after Kilgray's milestone release, and in my own office I heard a flurry of curses behind me as my Portuguese translator discovered the "can't quit" bug that someone had written about. This was just a short time before I delivered the last files for one of the busiest weeks of translation I've been hit with in months, weeks where I decided to live dangerously and do all the work with the bleeding-edge beta for yesterday's release. For me it was actually a rather bloodless experience.

Sure, I saw bugs. Screen refresh weirdness in the first few beta builds and my favorite (non-lethal) quirk: multiple instances of memoQ web search. I guess the developers figured we can't get too much of a good thing!
Triple play, anyone?
I didn't write as much about this release as I intended to originally, partly because I was too busy, but also because I took a very different approach this time, using the beta opportunity to do a little informal psychological research to support some upcoming tutorials I'm working on to help people make a smooth transition to the new interface and cope better with the costly challenges of flipping between versions if required to by some projects (for example with conservatives who still use old memoQ servers.

Those who are not absolute newbies on the technology scene are well aware that the months after any release from any provider of translation technology are always a risky time for those eager to get started with a new version. The prudent advice to anyone is don't hurry. There's no use slamming Kilgray or SDL or anyone other firm for the inevitable bugs after any release, at least not until two or three months have passed and the version has put through the real-life wringer in a way no testing program can do. After that, fair game as far as I'm concerned. Those first months are usually a critical time in which many improvements not even anticipated by the designers occur. So regardless of the official line, people, for the next three months any of you using memoQ 2014 R2 are beta testers. And that's a good thing, a chance to participate in a good development process. SDL Trados Studio users, DVXn fans and everyone else are on more or less the same curve each time a big upgrade hits.

In my beta test over the past month I made few attempts to explore new features. Instead, I focused on my usual workflows to see how they felt in the new environment. As I indicated in my first blog post on this release I was not entirely comfortable after a week of work just with thew new version. And I'm still not. I am less productive than I want to be, because changing the translation environment interface is always a costly process associated with reduced productivity. This is why I am such a strong advocate of interoperability and tell people to go deep with their environment of choice and learn how to work with information prepared in other environments with just your favorite tool for maximum efficiency and better earnings if you work at full capacity.

What I have learned so far is that this learning curve will be longer and steeper for me than I anticipated. However, the Kilgray ribbon designs for the new memoQ are well-designed for the most time, and I can reason my way through them and find anything. It just takes time right now. So make the transition when you aren't going to be under the gun for a while. Kick the tires soon (you can install versions in parallel at no risk) but take it slow and easy. The trip may be long, but it is clearly worth it in the end for a design that will benefit most in the long run.

And focus on keyboard shortcuts. The more you depend on those, the easier your work will be in the months ahead. Stay tuned.

Dec 7, 2014

Uptalk in training?

Like a number of other translators I know, for a number of years, I've followed the progress and publications of a young blogger in California, Pat Flynn, who engages in a wide range of transparent efforts involving online marketing and passive income. He has had many useful things to say about the technical aspects of e-books, podcast production and other subjects of interest to me. He also interviews various people involved in online businesses, and some of these interviews cover subjects I care about.

One recent interview was with a fellow who creates e-learning courses. As readers of my blog are probably aware, this is a subject which has had my attention for about two years now, and after reading some of Pat's interview transcript, I decided to download the MP3 recording and listen to the full interview. I didn't make it far.

The interviewee had a lot of interesting things to say, but I found it extremely difficult to concentrate on his content, because he, like, kept using a rising inflection at the end of every sentence? This is what is referred to as uptalk, upspeak, high rising terminal speech or other expressions. For me, I think the phrase "terminated communication" describes it best. Particularly for older Americans, uptalk can be very difficult to hear.

I've also noticed uptalk creeping into some of the training videos for the language professions. When I raised this issue with one person involved in the production of such materials, the response seemed to indicate that the private communication was deeply offensive and that I was "attacking" the person using that difficult inflection in the recording. On the contrary; I know the presenter is a competent professional with useful things to say, and I simply wanted a good person and a good company to benefit from communication less likely to pose challenges for a key "constituency" in the US and UK. On average, translators tend to be somewhat older, perhaps even more conservative in their language habits, and for now I just can't see uptalk as any possible advantage unless you are doing a guest workshop for students at a community college in the San Fernando Valley of California or some other hellish backwater.

I can't say to what extent uptalk may cause problems in other English-speaking cultures, but where I come from there are definitely issues in a professional setting, as this person rather "offensively" points out:

I prefer the more humorous take from this fellow:

His comments on courtrooms 15 years from now were amusing and are probably frighteningly predictive. How would courtroom judges react to an interpreter speaking that way today?

Have you encountered uptalk in professional settings? Is your experience with it positive or negative, and do you see it as useful in some contexts of training or public speaking? Am I just showing my Jurassic disposition to complain of such things?

And, like, when you comment, like, please, like, let us know if you are, like, a native speaker of, like, some kind of, like, English and like how old you are?

#lighttheday with eyesight

Annular Eclipse (Matsudo, Chiba, Japan) (7237425418)

When I was 15 I was fond of home-made pyrotechnics and organic substances suited for demolition work. After my start in translation doing recipes from Prato's Süddeutsche Küche, I spent many long hours on the eighth floor of Cal Tech's Millikan Library translating the original publications of research in Liebigs Annalen der Chemie and other sources of information on organic molecules of interest. That's probably where I learned to make picric acid. I could buy it over the counter in those days at a shop in Burbank, but I calculated that the cost to make my own from phenol, nitric and sulfuric acid was about 10% of the cost to buy the finished product, and since I worked hard cutting lawns in those days for my pocket money, I thought I would save some money for making the whistling fireworks and other things I hoped to do with the substance.

Unfortunately, for all my understanding of organic synthesis methods at that time, I had not gotten around to understanding practical thermodynamics at the time, and after a few successful batches, I decided to triple the quantity in the same reaction flask, which I assumed to be more than large enough. The resulting spray of hot nitrating mixture had an unfortunate effect on the skin of my face and swelled my eyes firmly shut. For a week of the Easter holiday as I lay in bed recovering from the accident, I assumed I was blind. At the end of that week, when the crusted seal of one eye broke as I washed and I could see just a little light, I felt great joy at just that little bit of vision as I still assumed that my reading future was Braille.

