Jul 21, 2014

Even more cookies for the Portuguese

Diabetes seems to be a rather common affliction in Portugal, which is no great wonder given the sweet tooth so many people here have. This is expressed in a great variety of cookies one finds offered in markets of every kind, most of which are quite different from the cookies familiar to me in the American and German baking traditions. As I have made batch after batch of American cookies for my friends and neighbors in Portugal, I've had a little nagging sense of guilt at what damage I might be doing contributing to their diabetic state, but the thought that cutting down their consumption of cerveja to, perhaps, a dozen bottles a day might also help with the diabetes does assuage my guilt somewhat so I can keep the grandchildren in my neighborhood supplied with a better fix than some offer in Bairro da Câmara.

Sourcing ingredients is often difficult here, partly because I'm still learning the local names of things but also because many things are simply not available. Take sheep butter, for example. As far as I know, it's only found around here at Intermarche, and the other day it was sold out, so I had to settle for goat butter. Life can be rough. If you want something really exotic like chocolate chips or cream of tartar, you just have to substitute creatively. I do a lot of that. And because I'm in Portugal, it never hurts to add garlic. It adds a new dimension to Spätzle, Portuguese-style for example.

It's actually hard to get the sugars I want here in the heart of the country. White granulated sugar? No problem, though I prefer its common yellow cousin here. But the darker stuff, açúcar moreno, isn't so easy, particularly if you like it really dark. So when I discovered a bag of deep brown sugar with a satisfying molasses whiff to it, I was delighted and snatched it up for the next batch of cookies. These were good, but turned out to be a little strange.

Not that sweet, really. Since I had tweaked other things in what was once a chocolate chip cookie recipe (goat butter, whole wheat flour, Toblerone dark chocolate bars with almond nougat), I dumbed down the other stuff and just tweaked the sugar. These cookies were even better, but still not overpoweringly sweet, then I noticed that the package bore the words "brown rice sugar". For real. I thought it was a translation error, but there really is a sugar substitute made from brown rice. And it's not bad. So I offer you this variation on the new trending cookie of Évora, chipped chocolate:
100 g brown rice sugar
125 g (
½ cup) butter (cow, goat, sheep - do what thou wilt)
Cream these together, then add
1 egg
1 tablespoon amèndoa amarga (I was out of vanilla extract)
2 teaspoons orange zest (this is the killer cookie ingredient)
Whip it some more, then add
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
225 grams flour (usually wheat of some kind, but if the spirit moves you, substitute rye, corn or oat flour as much as you like)
Mix until all the flour is evenly distributed in the wet dough, then add  
 200 g chipped baking chocolate (dark)
Drop on parchment and bake at 175°C (350°F) for something like 10 minutes.

I told my friend with diabetes that these were better for her. That might not be true, but given the response I think I'll keep lying.

And now for something completely different. I decided it was time to introduce the local Catholics to some good Chanukah tradition: sweet potato latkes served with Greek yogurt and pureed mangos. That seems to be a hit as well (with extra portions set aside for grandchildren), but afterward I was faced with the problem of half a bowl of mango puree and no idea what to do with it. So I did a little research and improvised these mango cookies, which are perhaps the best thing I've made this month:

½ cup butter
1 cup yellow sugar
¼ cup brown rice sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup mango puree
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 cups wheat flour
1.5 cups corn flour
½ cup of milk
Cream the butter and sugars, then add egg, mango and vanilla. After the mixture is creamed, add 2 cups of flour, the baking soda and cinnamon
Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
I suppose you can mess around with the sugars any way you like; I like substituting corn flours for wheat in recipes where gluten isn't needed, and I think it usually improves the character of a cookie. I may try a batch of these using just corn flour. And maybe drop the milk and use more mango puree. And a bunch of other little adjustments, because while lazy translators may crave repetitions, I find that boring in recipes, which I consider to be like German laws: there to be flouted as long as it's a victimless crime. I only make an exception with phenolphthaelin as an additive on special occasions for those on the run.

In the batch I made, it seems that the brown rice sugar was not perfectly mixed in and formed interesting little pockets, which produced a surprising effect when baked. I can't describe it; it needs to be experienced. And it is a delight!

