Jun 22, 2014

Translation on tap(ioca)

In last autumn's technotwit gathering in Portland, Oregon, TAUS proposed that translation is becoming a utility. In their world I suppose that may be true, perhaps in their world the translation bill will be an addendum to the one for water, electricity or garbage services, because as many of us know, in certain circles, Arbeit macht frei is still common wisdom. For some, that is A Phrase Which Must Not Be Spoken, but I think we all owe it to those who have been involuntarily subject to such freedom in the past to consider its implications in the present. For many of us, translation work can become an obsession, an easy fix for many things which quickly hooks and enslaves us worse than many a coca habit. And the Brave New Future of Translation envisioned by our technocrats is merely a new instance of that opiate religion, used like so many others in the past to win hearts and minds for the habit and exact a terrible tribute from most for the benefit of a few to feed their own ravenous, rapacious habits. There is no honor among thieves. Ye shall reap what ye sow.

It is rumored that the Unholy Alliance of the Common Nonsense Advisory, TAUS, the corporates who control the ATA and ensure that its Code of Ethics does not offend the offenders, thepigturd, and other usual suspects have a secret join venture to develop a revolutionary new line of juicers based on HAMPsTr processes and their proven ability to squeeze more blood from stones.

There is some controversy involving the ganz besonderer Saft which the bleeders of the translation crave from their hamsters. Juice itself is often controversial without MpT promises of drudging survival, and we must, for the sake of our health, take care with our levels of its consumption. As a rule, fruit is a better alternative to the juices made from it; the fiber and other elements lost when the squeeze is applied can help maintain our health in times of tribulation. 

I prefer my fruit with pudding, sweet and smooth, but please, without sugar. Being the Anti-Vegan of Translation, I also try to keep bees enslaved and buzzing for my benefit, so after those amazing, negative calorie Alentejan feasts, I replenish my energies with something good like this perfect tapioca preparation:

1/3 cup small tapioca 
3 cups milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Fresh fruit as garnish (strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, whatever)

  1. Let tapioca soak overnight in 1 cup milk and the lemon zest in a medium pot in the fridge
  2. Then next day, whisk in the rest of the milk, egg yolk, salt, vanilla and honey, and salt. 
  3. Bring the pot slowly to a boil on low to medium, stir to avoid scorching.
  4. When it boils, put heat on low and simmer for 15 minutes with frequent stirring.
  5. Remove from heat, cool for at least 10+ minutes, add fruit garnish and serve hot or chilled.

Coming clean on dirty machine translation

Click the tweet shot to decode his babble

Well, well. I started to dream in Portuguese two nights ago, and it happened again tonight in a dream where I discussed the sentimental value of some old items on their way to another life or recycling. One of these was the first color computer I bought and why; no idea why I should be telling my daughter all these things in Portuguese. I'm supposed to write a letter in English to minha noiva and have it translated into Portuguese by a friend to be sure that no meaning is lost, because I'm too far from mastering all but the most primitive grammar. I think maybe instead I had better just do it in the language in which it will be received, and message will come through as well or better than any translation, though certainly it will be checked. Maybe not. We'll see.

I responded to the incessant, poisonous spew of Luigi Muzii (@ilbarbaro) on Twitter last night, because the little puffed toad obnoxiously insists on croaking nonsense in debates (mostly with himself) which the dim bulb of his mind can never illuminate, and he does so in a tortured, incomprehensible and of course incorrect English which leaves readers I know unimpressed and utterly baffled, which has made him a frequent poster child for nonsense examples at conference presentations and which has convinced some that the man knows no English at all and merely machine translates his disordered thoughts from Italian.