I was very lucky, of course, and made a full recovery, and I learned another one of many lessons about how little things can affect our lives far more than we realize. Anyone who has broken a toe or amputated part of a thumb (another stupid mistake I made once chopping zucchini for my sheep) or had similar "little" experiences knows this all too well.

Many people live rich lives without the gift of sight, but there are many difficulties inherent in such a life, and for one who has lived a long adult life dependent on sight, these might be greater. Years ago I asked a friend to research the religious implications of a collagen-based intraocular lens being developed in a laboratory for which I consulted, the collagen being derived from pigs' eyes. The conversation with an Orthodox rabbi which he reported later was quite interesting. He told me that Jews considered blindness to be akin to death and that saving sight was an act equivalent to saving life, for which the use of collagen from an unclean animal was acceptable. Now I had never heard such a thing before, and I have never asked a rabbi or anyone else if this is really true or whether this was just a good story he dreamed up after too many hits on his pipe, but it sounds plausible.

One of the things I am proudest of from my research days was developing the first optically clear silicone material for use in UV-blocking intraocular lenses; it was an inspiration that came after falling asleep in a lecture, and I gave the method away for others to make their fortunes. But each time I heard what it was like for someone blinded by cataracts to have their vision restored quickly by a painless, small-incision surgery, or I heard of doctors who would spend their holidays in a poor country giving sight back to many so afflicted, I felt very rich to be even a small, unknown part of such stories. And my interest in the field and the good it does has remained long after I left the laboratory, as friends and family age and sometimes require such surgeries.

This morning I was cheered by news from one such friend, blind in one eye and reduced to 10% vision in another. His happy letter, describing vision recovery in one eye to a level he had not enjoyed for decades was the best news I have heard in a long time. The sun was shining anyway as I read the news, but afterward the good day seemed so much brighter.

What is the bright side of translation? There are many bright sides I think, and which ones shine for whom will differ of course. The brightest for some that I know is that their work can facilitate the spread of important knowledge that can change lives, save lives. That might be medical information such as that related to the implantation of an intraocular lens, instructions for water purification or other hygiene methods or even educational material for the arts, which open up minds to a brighter side of life. These activities are deeply inspiring, so much so to some that they feel the need to give the work away, as I have done myself on some occasions. But on the whole, I think it is important for us to recognize the true professional value of such work and to compensate it accordingly, not fall into the traps of demonetization that are laid increasingly in our paths.

To light the day for others and see a better future for all, we need to consider the conditions and principles which allow us to do our best work and give 100% effort to the right things every day. Cui bono? If we get the balance right, everyone.

Nov 30, 2014

Holiday cookies for the Portuguese, Part 1

Whoever told me once that "close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades obviously didn't know squat about baking. Given a little respect, food tends to be more forgiving than most priests in Confession.

My involvement with translation began some nearly four decades ago when an aunt gave me a battered copy of the 1897 edition of Katharina Prato's Süddeutsche Küche. My mother and I then began to translate and adapt recipes for tasty baked goods for a modern American kitchen, making educated guesses about times and temperatures and making up measurable quantities for ingredients specified in only the vaguest terms. At the time I was barely into my teens and wondered how my mother could magically interpret all that vaguery and come up with something so appealing for expanding waistlines, but those first translations taught me the importance of reinterpreting content as necessary for a new culture and different times.

With the holidays approaching and most of my interesting recipes still rumored to be in boxes in a van somewhere in Poland, I called my mother a few days ago and begged for my favorite Christmas cookie recipe - a foundational gingerbread cookie with which she often constructs frosted houses with the grandchildren at this time of year. A short time later, the miracle of e-mail brought me the following instructions:
1 cup shortening (Crisco, lard, etc.)
1¼ cups sugar
1 cup molasses
¾ tablespoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
½ teaspoon salt
2 rounded teaspoons cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
6 to 6½ cups flour for a soft dough
Roll out, cut and bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes. Refrigerating the dough may make it easier to handle.
The trouble started with the shortening, but I've usually just substituted butter over the protests that "it's not the same", countering with "who cares, as long as it's good?" Moreover, butter has the advantage of keeping vegan fanatics out of one's cookie jar if they are true to the Faith. This time I discovered a big, forgotten block of Banquete creme vegetal in the fridge, and since I no longer remember why I bought the stuff, it had to go in the cookies.

Then came the molasses crisis. the English word is derived from the Portuguese melaço, but try telling that to the people of Portugal. Perhaps it's the grief over the loss of their colony in Brazil which caused them to cut their ties to this critical ingredient, but searches of several supermarkets near me have failed to turn up any trace. Oh well, brown sugar it is then.

One thing led to another, and with a why not this?and a why not that?, and a doubling of the egg content to cut the stress on the mixer motor and get rid of excess eggs, and a surprising shortage of ginger powder, which required half measures, the final mix came out as
115 g vegetable shortening (creme vegetal)  
230 g brown sugar (açucar moreno)
2 eggs (ovos)
2 teaspooons ground ginger (2 colheres de chá de gengibre em po)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (1 colher de chá de canela moída)
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (¼ colher de chá de cravinho moída)
¼ teaspoon fine dry salt (¼ colher de chá de sal fino seco)
450 g self-rising wheat flour (farinha de trigo com fermento)
As with most of my cookies, I creamed the fat and sugar together, then added the egg (I let the mixer do the work of beating) and spices (with the idea that the flavors will mix better in more intimate contact with the fat), followed by the flour, with the speed turned down to low and the time limited to avoid knitting the gluten in the dough.

My cookie cutters disappeared in the last move, so Plan B was to form the dough into a roll, chill it good and use a sharp knife to slice off ¼" (6 mm) thick  rounds, which were then baked for 8 minutes at about 350°F (175°C) on a parchment sheet. These cookies are lighter than the original recipe (more leavening), so they bake faster, and ten minutes in my oven puts a carbon crust on the bottom which might not be to every taste. But of course, times will need to be re-translated for the conditions of your oven.

The final result was nothing like the original, though it was rather tasty. A failed score for translation with many reviewers, I'm sure, as they stuff their faces with the culinary success.

