Ce soir nous sommes septembre et j’ai fermé ma chambre

Le soleil n’y entrera plus

Tu ne m’aimes plus

Là-haut un oiseau passe comme une dédicace

Dans le ciel

L’histoire n’est plus à suivre et j’ai fermé le livre

Le soleil n’y entrera plus

Tu ne m’aimes plus

When we look for a romantic or life partner, there are certain personal characteristics that most people believe in, value and keep in mind during the fateful search for a life partner. Men generally attribute greater importance to other characteristics and personal traits than women. Men are usually easier to please: a pretty face, a shapely form and a sweet disposition, (which often eventually may turn out to be not so sweet after all, but for the time being the men have no idea), is all most male searchers want in their new partner. And if the woman can also cook, clean the house and maybe even iron a shirt – hey, she’s a keeper!

Women generally make their choices based on more practical and pragmatic criteria when it comes to finding a life partner. Sure, they prefer handsome men, if they can be found, with a charming gleam in their eye and a laid-back disposition. And, oh yes, he should be at least 6 feet (183 cm), preferably 6 feet and four inches (195 cm) tall to protect them from from the many dangers and vicissitudes of this cruel world on the theory that the taller the guy is, the more able he will be to ward off evil and protect them from nasty surprises of life.  It does not really work this way – short men, like Napoleon or Sarcozy often crave and achieve a lot of power to make up for their short stature, although very often they lose it all again in the end …. without gaining an in inch in physical stature.

But the most romantic feature that any man can offer to a woman who is looking for a life partner is the size of his …. bank account, of course!

Everything else, while kind of important and possibly also desirable, is secondary. Even if the man is old, wrinkled, bald, and fat, that is not a major impediment to being found desirable by a beautiful young specimen of the female gender, provided that all of these relatively unimportant personal characteristics are complemented by a fat bank account.

To the female gender, a true measure of a soulmate, or âme sœur (sister soul as they say in French), is the amount of liquidity available in the financial resources of the male that can be eventually accessed by a crafty female.

What I think is more important than alluring physical beauty, although of course I never realized it when I was much younger, is whether the prospective life partner genuinely appreciates you for who you really (or dare I say it, loves you!) and more or less values and considers important the same things in life  that you also consider important.

So now that I got this sexist rant out of my system, I will offer my analysis of important characteristics of a long-term client.

In this same way that it is important that your life partner to want the same things from life as you do and appreciates you for being able to provide them, it is very important whether the clients that you work for genuinely appreciate and value your work and more or less want the same things from your translations that you consider important.

Although I moved a year ago from America to Europe with only two pieces of luggage containing only my underwear, some clothing, and a laptop, I can tell easily how many years various clients stayed with me because I scanned (and backed up) into a folder on my laptop handwritten monthly records  of how much all of these clients have been paying me since 1998.

Most of my clients were and still are patent law firms, based mostly in the United States. Some stayed with me, which is to say that they were sending me patent applications for translation, at first only from Japanese, and later also from German, French and other languages, for quite a few years, let’s say for 5 to 10 years or so. A few of them stayed even longer, close to 20 years, as they still send me now the same kind of work from time to time.  

Several patent departments of large multinational corporations were among my best clients in the nineties and these large corporations kept me busy for about a decade, and some longer – until about the year 2015. But at that point, they switched gears and instead of bothering with very small, specialized translation businesses such as the one run by your truly, the managers probably started dealing mostly with large translation firms. I think that an important reason for this was the corporate groupthink was so ingrained in their brain and everything that was going on in the managerial culture that these managers (such as patent portfolio managers and librarians who are in charge of handling patents) realized that they are just much more comfortable dealing with another corporation than with a little guy like myself.

But even after the advent of the new type of “translation industry”, I still kept quite a few relatively small or mid-size patent law firms as my clients and some of them are still send me work now to my new location in Europe. Nothing really changed much for them since the work comes to me through the internet, they pay me by wire transfers to my US account, I kept my American phone numbers and I also have a mailing address in the United States should they need to mail me something.

Nothing really changed much for me either – I still do the same work for the same clients. The main thing that changed for me is that I will have to file two tax returns next year, one here in Czech Republic and one in the United States.

But there is much less work for me now from these and other sources than there was twenty years ago or even ten years ago. Fortunately, unlike a decade or two decades ago, I now really prefer my dolce far niente whenever I can get it. Just yesterday I turned a Japanese job (from an agency, I rarely turn down a job from a direct client), simply because it looked like too much work, and not really in my field, which is to say not in technical translation.

And I like it when I don’t have to accept as much work as possible because my American pension, which I have been receiving for about two years now, comfortably covers my expenses here, which are much lower now than when I needed to support a family of four, living in a big house in expensive California and later Virginia.

I still like to work, and some months I get a lot of work, but unlike in the past, most of it is for other translators who work for me as I have over the years basically became another tiny, highly specialized translation agency. But some months I get hardly any work at all – and I can’t quite decide which I like better, the busy months, or the slow ones.

I probably prefer slow months because I still am a tourist here: less than a year in a new environment, there are so many things to learn and explore here after 37 years of living in other countries, mostly in the United States.

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It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. – Voltaire

According to a story I recently saw on Youtube, which was originally broadcast on PBS (an American public television station), the average salary of a long-distance truck driver is about US$36,000 to 40,000. But if you specialize in high-end truck transport, for example in transporting expensive furniture for wealthy people, you can make as much as US$200,000, which I understand also more or less corresponds to the medium profit of an owner of a medium-size profitable translation agency. But in the modern trucking “industry” truckers are being paid less and less by the mile and their entire job is expected to disappear as a result of robotization altogether. Although being a long-distance driver used to be a career that came with a pretty solid middle-class income, times are tough for truck drivers.

The average income of a real-estate agent in United States is probably also about US$40,000. But those who specialize in selling high-end properties in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles can make many times that. Just like in any other type of business, it’s not about how much you know and how hard you work, it’s mostly about who you know and most importantly who your customers are.

Fortunately for real-estate agents, it is not as easy to computerize their work to a point where knowledgeable, professional agents could be replaced by cheap amateurs, robots and industrialized, mass production real estate sales models as some other jobs are, because among other things, the human connection that real estate agents need to establish with their customers must be grown slowly, organically and it cannot be simulated by a computer model.

The modern form of so-called translation industry is yet another example of corporate destruction of a type of a profitable small business that used to be built organically for centuries, but that has been corporatized, computerized and industrialized in the name of maximum profits to a sickening degree.

The difference between the organic production of translations by small companies that in the past used to be run mostly by translators or former translators, up until about the year 2000, and the form into which the “translation industry” developed by the second decade of the twenty-first century can be also compared for example to agricultural production of crops and meat in the past and the methods of agricultural production in our age and to many other small-scale production models that have been destroyed by corporate, pretty horrible mass-production models, whether we are talking about the use of cancer-causing pesticides or inhumane treatment of animals raised for meat on factory farms.

I do not respect the segment of the “translation industry”, an industry that in its present form is driven by ignorance, greed and ruthlessness rather than by knowledge, language and writing skills, and hard work.

I receive job offers from the “translation industry” several times a week in the form of mass emails that are sent to many translators at the same time to see who will bite first and offer to do the job fast and for a pittance. Here is one of them:

Greetings to you,

Hope you are well.