Communication is seldom about the correctness of language or the degree of its mastery. Certainly it can be useful for some of us to command the subtleties of grammar, and I'm one of the guilty who enjoy that fine edge to carve patterns which will sometimes be appreciated by almost none. But sometimes the most eloquent expression can be in the most broken speech, supplemented by tone and gesture and scribbles on paper, signs in the air. And the howls of a dog. I realized this last night as I sat at a table with my Portuguese tutor and one of her many nephews, telling and understanding jokes and completely at ease in their language and culture in our negotiated register, where two weeks before I could do little more than say my dog doesn't bite, order 200 or 300 grams of anything at a butcher's counter (pointing at the item) or perhaps get half a dozen eggs, coffee and some pastry. I remember the eloquence of a Greek mechanic who shared tea with me on the floor of his shop years ago and told wonderful, funny stories I understood and laughed at though I knew about five words of his language.

The desire to communicate and to understand in ordinary situations of interaction is often a more effective facilitator than technical skill. Sometimes a friend and/or colleague will call my attention with some outrage to a web page or a message with "horrible" errors and I look and see none, only fluid expressions of thought and meaning or at least a fit-for-purpose text. A computer program has no motivation, no matter how great the motivation of its creator. It can have adaptive, event-based routines, but these are seldom adaptive in the way we know for the least of human minds. The messaging of machine pseudo-translation profiteers and their snake oil sidekicks pushing a fix of crowdsourcing, rightsourcing and workflow is quite adaptive to hide the static concepts and rotten nature of the repackaged Gammelfleisch they sell in pretty packages to hungry cost-cutters.

The MpT talking heads, Friend Muzii among them, have turned up the volume of their megaphone marketing lately, offering HAMPsTr'd hope to translation buyers that the lapis philosophorum sold by language carnival barkers can transform merda to gold with just the right six- or seven-figure engineering investment and straightjacketed expression we call controlled language. They babble and bark of so-called professionals who are "scared" but it is those unprofessional and MpT charlatans who are running scared at the thought that, like with the naked emperor in the story, their glorious equipment will be revealed to all and found to be of more limited use and interest than most might imagine.

I use machine pseudo-translation (MpT) every day, effectively, to aid in many critical tasks, and I see great value for it in its proper place. But what is that? Certainly not what the greedy HAMPsTr'izers say it is as they seek fresh mental sacrifices for their unholy altar. I believe there are a number of excellent, honest and profitable applications for MpT processes, and I know some translation agency principals and others who profit clearly and honestly from them, and I can find few points of disagreement with these people. But they are also not the more prominent Jungle Book characters on the international scene singing sweetly "Trust in me...."

Come to the IAPTI conference in Athens this September and hear my confession of how MpT technology has worked for me. Or better yet, go to Athens, skip the conference, get drunk on ouzo and tell the natives how much better their lives will be thanks to the transformative powers of MpT.

Please note: no underage girls were anesthetized and abused in the making of this blog post about the technologies and advocates of the bulk market bog (BMB)!

Jun 21, 2014

When life gives you dogs, make lemonade!

Ajax (right) and his bodyguard
For many freelance translators working long hours alone, the companionship of animals is an indispensable part of working life. My two - Csővárberki Jámbor and Ajax vom Bernsteinsee - remind me that it's time to stop working, take breaks and do more important things like search for empty cigarette cartons and beer bottles in the park. Or take a day at the beach as in the photo above when little Jámbor decided to take on the Rhodesian Ridgeback which had just bitten through the steel chain collar of his mentor in a failed assassination attempt. Life is always interesting with those two.

Animals can also assist us in our daily chores. At my home in Portugal, I have trouble cleaning up all the oranges and lemons which fall in my back yard, so the dogs stay alert, and when they hear the sound of fruit dropping it is quickly retrieved and presented to me. This means a lot of breaks. At the moment the oranges are done, but quite a few lemons still fall. And my hunter-pointer-retrievers ensure that they do not simply lie and rot.