Now it's back to the kitchen to see what happens if caramel syrup takes the place of the missing melaço,

Nov 28, 2014

Another day of gratitude: paying it forward

As I dragged myself through the wet-misted field yesterday morning to fetch more wood for the office furnace, the cacophony of the neighbor's barnyard fowl - chickens, guinea hens, three or four kinds of ducks, some geese and a lot of turkeys - reminded me that today is Thanksgiving. It's been a few years since I served a sacrificed bird to friends unfamiliar with our American rituals, and I don't think I could find it in my hunter's heart to do that with one of the beautiful creatures at the farm next to mine, at least not this week. Not while I have a good head of lettuce, some radishes and a few carrots in my test garden for the survival of which I am grateful after the plague of snails and slugs when the rainy season began.

I had planned to mark today with a smaller ritual, alone or in company, opening a Malbec given to me by a friend from Argentina and baking and breaking some bread with a nice mix of grains and sourdough. But it wasn't to be. When I regained consciousness after too many hours spent sorting out the structure of some new tutorials and too few resting afterward, I found that an agency client I had presumed dead, I'll call them Lazarus GmbH, had come back to life with an interesting SDL cornucopia just as I was planning to do some phony exercises in the new memoQ interface to re-learn the Trados interoperability techniques for exactly those files to prepare for a lesson I need to create this weekend. Then while I was in the midst of preparing a quotation, another Lazarus found the Send button in Outlook and sent a nice little text for immediate turnaround and an inquiry regarding my capacity for the next month. 'Tis the season once again, a bit silly already. One by one I've watched friends and colleagues who have had a little too much quiet time in recent weeks or months get slammed with a translation workload which should mean big bones for their dogs under the Christmas tree this year.

In all the "excitement" I utterly forgot that it was Thanksgiving until after dark, when the heavy rain increased and made me wonder if I should Google plans for an ark.

It was about then that a young colleague, a friend whom I introduced to translation a little over a year ago, sent me a message describing her progress with a workload which would make me take a deep breath, but which is especially challenging for someone starting out. And her projects involved some sophisticated preparation and CAT tool skills which many very experienced colleagues could not handle without significant help. All executed perfectly. And even ahead of schedule. Each bit of news caused my smile to grow bigger. Fortunately, nobody but the dogs could see this grinning idiot.

In all the decades of my various careers there are few things I have enjoyed more than the privilege of watching, and sometimes contributing a little to the success of others, particularly those who are finding their way in what is for them a new area of knowledge and activity. I just love to watch the lights come on, love to see those others overcome their doubts, launch themselves into the uncertain air and soar.

In the first essay for the days of gratitude, I wrote about some of the many teachers who have given me more than I could ever pay back, who continue to inspire me through memory after more than four decades in some cases. Many are dead now, some are failing, and a surprising number are approaching their centenary, or have failed not far short of it. These ones were among the most inspiring for me, and I wonder sometimes if there is a connection with that and those long lives.

I can never pay any of them back, and I rather doubt any of them would have wanted that. Thinking back now to a conversation with one favorite professor, a great chemist who changed the way the Second Law of Thermodynamics is taught in the US today, I remember how shortly before I moved to Germany, he tried to convince me that I should become an elementary school teacher. That wasn't practical at the time, but I missed the point. The debt I owe to him and many others cannot be paid back. It should not be paid back. It must be paid forward.

And I am very, very grateful for the privilege to attempt just that. Happy Thanksgiving.

Nov 27, 2014

Kilgray's new memoQ website!

I hate it. But only the first page. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't drink enough coffee to get sufficiently wired to appreciate the hyperactive pace of multielemental, multidirectional motion on a page like that. There is no sense of the calm competence that for me is typical of the excellent team behind that site. Instead, images flip, logos zip and words fly and I think, "Get me the Hell out of here!". Face it, too much of modern web design sucks, especially when it is aimed at teenagers with an attention span of about three seconds.

The rest of the site, however, is a considerable improvement over the old site, which reminded me a bit of the old Winchester House in California: lots of good stuff to be found, but on the journey to get there, you might wind up on a staircase that ends in the ceiling. Although I have used that old site for 6 or 7 years now in its various iterations I was often unable to find things like the webinat schedule or a particular mysterious back alley that led to the training resources I knew were there somewhere. Over the years I sent a lot of "Where the heck is... ?" e-mails to my contacts at Kilgray when hours or days of searching left me stranded, thirsty and desperate in the middle of some desert on God-knows-what continent.

No more. The overlarge, multi-column menus that show up under the categories across the top may take a while to read (pack a lunch and a few bottles of water just in case), and my eyes have to go over them a few times to find a particular item, but things are, for the most part, where I expect them to be, which is great progress. So what if the design still won't win any awards? I am saving time to get where I want to go on the whole.

And that's really what's important to me. I can see that I will be able to find the product and reference information I need with much greater ease* than before, and if that works for me, this will probably be even more true for most other memoQ users.

* assuming that I do not go blind due to the poor contrast with the light-colored font!

Nov 26, 2014

Life at the bottom: Manta/Orbe translations

Two days ago I received a most curious e-mail from a Mr. Guillermo Chiosso, associated with a bulk market bogster, Manta/Orbe, known for its bottom-tier rates and reported history of complaints from those who have worked with them. In this e-mail, which appears to have been sent to hundreds of translators and interpreters in IAPTI and possibly others, Mr. Chiosso writes of an upcoming defamation suit against the current president of that organization, Aurora Humarán because of an article at

which was linked in a "news" page curated by Ms. Humaran using the keyword service. In the rambling, defamatory letter distributed to so many translators and interpreters, Mr. Chiosso claims that Ms. Humarán authored the piece in question, which is clearly not the case. My blog posts and those of others are featured all the time in such collections, where curators are presented with the results of a web search according to criteria of their interest and then choose interesting bits to share. But offering a link to an article is not quite the same as authoring, and if it were, I shudder to think how long some bylines would be.

