Mar 31, 2015

Sinking in the bulk market bog of #xl8

Facebook is a veritable cesspit of bulk market stupidity in translation... name changed to protect the... innocent(?)
If anyone questions why I need massive infusions of Egyptian doum palm tea and karkadé to survive the tribulations of translation, they need look no further than social media, particularly Facebook. Some years ago many people assumed that the unprofessional character and abuses one finds on bulk market reverse auction portals like (aka PrAdZ, ProtZ and many other variants) were due to repressive site policies, or some particular, special evil found only in repurposed chambers in a country once known for dropping political opponents of the junta from helicopters into the sea, but in the meantime some have figured out that this is the Human Condition or at least that of translators and their keepers who choose to dwell in common in the bulk market bog of failure and mediocracy. Of course one can find excellence, even beauty and dream-inspiring experiences of the most creative kind there or in many other unexpected places; I once found the most magnificent opium poppy growing in my dung heap on the farm I had in Oregon years ago. So really, it's not the medium... it's the messengers, who shall always be among us. Hooray for the wisdom of hermits!

Siberian shamans have some cool recipes for this beautiful, deadly mushroom so common in dem Vaterland
I have been subject to social media assault for translation rather often (#yessometranslators), which is the nicer term I can think of for being granted involuntary membership in some of the FB groups which sprout like toadstools. Not all groups which are created in that medium of fertilizer are toxic; some in fact could be characterized as rather tasty shitakes or Portabello mushrooms. But almost everywhere in these media, once can see and hear the incessant, self-harming whine about "outrageous rates" and the perpetual lament that "there will always be someone to accept such starvation remuneration" as if this implied that we must all bow to the "inevitable" and sell our bodies in the bulk word brothels of Moreslavia et alia.

This problem is hardly confined to translator circles; since I began a career involved with commercial translation, I have continued to act, as I have for 30 years now, as a consultant and trainer for relevant technologies and strategies of work and business. I have supported translation agencies and direct buyers of translation services of every size to assert themselves effectively and ethically in a market which often presents very difficult and complex challenges. And from this year forward, with a growing team of educational psychology specialists, university instructors, technical specialists, interns and others, I will do so to an even greater extent.

I have observed for some seven years now, with great sadness, how many translation companies who really earned the label Language Service Providers (LSPs) instead of Linguistic Sausage Producers (LSPs) have circled the drain and gone down because they believed the lies of the buyer-driven bulk market of which Smartling's Jack Welde speaks with such rapture. Quite a number of these principals of failed companies were and are friends of mine. But somewhere along the line, they lost sight of some fundamentals and thought that the competitive market is all about price, or even when they knew it was not, they sometimes lacked the insight or resources to resist the race to the bottom of the drain into the cesspit.

Thus it was my pleasure at the recent GALA conference in Seville to share some ideas with many key business people from diverse backgrounds with many languages, so that they might have more options to follow their hearts and heads and enjoy a more sustainable and satisfying business model with which we all win. There were a few toads in the crowd there, but why waste a lot of time on them, The Toxic Ten Percent, when the venue was full of the 90% whose philosophies and business goals are very much in accord with the interests of individual service providers such as freelance translators and editors? When I shared some workflows which might offer effective means of applying speech recognition in languages previously thought not to be supported, a number of translation company owners and operations managers spontaneously declared their happiness that the freelancers they depend on could now earn a better livinng despite low piece rates in their languages. Such "dirty capitalists" are our natural allies and ought to be considered friends in the trenches of the war with those who fail to understand that disruptive innovation is a bottom-up, evolutionary movement of change which can, with the understanding of ordinary human decency and ethics, be a positive thing and fertile ground for a sustainable, professional crop. It is not the destruction rained down on villages like Guernica by the Great Powers of Lionbridge and their like. 