I am V., Vendor Manager at XYZ Internationals.

XYZ Internationals is a Consulting, IT and Language Services provider, based in U.S, although we have people working from all over the world. This email is regarding our Language Services Department and details are as follows:

We need your help with following:

Language Pair: Russian-English

Word count: 100

Budget: 0.03 USD per word

Deadline: ASAP

Are you interested? 

You may ignore this email if you are not interested.

Best regards,

V.

Vendor Manager

It’s nearly impossible to shake off these “Internationals”, or about as easy as to get rid of bedbugs. I have been receiving emails like this from this particular outfit for several months now. Even though I asked them not to send me their emails, they have been sending me their mass emails for many months now.

I have no respect for the “translation industry” because it has no respect for people like me. I would never work them, I despise them and their methods and I feel sorry for translators who think that they have no choice but to work for them.

Most of all, I feel sorry for their customers, who most likely have no idea that the translations that they pay for, though cheap, are most of the time pure garbage, the natural result of what the modern corporate management methods have done to translation and translators who used to represent a respected and relatively well paid profession for many centuries, until the advent of the new form of “translation industry”.

But although a certain segment of the “translation industry” is based on the philosophy of corporate mass-production of translations that are purchased at the lowest possible cost from the cheapest source, often from producers of machine translations that are “just as good as human translations”, or from other equally dubious sources, which is to say from “translators” who really have no business translating, another segment of the “translation industry” is still based on the old methods emphasizing the importance of human element in the translation business, methods that respected translators and that were prevalent in the 20th century.

The only way for translators to make a good income and stay in the middle class is to refuse cooperating with the current form of the “translation industry” and work either with translation agencies that treat them as professionals who need to be paid accordingly, or become completely independent of translation agencies and work only for direct clients.

This is of course no easy task, but the fact is that translators who specialize in an interesting and promising translation field can make many times what those of us who respond to mass emails of dubious translation agency operators make and as a result spend their lives working for peanuts.

Just like the long-distance truck driver who specializes in transporting expensive furniture for rich people, or real estate agent who sells high-end properties in New York or California, a translator who specializes in a well-chosen translation field and figures out how to connect with direct clients will be doing just fine for many years to come.

But translators who submit themselves to the demands of the most pernicious segments of the “translation industry” will be probably eventually turned by the industry into mere post-processors of machine translation detritus.

Posted by: patenttranslator | August 4, 2019

The Machine Translation Time Bomb

The most valuable asset on earth is no longer gold or oil. That may have been the case in the past, but times have changed. The most valuable asset in our world is now data. Including your data, among all kinds of other data. Just look at the stock market – the wealthiest and most powerful companies in our world at the end of the second decade of the twenty first century are tech companies selling mostly data and data-related services, companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, to anybody willing to pay. 

Not enough is being done to protect this data … but that is not really all that surprising, or what I want to write about in my blog post today. There is simply too much data out there and too many hackers are trying to steal it to get fabulously rich. The smart ones may eventually succeed, the not-so-smart ones may end up in prison.

What is surprising to me is the cavalier attitude of some companies, including large, very profitable corporations, to how this data is created.

For example, software designed and used to safely navigate airplanes through night skies when hundreds of passengers on the plane are trying to sleep, mostly in vain, is one example of very valuable data. And because this software data is so valuable, companies that create this software to use it for their planes should be very, very careful about how and by whom this software is compiled.

But when profit is king, corners are often cut in the most inappropriate places in a manner that may ultimately lead to disastrous results. Because writing and designing this kind of data is expensive, Boeing outsourced writing of the software code to subcontractors relying on software engineers located in countries lacking a deep background in aerospace design, often in India, who were being paid $9 per hour.

I tried to find out how many people died in the two recent crashes of Boeing planes, but after about 10 minutes of furious clicking, I gave up. I did find a number of articles making a general mention of these crashes, but without the numbers, and each of the articles started by stating that “Air travel has never been as safe as it is now”.

It is impossible to find this kind of apparently top-secret information from Google or from another search engine. Clearly, since Boeing executives failed to exercise due diligence when it came to hiring qualified and experienced programmers, although I don’t know how it is being done, they are now exercising due diligence when it comes to removing the relevant information about the number of people who died as a result of criminal negligence of the company from the Web. It may be only a matter of time before the link I placed in the paragraph above disappears from the Web too. How much money will Boeing ultimately lose because it was cutting corners by outsourcing the compiling of critical data to the cheapest source available? Nobody knows yet.

What does all this has to do with what I call the time bomb of machine translation?

A lot, in my opinion. The use of machine translation is celebrated by the so-called translation industry as a new, innovative way to make translation available for a fraction of the cost of actual human translation to thousands of customers, in particular corporate customers, by using machine translation, which is virtually free, and outsourcing the editing of the machine-generated product to cheap subcontractors who are paid about 1 cent per word. These subcontractors would by necessity have to live in third world countries where 9 US$ an hour is a pretty good wage …. that is if you can proofread 900 words per hour, looking at the original language that you presumably know well, and the language of the translation, which you presumably know as well too, and trying to fix the machine-generated output, which according to the “translation industry” is very reliable and needs only a little going over with a fine-tooth comb.

The industry keeps publishing studies about how accurate and reliable the machine translations are. I don’t remember the actual statistics that the industry is using, although I glanced at several of them. But I do remember that the alleged accuracy is very high, 90 percent or something like that.

Which is a completely bogus, purely propagandistic number, of course. If you translate a long sentence ending with “in our expert opinion, the real estate property is not worth 2.75 million US dollars,” for instance from German to English, as “in our expert opinion, the real estate property is worth 2.75 million US dollars”, the translation is 97% correct when one uses the laughable statistics of the industry. The only problem with the machine translation is that the software missed one word, namely the world “nicht” (not), which as I and many translators know is sometime missed by machine translation software, probably because it is often located at the end of a long German sentence combobulated to an extent that makes it difficult even for human brain to discombobulate it, let alone for software.

And that is where the machine translation is located, in plain sight, although nobody seems to see it. The “translation industry” certainly never mentions it! A company relying on a machine-translated text, even if the were to be later “post-edited” by cheap post-editors whose eyes have to keep jumping between the original language, (which is a language that they presumable know well) and the machine-text, (which is in a language that is presumably native or close to native to these rushed post-editors), if they want to make at least $9 per hour, would stand to lose mucho, mucho dinero as bearded bandits like to say in American westerns.

What is the percentage of translations generated by the “translation industry” that is based on machine translation output, glanced over later by human “post editors?” Nobody knows this number either. The “translation industry” does not mention it to its clients, does it? But I think that in a world where the maximum profit is king, it is probably a very high number.

So I repeat, that is where the time bomb of machine translation is hidden. Fortunately, the bomb can be fairly safely defused by companies that do not trust the “translation industry” propaganda, avoid the “translation industry” and work only with certifiable humans, because only humans can generate data that is based on human cognition rather than data that is based on an algorithm.