What is going on here? Lately, I have noticed what seems to be a trend of aggressive escalation by representatives of the bulk market bog of language services, who are constantly innovating in the efforts to drive the sector toward demonetization. The excessive spin-doctoring responses to my recent post on Translators Without Compensation (TransWC) aka TWB and the many public and private threats I personally received in association with that article before the organization's founder and president resigned are further examples of the intimidation tactics which now seem popular among driving forces in the lower strata of Linguistic Sausage Production. The timing of Mr. Chiosso's missive is, of course, coincidental, but it is interest to note how careless he and in particular another individual are about reading the sources subject to their complaints; one can only hope that they are not or no longer involved in content review activities for documents of importance, because I am not sure I would trust the results.

The tactics employed here remind me a bit of the logo and motto of the Sherwin-William's paint company: "Cover the Earth". But unlike the pleasant colors and tones offered by that manufacturer, here the cover is falsehood intended to direct the attention away from unsavory practices such as spamming, exploitative rates and questionable ethical practices. In issuing their threats, both Mr. Chiosso and the blowhard who misdirected his mistaken outrage against me both claim to have consulted counsel, but when the basic facts of the text in question are examined, it is hard not to call the competence of counsel - or the information provided to counsel - into question.

I hope that Mr. Chiosso will issue the apology due soon and that some of us at least can return to what we do best.

Nov 25, 2014

My first project with memoQ 2014 Release 2

When I got my first look at the test version of the upcoming memoQ release, memoQ 2014 R2, I argued with  Kilgray that it ought to be called memoQ 2015 instead, not only because the year 2014 is almost over, but because this software represents a major break with the old interface design. Kilgray likes to point out that there are not so many new features being introduced here - perhaps a mere "dozen" give or take a bit - but just one of these - the new ribbon interface - has its own 50 page manual. Meu deus.

On the whole I am coming to view the rapid pace of development for some CAT tools in a rather negative light. I rather like the current memoQ 2014 release, but I am not even close to coming to grips with the 70+ new features introduced earlier this year (which has probably grown to 100+, depending on how you want to count them). I think back to my experiences as a corporate systems consultant in the archiving and document management sector and those working with a state department of transportation before that, where many thousands of networked workstations and other systems had to be managed for maximum productivity and minimum disruption. It took me a while back then to understand why, after many months of thorough testing at enormous cost, an upgrade for  something like Internet Explorer was permitted for the version two whole numbers below the current one. I eventually learned that these big organizations were not so dumb after all: being on the "leading edge" is too often the same as the "bleeding edge", which can have considerable, unanticipated costs.

This is the reason why for years I have advised my clients and colleagues not to consider new versions of any tool for routine production use until several months at least past its release date, and to use "roundtrip testing" in every instance to ensure that a technically usable result can be obtained from every project. Ultimately, Kilgray and others are going to have to determine whether constantly stirring the feature pot in a way that too often makes established workflows obsolete is in the best interests of their clientele and market future. Despite all the trendy talk of the benefits of disruption and "creative destruction" I am unconvinced that this is the case.

However, I do see very good reasons for the major changes to the interface in memoQ 21014 Release 2, and I think that new features like the limited sharing of online translation memories and termbases (with an open API in the future to allow access by other tools I'm told) are an excellent intermediate stage for those who aren't quite ready to move up to a team server solution like memoQ Cloud or the greater access capacity of the full memoQ Server license but who still need realtime data sharing for projects with a partner from time to time.

Kilgray's blog has a good post describing the basic shift in the logic of the environment from cataloging commands as one might in a library or inventory system to organization by the normal sequence of work. This makes a lot of sense, and this is also the way I teach new users to use the software, with small sets of features organized according to the sequence of typical work.

After spending about a week just staring at the new ribbons, I decided to do my first small, low-risk commercial project with the test version. Everything went quite well, but I had to fight a sense of disorientation as I kept looking for commands in the lower area of the screen, which is now free for viewing more files and file information in a project. In some cases, I had to get used to clicking on the little arrows under icons rather than the icons themselves. Nothing I needed was difficult to locate, but as a longtime user of memoQ with many ingrained habits, I will take some time getting used to this, after which my work will probably proceed even more smoothly. In any case, it is clear to me that new users will find their way more quickly with this new, workflow-based interface.

This impression of greater ease for new users was reinforced by remarks from a colleague in my office a few days ago. Her professional background prior to her activities in translation was as an educational psychologist and adult education teacher, and when I began to complain about how awful the new ribbons were and how uncomfortable I felt with them, she patiently explained how I had it all wrong and why the new design was much more logical and easier to use. Years ago I teased SDL Trados users who bitched at first about the change from the nasty old over/under TWB interface to the tabular working environment of SDL Trados Studio only to become enthusiasts later when they realized how much their workflows had improved; I fear that I will also become a just target for such teasing.

I don't want to admit it, really, but I am already beginning to like those awful ribbons, which are perhaps rather useful after all. And if I really don't want to look at them, they can be hidden with just a click, leaving me with even more working space on my screen. So all right, I'll say it. Reluctantly. Good job, Kilgray.

Now who is going to re-do all the screenshots and videos for my tutorials?

Nov 22, 2014

Put on the red light at thebigword!

For those of you who thought that "House of the Rising Sun" was an Animals original, think again. It's likely that the song predates the recording of Leadbelly's wife here; the traditions of translation and the often similar business described here go back a long time, and these days, they seem to intersect particularly, particularly if one is "in a relationship" with a large Linguistic Sausage Producers (LSPs) like thebigword, which recently issued one of its periodic demands for translator rate cuts in a year in which record profits were posted and fat bonuses paid (see "Meaty Payday for thebigword Director").

Often when veteran translators gather at conferences, online or even down the road for coffee, the subject of project management quality - or the lack thereof - at companies like thebigword, TransPerfect, Lionbridge et alia comes up. There is a widespread impression that these big agencies hire recent university graduates as staff to recruit, test and manage translators, editors and interpreters for their corporate and government clientele. I cannot count how many times some outraged language service greybeard like me has griped about the stupidity of some PM who is presumed to be not only wet behind the ears but in other ways as well, not having yet graduated from diapers.

I am pleased to report that these assumptions appear to be baseless, at least as far as thebigword is concerned. After a tip from one colleague, I began to research the impressive qualifications of the human interfaces at this LSP using their LinkedIn profiles. Here is some of what I found:

Clearly, the next time I do a translation related to veterinary science or training dogs to track and hunt, I will need to take care, because my work might be reviewed by a volunteer dog handler. And I'm sure that these big sausage shops have the erotica angle covered too.

