Nov 26, 2020

Millions, perhaps billions are thankful.


It's Thanksgiving in the US again, that holiday shrouded in myth and nonsense, which has traditionally offered the opportunity to argue politics and culture with relatives one more wisely avoids during the rest of the year. Somehow that's appropriate, however, given the permanent national holiday's true origin in the 19th century US Civil War to celebrate the turning of the tide against Southern oligarchy and racial terror. Some 160 years or so later, that play has been staged again, and the Lost Cause is lost yet again, thank God, this time with a twist of trumpanzian trumpery defeated.

Professionally, I've remained withdrawn for most of the year, as one might suspect from the few posts on this blog. My companheira is a Portuguese chief physician who has been deeply pessimistic about the country's preparation to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, and I thought that if her premonitions of doom were to prove accurate, my time is better spent with her and our animals and less so wading in the bog of bought-out brokers sinking ever deeper into the unprofessional muck. My respectable clients who haven't died or retired have been largely quiet except for a few welcome check-ins as they struggle to keep their businesses afloat and meet what payroll is left as international business grinds on at its present slower pace. Perhaps that will change in the year ahead as the political winds assume a better odor than the fascist dog farts of the past few years and I develop related interests further.

The relative quiet and travel restrictions have given me the time I've needed for the past three decades to learn more about the philosophies and practical applications of permaculture. I have a lot of friends at every level in the translation sector and elsewhere who are deeply concerned about environmental issues such as climate change, but too few of them have a real background in the science underlying that, and so many of the "solutions" I hear discussed on social media and elsewhere are largely nonsense, though well-meaning. Sustainability is a popular word, so much so that I was already building special German/English corpora to aid in translating discussions of it more than a decade ago. But it needs to be a lot more than a buzzword or a wishful expression in some half-educated vegan rant.

I suppose that like so many things, the complexity of sustainable living will ultimately be reduced to simple, inclusive principles, thankfully stripped of their commercial and political overtones. I am hopeful that some progress might be made in that direction with the incoming US Executive Branch leadership and its apparent concern for competent people doing things in the public interest, but the political cards are not yet all on the table, nor is it clear who will remain in play and for how long.

"Wenn ich wüsste, dass morgen die Welt unterginge, würde ich heute noch ein Apfelbäumchen pflanzen" – if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant a little apple tree today – words attributed to Martin Luther, and the passage from Goethe's Faust II where God cheats – Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, Den können wir erlösen – we can save the one who always tries – have been concepts to guide me since before I was old enough to vote. This year I planted that tree – a Reinette apple – and many more, also currants and citrus of various kinds, and for the long term young cork oak trees to replace the ancient ones in our forest who are dying. Along the way to the aqueduct there is an olive tree more than a thousand years old, hardly recognizable but still bearing fruit which I preserve each year. I wonder if the person who planted that so long ago imagined the generations it would feed. I will plant some of my own, and perhaps in two thousand years some animals, perhaps some of them recognizably human, will enjoy those fruits as I enjoy the ancient gifts passed down to me from others forgotten.

Aug 17, 2020

Signs of spring in late summer

The world is inverted, it seems. The last geomagnetic reversal occurred some 780,000 years ago, where in my understanding what we think of now as north was in fact south. But there are other geomagnetically stable times where the world is upside down and the moral compass of a society points to no familiar place. One such time was the 17th century in Great Britain, with social turmoil in which many, the king included, lost their heads, some perhaps for just cause and others in fits of madness. Such times are upon us now.

The times of year have not been what they seem. Though the temperatures in my garden have been punishing heat, there is a chill of long duration, a winter in the cycle of hope that has persisted more than any terrestrial season. It’s been a quiet time, professionally, with some disappointments, but time to reflect and to think what seeds to plant for the next season. But it’s hard to look at a barren expanse of snow or the sun-baked earth and see the green, the growth and that fruits that might come with care, hard to accept that the crop is not entirely of our own effort but also of things beneath the soil we cannot see, winds and insects which pollinate at their will more than the hand ever could, influenced too by other creatures with whom the place is shared.

The parched earth, the scorched ground of politics in the country of my birth is a source of grief for so many. Its desiccated, decayed fruits offer a taste of what so many people I have met in my life, or those close to them, must have known in the long winter of spirit in central Europe when my parents were young or in the equally hard times of war and pandemic when their parents were. We are not at the point, I think, where the body counts can be fairly compared, but it is not the quantity, but the quality, I think, which defines despair, a psychological and very individual parameter which is hard to understand fully in another, and often in one’s self as well.