Jul 17, 2014

The Bookshelf: a London-style hangout in the heart of Alentejo

I knew I was in the right place when, as I described the farm to which I would be moving and my satisfaction over the many rosebushes there, which would enable me to make rosewater for my mint tea, my conversation partner said "Oh, you need rosewater? I have some extra!", then fumbled around in his inventory and sent me off with half a bottle of good Algerian rosewater brought from London. I had given up on finding anything like that in the Alentejo. But then I knew it was the right place long before, with the many delicious herb teas, coffees and good food, sometimes vegetarian, offered at this very metropolitan hangout in my sleepy Portuguese university town. The couple who own and operate the business, a local woman and her Kosovar husband, lived for a few decades in London and brought some of that city's style with them to this unique café in Évora.

So when I need a quiet, air-conditioned retreat to enjoy a book, brandy and coffee or perhaps a good curry, I know where to go. And it's great to have a good chat in English about common interests in cuisine and beverages and share the latest delicious infusions of Aswan hibiscus, doum palm fruit and mint from herbs kindly provided by a colleague in Egypt. And who knows? Perhaps some of those cookies for the Portuguese will make an appearance there.

More cookies for the Portuguese

When life gives you forgotten, brown bananas

try making these cookies:
3 small brown bananas.
1.5 cups (360 ml volume, about 120 grams) of oatmeal
0.5 (120 ml volume, about 65 grams) cups golden raisins
1 egg.
Drop the batter on parchment with a spoon and bake for 12 minutes at 350°F (175°C).
I developed this recipe from a simpler one with just bananas and oatmeal which someone did for a class full of nursery school kids. I thought it needed a little more binder (an egg), and I had a bag of raisins in search of a cause. I'll probably rework the recipe later to use almond meal instead after discovering what a delight that is in a no-flour chocolate cake.

Here's a look at the results:

This was the dessert served last night with my failed attempt at Alentejan gaspacho. The cold soup must have been good, because my noiva ate two bowls of it, but that might also have been because her son wouldn't touch his. It was declared "Spanish" with tones overlaid with disgust, and I was told that I would receive instruction in a proper gaspacho soon. One where the cebola is not left out and probably with a lot more garlic. I thought that tripling the garlic in the recipe might do the trick, but it seems not.

The cookies were a hit at least, also with the neighbors at the casa de ratos ("mouse house" - home to hundreds and the source of the 33 killed here in the War on Mice).

Jul 15, 2014

Caught between languages

There is an interesting article on the BBC web site now which relates the experience of twenty different people with language loss as they have changed countries and cultures. This is a subject which fascinates me personally from my own observations over many years, and the diversity of the stories related very much parallels the lack of real, general patterns I have found. These experiences are very individual, and I find it more useful to observe the state of things as they are rather than to pontificate with generalizations as I so often hear in similar discussions on multilingual parenting (with which I also have some experience).

I first became aware of these phenomena with Germans who had emigrated to the United States and, after many decades, were lost in a No Man's Land of language, having lost their skills with German while never quite coming to terms with the language of their new country. I particularly remember my shock at discovering that Inge, the nice lady who ran a bakery in a complex my great-grandfather owned in Arcadia, could barely express herself in German and had forgotten all her prepositions. Having started to learn German at school, I looked forward to the chance to converse with this native German whose English still had not really made the grade after decades, and the "neither/nor" state of her language skills was a surprise which recurred with the old neighbor from Danzig who lived across the street from me, strangers met in a grocery store and even the professors of German at my college to some extent. Visits in the past decade with my old high school German teacher in Berlin also showed how lost someone could become when out of touch with her country of origin and its cultural evolution; it felt very strange to explain to the person who had introduced me to Herman Hesse, Heinrich Böll, Bertold Brecht and others in German what ordinary people were saying on the street.

It was equally bizarre serving as an "interpreter" of English for a former partner as she spoke to family in California in a strange blended babble of US and UK English with German words embedded at least once a minute. Her writing showed little evidence of language loss, but the situation for speaking was, alas, very different.