Because as we all know, algorithms can sometime go amok in a way that even a well-functioning human brain is later unable to detect.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 23, 2019

You Can Obtain Your ID at the Magistrate

This was the SMS text on my phone that I have been awaiting for such a long time, over 10 months. I thought a Czech ID would be the easiest ID to obtain, because in every other country where I registered my domicile as a resident and sought an official local ID, it was a routine procedure.

But it turned out to be much harder for me to get the Czech one, much harder than the IDs entitling me to permanent domicile that I had received in Germany, United States, or Japan.

In Germany, still called West Germany back in 1981 when I became one of a few thousand refugees there from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary who somehow made it across the Iron Curtain to Germany, it was a simple enough procedure and it took only a few weeks before I received a letter informing me that I can pick up my ID at the City Hall.

The ID was sort of a blue passport, entitling me to travel anywhere (except communist countries, where I would be immediately arrested for having committed the horrible crime of leaving and not returning to my home country, surrounded back then by miles and miles of barbed wire and watch towers to prevent happy citizens from leaving their socialist paradise.) I could travel anywhere else with the blue “passport” as long as I returned within a two-year period to Bundesrepublik Deutschland where I was gainfully employed.

So I gladly exchanged my green Czechoslovakian passport, which I afterwards never saw again, for the blue German Reiseausweiss. As I was finally able to travel in Western Europe, I then joyfully went with friends from Poland and Slovakia on trips to Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland, Luxembourg. In the end, I used the same German Reiseausweiss for the last time to fly to San Francisco a year later once my US immigrant visa came through.

To obtain a local ID in San Francisco was the easiest thing in the world. So easy, in fact, that I don’t remember much of it anymore. All I remember is that a kind black lady at the Social Security Office issued a Social Security Number for me when I showed her my visa in the blue German Reiseausweiss and I assume that with that number and my address I was then issued an ID by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles.)

When I moved four years later to Tokyo, obtaining a local foreign resident card was only a slightly more complicated affair. I remember that the ladies at the Shiyakusho (City Hall) could not make sense of my white passport, which again was not really an actual passport because at that point I was not a US citizen yet. It was a white booklet that looked like a passport, it had the outline of all the states in United States on its visa pages, but on its white cover, instead of Passport, it said Reentry Permit. It was also good for two years, but every year I had to return to United States to maintain my official residency there.  

The ladies at the Shiyakusho couldn’t make sense of it because they never saw anything like that before. They were discussing the problem freely among themselves because they did not realize that I spoke Japanese, since people who looked like me are not supposed to speak their language. Then, finally, one of them figured it out and exclaimed “Ah, are wa Amerika no gaijin da!” (That’s an American foreigner!) and the mystery was solved. They then promptly issued a little blue booklet for me that every “gaijin” living in Japan is supposed to carry on him or her at all times. The correct polite form of the Japanese word for foreigner is of course “gaikokujin”, and “gaijin” is kind of a mild slur. But it is a very popular word in Japan, and as I said, they probably did not realize that this “gaijin” understood what they were saying.

So, after my positive experience with obtaining a local ID in three different countries on three different continents, I did not expect any impediments on the part of the employees of the City Hall in Ceske Budejovice, which goes by the majestic title “Magistrate” in Czech. After all, as a dual US and Czech citizen, I was in possession of a valid Czech passport and of a Czech permanent address certificate, which was issued to me without any problems a few days prior by the same “Magistrate.”

But I was in for a rude awakening. That was because the women at the magistrate deciding who would and who would not receive an ID, passport or driver’s license started demanding Czech translations of various documents, some of which I had, some of which I had no clue how to get. In my mind, I started calling the women comrades, because they reminded me so much of the comrades from the previous, totalitarian regime – which officially was supposed to have died thirty years already, but perhaps did not die completely.

The first comrade demanded about four or five documents, among them “an original copy” of my birth certificate, and “original copies” along with translations of my marriage certificate from California from 1984 and of my divorce decree from Virginia 34 years later.

I figured, well, maybe a do need to prove to them that I am no longer married and ignored the request for translations of other identifying documents. So I had a translation of the divorce decree prepared by a local translation firm, which was provided also with a certifying statement and with an officially looking stamp and something like three months later, I gave it another try, took my number from the number dispenser and waited my turn in a room full of anxious looking people.

The second comrade, a different one this time but looking very much like the first one, looked approvingly at the translation of my long-lasting, yet ultimately unsuccessful marriage adventure, and said “Well, all I need now is a more recent copy of your Czech citizenship certificate. Yours is too old, it may not be older than one year.” To my question where could I receive such a certificate she replied that I could obtain it at the local Court Building.

So, naturally, I hurried to the Court Building, which was not very far, took yet another number from the number dispenser, and waited my turn until my number appeared lighted on the number display on the wall and a computerized voice announced my number.

I thought that if I could get now a more recent certificate, for which no translation would be required, I could go back to the Magistrate and finally be allowed to apply for a Czech ID. But that was definitely not what this comrade, a third one already, had mind. Instead, she told me that for this certificate, she would need to see first: 1. translation of my marriage certificate (the same thing that the 1. comrade requested and that I ignored, 2. birth certificates of my two adult children living in United States, with translations and something called Apostila (a new request), 3. a more recent certificate of Czech citizenship (another request of a previous comrade I had ignored), and 4. a Czech translation of my US naturalization certificate from January of 1989. That was it, unless I forgot something (which I probably did).

I was majorly pissed. At this point I knew that the comrades were playing with me like a cat plays with a hapless mouse because each of the comrade requested different documents from me. But instead of erupting with justified rage, which I was very close to doing, I scheduled an appointment with a legal aid office for senior citizens (free of charge), where I told my moving story to a very pretty young female lawyer.

And she knew just what to do. She called what is called here the Ministry of Internal Affairs, after some digging figured out who was the appropriate person to talk to (I doubt that I would be able to do that), and found out the following:

There was no need for me to have any of the many documents that the three comrades so far requested from me. All I needed was 1. a valid Czech passport, and 2. a certificate of permanent domicile in Ceske Budejovice. Both of these documents I had on me and showed to each of The Three Comrades at the Magistrate and at the Court Building. Details of my marital status would be required by the Magistrate only if I wanted my Czech ID to indicate whether I was single or married. But I could also choose not to have the ID reflect my marital status.

So now I had a confirmation from an official source that The Three Comrades at Magistrate and at the Court Building, whose job it was to make sure that people like myself would be provided with proper identification for proper payment of taxes and the like, where for some reason instead doing their best to prevent people like me from having proper identification.

About a month later, I went to the Magistrate again to give it yet another try. This time, I was going to request my Czech ID from them, because this time I knew what kind of document they could and what they could and what they could not ask from me. If they refused to give me what I wanted and was legally entitled to, I would threaten them with a legal action, I thought to myself. And I would probably follow through, because as I said, I was majorly pissed.

This was like living in a communist country again, only worse.

I was not going to put up with this abuse of power anymore!!!

The fourth person looked to me just like the previous three female comrades. She merely glanced at the numerous documents and translations I was placing before her, said “I don’t need those” and concentrated on my Czech passport and certificate of permanent domicile.

Then she confirmed to me that this was all she needed and that I did not need to have my marital status stated on my ID, unless I wanted it there. She also said that there could be complications in the future should I want to get married again, and that I would then need an official confirmation of my marital status from the Supreme Court in Brno, but that in the meantime, this would not stand in the way of my right to have a proper Czech ID. (It obviously broke my heart that I could not get married easily now, but I was prepared to live with that.)