Reviewing the educational histories of some staff at thebigword who claim to recruit and test translators, I found it interesting to note that university education did not appear to be a job requirement. No matter; I can name two good linguists who never attended university, and I'm sure there must be a third one out there somewhere. With project management skills, of course.

So, dear colleagues and corporate clients, the next time you are frustrated in your dealings with some large translation agency and start to grumble about the qualifications of recent university translation studies graduates, be careful. My initial research shows that you may owe a big apology to some recent grads.

If you are looking for an exit strategy from the bulk market bog, don't let the glass door hit you in the a**e!

Nov 20, 2014

Well MET near Madrid.

It's been nearly three weeks since I returned from my first meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators association, METM14. In that time I've wondered how to share all that I brought back from the gathering, and I'm afraid I still don't know how to put it all into words. I've become increasingly reluctant to participate in translation conferences in the past few years, took a break of about a year and a half from them, because too many had become venues for pushing a corporatist agenda which I feel has little to do professional language service of real social value. The unexpectedly excellent IAPTI conference in Athens last September marked my return, and what pleased me most there was the clear focus of the event program on the professional practice of freelance translators and interpreters. No sales pitches, no Linguistic Sausage Producers explaining their multiphase chop-and-grind workflows to redefine quality as a complex function of engineering incompetence, empty promises, pseudoscientific LQA scores and extrusion rate. MET's outstanding 10th annual meeting in San Lorenzo de El Escorial near Madrid was an exquisite dessert after the feast in Athens: once again I had the great pleasure to meet a number of professional peers with experience and competence well beyond my own, some who have been mentors of mine for years with their contributions for practical corpus linguistics in translation and other topics dear to me.

And once again I had the delight of a program that was, for me, truly something completely different. In all the professional conferences I have attended in the past 15 years, this was the first one where a substantial number of attendees were serious, professional editors. Many translators take on "editing jobs" for better or worse, but at METM14 I was surrounded by people who pursue this activity with a professional seriousness and rigor which was quite frankly new to me. And their perspectives on some matters which are routine in my own work seemed more than a little weird at first.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone on the pre-conference workshop day as I sat in an excellent session by Mary Ellen Kerans on corpus-guided decision-making. A paper that she co-authored years ago with two other colleagues gave me my first exposure to the effective use of corpora for my translation work, but I had always applied these techniques from my own rather settled perspective as a translator. On that day, I saw how editors use the same techniques for very different purposes, and after about a half hour of considerable confusion, I enjoyed surprising new insights in how I might improve my own work by considering these other perspectives.

The editors' perspectives continued to alternately confuse and inspire me for the next two days. I learn something at most conferences, but usually what I walk away with are ideas that are not too far from my usual professional comfort zone. Here I was challenged in new and different ways, and I really loved that. I had been aware of MET for a number of years because of a few colleagues in Stridonium who were members, and I've looked at the conference program off and on for about five years and was always impressed by their focus on peer-to-peer teaching, but what I found was really well beyond my good expectations.

I attended the event with another colleague from Portugal who is relatively new to translation; she was a little nervous about her first professional conference, and although I expected she would gain some useful insights, I did not really know what would await a new professional at METM14. Any concerns were quickly dispelled; I was extremely pleased to see how many new professionals were welcomed and encouraged to participate by so many with more experience than I am likely to gain still in what remains of my professional life.

My friend was thoroughly inspired by the people she met and the presentations and workshops she attended, and on the long drive home after the last day she put together puzzle pieces from a number of talks and hit me with new ideas for teaching translation support technology to new users that still have my head spinning and will be the foundation for my next book, which I hope to release by early next year. This was just one of many occasions where I have found that newcomers to a profession can contribute some of the most important insights for improvement.

Defenders of the Portuguese language at METM14
Next year's annual meeting (METM15) will be held at the end of October in Coimbra, Portugal at the university there. If you are getting tired of the same old topics presented by the same old suspects and programs clearly driven by agendas at odds with the ethics and interests of freelancers and staff professionals who put quality first, then you may want to join me next October in Portugal for another healthy serving of professional dessert.

Emma Goldsmith has blogged a good overview of the sessions she attended at METM14, which can give you a feel for some of what you may have missed. The conference program offers more, less personal information. But don't rely on the impressions of others; come next year to a great event in a great country and then tell others yourself what this unusual mix of extreme professional competence has to offer.

Nov 5, 2014

Translators Without Borders: the ACCEPT project

In 2012, a grant of 1.8 million euros of EU funds was awarded to the ACCEPT project. The avowed aim of ACCEPT (Automated Community Content Editing PorTal) is to enablemachine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit environments”.  A one-page description of the project is available here.

The diverse interests involved are intriguing, and potentially conflicting. The grant-seeking consortium is comprised of academia (the universities of Edinburgh and Geneva), digital media-focused companies (Acrolinx, Symantec and Lexcelera). Managed by Lexcelera, a non-profit translation entity (Translators without Borders, or ‘TwB’) participates in the project as well. The representatives of Acrolinx (Andrew Bredenkamp) and Lexcelera (Lori Thicke) also sit on TwB’s board of directors, while Symantec also has TwB linkage (one of TwB’s advisory board members, Uli Paulin, is a former Symantec employee).

As the sole non-profit member, Translators without Borders has a long history of providing pro bono linguistic aid to selected NGOs, including Doctors without Borders (as the choice of name would suggest). TwB’s projects in Africa have helped disseminate important healthcare information in previously unsupported (or outright ignored) languages. There is no argument that this is potentially life-saving work, and the core reason why the base of the TwB pyramid consists of thousands of freelance translators who enthusiastically contribute to its efforts on an entirely unpaid basis.

The apex of the TwB pyramid is rather less straightforward. Its board of directors and advisory board are primarily composed of major industry players who own or operate commercial concerns that have a strong and undisguised interest in exploiting machine translation and the ‘cognitive surplus’ (or unpaid crowdsourcing if you will).

This is where ACCEPT invites at least some query or scrutiny, because it entails using the non-profit TwB (advised by Lexcelera) to provide motivated volunteers to improve machine translation. The ACCEPT grant application emphasized an at least partially altruistic goal, supported by the presence of TwB and its volunteers. It bears repeating: ACCEPT’s stated purpose is to enablemachine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit environments […]” (our emphasis). 