At the same time I have met others who retain a perfect command of English after decades away from the US or UK. A certain mindset seems to contribute to this retention, but I might be mistaken. I might also be mistaken that I have suffered little loss of facility with my own native English after fifteen years away.

I have usually found that my language skills are very compartmentalized by subject. For several decades after an exchange year at the Universität des Saarlandes I found that I could converse easily on various archaeological subjects in German but was at an utter loss to discuss the same subjects in any depth in English; my family life was so intimately German for so many years that I annoyed Jewish girlfriends greatly with quite a number of spontaneous expressions in relaxed moments, expressions which somehow changed to Portuguese the first time they came to my mind and lips in a new culture, where now I struggle to recall them in the language that comes out automatically when I am angry. (My dogs are being retrained in Portuguese now after I observed that local dogs are often terrified when they hear me work with my animals in German. Apparently I also frightened some of the vets here with rather ordinary dog chat as any German hunter with dogs might engage in.)

In the BBC article, one individual talks about how words from two languages he studied briefly many years ago come to mind when he struggles to find a word in his former native language. I have long experienced a similar problem myself, substituting Russian when looking for a Japanese word or now mixing up Japanese and Russian, languages I have scarcely used since the 1980s, with my Portuguese when I am tired. Less often a German word will fall into the sentence, more often when I am annoyed, but somehow English usually does not come into play as I struggle to master the new language.

My current approach to Portuguese is a strange blend of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman and old advice from Max Mangold from a conversation we once had about Hitler's interpreter, in which he related his own best experience. One of these days I'll get around to looking at a dictionary or grammar book again, though the value of that for baking cookies or bodyguarding is limited. In Germany I think it was very easy for me to retain my English skills, because the differences of cultural values between my English and German worlds made them as miscible as oil and water, but I wonder now what will become of my English a decade from now after I have been immersed in a culture which, for me, is at the very least a good emulsifier.

Have you experienced some language loss yourself or strange phenomena in the acquisition of a new language? Please share.

Jul 14, 2014

My translated document won't export! A 3-step preventive solution

A file export failure in memoQ
How many times have I heard that? Experienced it myself in various CAT tools? No idea. Lots.

About three years ago I published an article on the "pseudotranslation" feature of memoQ, which had been introduced in version 5. This was a feature I had made good use of years before in Passolo (before SDL did its Packman thing with the good company) to determine whether all text in software to be localized was accessible to the translation environment. In that article and on many other occasions, I have discussed the idea of roundtrip testing files to be sure they can be translated and then transformed afterward back into the desired formats. Often I just refer to this as "roundtripping".

Roundtripping is very simple. Anyone can do it, and it generally takes about a minute, sometimes a bit more, often less. And it more or less guarantees that your plans to translate a file and get a technically usable result will succeed. Roundtripping can be done with any respectable CAT tool and possibly with some of the ones that aren't.

Here's how it goes:
  1. Import the document(s) you intend to translate into your translation environment (Wordfast Pro, OmegaT, SDL Trados Studio, memoQ, etc.).
  2. Copy the entire source text exactly - including all tag structures - to the fields for target text. (This is actually a pain in the ass in OmegaT currently because even its developers don't understand how that somewhat hidden, idiotically command-line based function works. But for everyone else pretty much it's a piece of cake.)
  3. Export the target text document (which of course is exactly the same as the source text) from the translation environment and ensure that it opens properly in its relevant application.
If there are problems in Step 3, then your source document is either corrupted (very likely) or the working environment screwed up the document on import. If the file type involved is one you work on regularly, you can be pretty sure that the problem lies with the original document and has nothing at all to do with your translation tool.

Corrupted documents occur with some frequency when PDFs are converted to editable formats such as RTF, DOC or DOCX, particularly by persons without a proper understanding of the best procedures for doing so. Even top-end tools like Omnipage or Abbyy Finereader sometimes create documents with hidden flaws in their file structure, which might open in a word processor but which go to Hell once imported in a CAT tool. Table structures used to be particularly vulnerable to corruption and probably still are.

So a smart outsourcer or translator roundtrips files before the actual translation starts to avoid last-minute panics and missed deadlines. It's fast, free insurance.