At the moment the bag of lemons on my kitchen floor probably weighs 10 kilos (22 US pounds) and I thought "oh God, what am I going to do with all of these???". But on hot Alentejo days and nights when the translation and language lessons require frequent replenishment of fluids and electrolytes, the answer is easy. When life gives you a home and dogs like these, make lemonade. Here's the recipe that has sustained me lately:
1 cup honey
3 cups boiling water
2 cups fresh lemon juice
Ice cubes (preferably lemon or orange juice cubes)
Pour boiling water over the honey in a pot or jug and stir util the solution is complete. Add the lemon juice. Cool (or store chilled in the fridge) and serve over ice. 
If work gets really hard you might need some cookies to go with the lemonade.

Jun 19, 2014

IAPTI 2nd International Conference in Athens!

Photo by Aaron Logan (LIGHTmatter Photography) used under the Creative Commons License
Registration is now open for the second international conference of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) to be held on September 20 and 21 this year in Athens, Greece at the beautiful Electra Palace Hotel Athens (Plaka) under the lights of the Acropolis. Further details on the schedule and speakers will be published soon, but places in the event hotel are already growing scarce, so you might want to register soon at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/2nd-iapti-international-conference-tickets-8549360367.

I will be speaking at the event in a talk titled "Confessions of an American MpT User" in which, among other things, I come clean about how Google Translate has improved my life.

Cookies for the Portuguese

It all began with cookies, of course. Snickerdoodles more precisely. Then things became a soft jumble,

and chocolate chip followed with all its kinky variations.

The language lessons that began baking these cookies acquired a greater dimension, and about four days later I could converse ungrammatically but well enough with my neighbors. After a week, as she would respond to her friends who directed a stream of Portuguese at me like a firehose I kept my feet as the language soaked in and I responded in kind to her sometime surprise.

I woke and saw that the language lesson planned to greet the dawn that morning would be late. I walked carefully down the stairs, alert for cockroaches underfoot, and went to the freezer where I kept the latest batch for learning. Then a walk with the dogs and return, the door was slightly ajar and they got out again.

I searched quickly for my shoes, but then I saw that Ajax and Jambor had come back from a quick tour. No harm done.

Then I noticed the two kittens from my Portuguese tutor's litter. They had slipped in behind my dogs to visit the youngest, Jambor.

"Gostaria muito de um cigarro!"
Ajax, the cat killer, noticed then and prepared to attack.

Não!!! I screamed. Bei Fuß!
And reluctantly he came to heel as the kittens danced on the carpet with the other dog. I held the trained hunter, whose breeder and Serbian criminal who had added his Feinschliff in training had used cats to motivate Ajax to learn and obtain the coveted German Härtenachweis. I was suddenly overcome with great weariness. I fought against it, but like a castle's  great, heavy portcullis, they slammed down as I saw the kittens scamper ever closer to the waiting jaws of doom. I held desperately to the leash, but my stress-strained fingers grew numb and I fought harder to hold on, to remain conscious and in control, prevent the tragedy of the CRUNCH I heard in my sleep-dampened ears and the shake of the kill I felt in my numbing arm which held the leash.

Não!!I tried to scream again but if sound escaped my lips I could not hear it and the horror, the horror of the kill gripped like Grendel's claws on my dying heart as it was torn from my chest and I too must die no way to go back undo what was done. (The Dream)

(The Real Kill) I said good night to Sandra or rather bom dia, ate ja as she slipped out the door to fetch meds and return for another intensive Portuguese lesson. I turn at the door and saw the mother of her kittens in my living room behind me I screamed
Não!!! as Ajax noticed Jámbor dancing toward her to play, though an enemy to her always hopeful Jámbor that the cats he loves would come to play more than the occasional game of chase.
Bei Fuß!
I called and Ajax came quickly to heel bom cão and watched with interest as the queen escaped. Out the back. Out of sight. And over the back wall. Into the waiting jaws of three killers who tore her apart.