She took my picture, gave me receipt … and that was it. I could not believe my luck!

But why where The Three Comrades, unlike their counterparts in three different countries on three different continents many years ago, trying to make it as hard as possible for me to get the damn ID, which I definitely needed and to which I was obviously entitled? Why did I have to the Magistrate three times before I finally encountered a normal person who was doing her job the way it was supposed to be done?

I don’t know the answer to this question, I can only speculate. Maybe The Three Comrades do not like Americans. Or maybe they hate equally all people who return from any foreign country to their old town. Or maybe, as one Czech lady suggested to me, they simply envy people like me because they know that we receive every month much more money then they do, even though we are pensioners and they must still work for their money. Or maybe they simply do things like this to everyone because they enjoy abusing their power, although the create more work for themselves and their colleagues in this manner.

Whatever the case may be, I now have the Czech ID, for which I had to wait 10 months, in my wallet, along with my Virginian Driver’s License, which is still good.

I am very glad that I still have my US Driver’s License and Passport, because it means that should decide to leave the EU and return to US, all I have to do is buy a ticket and hop on a plane.

Maybe that’s what The Three Comrades were envious about because that kind of freedom is something that they never did have and never will have.

Every now and then somebody or some institution sends me a paper on trends in translation by what is now unquestioningly called the “translation industry”, as if it were perfectly natural to call cognitive and intellectual processes occurring in the brain of persons a translation industry, a writing industry, or a thinking industry, etc.

I usually scan a few lines and then discard what is mostly another example of transparently propagandistic public-relation propaganda designed for yet another “LSP” (“language services provider”), which is the name translation agencies nowadays prefer.

One reason why I actually read the paper sent to me, called “Changes in the Field of Translation Project Manager: Findings of a Longitudinal Ethnographic Study,” was that its authors, Hanna Risku, Jelena Milosevic and Regina Rogl, called in their paper translation agencies what they in fact are, namely ‘translation agencies’, instead of using the politically correct term – in the translation industry, that is – the term “LSPs”, meaning ‘Language Service Providers’, which they are not.

The translation service is provided by actual translators, not by the agency managers, let alone by the translation agency owners, who in the present form of the ‘translation industry’ are almost always monolingual, and thus know nothing about translation – except for how to buy and sell them.

Because the paper was about management of translation projects, as expected, it did not say anything about translation as such, or much about translators, except to mention requirements on the translators, discussed briefly below, which make no sense to me.

The emphasis was on translation production networks organized by an unnamed translation agency in Austria, probably based in Vienna, which was originally involved predominantly in projects involving technical texts for business, something that I have been involved in too for more than 30 years now, both as a translator and as a project manager.

The paper mentioned changes in two historical stages of the ‘translation industry’: changes between 20001 and 2007 in the first stage, and then changes between 2007 and 2014, by asking translation agency project managers interesting questions. This is also a topic that I know something about as I have been writing about these changes frequently in my critique of the ‘translation industry’ on this blog since about 2010.

Some of the changes between 2007 and 2014 were outlined in the paper as follows:

1. Growth and diversification: Company management staff told us that at a certain point in this period (2007-2014) they had decided that they did not want to company to grow any further. However, they noticed that growth was unavoidable, and the timing of the 3rd observation period was a conscious and established strategy.

• The number of PMs [Project Managers] had increased to 13 and the language of the company meetings had changed to English – at least whenever there was a non-German speaking information and communication technology [ICT] expert present.

• The ICT expert was one of the new specialized jobs. Similarly, the management of contractors (i.e. the recruitment and evaluation of external translators and translation agencies had been made the sole responsibility of one specific employee. For the first time, the company also now had an employee focused specifically on sales and purchasing who made contact with potential industry.

In many interviews the participants mentioned an external recruiter who, for a number of years now, had been responsible for the recruitment and evaluation of new employees.

• The scope of the services offered by the company had also expanded. Previously, they could be seen working in specialized fields of translation, but in 2014 they were offering a variety of services, covering various different forms of translation and interpreting. Specific examples include localization of software and advertisements, audiovisual translation (subtitles, voice-overs), translation of legal documents and offering training in intercultural communication.

…..

3. Fragmentation of the use of tools: a remarkable number of individual software packages wee now used at different stages of a single translation project (depending on the client, language, text, PM). There were various specialized software possibilities for different tasks, such as terminology management, translator quality management and quality check …. The different tasks, both of administrative and project management nature, and the single sub-processes required the use of various software. To give an example, quality management and control – the measures a PM takes to check a text after receiving it from a translation and before they send it to a proofreader – required a combination of various different programs, which each check only one part of the text, e.g. the terminology. There are various proofreading methods too, ranging from tracked changes in a MS Word file to a web-based platform where the changes are made according to a specific automated workflow procedure.

…..

6. There were also changes in the translators’ roles. Much – even more than before – was expected of the translators before the were given a test translation. The translators had to provide references from their customers, they had to be native speakers of the target language, live in the target country, have knowledge of certain CAT tools and have an academic degree in languages. In addition, the translator had to have work experience and be able to secure an external revision of their translation complete [sic] by a colleague. All this information, as well as feedback on the translator’s work, was stored in a contractor database. [Emphasis mine].

Much is indeed expected from the translator, but most of the requirements make no sense to me.

  1. The translators have to provide references from their customers.

Personally, I never do that and I have never been asked by a direct client for references. Most of my customers are patent lawyers who understand that by providing references in this manner I would be infringing upon the confidentiality of the projects that I handle for my clients. And I know that if I identified my direct customers to a translation agency,  many agencies would see it as an invitation to poach my clients.

When I work with a new translator, which does not happen very often, I never ask for a test, which the agencies expect to be completed free of charge, presumable because the translators’ time is of no value as far as they are concerned. I simply ask for a sample of previous work, which unlike a typical translation agency, I am perfectly able to evaluate on my own. If the qualifications of the translator seem impressive enough,  I usually send at first a short actual translation to a new translator, for which I obviously pay.

However, since the PMs working in the current version of translation agencies in the ‘translation industry’ do not understand the languages or the subjects that they are handling for the agencies, they do need to have a sample test for this purpose. If the result matches closely existing translation, the PM will assume that they have a good translation. If not, it is a bad translation. Unfortunately, the PM usually has no way to determine whether the translation supplied previously for the test was passable, good, excellent, or riddled with mistakes, which often happens when monolingual managers attempt to control multilingual projects.

To insist that the translator work into his or her native language does make sense, although there are numerous exceptions to this rule.

But many native speakers of for instance of German or English live in countries such as Mexico, France, or Japan. I know that because the best translators that I work with often do not live in the country where they were born. To insist on speakers living in their native countries makes no sense. For example, the best translators from Japanese into English, who are native English speakers, in my experience live in Japan. I work with two excellent German translators, one of whom lives in Mexico, the other one in Turkey, etc.

  1. The translator has to have knowledge of certain CAT tools.

Now why would that be? It is none of my damn business what kind of CAT tools translators who work for me use. I only care about the quality of their translations, not their tools. This is partly because I am not interested in stealing money from them by insisting on what the ‘translation industry’ calls full matches and partial matches, i.e. words for which the translator is not paid because they are repeated in the text, which is a dirty and illegal practice and a subject I deal with in several posts on this blog.