But what can you do if the corrupt file is all you have?
Sometimes nothing except go back to the client and ask for a new file. But I have also noticed rather often that corruption can be avoided by zipping file attachments to e-mail, and it seems that the corruption of unprotected files often occurs when these files are downloaded from the mail server. So if you can, try another copy of the attached file off your e-mail server.

In the case of Microsoft Office files (for Word, Excel and PowerPoint), re-saving the file in a different format causes its structure to be reworked by the application and often repaired. Sometimes that corrupt DOCX file can simply be re-saved as DOCX and all will be well with a roundtrip in your CAT tool, but if that doesn't help, saving the DOCX as RTF and then re-saving that RTF file once again as DOCX will effect the necessary "repairs" to the file and ensure that you can get a usable result.

Why not just translate that RTF file if it's OK? I prefer not to, because if there are tags present, these may be represented differently in some working environments (such as memoQ, which shows very different tagging in RTF and DOCX), and this messes up my matching a bit and obscures the tag function as well, forcing me to look at a printout or PDF too often to see what the markup is about. 

Get it right the first time
The files I work on often have unusual abbreviations which affect segmentation (and require me to update my rules), or I join and split segments while I work on a complex patent or legal pleading in order to make the work go better. This takes time. And if I discover at the end of a three-day job with 10,000+ words that my translation will not export to a target file, then I can look forward to a lot of extra time recreating my desired segmentation, especially if I was lazy and did not update the segmentation rules. While features like memoQ's "TM-driven segmentation" can overcome this somewhat, there are limits, and those limits are exceeded in cases where I might join 7 or more segments because the source language segmentation rules were seriously suboptimal.

So take a minute. Or two. And roundtrip those documents before you start translating or send the job out for someone else to do!

Jul 13, 2014

Mice Like Us

Among my great passions are myths and children's stories. The transformative, symbolic qualities of the good ones carry forward ideas, moral and ethical concepts in ways few classrooms can, and even bad ones may communicate at a level many a gifted orator cannot.

In many ways, the translators I know are like mice. They see themselves as small compared to the great Bridges Lying Across their peripatetic professional paths, easy prey for the More Ravenous, to be consumed perhaps by HAMPsTr hordes or Transformed Perfectly into thepigturds polluting the waters of roadside ditches.

The Merchants of the Machine - and you know who they are - have a story line consumed gladly by those who, placing presumed balance sheet profits ahead of real producers and lacking a long-term commitment to service and the interests of those from whom they extract toil and cash, position themselves as transformers of communication and translation, surfing the Big Wave of Big Data to a Bigger Future. Humans are fallible, alas, but the miraculous Machine in its comprehensible simplicity shall save us from the messy human mystery and lead us to a calculable future, a Thousand Years of Grace and Prosperity for the Chosen in control of the channels of distribution and marketing magic. But real life isn't like that.

We need a different narrative. As Dr. Bronowski said, "We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act." In alternative narratives, the mouse is not always the easy prey to the CAT, nor to any other creature. It's a matter of attitude, and sometimes organization.

From the simple act of kindness in Aesop's tale to the complex world of Redwall, we mice can read examples of how those seen as small and insignificant can in fact be the key to survival and triumph. Lacking the bluster and flames of the Great Beasts of our "industry" we must instead rely on those most essential tools, our brains, to come out ahead in the asymmetric competition.

Technology is, in fact, on our side as translators when it is used in conjunction with BAT*. There are Open Source tools available for organizing the work of individual translators or teams which, in clever hands, can compete at most every level with the finest of commercial technology. OmegaT, Rainbow and GlobalSight are just a few of a long list of these. And for the less "clever" (or those who prefer a bigger slice of normal life) there are simple software service offerings like Kilgray's memoQ cloud, which puts my freelance team on equal footing with any agency or corporate department using the latest and greatest technologies for their language processes. All this for a fraction of what my monthly phone bill used to be in the days before flatrates and Skype.

So what will it be? Will you be willing meat for some weasel's pot?

Caught in a trap of your own denial, uninformed belief and fear, listening to naught but Common Nonsense?