In my psychological landscape, in my garden, I can see a bit of green emerging from the soil of American politics with the settled ticket of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris for the election we hope to see. Malcolm X spoke of the “ballot or the bullet”: we’ve seen enough bullets I think, taking the lives of children in school, children who find a step-fathers service revolver in a drawer and take their own lives because there truly is no place like home, an emergency medical technician murdered in her bed by police gunfire in an unwarranted breaking and entry and so many more shards of our broken reality. Let’s give the ballot a chance and see where it takes us.

Since Mr. Biden chose Ms. Harris, who had in fact been my preference for the position as presidential candidate he now holds, as his running mate, I have felt considerable personal uplift and read many words in the news outlets and other online places from those who are inspired because they see themselves in the candidate for vice president. I smile, thinking of young girls who see in that inspiring cross-examiner of moral criminals like Brett Kavanaugh and William Barr the image of their possible future. But why am I inspired, why is the catch so often in my voice now from hope rather than the grief it has been too often. I do not see myself in her. A little in Biden perhaps: aging, sometimes stumbling for words, prone to errors, but with a belief that there is a salvation to be found in best efforts, particularly for a common cause in accord with the first principle of doing for others in the kind of way you might hope to be treated yourself. No, I do not see myself in Ms. Harris at all.
What I do see in her is people I have known and admired for much of my life. So many friends, teachers and companions, who do not fit easily into any category, and who are not zealous about finding the “right” hole into which another’s peg can be pounded. People who know how and when to stand their ground, and perhaps when to stand down. Who show consideration for all except perhaps those who refuse to do so and who live so well by the principles well expressed in Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in its full context:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is... fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
In this regard, I suppose I do find myself reflected, however darkly, in Kamala’s many-faceted glass. I don’t see the Democratic candidates as saviors more than as vehicles with which we might save ourselves by sharing the bread and fishes of mutual commitment to a better and more just world. I do not know myself with any certainty which way the arc of history bends, but I hope our many arms, old and young, flesh and prosthetic, in every hue and in every garb or none will bend it contrary to the direction of those who seek to do so by strongarm tactics.

What is reflected in the mirror presented to us by Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their many compromised enablers? It is a distorted image in which we see the darkest impulses of the past twisted into new but equally disturbing forms. The jealousies, the fears, even the hatreds we all sometimes feel are found there, and some find that reflection hypnotic, darkly seductive in its single pane of uniform and unrelenting wickedness. But those who can break that spell may yet find themselves in the many facets of better leadership and collaboration in the common cause of a kinder, more humanly productive society, and the rest of us will be challenged to break bread and share the cup, on better terms, with those who are presently more inclined to spit in it.

Mar 21, 2020

COVID-19 contact tracking app: volunteers needed

Third update from the project coordinator: 

The first three rounds of volunteers have done an amazing job. All EU languages except Maltese and Irish Gaelic have been completed or are in progress, as are some other languages. 

Development specialist Krisztian Werderits is creating a pro bono app – VirusContact – to assist in tracing contacts in the event that someone becomes infected with the novel coronavirus currently wreaking havoc across the globe. A description of the project can be found here.

Gergely Vandor of memoQ Ltd. contacted me to talk about the project and the need for volunteers to assist in localization into all EU languages if possible. Current app languages are Hungarian and English. The company will be providing server resources to organize the project. Those who are able and willing to volunteer in this effort should contact Gergely at I'm not generally one to encourage pro bono work given the abuses one often finds with such, but I think the present world situation warrants an exception here.

The app basically works by temporarily recording proximate, unlinked Bluetooth devices (mobile phones generally) so that if you are tested positive, all such "contacts" from the past 14 days can be notified automatically. The data maintained by the app and deleted after two weeks have passed are the

  • Bluetooth unique ID 
  • GPS location of the encounter
  • distance (if possible to determine)
  • encounter's duration (if possible to determine)

Once a user confirm their own infection, all others with devices that have been near in the past 14 days (i.e. the presumed incubation period) will be notified of their exposure, with the aforementioned details included.

