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.