Or, like the mice of Redwall, will you gather your strength and skills, apply them in concert with like-minded professionals in your own interest and the interest of the public you serve and partake of the great feast on a table set for all who will come?

* Brain-assisted translation

Jul 8, 2014

Time-saving tip: the DELETE key!

As one who clings stubbornly to the notion of value in a "personal touch" for business communication, I found this colleague's suggestion that using the name of your target might indeed be important. In this age of HAMPsTr'ized workflows in the Bulk Market Bog inhabited by Luigi & Co., when flexibility for bottom-feeding agencies means suggesting yoga lessons so translators can bend over farther, I do agree that if you ask people to work for peanuts you should at least ask them using their actual names.

I do, however, appreciate very much the consideration shown in many of these inquiries, which ask me to quote my best rate. As a memory aid, I have put the highest rate I have been paid onto a Post-It note on my auxiliary monitor to remind myself that I can certainly do better than that. So each time one of these silly requests comes along now, I up the ante and double down... or just hit DELETE and spend my time instead on the numerous serious business partners in the queue.

Jul 6, 2014

Practical terminology management with Mark Childress - October 2014

Here is an opportunity to spend the day learning from one of the world's leading industrial terminologists and the current president of the German Association for Terminology (Deutscher Terminologie-Tag) in the next of Stridonium's scheduled professional education events in the Netherlands. I made Mark's acquaintance some 14 years ago as a systems consultant, software developer and sometime translator for an electronic archiving solutions provider and SAP integrator. We needed to get the SAP terminology in the translations of our software manuals right, and I soon learned that he was the man. He also very unbureaucratically made the French, German and English terminology available to me in formats I could use with Trados and Déjà Vu in the days before the current online terminology portal for SAP, when the only game in town seemed to  be a CD that was never up to date. This gave me an edge in certain areas of technical and business translation for years, for which I was very grateful. It was, alas, another ten years before I could made that acquaintance a face-to-face one at the Warsaw conference for Translation Management Europe, where I also discovered that he was a gifted speaker and a patient teacher with a wealth of inspiring examples.

On October 29, 2014 at the Restaurant Hotel Savelberg in Voorburg (NL), just a few minutes by car or train from The Hague, Mr. Childress will be conducting a  full-day workshop with an overview of practical terminology management:
  • The basics of terminology theory and practice in an organization
  • Deciding between process-based or project-based approaches to terminology issues
  • Simple pro-terminology arguments you can use to convince your managers, your colleagues, your clients – or yourself!
  • Get started climbing the terminology mountain, one step at a time

The cost for the workshop is €375 per person (€325 for Stridonium members). Register by August 25th to receive the Early Bird rate of €325. Further information on the schedule and registration are now available on the Stridonium events page.

In Mark’s own words,
"This one-day seminar gives an overview of topics related to practical terminology work. No academic theorizing, no technobabble, no sales pitch – just good solid tips you can use to make your work run more smoothly."


Mark Childress has a B.A. from Humboldt State University in California and an M.A. from Heidelberg University in Germany. He joined SAP AG in Walldorf, Germany in 1995 as a translator and has been responsible for the company’s terminology management since 1998. He is the current president of the German Association for Terminology (Deutscher Terminologie-Tag / DTT). Mark gives frequent lectures and training on terminology management to technical writers, translators, and universities and has written articles on terminology work for publications including MultiLingual and eDITion, the journal of the DTT.

Jul 3, 2014

Let them eat cake (in translation)!

Ya really gotta wonder what kind of Kool Aid is guzzled by those social anarchists mistakenly called "conservatives". No outrage is beyond them, no depraved indignity too great in the Pursuit of Capital. We look askance at North Korea, rightly so, but fail to notice that particular interests have long since stepped in to offer their puppet Great Leaders to the sheeple afraid of a freedom which tolerates difference and calls for a minimum of respect.

In the wake of the US Supreme Courts astounding, radical declaration that the "religious rights" of registered businesses trump the rights of the wage slaves they keep, when women who feel they should have a right to use an IUD for birth control and have it covered by the same health insurance that covers Viagra and vasectomies are casually called Nazis and perhaps worse, ya really gotta wonder what latter-day Kesey is running around spiking the juice in the Cuckoo's Nest.