So what to do about the bogsters, the Linguistic Sausage Purveyors (LSPs) who dare to promote more slavery to us slavelancers and digital sharecroppers in a post-apocalyptic translationscape? Nothing. Ignore them. Or invite them to a hot date in the sand with a goat. But please, people, leave off the incessant public whine about rates, forget about piece rate nonsense and focus on value, effective earnings for the time invested and sustainable business practices. You can tear down any house faster than you can build one, but ya gotta live somewhere.

And, just for fun, you can share some interesting tidbits with colleagues and buyers about how, when one approaches the price break limits of a silly bulkster discount scale such as that in the screenshot above, you can add some unneeded words to the job and get the whole lot of words for less:

Hitting a nerve with MpT and bankruptcy

In less than 45 hours a record number of shares and views on Facebook....
In all the years I have blogged (since 2008) I don't think any of my posts have achieved the reach of one simple link on Facebook, which discussed the fate of a Japanese publishing house that committed seppuku by the abuse of machine pseudo-translation (MpT).

This is indicative, I think, of the raw nerves of those whose professional standing has been under siege by a lot of abusive fools who, in their lust for profit and social destruction, have disregarded common sense and listened instead to the nonsense of the Common Sense Advisory and their ilk, only to find themselves circling the drain to oblivion.

At a conference I attended recently, one person involved with MpT development and sales correctly pointed out that it is wrong and foolish to speak broadly of MpT as if there were only one flavor of it. But the problem is really not about the technology itself, however close or far it may be to that out-of-favor-with-the-sausage-set term "quality".

I am not and never have been opposed to the existence of machine pseudo-translation in this world. What I do oppose is its use as an instrument of abuse as well as one to corrupt and distort the minds of university students struggling to find their way into our language professions. In the same way, I oppose any material or immaterial thing which is a critical component of toxic social relations and occupational abuse.

Nonetheless I do keep an open mind for finding new tools and techniques which may provide something useful in the right context. But MpT is nothing new generally, and much of what is out there in practice smells badly of 60+ year-old fish. Nonetheless, dead fish make fertilizer, so let's bury the outdated and harmful notions of most of the carnival barkers hawking MpT Snake Oil bottles and put our focus where it belongs: on human needs and psychology rather than technology. When we do that, the toxicity of many technologies is abated, because the harmful application of these is abandoned.

We should not avoid discussion of the physio- and psychoergonomic risks of any methods or technologies as the profiteers so vehemently do. Instead, by looking with greater care at these problems, as David Hardisty, Dion Wiggins and some others have done recently, we may discover some surprising opportunities to make "opposing" technologies and methods, such as MpT and speech recognition and task separation, become good allies of each other and of us so that we may win another battle or two in the Forever War on Human Stupidity.

Mar 28, 2015

MpT, limericks and innovative disruption in Porto and Seville

A few weeks ago I received a kind invitation to the JABA Partner Summit in Porto, Portugal. It's a unique event hosted by JABA CEO Joaquim Alves, subsidized by various solution providers whose tools he uses in his business, which I think is the largest translation agency in the country. I wasn't really sure what to expect, though with the likes of Across and my old nemesis Dion Wiggins, aka "Donny the Wig", godfather of the MpT Mafia, Mr. Get-On-The-MT-Boat-Or-Drown himself, I knew it would be plenty evil. Sure enough, on the first day DW challenged me to a duel, so at memoQfest this year in Budapest, we will meet on the field of honor in the park across from the Gundel and settle our differences at ten paces.

I encountered a veritable rogues' gallery of linguistic sausage shoppers at the summit days, discussing plans to conquer the world. As GALA board chairman Robert Etches put it, controlling 1% of content translation is not enough, the elite cabal of translation technologists must march boldly forward with an army of cyborg post-editors and their purely electronic betters and take the 99% by storm, as the 1% have taken control of the rest in society at large.

Photo courtesy of Stefan Gentz
People like that need watching, so when I heard of the conspirators' bus to Seville for another of those wicked GALA gatherings which yield so many damning and amusing YouTube video clips (see In HampsTr We Trust) I decided to go undercover and ride along. As you might expect with me, Asia Online, Across and a bunch of capitalist translation agency owners on a bus, there would soon be blood on the floor.