TwB operates on a demonetized basis (apart from a few specific projects in Africa). Using its unpaid participants in a project with an admitted commercial motive, funded by and for the EU, appears – at very least – curious. From a distance, one might ask whether TwB’s name and fame (derived from the idealistic and unremunerated contributions of donor translators focused on developing nations) has helped profit-making concerns – Acrolinx, Lexcelera, Symantec – obtain public monies for developing valuable digital media translation solutions. The ACCEPT project may yield results that justify its public funding, but they will be specifically for EU (First World) nations. TwB and other non-profits would doubtless receive some benefits, but the outcomes and assets would be ripe for use in prime commercial settings far removed from developing nations and the motivations of most volunteers.


The first part of this series, which raises questions of possible conflicts of interest, is here.

The second part, in which some TWB projects are discussed, is here.

Oct 29, 2014

Translators Without Borders: some projects

As can be seen from some of the responses to the first blog post in this series, the response of some to a "need" is too often rooted in emotions which override logic and rational consideration. Something must be done! is a common refrain, and when questions are raised as to whether the actions taken are in fact correct and proper and serve their presumed objectives, the questioner may be surprised by the unhinged vitriol of some responses.

Nonetheless it is important in any relief efforts to consider not only how well the path to the goal is paved with good intentions but whether in fact the path gets to where it should. There is a long and unfortunate history, for example, of food aid to many parts of the world not only wasting resources in the logistics involved, but doing actual harm in the communities where there is an intent to serve. This is also a matter to be considered in "translation aid", particularly in cases where there is no immediate humanitarian disaster on the scope of a tsunami or hurricane where the overriding principle is clearly to move fast and furiously before the death toll rises quickly higher through inaction.

In the presentation in Athens about Translators Without Borders and other language service charities such as the Rosetta Foundation, insights were offered into a number of past and current projects and what clearly worked well and what was perhaps less successful or sensible. This is the sort of review which should take place anytime one considers how to get the most out of the time and resources available.

An example of a clear, best practice success was presented with the translation training center established in Nairobi, Kenya. Here, the objective was to establish local resources not only for volunteer work but to serve the ongoing commercial needs for translation in the local communities. The training was launched with one of the finest translation technology experts I have the privilege to know, (English to) Polish colleague Marek Pawelec using state of the art translation environment tools; the result has been a great number of people trained in modern approaches to translation and full time employment for a significant number of them. Unlike the sometimes questionable efforts for food aid in some parts of the African continent, I don't think there can be any rational objections to what was done here; on the contrary, it is a model to be repeated (without discounts).

An example of a project less well considered in some instances might be the Wikiproject Medicine, which was not actually (AFAIK) launched by Translators Without Borders but which is significantly supported by the organization.

My impression of this project is that it is unnecessarily obsessed with the silly symmetry of articles and languages in a matrix without really considering where the most critical needs may be. It wasn't clear in the presentation whether TWB was involved in recruitment and execution for the full matrix here, but I think it is safe to assume that the real impact in Sweden, with its reasonably functioning health care system, will probably not be worth the effort. The situation may of course be quite different in some other language like Pashto.

The Automated Community Content Editing Portal (ACCEPT) was given as an example on the far end of the spectrum.

Once again, this was a project not launched by TWB (or in this case, the sister organization, TSF) but where resources were provided. And here there was a clear, and to my mind ethically questionable, use of corporate materials in the training phase, with the translated texts benefiting a corporation represented on the TWB board. This is smoke - is there a fire?

In a world with so many needs, it's a rare organization that will get it right every time. But some limits should be clear enough to those with good ethical standards and common sense. And for those inevitable gray areas, well-considered codes of ethics and other guidelines can be helpful. These should be subject to honest, critical review on an ongoing basis so that the worthy objective of helping those truly in need can be met effectively.


The first part of this series, which raises questions of possible conflicts of interest, is here.

The third post in the series, with details of the ACCEPT project, is here.

Oct 25, 2014

Translators Without Borders: cui bono?

For years I have felt growing unease at the calls for translators to donate their services to "good" causes like Translators Without Borders. It's not that I'm opposed to pro bono work; I have engaged in it often enough myself over the years in translation and other professions. But with the exception of sustainable projects like the development of sustainable translation capacities for the Maa language in Kenya, with technology support provided by Kilgray and instruction time donated by colleague Marel Pawelec, I have not found the appeals particularly convincing.

It was at the IAPTI 2014 conference in Athens that I heard the concerns I had been able to articulate presented in another's convincing words, with many more ethical issues to consider. About halfway through Attila Piroth's talk, the slide above summarized the greatest of my misgivings in a rather humorous way. My first reaction to the "new Board" for "Report Without Borders" was rib-breaking laughter and no f-ing way! But really, does the composition of those calling the shots at Translators Without Borders look much better?

Not really. We have the Silvio Berlusconi of translation and a host of others representing companies with significant interests in the commoditization and sometimes hampsterization of the translation profession and markets encouraging their service providers to work for free instead of for the usual bag of peanuts. As the presenter expressed it, large buyers of bulk market translation, some of the largest translation companies, agenda-setters for the bulk market and providers of related services. What's wrong with that?

Climate change affects not only our planet but the character of charity in its landscapes. In the territory of traditional charities, material profit motives are considered not to be part of the works and the charitable acts typically involve either in-the-moment services or goods to address immediate needs or fixed-long term assets usually managed under strict guidelines and localized in communities. Examples of the former are food, medicines and medical care, the latter might be hospitals, schools, clean wells or power facilities. Transparency in many cases serves to encourage donors with the expectation that the gifts will be used for good, non-profit purposes.

With translation, the picture is a little different. The work donated to TwB not only covers short-term needs and frees up funds to pay for administration, information technology services and other more professional, compensation-worthy needs, it comprises long-term intangible (language) assets which are not localized to the charity recipients but which can be stored, replicated and perhaps transferred to commercial applications by its curators, those who control the organization. There is no special legal regime to regulate the use of such assets; translation work which is given today in good faith for disaster relief might tomorrow find its way into the resources for paid pharmaceutical projects ordered from one of the large companies represented on the TwB boards.