  1. The translator must have an academic degree in languages.

No, he or she doesn’t need to have a degree in languages. All other things being equal, it is best if the translator in fact does have a degree in languages. I have a degree in Japanese and English studies and I am very proud of it. But there are many excellent translators who have a degree in something else than languages, for instance in chemistry or sciences, and many of them are thus much more suited for certain types of technical translations than translators who only have a linguistic background. This is just common sense.

Insisting on academic background in linguistics is a misguided policy, at best. A law degree, for example, is obviously more useful to a translator translating obscure legal texts than a degree in languages. I think that all of the translators who work for me have a university degree, but only a relatively small minority among them have a degree in in languages.

  1. The translator has to be able to secure an external revision of their translation complete(d) by a colleague.

This is unfair and completely ridiculous. First of all, who will pay for it? The agency, I would hope, although I can’t be sure about it. Many agencies will probably try to force the translator to include the cost of an external proofreader in the rate of the translator, which would be morally indefensible.

Let’s think about this strange requirement. Should the agency not be able to at least proofread a translation, or secure and pay for an external, independent proofreader if the agency is unable to do so? But if the agency can’t do even that,  what is the agency’s actual job? To my mind, such an agency is a thoroughly incompetent parasite.

In the modern version of the ‘translation industry’, everything is compartmentalized in translation agencies to such an extent that no person in an agency is really able to assume responsibility for the entire transaction.

Here is another revealing quote from the paper:

Previously, every PM was responsible for all communication with the translators and translation agencies within a project, including problem solving and giving feedback. Only in special cases were problems referred to the managing director. Now if the problems come up, the PM contacts a specific colleague who was responsible for managing the contractors (translators and agencies). Thus, crisis communication with the translators was the responsibility of one specific employee and no longer part of the PMs’ work.

Wonderful! So if the translator has a specific problem with the job, for example related to terminology, he or she can no longer ask any questions the PM who handles the job who might therefore know something about it because communication with a translator is “no longer part of the PMs’ work”.

The translator has to ask another person who is presumably not only monolingual, but on top of that knows nothing about the project. In such astructure it’s definitely better not to ask anybody anything at all since nobody is likely to be able to have any answers.

I could go on and on for at least another ten pages analyzing what I see as problems in how the ‘translation industry’ is nowadays handling translation projects, but I don’t want to make this post too long.

Suffice it to say that although robotization of the way project managers and translators who are now forced to handle complicated translation projects may be cost-effective, the many problems that I only touched upon in my post today will in my opinion inevitably lead to poor quality of translation, which will not be detected or even suspected by project managers who must handle everything and anything for the agency, without understanding the languages or subjects that they are handling, and without being able to talk to the translators about potential or real problems.

That is so efficient, isn’t it?

But although the forced robotization of the work of translators and project managers, de riguer in the ‘translation industry’, is one possible and popular model because it is so ‘effective and cost efficient”, another model is also possible.

It is the model of a small, highly specialized translation agency or an individual translator who works only or mostly with direct clients and avoids the ‘translation industry’ like a plague that it is. That is the translation and translation management model that I have been using in my own work since 1987, and with considerable success, I should add.

I think that the fact that I am still here after more than 30 years, able to compete with the ‘translation industry’, speaks for itself.

Posted by: patenttranslator | June 14, 2019

Home Is Where They Have To Take You In

“Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

From Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of a Hired Man.”

Now that our house, or our former house in Virginia, has finally sold and new buyers are living in in it, most likely a young family with children and at least one dog because who else would need such a big house, I sometime find myself pondering the question of what is really this thing that we call home and how we define it to ourselves.

When we think about what our home is, most of us will probably think back to the place or the house we grew up in as children. I know I do. Although I came to America as a penniless refugee in 1982, it did not take me that long to buy our first house in California. America was good to penniless refugees who came here with nothing but a good plan back in the early eighties, and I hope that this old tradition will continue for a few more centuries. We sold my first house 7 years after we bought it to trade it for a much bigger house in Virginia in which our children grew up and where I lived with my wife, now ex-wife, for the next 17 years, until the October of last year when I decided to return to my native Southern Bohemia soil.

But during all those years when I lived in California and later in Virginia, and there were 35 of them, there was only one place that I saw in my dream when I was sleeping, and it was not our sunlight-filled first house in Santa Rosa, California, which I loved so much, with the green grass in the backyard, the swing set for the kids and San Francisco only 40 minutes away over the Golden Gate Bridge, nor the second house, which I bought mostly to make my wife happy when the patent translation business was booming, where it took me less than 10 minutes to walk to a fishing pier to be completely surrounded by water during high tide, watching crabs scampering in the mud and big white birds with a nasty shriek catching small fish in the briny water.

It did make her happy for quite a few years, but not forever. In my experience, there is nothing in this world that will make a woman, any woman, happy forever …. except maybe lots and lots of money, but even that is probably doubtful.

What I saw in my recurring dream was a fairly small apartment in Český Krumlov in which I lived from about the age of 8 until I graduated at 18 from high school and moved to Prague to study languages, first French and Latin, and then Japanese and English.

The apartment in in Český Krumlov was not big, just a hallway, a kitchen and two rooms, but it was located in the corner of the central square where everything was just a few steps away. A store where we could buy groceries was just in the next building, the butcher’s shop was across the square and the restaurant was about fifty meters away. These shops are gone now, replaced by expensive hotels and shops selling souvenirs for tourists. Most locals had to move out from the center of the medieval town, rendered virtually unlivable by tourists for most regular people who used to live there for some eight centuries.

During evenings after a hot summer day, my father used to send me to the restaurant on the square to bring him his favorite beer on tap (Budweiser), which is still my favorite beer now. The restaurant used to be called Měšták back then and the prices were very reasonable. Now it has the pretentious name The Old Inn and it is so expensive that only tourists go there. I used to have a sip or two from the big glass pitcher of beer on my way back and my father pretended not to notice, because I knew enough not to piss him off by drinking too much of it, and he knew that a sip of beer never hurt a kid.

Most apartments in Europe are very small by voracious American standards. You can’t put a big, American house, with the garage and the lawn in its front yard and in the backyard on the square of a medieval town, it would not fit there.

But in any case, as my recurring dream seems to prove, it’s not the size or the luxurious layout and amenities of your apartment or house that makes your home. It’s the people who live in it with you. And the people who used to live there with me there are gone now. Those who were much older than me, called parents, died many years ago, my children have moved out and now live thousands of miles away from each other in opposite corners of United States, my ex-wife moved back to Japan, and I moved back to my native Bohemia.

They had to take her back in Japan, I suppose, when she had to go there. The house where she grew up in Tokyo and where we used to live for a while after we got married, sleeping like any Japanese couple on the floor on tatami (mats) in a room without any furniture except for a kotatsu, is still standing, and her mother, who lives alone in a pretty big house for suburban Tokyo and who is almost ninety now, must badly need her help.

They had to take me in back here in Bohemia too and this is my home now again, although as of yet, there are no other people living in my apartment besides me to make it a real home … and probably never will be, not even a dog.