We have our share of those in translation too. More than our share, as a friend in Bairro da Câmara rightly observed. Todos os tradutores são loucos. Not all perhaps. Yet. Give the hamstermeisters in the Big Agencies a little more time to MpT your brains and the day will come. Their acolytes have been ejaculating in prayer for a long time now in service of their algorithmic subcommunicative gods of pseudotranslation and professional degradation. Yoga instructors have even joined their cause to teach wordworkers to bend over just a little farther to receive their labor's rewards.

In her eagerness to show flexibility in her professional standards and squash the "unfounded rumors" that there might have been some quality issues, such as machine-translated content or just general sloppy garbage on the web site of voracious venture capital consumer Smartling, Ms. Bell wrote:
January 16, 2014, German translator Kevin Lossner Tweeted that a business in our space was “toxic waste” and “a load of crap” because he thought the company had machine translated its site (they hadn’t)
Screenshots from Smartling's web site taken on January 16, 2014. Jus' mah 'magination?

What can be done about the rising tide of mediocratizers and profiteering liars who give the many good eggs in translation technology a whiff of rotten odor? Recently in a PuffPo piece, Smartling apologist Nataly Kelly tried to claim how that "so many" translators hate translation technology. Her perspective might be skewed given that many do in fact hate the dysfunctional, browser-based translation interface offered by the aggressive venture capital guzzler Smartling, her employer, but the truth is that as support technologies for translation have improved and early misconceptions based on the primitive functions of old technologies like Trados Workbench and Wordfast Classic are slowly displaced by real knowledge of modern productivity tools, many "technophobes" have casually embraced what might have once seemed a daunting technology. But the same person who brought you the argument that translators will soon go the way of blacksmiths, to be replaced by the technology her owner offers, has a certain pecuniary interest in making us all seem like dippy, frightened housespouses desperate to pick up a little mad money for shoes or to get the kiddies' over-sugared teeth fixed. Really, Jayne Fox said it better and in touch with reality.

The desperation of the MpT interests, the clownsourcers and other linguistic riffraff has been growing visibly in recent months, as their attacks escalate on "haters and naysayers", who oppose the greedy cabal by suggesting that translation quality is still possible by emptying your mind of MpT thoughts. It all so much resembles the desperation of COBOL programmers at the dawn of a new millennium, scamming in those Y2K bucks as fast as they could before their Emperor's knockoff duds were revealed for what they are and the limits of their 2 cm caralhos of competence became all too apparent. MT hasn't gone where it claims it will in more than 50 years and it's not going now where the carnival barkers claim it will if you part with six or seven figures of major Western currency cash. Or as some would have it and go cheap by gargling your confidential translations and following the advice of some "gurus" to throw out considerations of law and ethics.

What can be done? Stop listening to the relentless propaganda of the commercial interests who have neither the interests of language service providers like translators, editors, writers and interpreters at heart nor the interests of the successful clientele whom the good ones serve with pleasure and skill. Most importantly, unplug the noise machines of "professional translator associations" who are too often becoming sellout puppets to commercial interests and are too often merely adding their wheezing voices to the chaos of the translation profiteering echo chamber. In their own separate ways, newer organizations and watering holes for wordwalkers like Stridonium and IAPTI are taking necessary risks to ensure that a place will remain in the future of translation for ethical service of the quality needed to move beyond the bulk market bog.

I'll be talking about a few of these matters in between shots of ouzo and poetry slams at IAPTI's 2nd International Conference in Athens, Greece on September 20th & 21st. Get to know the professionals with backgrounds in engineering, physics, law and other disciplines who get under the skin of the hamstermeisters so much that one recently called them "Shiites". That reminds me of an agency friend who for years has referred to my direct clients (and many of my agencies) as Die Ahnungslosen, because they foolishly pay a mere freelance translator more than that company's clients will usually give to a "full service" agency. There are other places to run with your language business than the HAMPsTr wheel. Come to Athens or come to a Stridonium event and see a much brighter side of translation.

Oh yea, and click around on those pics above for your reading pleasure....