In a series of posts to follow, I'll examine some of the issues and ethical questions raised this year in Athens with regard to Translators Without Borders, so you can decide for yourselves cui bono?


The second post in this series is here.

The third post in the series, with details of the ACCEPT project, is here.

Oct 20, 2014

Seven days of gratitude, day seven: free will

The choice of subject for the last post reflecting on things for which I am grateful was delayed by what my German friends sometimes call die Qual der Wahl, the agony of choice. As I grumble my way through the daily routine, feel the sore muscles from last Saturday's hunt with the dogs in the mountainous terrain of an enormous Eucalyptus forest plantation and the mild indigestion burn from one too many spicy calzones for lunch I am not particularly conscious of gratitude. What I do notice, however, is a relaxed optimism about a very unknown future in a country and a culture that will take me several decades at least to understand in the depth I wish to. There are days when the decision to leave Germany might seem as daft as some of my German friends considered it, particularly on days when I have to have anything to do with monolingual medical office personnel in Évora, who do not understand that faster repetition of what I did not understand the first time will not lead to quicker understanding. There are more than a few things missing in my present life, which I used to take for granted; sometimes hot water for washing and fire for cooking are among them when I fail to understand the trick for connecting a new tank of butane to supply my water heater and stove. But although friends in the UK and elsewhere have often expressed great admiration for the quality of public utilities, water pressure and bathroom fixtures in Germany, I find less satisfaction in these than in the feeling that I am among reasonable people of good will who treat others with good, basic respect. If the state of household technology is sometimes not much above that of a primitive campsite, at least I am camping with people I would be pleased to call friends.

Coming to Portugal was a choice. A good one I think; many of the choices in my life have certainly been less good or at least less satisfying, but they were mine to make, and I am grateful for the control over my own life which enables me to make a very wide range of choices and act on them. One of the greatest difficulties I have with German, Germany and German cultures comes down to a single word: muß. Or "muss" after the not-so-new spelling reform. Must. Some days it seems to be part of every spoken sentence in that language. When I used to hear that word too much, sometimes I would reply acidly that to live I must breathe, eat and drink, and some day I must die. Everything else is optional. Until they go abroad for a while or make the acquaintance of many people from other cultures, a great number of Germans seemed to feel that there was really only one way to do anything. Former neighbors of mine in rural Brandenburg certainly felt that way about feeding chickens, a task which must occur on a regular schedule at specific times of the day and always include boiled potatoes. Without those potatoes the best quality poultry feed will fail to meet a chicken's fundamental nutritional requirements.

I think it's a sad life for those who feel their choices are determined by others. Made with the finest cloth and decorated with masterful embroidery, a straightjacket is still an article of clothing of no good use to one wearing it with a healthy mind. The sick, crazy ones may indeed derive benefits from the straightjacket of social or political convention, but I prefer to let my own free will make the final decision after evaluating the consequences of action by my own standards.

Even in risk-averse cultures like that found in Germany, there is some acknowledgement that success often has many failures as its prerequisite, and many failures - or success - require many choices.

I am also grateful to have lived my life in political environments where the consequence of my choices are generally less critical than they might be more repressive, less stable parts of the world. But in these places the ones who often sacrifice themselves for things that I and my readers take for granted probably have a deeper understanding of why the exercise and defense of their rights of free choice are so important, perhaps more important than their lives.

As a freelance translator I have opportunities to exercise my free will with great scope in business, market my services or not and pursue my own visions of service and quality. And when the nattering nabobs of false positivism tell me I should be grateful for the chance to use Vaseline in my business relations with Linguistic Sausage Producers (LSPs), I gratefully exercise my free will and ignore this stupid advice and choose to associate myself with other service providers instead. You can choose to do the same, and I hope you do.

This is the last day of my written reflections of gratitude for the many blessings in a sometimes subjectively difficult life. I am grateful to my friend Teresa, a young veterinary behaviorist and fellow dog trainer, for the challenge to take the time to think in a more structured way about what constitutes the real wealth in my life. In the time I have lived in Portugal, becoming ever less a stranger in a strange land and more one discovering a heart's home, she and other friends have provided many occasions for such reflection. And in a poor region of the country, in an economically distressed city where I have often seen people dumpster diving for food or making complex life compromises to survive, much less thrive, I am often comforted by observing how Portuguese people respect their rights of choice and choose to live.

So on this seventh and last day of gratitude I choose to express mine for free will. Because I can.


Day One – Teachers
Day Two – Storytellers
Day Three – This Old Frying Pan
Day Four – Dogs
Day Five – Dissidents
Day Six – Hands

Oct 17, 2014

Seven days of gratitude, day six: hands

By Sardaka (talk) 09:54, 10 September 2008 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Aboriginal hand stencils in Red Hands Cave, Australia
The sixth day post in this series was delayed by a day as my attention was absorbed by medical tests of the nerve responses in my hands. Many translators have chronic issues with strain injuries in their hands; although I complain a lot about mine, they do not even approach the misery of experience for some colleagues I know. I also cannot say that my hand troubles are due to my work as a translator, because they predate my current choice of profession by many years.

I take too many things for granted, things that seem small, not so important, until something goes wrong with them. I never gave my left thumb much thought until I cut it off one day when a donkey nudged my shoulder to remind me that she wanted some of the zucchini I was free-hand slicing for my sheep. After it was sewn back on I remember needing assistance buttoning my shirt and performing other minor tasks, but as the nerves slowly regrew in the years after and the numb sensation subsided into something approaching normality I forgot the experience.

My health classes in school covered a lot of subjects, among them the need for exercise, good nutrition (the definition of which keeps changing, but an experiment with rats in the sixth grade showed me clearly that man should not live by cornflakes alone), how metabolism works and how not to get syphilis, but I don't remember any discussion of occupational health and the need to protect our bodies from the consequences of work. Later safety instruction in the laboratories where I studied and worked emphasized short-term protection against accidents, such as chemical spills, sprays and gas releases, but ergonomics were never really a topic. I hope that has changed now.