Still, I am looking for a slightly bigger place here to move into it once my lease expires on my current apartment in three months. I saw one that I really liked in another part of Ceske Budejovice last Sunday.

It was actually a friend, a fairly recent one, who sent me a link to an advertisement for that apartment. It’s not big and not very expensive either, but it does have a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a balcony.

The most important thing was, as always, location, location, location. It is located in a renovated old house that is located in an area not far from public transport (I don’t have a car now and don’t want to buy one), with several restaurants and cafés nearby where I could have my breakfast, lunch or dinner, since I don’t like (or know how to) cook.

But even more importantly, it sits just across the street from a quiet café overlooking a walking path by the river were families can go for a short hike with their doggies and babies, enjoying the tranquility and the view. There is even a boat that you can take for a minitour on the river to a nearby Hluboká Castle and back. Last Sunday, when I was sitting there sipping a fruit cocktail on the veranda with my new friend, it seemed like paradise to me.

But on Tuesday, I got an email from the real estate agent informing me that somebody else snagged the apartment before me.

Oh, well, it’s OK. I have plenty of time and I’ve always enjoyed the hunt for a new place anyway. Always have, and always will, I guess.

There is no question that we are living in an era of unprecedented destruction of existing occupations that is driven to a large extent by new, innovative technology and internet. For example, many US large big-box retailers have been biting the dust, to borrow a turn of phrase from Freddy Mercury, for decades now, starting with Sears in the eighties, and more recently followed by other brick-and-mortar retailers such as JC Penny, Radio Shack or Circuit City.

Since the nineties, sales have been slowly shifting away from actual stores where people can go to look at and touch stuff, to shopping on internet, often to Amazon, which does not really have brick-and-mortar stores and yet is in everybody’s house.

Some chain stores have been able to survive the trend away from real stores toward online sales only, such as Best Buy, thanks to smart managerial policies and mutually beneficial cooperation with large customers, such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and even Amazon.

These unprecedented changes that were often, although not always and not only, driven by technology, affected also my own translation business. Sometime I look with nostalgia at how much money I was able to make as a small translation business owner who was doing most of the translating work by himself ten or twenty years ago. Now that I am thirty-two years into running my specialized translation business, I make much less than I used to in what I could call the glory days of patent translation.

It’s fine with me, I wouldn’t even want to be as busy as I used to be. The main thing is that I am still here, translating patents and having fun doing that. Fortunately, I am now or consider myself semi-retired and unlike many people my age (66), I don’t really need to supplement my retirement income, which is quite sufficient for me now that I don’t have to feed a family of four plus three dogs and a pensive bearded dragon lizard as I used to for a very long time.

But even though I don’t need to work, I really enjoy working, both translating myself and organizing and proofreading translation projects when I work as an agency and I would like to continue doing so for as long as possible.

The flip side of the general destruction of traditional ways of delivering products and services is that a small operation, such as my own tiny business, can offer to my customers advantages that for example large translation agencies are unable to provide, simple because they are so large and by definition they can only provide impersonal service through project managers who often know very little or nothing about the languages and subjects that they are handling.

Although of course large translation agencies try to pretend that everybody they use is an expert translator, I think that they mostly use beginners and people who are very cheap … but not necessarily good translators.

Why do I think so? Well, years ago I used to work for quite a few large translation agencies, but I would no longer touch work from them with a ten-foot pole as the saying goes because the rates they pay are ridiculously low and the deadlines are often brutal. I think the last time I worked for one of these agencies was about 15 years ago. They kept underbidding each other for such a long time that at this point, they are probably using post-edited machine translations, if you want to call them that, and a lot of would-be translators whose work is not very good, but who are very cheap.

Twenty or thirty years ago, most agencies were looking for talented, highly educated and highly experienced translators because their good name depended on the quality of the work that translators working for them could deliver. At this point, translation quality is mostly just an afterthought in so-called translation industry as most agencies are usually looking for warm bodies willing to accept the lowest rate for translating, “post-editing”, and other types of carnages inflicted by “technology” upon what used to be reliable human translation.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Some agencies are able to buck the trends of the so-called translation industry, and I still work for such agencies. All of them are small or very small, and most of them are run by old timers.

They don’t force translators, newbies especially, to use CAT tools so that they could cheat them on the word count, they pay good rates, and they pay on time. Somehow, they managed to survive the cutthroat competition that is based solely on who can offer the lowest rate.

They are survivors from an older, gentler version of translation agencies, outliers who haven’t been destroyed by the new, predatory business model. It still makes sense to me to work for them, and when I work as an agency, I too apply the old agency business model to my own business model.

For example, I never haggle about the rate that I am paying to translators who work for me. I never say, “I can only pay x cents per word for this job” to try to force them to accept less. If I can make a good profit, I accept the rate that is offered to me, if not, well, then it’s not be and I move on.

Even though now I generally get paid in 45 to 60 days by many direct clients instead of 30 days as used to be the case, I pay every received invoice on the fifteenth and on the first of each month. Unlike most translation agencies, I have money that I keep in the bank precisely for this purpose, and I don’t need to make extra profit from the “float”, i.e. from the extra time that I could make the translators wait for their money. Unlike the “translation industry”, I care about whether translators can pay their bills on time.

I think that just like many large-box retailers, many large agencies will disappear in a few years, either because they will go bankrupt, or because they will be swallowed by brutal competition from other shark-like businesses.

The interesting thing to me is that despite all of the changes and all of the carnage that I have seen with my own eyes in the translation business over the last three decades, the old business model of a caring translation agency is still here, surviving the challenges of the brave new world quite well, just like mom-and-pop stores and restaurants that care about their customers and the people who work in them survived the demise of big stores like Sears, Radio Shack, JC Penny and Circuit City and are still there, doing pretty well, thank you very much, right next to a large shopping mall whose days are already numbered.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 26, 2019

Who Controls the Distribution Network for Translations?

One of the things that changed in modern world is the pattern for acquisition of resources, or of material wealth, if you will. Unlike in the past centuries, powerful countries no longer simply invade and occupy with military force countries that are not able to defend themselves to acquire their resources. They may still attack and invade largely defenseless countries based on some pretext from time to time, but not in order to turn these countries into colonies. Instead, all that is needed now is to gain control over the network for distribution of resources, or the network for distribution of the labor force in those countries, a labor force that is hungry and ready to work for very low wages, which is where the real wealth of China lies.

Apple, for example, does not manufacture anything. But the company is extremely profitable because it controls the distribution network for iPhones, very smart gadgets that are assembled from parts manufactured in a whole number of countries. China only provides the labor force to assemble the phones and ships them to United States and other countries requiring a constant supply of smart gadgets. It says “Manufactured in China” on the iPhone in my pocket, in very small font that I can barely read. But this is not true because the phone was only assembled in China from components, such as the touch screen displays, memory chips and microprocessors that were manufactured in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and United States.

The statement ” Give me a fixed point and I will move the whole world, attributed to Archimedes (287 – 212 BC), is sometime rendered in several different versions, such as “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”, or “Give me a lever and a place to stand on and I will move the earth”.