So as you try these recipes, remember that the cookies have blood on them. I am forgiven, I suppose, because after another week of lessons on a walk with the dogs at the end of a difficult day, my worse day in translation, so bad that I lost it completely, screamed out of control at the client, threw away the month's rent and food, then cut off the call, I thought the day must end otherwise so I asked her to marry she said Yes though I could not understand that single word.

Snickerdoodles (bolos de canela e açúcar)

2 3/4 cups [350 g] all-purpose flour (farinha de trigo)
1 1/2 cups [300 g] sugar (açúcar)
1 cup [250 g] butter, softened (manteiga)
2 eggs (ovos)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar (creme de tártaro / bitartarato de potássio)
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonato de sódio)
1 teaspoon vanilla (baunilha)
1/4 teaspoon salt (sal)
Sugar/Cinnamon Mixture
4 parts granulated sugar one part ground cinnamon (about 5 tablespoons total)
Heat oven to 400 °F [205 °C]. Combine all cookie ingredients in large bowl. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.
Stir together about 4 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in small bowl.
Shape dough into small balls (1"/2.5 cm); roll in sugar mixture. Place 2 inches (5 cm) apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Soft Jumbles
A simple drop batter; the finished cookie has a bit of a sponge cake consistency.

1.5 cups sugar (white, granulated)
3.5 cups white flour (low gluten)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
8 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 heaping tsp lemon zest
Beat the eggs, oil, sour cream and flavoring with the sugar, then sift in the flour, baking soda and salt. Mix by hand or on low power. Drop with two spoons on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with a bit of sugar or perhaps a sugar/cinnamon mix or top with a nut or raisin and bake.
In a convection oven these will take about 8 minutes at 300 °F, in a radiant oven 10 to 12 minutes at 325 °F (about 160 °C).
The flavor of the cookies develops best after they have cooled; they really don't taste like much when they are hot.

Chocolate chip cookies
(or in this case, “chipped chocolate cookies”)

100 g brown sugar (açúcar mascavado)
125 g unsalted butter (manteiga sem sal)
1 egg (um ovo)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (2 colher de chá de extracto de baunilha)
½ teaspoon salt (½ colher de chá de sal)
½ teaspoon baking soda (½ colher de chá de bicarbonato de sódio)
225 g self-rising flour (farinha de trigo com fermento)
200 g chocolate

Cream the sugar and butter together, then add the vanilla and egg.
Sift in the salt, baking soda and flour, mixing at low power.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces, then mix in by hand or with the mixer at low power.

Using two spoons, drop the dough in small clumps onto the baking sheet, pressing the dough down slightly (if it is stiff) to ensure that it will spread and bake properly.

Pre-heat the oven to 350-400 °F (175-200 °C) and bake 7-10 minutes more or less. Watch the first few sheets of cookies carefully, and adjust the temperature and time for the conditions of your oven, avoid burning the bottoms of the cookies.
The cookies taste best when cool and freeze nicely for a long time.

“Double chocolate chip cookies” can be made by replacing 50 g of the flour by 75 g of chocolate powder. The procedure is otherwise the same.

Jun 17, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way to learning Portuguese....

When I first moved to Portugal, I stayed in one of the better parts of town, a suburb with some rather good fields and hills to walk my dogs and a lot of nice people with whom I have some things in common. I had been greatly worried by the dire warnings of German friends about what a tick-infested, dangerous place the Med countries are for pets, and how there is naught to be done. The first part is true of almost any country these days, but usually the local vets have a good understanding of how to prevent and treat local pet diseases, and just one day after my arrival I was fortunate to meet a vet in the park across from my house who gave me exactly the advice I needed and took me on a whirlwind tour of the local Neolithic archaeology sites. Can't imagine a better start for me in a new place, really.