As readers of this blog know, I have many disagreements with the promoters of machine pseudo-translation and especially with those pushing HAMPsTr processes. Aside from the fact that I cannot abide profiteering liars who overpromise and underdeliver with a technology that will never live up to its sales pitch except on the broken backs of the disposable human labor assigned to cover up the inadequacy of six- or seven-figure engineering investments, I am mostly concerned with the physical and psychological consequences of disastrous work ergonomics in the post-editing of machine pseudo-translation. Time and again I have presented data to show how dictation processes routinely far exceed the best productivity currently claimed for trained post-editors on optimized machine pseudo-translation systems. Some MpT researchers like John Moran are aware of these productivity issues and helpfully point out that there are ways in which these different technologies can be usefully brought together (by the use of speech recognition to reduce strain injuries for keyboard-using post-editors, for example), but so far I see little willingness on the part of capital investors to invest in human health protection as long as custom and the law allow cheap laboring humans to be tossed like coal and wood scrap into the furnaces that fire their profit engines.

I feel a little sick sometimes when I read discussions of speech recognition for translation which emphasize possibly greater speed of production. I've started a few of these, and my little video demos on YouTube which show some rather impressive translating throughput in three-minute tests certainly promote that topic of discussion. But the best value in this alternative or complementary technology to the keyboard is the potential for improved digital health... the "digital" in this case referring to the digits on one's hands.

When that digital health is degraded to the point that holding a small dictaphone up to catch some important words from a conference speaker becomes unbearably painful after a few minutes, it is easy to focus on the disability and the disadvantages of it. These can be fixed or not, by therapy, surgery or perhaps even time. But what I cannot forget is how lucky I am to have these numbed hands, and while they do not always do my bidding, they do enough. I have met people who have lost their hands or parts of them in accidents or have been born without them, and while I would of course adjust to the loss of mine, I am grateful that this is not my present need.

When I was 15 I had an experience that I remember often when facing some incapacity. I lost my sight. For a week I was blinded after an accident with a hot nitrating mixture in the lab ate my face and sealed my eyes in the swelling of burns. I accepted quickly that my sight was lost, there was nothing to be done about it after the 3:1 concentrated sulfuric and nitric acid mix did its work. I sat in bed for most of the Easter holiday, listening to the television and wondering how I would go about learning to read Braille. Somewhat uncharacteristically, I wasn't thinking all that much about what had been lost, but when, after a week, the seal on one eye dissolved, fluid ran down my face and I saw light - just a little and nothing in focus, I felt a gratitude that I will never forget for that gift of limited sight.

And so, whether they serve me well or with difficulty, I am grateful for my hands, which serve me well enough and which I hope will always have enough strength and dexterity to serve others in some useful way.


Day One – Teachers
Day Two – Storytellers
Day Three – This Old Frying Pan
Day Four – Dogs
Day Five – Dissidents
Day Seven – Free Will

Oct 15, 2014

Seven days of gratitude, day five: dissidents

The recording of Glenn Greenwald's TED talk is about one of the most important issues of our day: privacy. That some fail to acknowledge this as a problem in today's society is an indication of how much the assault on privacy and the erosion of social norms has made the abnormal state of things seem acceptable to many, though as Glenn points out, the actions of privacy deniers stand in stark contrast to their words. Many people, translators among them, have been victims of identity theft (I have been myself at least twice that I am aware of), and this problem, too, is intimately linked to modern problems of privacy.

So when an individual stands up to the surveillance state and lays bare its lies about the extreme degree top which the modern infrastructure of our networked society has destroyed our privacy, requiring from us what some would consider extreme measures to hold any part of it out of the jaws of ravenous government "curiosity" and commercial advertising greed, one might think that some would be grateful for that individual's actions, which might involve no little personal risk. Some call Snowden a hero, as I do; some are less generous in their assessment. But I am grateful that he took a stand and upended his life in dissent against a government gone far out of control, reaching far, far beyond its legal powers simply because it can.

This morning I read about students missing in protests in Mexico; apparently their bodies were not in mass graves which were discovered. This time. But this reminded me of students and other people butchered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and others shot years before at Kent State University in Ohio in the USA and others in so many other places. What would our world be like if nobody had the courage to take a stand and risk everything for something of which the majority might even disapprove?

As a child, I listened to a neighbor describe the wars (the best word I can think of for the conflicts) which accompanied the unionization of coal mines in the part of the US Midwest where he had spent his youth. And when I asked my grandfather about the crazy tale of the Bonus Army I heard on the radio one evening, taking it for some sort of fiction because I had never heard of the protest and the massacre in my history courses in school or college, he confirmed that it was all real and related his experience in the army of that time and the contempt he had for MacArthur and Eisenhower for their part in suppressing the protesting families.

Confrontation between Bonus Army protesters and police in Washington D.C.
History is full of examples of individuals and groups who have expressed their dissent in many ways, sometimes with success, sometimes ending in disaster, with few sure predictors of the outcome being clear in the early days. I cannot call all forms of dissent good and I struggle to find legitimacy in any form which advocates violence. I am particularly grateful for the many examples of courage under duress by those who choose non-violent forms of dissent. These are, in my opinion, one of the bet health checks on the political system of any country which aspires to just or even democratic rule.

In the language services professions we also have opportunities which call for dissent from the wisdom offered by certain commercial interests. This dissent does not, of course, entail the great risks of many political or economic dissents in the world, but given the carefully coordinated way in which those who profit from abusive practices sometimes direct their campaigns against those who oppose them, with largely transparent divide and conquer tactics which sow fear, uncertainty and doubt and turn one colleague against another, following a script which was written in the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, standing up for good sense, good work hygiene and normal, respectful business relations in language services is not entirely without risk.

I am not really sure if "dissident" is the right word to use, when really what I mean are those who will take a principled, non-violent stand against something perceived as wrong and, being aware of the possible cost of opposition, choose to do what they feel to be right. There is a wide spectrum of courage, and I think that many, once they find themselves somewhere on that spectrum, may find greater courage as and when it is called for. There is a line which has stayed with me for many years in a song by East German dissident songwriter Bettina Wegner: “Grade, klare Menschen wären ein schönes Ziel, Leute ohne Rückrat ham wir schon zuviel”. Be the one who stands straight, with backbone and a clear mind.


Day One – Teachers
Day Two – Storytellers
Day Three – This Old Frying Pan
Day Four – Dogs
Day Six – Hands
Day Seven – Free Will