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.


  1. Keep up the good work. The translation world needs to be constantly reminded of these schmucks and their "agenda".

    1. Well, the reality is that the "schmucks" in this group are a small minority. A toxic one to be sure, but the majority I met at both events are very much on the same wavelength as I am with regard to fairness in business practice and the need to protect individuals, respect professionals, etc. This post is littered with inside jokes that will be missed by most people who were not there and by some who actually were. It is all true AFAIK, but you can spin the truth many ways, and I have done so here in many places just for fun. And I wanted to use this as an opportunity to share something very important. That bit up above near the pics of the iPhone 4S is important. And I have tested it on iPods anmd iPads too. It's a game changer I think. For everyone. Lots more to come on that and other recent research.

      The duel with Dion Wiggins of Asia Online is also real, but here's a spoiler on that: we'll be doing it for fun. "Donny the Wig" is a research-minded guy like me who has discovered some very interesting things yet to be revealed, and my private data from studies confirms some of the most interesting things. And none of this is about MpT really. I fully intend to support some of his efforts for matters I think will help a lot of people, both freelancers and company folk, in ethically sound ways. And once again - none of this is about MpT, PEMpT or HAMPsTr, really. Trust me on this one. Now back to the cheerful mud-slinging......

    2. Oh, and as far as the real schmucks are concerned, the same rules apply as before. No quarter.


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