Feb 7, 2020

Plug-in SDKs available for memoQ

This morning I was privileged to see a demonstration of some new search and data mining tools by a local developer, and I thought what a shame it was that the tools needed to implement some of that functionality were not available for memoQ. I "knew" this, because I asked a number of times over the years to have a look at an SDK for terminology plug-ins, for example, only to be told that such a thing was not easily available. That changed at some point, but the software artists formerly known as Kilgray forgot to mention that until I asked again today.

memoQ now has a number of software development kits available for creating plug-ins for a variety of functions. These can be seen and downloaded here:

Plugins must be developed with C# for the .NET Framework version 4.6.1. Each of the SDKs includes an example resource to use as a template as well as development and approval guidelines for distribution or internal use.

Feb 6, 2020

Speech-to-text in language services and learning: an update (rescheduled)

This presentation has been rescheduled due to unanticipated conflicts. On March 4th at 4:00 pm Central European Time (10 am Eastern Standard Time), I'll be presenting an overview of some popular and/or possible platforms for generating text from spoken words for professional work and language learning. As those who have followed this blog for years know, I have written quite a bit about this in the past and done a number of videos for demonstration and instruction using various platforms, but this is a field subject to frequent change and many new developments, so it is difficult sometimes to understand the value of one tool versus another for different applications.

The webinar is available free to anyone interested, and there will be time for questions afterward. We will compare and contrast Dragon NaturallySpeaking, iOS-based applications (including Hey memoQ), Google Chrome and Windows 10 for speech recognition work in translation and transcription, discussing some of the advantages and trade-offs with each platform working in translation environments and text-editing software, and the range of languages covered by each. Join us, and see if there are good fits for your speech recognition needs!

You can register here for the discussion.

Jan 28, 2020

Another look at Windows 10 speech recognition

A few years ago while on "holiday", I returned from dinner to find that my laptop had bluescreened. Panic time! It was Saturday night, and I still had quite a lot of text to translate and deliver on Monday morning. And up on the highest mountain in Portugal, I wasn't sure where I could find a replacement to finish the project, which was, at least, not utterly lost, because I had put it on a memoQ Cloud server for testing. The next day I got lucky: about 50 km away there was a Worten, where I picked up a gamer laptop with lots of RAM and an SSD. Well, not so lucky, as it was a Hewlett Packard Omen, with a fan prone to failure, but that's another story....

This new laptop was my first encounter with Windows 10. I had heard that this operating system offered improved speech recognition capabilities, and since I prefer to dictate my translations and downloading the 3 GB installation file for Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) from my server at the office was going to take forever, I thought I would give Windows 10 speech recognition a try. I hadn't installed my CAT tool of choice yet, so I fired up Microsoft Word and began dictating. "Not bad," I thought. Then I tried it in my translation environment, and the results were a complete disaster. So I put that mess out of my mind.

Since then there have been some notable advances in speech-to-text capabilities on a number of platforms. But the best solution for my languages (German and English) with DNS became increasingly cranky thanks to neglect of the product by Nuance. Every week I read new reports of trouble with DNS in a variety of environments in which it used to perform very well. Apple's iOS 13 was a great leap forward of sorts for speech recognition and voice-controlled editing, but the new features are only available in English, and having Voice Control activated totally screws up my otherwise rather good dictation in German and Portuguese (or any other language). And don't get me started on the crappy vocabulary addition feature, which uses text entry alone with no link to actual pronunciation. Good luck with that garbage. It's not a bad solution in Hey memoQ with the additional command features added, but iOS dictation is not completely up to reasonable professional standards yet.

I probably would have given no further thought to Windows 10's speech-to-text features if it weren't for Anthony Rudd. We've corresponded a bit since I bought his excellent book on regular expressions for translators (and there's another practical guide for us coming soon from him!), and in a recent discussion he alluded to the use of Unicode with regex as a simple way of dealing with some things another colleague was struggling with. I was intrigued by this, and so for about half a day, I ran down a rabbit hole, testing Unicode subscripts and superscripts for a variety of purposes like fixing bad OCR of footnote markers and empirical formulae, autocorrecting common expressions for subscripted variables and chemical terms, including subscripts and superscripts in term bases and much more. Fascinating and useful stuff on the whole, even if some fonts don't support it well.