But the house there was only available for a month, and the back yard was not well suited to containing my Deutsch Drahthaar, a hunting companion who is a sweetheart with people who likes to jump over 2 meter fences, go on tour and bring back cats as souvenirs. So I went on to another place closer to the university in the historic center of Évora. The back yard was as dog-tight as a maximum security kennel could be with walls and fences at least 5 meters high. But a black cat still managed to drop by as an impromptu snack. His bad luck in this case. The cactus which decorated the edges of the yard also meant a few difficult sessions extracting spines from the bodies of two robust dogs who like to knock each other around rather hard in play. And after the Drahthaar went sailing out a second story window to express his love to the serenading tomcat below and landed a bit hard on the cobblestones I figured it was time to move on.

One of the other problems with the first two addresses was that the neighborhoods presented too many opportunities to speak English or, occasionally, German. If the majority of people I encountered every day were not university educated with a reasonable command of one of the languages I mastered there was usually someone nearby who could serve as social methadone for someone with a lazy addiction to using the wrong language in the right place.

So I moved to the part of town where the other form of methadone is more commonly found. A place where for the first two months the only ones I met with much command of English at all were the local drug dealer and a housekeeper I knew from my favorite hotel, who is also the neighborhood's bootlegger. Aguardente caseira was quickly added to my vocabulary and kitchen shelf. German is not an option here; when the local crime lord introduced himself at the neighborhood's revolution party (celebrating the ouster of Salazar in 1974 and the political reforms which remain incomplete) he was so amused by the fact that I claimed to know the language that he called up one of the addicts who buy from him (an orderly at the local hospital if I understood correctly and a German refugee) and asked me to talk to him and confirm that I really could speak the language.

On several occasions I have had the the opportunity to use the phrase não sou alemão!!! to sooth social tensions which persist here despite the best attempts of German banks to drain the country's sometimes too-hot blood. And using the phrase with my private Portuguese tutor's mother last week transformed me in short order from persona non grata and an object of some dark speculation on a street populated by siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles to a likeable eccentric and for all I know possibly a candidate for legal induction into the family. (My Portuguese isn't quite up to the level of understanding this point, and sometimes it's better not to try.)

The recent brainstorm which resulted in The Great American Cookie Project, sharing the theory and practice of snickerdoodles, soft jumbles and every kinky kind of chocolate chip cookie one might imagine, took my crappy command of the local Alentejo dialect from nearly zero - unable to form a sentence most of the time if it involved more than "I'll have a coffee" or "Six eggs, please" - to conversing in pidgin Portuguese for more than 8 hours on many recent days and has done wonders for my physical condition and blood sugar levels. It's also given me a rapidly improving command of the techniques to cook like my local friends do. Cold cut sandwiches with too much cheese, good bye.

Moving to the sort of place my respectable, educated friends warned me to avoid has been a great experience and also shown that the place is far better than its reputation among my peers, knife-wielding tendeiros who want to break bottles over my head for not having cigarettes for them notwithstanding. A quick smile and a question about how much bigger the puny faca was than the fellow's caralho usually suffices to sooth the tensions.

As temperatures rise, tempers can get short as last night's unplanned visit to a local pub to watch the soccer game (Germany versus Portugal at the World Cup in Brazil) proved. It's been ages since I had to practice disarms, and usually that was with sticks or knives. A beer bottle is a new experience for me, as well as the creative variations of puta I learned which were expressed to my patient tutor for keeping company with the German. How many times do I have to that explain to people here that eu não sou alemão? I think there is a rematch of the discussion planned for Thursday, though to be honest I'm not fluent enough to have caught all the details. Maybe I'll be able to explain them on Friday. Let's hope.

Jun 14, 2014

Be Strong. Buy SDL Trados Studio today!

I've been testing the new memoQ 2014, thinking of all the great features I can and probably should describe, even promised to describe when Kilgray kindly gave me and other bloggers early access to a pre-release version. But, alas, I have a soft heart and cannot help but think of the despair SDL stockholders and employees must feel, the anguish of Studio users when the reality of their plight sinks in and they read the latest news about that apostate tool, memoQ, which just works most of the time instead of making you work for it.