We will most likely never find out what were the exact words the Archimedes used and what precisely he meant by them … before he was killed by a Roman soldier when he asked him, rather impolitely in the opinion of the soldier, not to disturb the funny circles that he was concentrated on drawing in the sand.

But what is apparent is that we are all surrounded by many fluid fixed points that move and change every few decades or centuries, although their essence remains essentially the same. Whoever is aware of these invisible fixed points and finds a way to acquire and turn them into a fixed point with a long lever will find a way to control everything, or everything that matters these days, which is to say money.

In the 21st century, one such fixed point that can move the whole world (with a lever that is long enough), is control over the distribution network for stuff. The banks figured out how to create and control a distribution network for money, and that’s all they need to control the whole damn world.

And what a fine job they are doing, aren’t they?

I could go with my rant on and on, but since this blog is supposed to be about translation, the question that I am finally getting to here is what is the distribution network for delivery of translations, including your translations, and who controls it?

To a certain extent, it is currently controlled by translation agencies rather than by translators themselves.

If the “professional” associations for translators such as the ATA (American Translators Association) really cared about translators instead of trying to make as much money as possible from laughable baloney such as “continued education points” or whatever term is used for this nonsensical charade now, they would try to wrestle the control over the network for distribution of translations back from translation agencies, or Language Services Providers, or Language Providers or whatever absurdly propagandistic term they prefer to adorn themselves with now.

What is professional about an association of “professional translators” that anybody and their grandmother and her dog can join for a fee, no questions asked, and rather a modest one at that? Nothing, of course, absolutely nothing. Unlike for instance in some European and Latin American countries, translators in United States are among professions that are not regulated by the US government. If you call yourself a singer, writer or a journalist, that is what you are. If you call yourself a translator, you are a translator. You can be “accredited” by a court or by an association or another organization, but that does not make you per se a translator, at least not in the United States, because anybody can hang out a shingle with the TRANSLATOR sign and start translating.

It is both a good and a bad thing, of course, because a lot of people who try to translate for a living should probably be doing something else where they can do less damage, for example becoming dog walkers, or psychics who talk to the dead, like Whoopi Goldberg in the film Ghost.

That makes control over the network for distribution and delivery of translations even more important. Although as I have noted, this network is to some extent controlled by translation agencies, none of the big agencies is able to control a significant portion of the entire system, for example the way Microsoft still controls the network for word processors with a greedy scheme forcing most customers to pay for software by the second in perpetuity, the same software that they used to be able to own in perpetuity once they paid for it. Fortunately, not even all of the translation agencies, big and small, are able to control most of the system for distribution and delivery of translations.

About three decades ago, when it became possible for each of us to express our opinion via comments on a newspaper’s web page, a blog, or (God forbid!) later also on the Facebook, internet made it possible for any individual translator to create his or her own distribution network for delivery of translations.

So I created my own network for distribution of my own translations with a website and a handy domain name that fits the kind of translation that can be easily found with relevant keywords on Google, a website that has been working with minimal investment for me for two decades and is still working for me now.

The main difference between my job two or three decades ago and now is that thirty years ago, I was delivering only my own translation, while now I deliver through my own distribution network along with my translations also translations done by talented and reliable translators who agree to work for me.

I still deliver my work through the distribution network of a few agencies, but since most of the “translation industry” has been turned in an ignorant, deeply immoral and incredibly greedy monster, I am able to work only for about three or four very small agencies that for the most part do not operate based on the principles of the distribution network of the “translation industry”.

Isn’t it up to us whether we control our own translation distribution network and who we will allow to control our network for distribution and delivery of our own work? Are you in control of most of the network for distribution of all or most of your translations, or is somebody else in control?

And if it is somebody else, why is that the case?

There was a time in my life when I was an employee and thought that being an employee was a logical consequence of needing to pay bills while being alive without being independently rich. Therefore, I believed that it was a perfectly natural condition, or state of being if you will, for most humans.

I was an employee for a relatively short time, about 7 years, in Europe, Japan, and the United States. After I returned from Japan to United States in 1986, I went through four stupid jobs in San Francisco within about a year, each lasting just a few months before I quit, or was fired, as was the case in my last job. I thought that the problem was that I could not find employment with the “perfect” job for me, or at least one that would be good enough for me as the previous ones were. I was very unhappy during that time period between 1986 and 1987.

I was a ronin (drifter), an aimless, masterless samurai without a sword and without a lord. I needed a job that would be creative, useful and kind of mysterious, which is to say a job that only a few chosen ones could do well, myself among them.

But all that I could find during that stressful time were stupid jobs that I had to take to pay the rent. Fortunately, eventually it dawned on me that a boring and useless nine-to-five job that pays the rent is not what the universe wants me to do for the next few decades.

No, that was not my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe. Some people don’t care about esoteric nonsense like wondering about what our purpose in life is. They just do what they think needs to be done for the money. And I don’t judge them. As Woody Allen put it, “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons”. But money without understanding my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe is not enough for me.

My real purpose was to eventually become an independent contractor, which was what I did already in the nineteen eighties, back when just about everybody was earning a living as an employee, often working interminable hours in a boring, mind-numbing job.

One of the worst jobs that I ever had, even worse than several other stupid jobs I had in several countries, was when I was working for about 8 months for the US Army in West Germany, from January until August of 1982. This was shortly after I “illegally” left Czechoslovakia and became a refugee in Germany in the summer of 1981 at a time when the Solidarity movement in Poland was testing the response of the communist government to its demands and most people, including myself, expected that Russian tanks would soon invade Poland to enforce a strict, Stalinist order in that country as they did 14 years earlier in Czechoslovakia, ending a short-lived period of liberalization there for the next 21 years.

So when a Polish friend asked me whether I would be interested in joining him and a bunch of other young Polish dudes who also left their country and were waiting for approval for immigrant visas to United States, Canada and Australia to get a civilian job with the US Army in Germany while “sitting on the luggage” as he put it in Polish, I did not hesitate and joined the group of young Polish émigrés (and one Slovak) and applied for a job whose intriguing title in English was “splicer”.

Except that I did not do much splicing, of cables or of anything else, during the 8 months that I was a civilian employee working for US Army in Germany while waiting for my visa to America to be approved. The approval process took many months, more than a year, because the organization that was my sponsor, which was called American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees and was funded by old Czech and Slovak émigrés in United States, had to first find me a place to live and I had to go through an interview at the US consulate in Frankfurt, as well as pass a medical exam, to make sure that that people like me would not become a burden to US taxpayers.

The main problem for me with the job in Germany was that once we were accepted as civilian employees, we had very little to do. Most of the time, we were just sitting in a wooden shed in the motor pool of US Army barracks, waiting from 9 AM until 5 PM for instructions to travel to other US Army bases in Frankfurt, Worms, or somewhere else where they actually had a little work for us to do. And since I am not very good at manual work, most of the time I was just standing around even when I was working, holding a ladder or something like that, again waiting for 5 PM to call it a day.

I was bored out of my mind. I hated having nothing to do. This is so stupid, I thought. Why is America wasting all this money on us when they have nothing to do for us?

It was only many years later, when I was much older and maybe a tiny bit wiser that I did realize that what the army was doing with us was in fact pretty smart. Although we were not soldiers, we were issued military uniforms and we had to work in those uniforms. We slept in the military barracks and ate in the military canteen. We did not have to do that, but it was free, a part of our benefits, like free healthcare and vacation days, so most of us went for it to save money for the next destination overseas, including myself.