Photo courtesy of Stefan Gentz
As the team of emergency paramedics treated my head wound and did their best to save me from the shock and awe of a relentless technology agenda, co-conspirators celebrated by the bus with cigarettes and champagne, toasting The New Word Order.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Portuguese paramedics I was able to return to the scene of the crime, where I fought to stay awake and alert to survive the journey to the L10n Den that awaited.

Shore 'nuff, there was an orgy of celebration for the Power of Machines. Not only do they do translation that way, but at the 5-star Barceló Sevilla Renacimiento the 1% Masters have even done away with the baristas (is that why the roses bloom so well?) and replaced them with Nespresso machines to make the coffee. I kept myself alert throughout the three days of the meeting with milky triple ristrettos. I considered the evil in store for Third World babies with that technology as the caffeine hit my veins and I buzzed from one point of innovative disruption to another.

The Wonderful World of Disruption in Translation
Paula Barbary Shanno(n), disruptive Pirate Queen and the Right Hand of Darkness for Sales at Lionbridge, shared her ecstatic vision of such disruption in an explosive, multimedia keynote celebrating the slash-and-burn creativity of Big Wordsters who have learned to think and act in small ways, moving ever closer to Mr. Etches' vision of a world in which commodities such as translation are free and profits are reserved for those studs who service the customers so well. I could see the excitement of bulk market CEOs as she spoke eloquently in well-tuned corporatist clichés. I could imagine the disruptive IEDs of innovation catching the proud wordsmiths en route to their value-priced boutique forges and the cyborg armies of post-editors blasting the bounds of mere human translation and meaning to compose new algorithmic hymns to Common Sense and Cost Reduction.

This photo is the only thing that isn't sharp with this perceptive language and training consultant
But a kinder, gentler, revolutionary vision of disruptive innovation was offered by one who actually took the time to read and understand Clayton Christensen's work, rather than simply plagiarize it, Ms. Diana Sanchez of Nova Languages in Barcelona. When she gave her excellent presentation of one of the best-organized classic PEMpT workflows, I was impressed. Not by the idea of such an application, which I consider to be rather toxic in most cases, but by the fact that it was so well-structured, a good reference against which to measure alternatives I think. And the presentation was excellent, one of the few I have seen delivered quietly behind a podium which would not put me to sleep. However, I objected (rather rudely in fact) to the title of her talk, as I considered the process described neither innovative nor disruptive.

Ms. Sanchez mercifully spared me the public execution I deserved for my insistent error and waited until the knowledge-sharing roundtable later that day to explain the unique costing model applied by Nova in serving their cash-poor startup clientele in the Barcelona area (innovative - check!) and then went on to explain patiently that the "disruptive" character of the innovation was that it entered the lower end of the market where there was in fact no choice, for financial reasons, but to accept quality compromises. Usually when I hear such arguments, they come from the mouth of some bulk market bogster which I am tempted to punch, but with Ms. Sanchez and another Nova associate at that table what I heard was a tale of respectful partnership with aspiring new businesses. And a very profitable one at that. Hut ab!

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned at my first GALA event was that, although the lighted stage and multimedia extravaganza might be dominated by the rapacious and somewhat idiotic one-percenters of the corporatist translation world and their acolytes, who comprise perhaps another four to nine percent, the vast majority of translation company CEOs who attend are sincere partners of the language service providers (translators and interpreters) they depend on, and they earn my respect in stride. I asked myself why some of my long-term, struggling agency partners were not represented in the crowd of 370 attendees and thought perhaps that might be why they were struggling. The information shared by so many presenters and by the mingling participants was worth far more than the four-figure cost of registration.