The quote above from a long-suffering member of the SDL Trados beta test team is indicative of the emotions and experience of many veteran Trados users, and that colleague and so many others are fleeing to higher ground, hoping to find a place on Kilgray's software ark before the floods of Big, Dirty Data wash over the land and drown the #sdlinnovators as they desperately tease performance from their "vertical MT". And shocking revelations of translation practices in Maidenhead, UK, as reported by a neighbor and reformed SDL employee with a direct view of the SDL parking lot there, have led many to fear the Days of Revelation for memoQ 2014.

And I think of the SDL consultants and translation IT consultants in Germany who were only following orders when they helped their customers implement Across, and the despair they must feel at the thought of the many memoQ trials now being conducted in their country.

I think of all the things I could show and tell about the new project templates and automation in memoQ 2014, and all the hearts and minds that will break at the realization, the weeping and gnashing of teeth over wasted hours, years... and lives in the shadowed margins of struggling existence, gnawing on classic Wordfast crusts.

Workflow interoperability and general ease of use from Kilgray are threatening diversity in translation technology as the flocks of sheeple move to greener software pastures and eat their fill of easier language service provision and take a greater share of profits better devoted to those kinder, gentler providers of linguistic sausage.

So please, gentle people, do your part, show mercy and invest in endangered translation tools, which seek only to take us down that primrose path, paved with good intentions, to relieve the undue burdens of buyers who sacrifice far too much of their capital on the altar of survival for undeserving freelance translators. Support the Smartling crusade, offer your Maidenhead to SDL, keep your head in the XTM cloud as you practice your Fluency for languages, enjoy that nagging sense of Dejà Vu, source your memory and surf the storm-TAUS'd Big Wave and Google in awe at automatic translation on the active commodity market.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "Was dich nicht umbringt macht dich nur stärker" ("what does not kill you only makes you stronger"). Be strong. Don't take the easy way out of Translation Tribulations with memoQ 2014. Get your SDL Trados Studio license here instead.

Jun 13, 2014

A ride in the sun, rough roads and

"So what happened after he climbed up the tower and rescued her? She rescued him right back."

Mobility again at last! With power assistance for cobblestoned hills from Hell.
Got up after an hour and a half sleep, more or less, thought about work and decided instead to explore the bairros a bit before the morning's physical therapy. A sweet ride in the morning sun, past the aqueduct, the hay-harvested fields and ruins to an ATM, where I picked up cash and decided to enjoy pasteis nata and galão at Café Ebora before gymnastics, soothing fingers and hot packs on the knotted web of my back.

Alas, my Portuguese failed me for a simple order of coffee and pastry, where it worked so well for many hours of language private tuition, long chats to end the day and greet the morning sun, bake cookies, drink sangria, whiskey, learn the secrets of sopa de beldroegas and the right brew of bachalhau and spinach in my only pot, discussing facas, tendeiros and their murderous habits, the quality of local schools, the revolution to be finished, coca, heroin, speedballs and methadone, primos, sobrinhas, filhos, putas, baratas, children buying time for their mother to jump out the second story window and escape another beating, and when a knife in the leg can teach a husband to behave before he needs his throat cut. Still, as I sipped coffee (once the misunderstanding was resolved), I reflected on how, after nearly 15 years of living in cold places with too many cold people, Portugal, its bairros and people, their ability to get on with life and live it, their persistent search for another vein in which to inject some hope after all the blood has been drawn by German banks, have restored my will to live.

Jun 4, 2014

OmegaT’s Growing Place in the Language Services Industry

Guest post by John Moran

As both a translator and a software developer, I have much respect for the sophistication of the well-known proprietary standalone CAT tools like memoQ, Trados, DejaVu and Wordfast. I started with Trados 2.0 and have seen it evolve over the years. To greater and lesser extents these software publishers do a reasonable job at remaining interoperable and innovating on behalf of their main customers - us translators. Kudos in particular to Kilgray for using interoperability standards to topple the once mighty Trados from its monopolistic throne and forcing SDL to improve their famously shoddy customer support. Rotten tomatoes to Across for being a non-interoperable island and having a CAT tool that is unpopular with most (but curiously not all) of the freelance translators I work with in Transpiral.