We were also given some training for things like how to assemble and dissassemble a gun and basic information about chemical weapons. It was very similar to what I went through only a few years ago in the Czechoslovak Army.

What I did not understand then, and what I think I understand now, is that in addition to rather inexpertly splicing a few cables now and then, our real job was to be a ready pool of manpower for the military in case of a military conflict should the Soviet Union invade Poland back in 1981 or 1982.

We all had several years of military training back in our original countries, and we all hated the communist regimes imposed on the countries in Central Europe by Soviet Union so much that we decided to leave our home country for good rather than to put up with the idiotic regime.

Had we been offered enlistment in US army in exchange for a promise of an immigrant visa, green card and citizenship after the required waiting period (1 year for the green card and 7 years for citizenship), most of us would have gone for it.

I certainly would have. I wanted to do something, anything to speed up the collapse of the totalitarian system in my country, if only by a minute or two.

And in case of a conflict, the US Army could have used people like me, young people who had the proper motivation, military training, and spoke Russian and Polish.

Fortunately, after the Solidarity movement was crushed by the Polish government led by General Jaruzelski who declared martial law in December of 1981, the Soviet Politburo decided that unlike in Hungary or Czechoslovakia years ago, a military invasion was not necessary and instead let their Polish comrades to deal with the rebellious Poles on their own.

So although I did not understand it then, the months of having nothing to do and waiting around dressed in military uniform in a motor pool were not really a complete waste of time as I thought, and in fact, what I considered a total waste of time was perfectly aligned with my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe.

Fortunately, my personal contribution to what was happening in Poland in 1981 and 1982 was not required by the Divine Order of the Universe. My immigration visa came through in August, and just like that, I found myself as a new immigrant in San Francisco, as I described in several posts in this blog.

A few years later, the totalitarian communist system in Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe collapsed of its own wait, without a single shot, and I was able to visit my old country as an American tourist. And a few years after that, my old country joined NATO and the European Union.

Although nothing seems to work very well in political developments in Europe or the United States right now, things worked extremely well, at least from my perspective, back at the end of ninteen-eighties.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 11, 2019

Beware of Fake Marshmallow Tests

The marshmallow test is a name that was given to a famous experiment conducted originally by psychologists at the Stanford University in the nineteen sixties on little children. During the test, the sly psychologists put a marshmallow in front of children and told them that they could have another marshmallow for a grand total of two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes before starting to stuff their faces with the candy in front of them.

Some children, possibly the future brilliant leaders of America, displayed an iron, incredibly strong will, waited for the promised second marshmallow and then happily got to eat two of them. Some, probably most of them, could not resist the temptation and therefore received only one marshmallow.

We are all subjected to many marshmallow tests throughout our lives, for instance when we make a decision whether to get a job at a young age, or whether to study for years a certain subject in a certain field, which in some countries (but not all of them) implies also taking on a crushing debt to be repaid over many years, for a promise of a more lucrative occupation than what would one be able to earn with a job a blue-collar line of work later in life. Unlike in the case of the children who took the marshmallow test at Stanford University, the promise of a reward in the form a well-paid job in real life of course later sometime turns out to be a damn lie.

The name given to the process occurring during marshmallow test in our brain, whether it is already fully developed or not yet, is called delayed gratification. Sometime it makes a lot of sense to delay the pleasure of eating a marshmallow because then we get to eat two of them. But sometime, if you wait too long or if you deal with a cheater, somebody may steal the single marshmallow that a moment ago was sitting right in front of you if you don’t eat it quickly enough.

Since we are given many marshmallow tests throughout our live, we need to keep in mind that a marshmallow in hand may be better than two promised ones, especially if they were promised by a politician.

For instance, a couple of years ago I had to make a choice when to file for Social Security payments, also known as old age pension. I could have filed early at the age of sixty-two, but had I done that, my old age pension would be reduced by 25%, I think. Many people simply have no choice and file as soon as they become eligible for some money and accept the bitter pill of a big reduction in income for the rest of their life. Fortunately for me, I was not quite in that situation. Or I could have waited until I turn 70, and the pension would then grow by 30% above the 100% promised at the “full” retirement age of 66 (which will soon be raised to 67).

But would I even still be alive by then? Or healthy enough to enjoy my pension after the age of 70? And what about the marshmallows, or the money, that I would be losing every month? I did not want to wait that long. In the end, I sat down, calculated all of the marshmallows that I would be losing if I wait until the age of 70 and decided that the best age for me was to file at the age of 64.5. So that was what I did.

Most of the time, we are not really conscious of the fact that we are given a marshmallow test. Especially people who work as independent contractors are given many marshmallow tests by people who are trying to figure out how to best take advantage of the independent contractors who will work for them by giving them a fake marshmallow test so that they could pay them less.

The way this happens is when during a fake marshmallow test for translators, they are promised by translation agencies that if they accept a certain way of working and for example counting the words a certain way (with tools like Trados, for instance), they will receive 5, 6, 7 or even more marshmallows instead of a lousy singly one.

But as we all known, what happened instead during this particular fake marshmallow test pandemic was that even though translators were able to translate many more words with an obligatory tool, almost always at the expense of quality, their remuneration was reduced so drastically by the word-miscounting tool that instead of receiving 5, 6, or 7 marshmallows for producing many more words, in the  end they received only half a marshmallow.

The general acceptance of magical CATs by so many translators, and in particular of the marshmallow-devouring CAT concepts for counting words, or rather not counting some words, called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, by translators in the last two decades or so is a big reason why translators are now making significantly less money than they used to twenty years ago.

When some translators now proudly state in their résumé that they use Trados, they do so to demonstrate to potential translation agency customers, if we can call them that, in the so-called translation industry, by showing how well versed they are in the modern tools of trade of the industry.

All newbies proudly state that they use Trados, without realizing that they are only advertising in this manner their willingness to be cheated by the agencies when they accept an order to use a certain kind of a tool by a translation agency, a tool that is very handy for wage theft that is by now widely practiced in the industry, unlike translators who understand that what kind of tool they use is nobody’s damn business.

As far as I know, nobody ever asked Dostoevsky what kind of ink, pen or paper he was using to write Crime and Punishment with, and I am pretty sure that if he were ordered to use a certain kind of tool for his work by his publishing house, he would send them all to hell and change his publisher.

Of course, unlike in the times of Dostoevsky, we now all have to use a computer with a word-processing program that is compatible with what everybody else is using, we have to be able to use internet and I hear that even CATs like Trados may be useful for some kind of translations, although I kind of doubt it.

But our professionalism, if there is such a thing in the translating profession, if that is even a profession, is not measured by what kind tool we use for our work, but by what we have in our head, what we are able to do with it, and how clever we are in finding, choosing and keeping or dumping our customers.

Especially if yet another marshmallow test is being unleashed on unsuspecting translators by the so-called translation industry, it’s best to keep in mind that instead of giving us more marshmallows, the industry is most likely conducting another fake marshmallow test aimed at preventing us from keeping even the few marshmallows that they used to give us … so that more marshmallows would be left for translation agencies.

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