After a quarter century of not speaking the language, I still give a shit about Japanese!
I decided that, as long as I was there to keep an eye on the troublemakers, I might as well add my own value for the deserving majority, so I made it my mission to seek out translation company owners, project managers and localization specialists and destroy their misconception that there is no viable speech recognition available for languages such as Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Slovak, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, Norwegian et alia. Throughout the three days of the conference I tested my recently researched solution with native speakers of the many "minor languages" that are so important in the global business ecosystem, with excellent results. It even worked without errors for Romanian in the crowded lunch room, so I suppose it could be used in the open plan offices one finds in many translation sweatshops. The recognized text can be transferred easily to translation management systems for alignment, review and quality assurance, allowing me to kick back with my goats now, guzzle sangria and pet the chickens as I knock out high quality translation in the Alentejan sun. One translation agency owner from Cairo estimated that this new method might increase the hourly earnings of his freelance Arabic translators eightfold. My kind of disruption, certainly better than the sort of coke-fueled destruction that some corporate high flyers are addicted to.

The short, easy bus ride back home after the GALA event ended got a little complicated when the border zone resentments of the Spanish against their Portuguese betters were visited upon me in a practical joke that left me stranded for an extra day in Badajoz, where I took a 2 am kick in the ribs from a pugnacious little station minder who was frustrated to learn that I had done the impossible and bought a ticket for the 4:15 am bus that he had told me I was not allowed to board. It was interesting to learn that my Portuguese has improved to the point where the Spanish think I'm a native and as I near the border hate me accordingly. Just as I learned in Germany years ago, sometimes there are advantages to keeping a foreign accent, and, alas, I always end up the loser with any language I learn.

In the final kilometers between Estremoz and Évora, where I faced another two-day gauntlet of memoQ lectures and workshops at the university with my interns, I reflected on the lessons of my nine-day translation business odyssey, the high points such as, in the middle of an excellent presentation of the Open Source application translate5, the brave and honest call by Marc Mittag for Germans to forgive the debts of suffering Med countries as they were forgiven their far greater debts after the horrors of the Second World War, after which they experienced their foreign-financed Wirtschaftswunder, to those moments of bulk market bogster idiocy, calling for us all to drink the shitstream of the worldwide content firehose. Mr. Etches can take his 99% and the consequences thereof; my glass is more than half full :-)

Notes from a silly discussion of the need for greed.
As is often the case, I found poetic inspiration in the lessons learned and penned these limericks in the final kilometers of my return:
Megalomaniac Bob
will MT his way out of a job.
Being a fool,
he forgot the old rule
that the 1% own the whole mob

In Moreslavia's quality check,
the meaning can just go to Heck.
In the LQA game
Renato's the name
of the guy who is stacking the deck!
Let the corporates trumpet success
and disrupt the whole holy mess.
With speech recognition
we'll pay our tuition
and unequal pay then redress.

Mar 18, 2015

memoQ&A in Porto - good people, great bagels!

Last night from 6:00 to 9:30 I enjoyed a "memoQ&A Evening" at the Porto Bagel Café as a reward for surviving the long bus ride to Porto/Gaia from Évora to attend the JABA Partner Summit. About 25 local colleagues attended to hear my not-as-short-as-promised presentation and discuss approaches to memoQ and other translation technologies as our working tools. The evening was part of the Translators in Residence initiative and a good start to my second visit to the area after my whirlwind tour last month to investigate venues for teaching events. Many thanks to the sponsors. the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters and Chip7 of Évora for providing the funding and tools (an excellent LCD projector - thank you, Carlos!) to do this.

I very much appreciate IAPTI's commitment to the professional education and continuing development of my good colleagues in Portugal, particularly in difficult economic times when many findit difficult to attend translators' events in faraway places. The evening was free for all attendees, who only had to pay for whatever they drank (great coffee - I had my usual galão) and ate (the best bagels in Portugal!).