But this piece is about OmegaT. Unlike some of the other participants in the OmegaT project, I became involved with OmegaT for purely selfish reasons. I am currently in the hopefully final stage of a Ph.D. in computer science with an Irish research institute called the Centre for Next Generation Localisation (www.cngl.ie). I wanted to gather activity data from translators working in a CAT tool for my research in a manner similar to a translation process research tool called TransLog. My first thought was to do this in Trados as that was the tool I knew best as a translator but Trados’ Application Programming Interface did not let me communicate with the editor.

Thus, I was forced to look for an open-source CAT tool. After looking at a few alternatives like the excellent Virtaal editor and a really buggy Japanese one called Benten I decided on OmegaT. 

Aside from the fact that it was programmed in Java, a language I have worked with for about ten years as a freelancer programmer, it had most of the features I was used to working with in Trados.  I felt it must be reliable if translators are downloading it 4000 times every month. That was in 2010. Four years later that number is about to reach 10,000. Even if most of those downloads are updates, it should be a worrying trend for the proprietary CAT tools. Considering SDL report having 135,000 paid Trados licenses in total - that is a significant number.

Having downloaded the code, I added a logging feature to it called instrumentation (the “i” in iOmegaT) and programmed a small replayer prototype. Imagine pressing a record button in Trados and later replaying the mechanical act of crafting the translation as a video, character-by-character or segment-by-segment, and you will get the picture. So far we use the XML it generates mainly to measure the impact of machine translation on translation speed relative to not having MT. Funnily enough, when I developed it I assumed it would show me that MT was bunk. I was wrong. It can aid productivity, and my bias was caused by the fact that I had never worked with useful trained MT. My dreams of standing ovations at translator association meetings turned to dust.

If I can’t beat MT I might as well join it. About a year and a half ago, using a government research commercialization feasibility grant, I was joined by my friend Christian Saam on the iOmegaT project. We studied computational linguistics in Ireland and Germany on opposite sides of an Erasmus exchange programme, so we share a deep interest in language technology and a common vocabulary. We set about turning the software I developed in collaboration with Welocalize into a commercial data analysis application for large companies that use MT to reduce their translation costs.

However, MT post-editing is just one use case. We hope to be able to use the same technique to measure the impact of predictive typing and Automatic Speech Recognition on translators. I believe these technologies are more interesting to most translators as they impose less on word order.

At this point I should point out that CNGL is a really big research project with over 150 paid  researchers in areas like speech and language technology. Localization is big business in Ireland. My idea is to funnel less commercially sensitive translator user activity data securely, legally, transparently and, in most cases anonymously from translators using instrumented CAT tools into a research environment to develop and, most importantly, test algorithms to help improve translation productivity. Someone once called it telemetry for offline CAT tools. My hope is that though translation companies take NDAs very seriously, it is also a fact that many modern content types like User Generated Content and technical support responses appear on websites almost as soon as they are written in the source language, so a controlled but automated data flow may be feasible. In the future it may also be possible to test algorithms for technologies like predictive typing without uploading any linguistic data from a working translator’s PC. Our bet is that researchers are data-tropic. If we build it they will come.

We have good cause to be optimistic. Welocalize, our industrial partner, is an enlightened kind of large translation company. They have a tendency to want to break down the walls of walled gardens. Many companies don’t trust anything that is free, but they know the dynamics of open-source. They had developed a complex but powerful open-source translation memory system called GlobalSight, and its timing was precipitous.