And of course I looked at using these special Unicode characters in speech-to-text applications. DNS had some funky quirks (not allowing numbers in the "spoken" version of terms, for example), but it worked rather well, so I can now say "calcium nitrate formula" and get Ca(NO₃)₂ without much ado. And for some reason it occurred to me to give Windows 10 speech recognition a try, just because I was curious whether vocabulary could in fact be trained. Indeed it can, and that feature is better than iOS 13 or DNS by far.

But first I had to remember how to activate speech recognition for Windows on my laptop again. When in doubt, type what you're looking for in the search box....

Notice I've pinned Windows Speech Recognition to my taskbar on the right, which is good for quick tasks.

Gesucht, gefunden
. Unlike other speech recognition solutions, the one in Windows 10 works only for the language set for the operating system. And options there are limited to English (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, India, and Australia), French, German, Japanese, Mandarin (Chinese Simplified and Chinese Traditional) and Spanish.

I put on my trusty Plantronics earset (the best microphone I've used for dictation tasks or audio in my occasional webinars in the past year) and began to dictate, first in Microsoft Word, which had shown acceptable results in my tests long ago. I found that adding vocabulary in the Speech Dictionary (accessed via the context menu in the dictation control element shown as a graphic at the top of this post) was dead simple.

The option to record pronunciation enabled me to record non-English names and words in several languages. And sure enough, the Unicode subscripts and superscripts worked, so I can now say CO₂ (I just dictated that) to my heart's content.

I was expecting a mess when I tried to use Windows 10 speech-to-text in a CAT tool, but it was not to be. It was brilliant, actually. I tried it in my copy of SDL Trados Studio, and with the scratchpad disabled so I could dictate directly into the target it worked well. No voice-controlled editing like I'm used to with DNS in memoQ, but that DNS feature does not work in SDL Trados Studio anyway, so this is no worse. But with the scratchpad box enabled (see the screenshot below), I could use voice commands to select and correct text or perform other operations. Brilliant!

After clicking or speaking "Insert", the text will be written to the target field with the proper formatting
So users of SDL Trados Studio who translate to a target language supported by Windows 10 speech recognition are probably better off not giving their money to Nuance, which I'm told can't even be bothered to make a 64-bit version of DNS now (which probably accounts for a lot of the trouble people have with that program.

I tested Wordfast Pro 5, which seems to confuse the speech recognition tool horribly, with source text displayed in the floating bar for some odd reason. But my earlier tests of Wordfast with DNS were equally unhappy, so somehow I'm not surprised. And I didn't test the Memsource desktop editor, which took the price a few years ago for the worst-ever DNS dictation results with a CAT tool. I'll leave that to someone with a much wider masochistic streak.

But what about memoQ, my personal environment of choice for most translation work? Equally brilliant, works just the same as SDL Trados Studio. No voice control for editing without the dictation scratchpad enabled (there, DNS has an advantage in memoQ), but with the scratchpad you can use the voice commands to edit before inserting in the target text field.

Wanna see this in action? Have a look at this short demo video:

I hope that the future will bring us more language support for Windows 10 dictation (Portuguese, Russian and Arabic, please!) and that other providers (like Google, if you're listening, and Apple, which never listens to anyone anymore except to spy on them with Siri) will expand the speech-to-text features offered, particularly to include sound-linked vocabulary training and better adaptation to individual users' speech. Five years ago when I began to investigate alternatives for non-DNS languages, I expected we would have more by now, and we do, but professional needs require all providers to raise their game.

Addendum: Someone asked me if Windows Speech Recognition is a cloud resource or a locally installed one which will work without an Internet connection. It's definitely the latter. So if you have lousy bandwidth or find yourself disconnected from the Internet, you can still use speech-to-text features.

And more: I use a lot of spoken commands for keyboard shortcuts when I work, so I did a little research and testing. It seems that Windows 10 speech recognition gives full access to an application's keyboard shortcuts via voice. So in memoQ, for example, I can dictate the insertion of tags, items from the Translation Results pane and a lot more. Watch out, Nuance. Windows 10 is going to kick your Dragon's scaly butt!

Jan 20, 2020

memoQfest 2020: call for papers

The twelfth memoQfest will be held in Budapest on June 10th to 12th, 2020. Presentation proposals are being accepted until January 30, 2020. A description of the theme for this year and suggested topics can be found here.

This event has always been a good opportunity to meet the development and support teams and exchange ideas with fellow users from around the world. I've always looked forward to this conference and the excellent people I meet there, and every time my usually high expectations have been exceeded.