After an initial hour of snacks, coffee and chat, the evening began with a discussion of the game-changing implications of speech recognition technologies for our working lives. Not only is it now possible for colleagues to use high-quality speech recognition on desktop computer and laptops in languages such as Hungarian and Portuguese, which are not currently supported by Dragon NaturallySpeaking (using, for example, the integrated recognition tools in the Mac Yosemite OS, as demonstrated with SDL Trados Studio and memoQ in Lisbon the day that SDL conquered Portuguese translation), smartphones are part of the game now too. Since picking up an older iPhone model (4S) for a few hundred euros about a month ago, I have had excellent results testing it with English, German, Russian and Portuguese and e-mailing texts to myself with just a few taps on the phone's screen. Once transferred as an e-mail, the text is then aligned in a CAT tool such as memoQ and subjected to tagging, QA and other procedures of the usual virtual translation working environments.

The use of memoQ and other CAT tools for single-language original authoring and text revision was also discussed. This flexible workflow extends the relevance of translation environment tools well beyond the usual limits within which translators and translation companies live and operate and offers interesting prospects for collaboration and re-use of creative resources. This topic willalso be covered next week in a lecture and workshop at Universidade de Évora and in an eCPD webinar on June 2, 2015.

Interoperability is another important topic for translators; I discussed different ways in which I use SDL Trados Studio and other tools to prepare projects to work in memoQ and vice versa as well as mz highly profitable use of SDL Multiterm to enhance customer loyalty and my professional image with this terminology management ssystem's excellent output management features.

Other tips and tricks in the memoQ&A included the untapped potential of LiveDocs, tracked changes and row histories in memoQ, dealing with embedded objects, graphics and transcription, PDF 3-ways and new tricks for nasty and/or illegible image PDFs, versioning and a concept for transforming translation memory concordancing into something much, much more useful and less prone to errors in editing and translation.

Copies of the slides from the evening's presentation are available here. It is, however, merely a palimpsest of the evening.

Many thanks also to colleague and translation tools teacher Felix do Carmo for kindly chauffeuring me around town and for the interesting tour of the training and production facilities at his company, TIPS.

Mar 6, 2015

What's your addiction?

Bet you didn't know this use for an iPhone! Free app available in the Apple Store....
Yesterday was not a great day. In fact, it's been a bad past week. The downward slide started with an unrecognized synonym when talking to a receptionist at a medical clinic where I had gone to get my foot x-rayed. Out of nowhere, a panic attack. I began to hyperventilate and stepped quickly into a nearby courtyard outside and around a corner to face a wall and calm myself. But they found me. Would not go away. Then it got worse. Thinking I was having a heart attack, they called paramedics. How do you tell someone to fuck off and go away when you just need some quiet to get centered and you cannot remember the words in a new language?

Yesterday, again. I went to the post office to pick up a package. Took a ticket, waited for my number to come up. It did. At the counter the clerk looked at my ticket, made a face and began to berate me in somewhat harsh tones, almost as if she had learned her manners in Oranienburg, near where I used to live in Germany. As the rush of incomprehension took my ears, I left quickly, sat in the car nearby, hyperventilating. Coffee, I thought, and headed to my cantinho for a galão. Still feeling the alienation and panic I remembered an unpaid vet bill, so I went by the clinic and settled it, though the tightening of muscles amplified the pain in my feet and caused me to move in a way that added half a century to my chronological age. Afterward, I sat in the car, hearing the rush of traffic behind me, fearing I could not pull out of the parking space and drive home safely. Back then to the cantinho for another dinner seasoned with solitude and muito vinho tinto.

In the two years I have lived in my new home, I have acquired an ever greater appreciation for what involuntary migrants, aka refugees, might experience in their dislocation. It's not the country. It's not the language, which is usually a musical massage to my ears and spirit even when I cannot yet discern all of its meaning. And it is certainly not the people or their culture. In fact, I say truthfully to my friends and others here that the worst of my days in the Alentejo are better than most days for me in a place like North-Rhine Westphalia or Brandenburg.

I have spent a lot of time meditating on what it was that I sensed in my first days in Évora more than two years ago which makes this place feel more like a home or a potential home than any I have experienced in decades. My stress reactions are minor and normal for anyone in a new environment where the networked roots of existence and social life are barely sprung from the seed. But the soil here is fertile, and those roots do grow, albeit sometimes not quickly enough to support the plant, windblown and wondering and alone in its field of dreams.