It was released around the same time SDL announced they were mothballing their newly acquired Idiom WorldServer systemtheir system to replace it with the newly acquired Idiom WorldServer (now SDL WorldServer). This panicked a number of corporate translation buyers, who suddenly realized how deeply networked their translation department was via its web services and how strategically important the SDL TMS system was. As the song goes, "you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone" – or, in this case, nearly gone.

SDL ultimately reversed the decision to mothball TMS WorldServer and began to reinvest in its development, but that came too late for many some corporates who migrated en-masse to GlobalSight. It is now one of the most implemented translation management systems in the world in technology companies and Fortune 500’s. A lot of people think open-source is for hippies, but for large companies open-source can be an easy sell. They can afford engineering support, department managers won’t be caught with their pants down if the company doing the development ceases to exist, and most importantly their reliance on SDL’s famously expensive professional services division is reduced to zero. If they need a new web-service, they can program it themselves. GlobalSight is now used in many companies who are both customers of Welocalize and companies like Intel who are not. Across should pay heed. At a C-Suite level corporates don’t like risk.

However, GlobalSight had a weakness. Unlike Idiom WorldServer it didn’t have its own free CAT tool. Translators had a choice of download formats and could use Trados but Trados licenses are expensive and many translators are slow to upgrade. Smart big companies like to have as much technical control of their supply-chain as possible so Welocalize were on the lookout for a good open-source CAT tool. OpenTM2 was a runner for a while but it proved unsuitable. In 2012 they began an integration effort to make OmegaT compatible with GlobalSight. When I worked with Welocalize as an intern I saw wireframes for an XLIFF editor on the wall but work had not yet started. Armed with data from our productivity tests and Didier Briel, the OmegaT project manager, who was in Dublin to give a talk on OmegaT, I made the case for integrating OmegaT with GlobalSight. It was a lucky guess. Two years later it works smoothly and both applications benefit from each other.

What did I have to gain from this? Data.

So why this blog? Next week I plan to present our instrumentation work at the LocWorld tradeshow and I want Kilgray to pay heed. OmegaT is a threat to their memoQ Translator Pro sales and that threat is not going to reduce with time. Christian and I have implemented a sexy prototype of a two-column working grid, and we can do the same trick importing SDL packages with OmegaT as they do with memoQ. Other large LSPs are beginning to take note of OmegaT and GlobalSight.

However, I am a fan of memoQ, and even though the poison pill has been watered down to homeopathic levels, I also like Kilgray’s style. The translator community has nothing to gain if a developer of a good CAT tool suffers poor sales. This reduces manpower for new and innovative features. Segment-level A/B testing using time data is a neat trick. The recent editing time feature is a step in the right direction, but it could be so much better. The problem is that CAT tools waste inordinate amounts of translator time, and the recent trend towards CAT tools connected to servers makes that even worse. Slow servers that are based on request-response protocols instead of synchronization protocols, slow fuzzy matches, bad MT, bad predictive typing suggestions, hours wasted fixing automatic QA to catch a few double spaces. These are the problems I want to see fixed using instrumentation and independent reporting.

So here is my point in the second person singular. Kilgray – I know you read this blog. Listen! Implement instrumentation and support it as a standard. You can use the web platform Language Terminal to report on the data or do it in memoQ directly. On our side, we plan to implement an offline application and web-application that lets translators analyse that data by manually importing it so they can see exactly how much they earn per hour for each client in any CAT tools that implement that standard. €10 says Trados will be last. A wise man once said you get the behavior you incentivize, and the per-word pricing model incentivizes agencies to not give a damn about how much a translator earns per hour. The important thing is to keep the choice about sharing translation speed data with the translator but let them share it with clients if they want to.  Web-based CAT tools don’t give them that choice, so play to your strengths. Instrumentation is a powerful form of telemetry and software QA.

So to summarize: OmegaT’s place in the language services industry is to keep proprietary CAT tool publishers on their toes!


See also the CNGL interview with Mr. Moran....