The answer to that question and many others came in an article referenced by a faraway friend this morning. The essential message for me was nothing new; in fact, I have been stating it quite plainly in other words for most of the past week. But the article did solve a few other mysteries, like how it was that I kicked a pain pill addiction last autumn and realized only weeks afterward that I had done so after simply forgetting to medicate my arthritic foot because I was busy.

About the time that I moved to Europe 15 years ago, Portugal had the worst drug problem on the Continent. Then the natural, good sense I appreciate so much in this culture took over, and the society surrendered in the War on Drugs and embarked on a very different path to peace than the usual one taken. Not only was drug use completely decriminalized, but steps were taken for the social integration of addicts. No big deal I suppose, not here where respect for human dignity is so deeply ingrained in the culture that so many of the Portuguese do not realize the extent of their true wealth.

But look at the results: drug use has plummeted. Addiction rates are half of what they were. And the prisons are not full. Alas, there is not much future in a career as a prison guard in Portugal unless you feel like watching over corrupt politicians.

The article shared by my friend and colleague is one of a number I have seen lately about drug use and treatment and the "astonishing" success of Portugal where every other country I can think of has lost the war. Portugal's surrender is a victory in fact, one which we can all share. But it's not about decriminalization. It's not about drugs. It's really about human connection.

The article referenced talks all about the "chemical hooks" we all know that drugs have for us. But what about gambling? Or porn addiction? Or any of the many other addictions commonly spoken of today. Power? Money? Smart phones? Software solutions to human problems? Machine pseudo-translation, anyone?

We talk about "addictive personalities". You know, that common flaw of that weak and worthless human refuse found in our dirtiest, most dangerous alleys. Or corporate board rooms.

Are these personalities truly more prone to addiction? Controlled studies do seem to indicate this. But the gifted scientists who were my teachers, Frank Lambert in particular, often warned me about drawing such conclusions without looking carefully at the design of the system and my assumptions and whether I was dealing with a closed or open system. And that, my friends, is the real problem.

As we translators like to say, context is everything.

As Johann Hari wrote in the article:
".., in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently?
So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died." ...
"... addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage." ...
"After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for 57 days—if anything can hook you, it’s that.
Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is—again—striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them." ...
"Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find—the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe [or a smartphone]. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else."
This is the sort of thing which bothers me deeply about the profession of translation in its current state. It's not about machine translation. It's not about technology of any kind, nor about "linguistic sausage". But it is very much about Linguistic Sausage Producers and processes, very much about technology as The Golden Calf and very much about the sausage into which we grind and extrude people when we put the tools and methods above them.

I was told once by a friend that "the world needs the machines made in small German villages to run". No we fucking don't. That statement upset me so much that I gave away most of what I owned some weeks later and simply got in the car, drove 2800 kilometers and started a new life. A good life, even when the inevitable isolation at the start of it makes some days hard.

I saw some of this last week in a professional context when I had lunch with Joaquim Alves, owner of JABA Translations in Porto, who is now starting a new venture, the JABA Academy. He told me the reasons for starting this new company and his goals to promote better professional skills in the translating communities His translation company does not rely on massive databases of virtual slavelancers. His slaves are right there on the plantation, in-house.Making a decent wage for Portugal, with health benefits and paid holidays. And educational oportunities, paid by the employer, like mine were in the US decades ago before neo-Regeanite madness and Randian cults took over.

Is JABA an evil sausage shop like thepigturd and others? I don't think so. The Devil is in the details, but so are the angels not yet fallen. What I see there is an environment, perhaps not one for which I am personally suited, but in which professional language workers are part of a supported community of work, with integrated training and support. I imagine they are less likely to go shoot heroin, talk to their smartphones instead of their girlfriends or neighbors, less likely to live their "lives" on Facebook.

ISIS has ambitions to take over the world, with vegans in hot competition. Both will inevitably fail, above all for their lack of respect for other people. My money is on Portugal to conquer, at least by example. The addict in me certainly hopes so.