Posted by: patenttranslator | July 15, 2022

Fitting Into a Niche

If you want to be successful in your job or career, you have to fit into a niche. This has always been true, about any job. There may be quite a few niches available to you in a particular profession or vocation, or not that many.

I found out that this is true about translators as well, or at least about this translator. What’s more, I also realized a long time ago that the characteristics of a particular niche into which one fits so comfortably at first are likely to change over time, so much so that the original niche that was so favorable to your particular strength or weaknesses may kind of disappear, especially after a few or many years.

In my case, this disappearance of a great market niche, at least partially, fortunately happened only after a period of about three decades. In fact, I was very fortunate that the particular niche I chose when I started translating for a living in the eighties, namely translation of patents, first only from Japanese, and later also from German and other languages (French, Russian), lasted as long as it did, which is to say from approximately mid 80’s of the last century until approximately the second decade of this century.

As much as we may hate fitting into a certain commercial mold the way all the boring but financially secure people around us seem to fit in just fine, we have to somewhat adjust our attitude to realities of life when we simply have to find enough work to earn a living. Picking the right niche right from the beginning is probably the best survival strategy.

But as mentioned, nothing lasts forever. In my case, although the demand for patent translations did not disappear, it was greatly reduced, mostly by the appearance of inexpensive new labor pools, (in China with respect to Japanese translations), and advances in machine translation technology.

But fitting into a particularly niche is not only about our work and our need to find customers willing to pay for what we can do for them.

Throughout the various times and seasons of our life, we must be looking for and hopefully finding a niche that we will fit into. We start realizing it in high school. It is very painful if we cannot fit into a suitable clique of cool youngsters in our high school if we are too different, and an immense relief when we find young people who are just like us, whom we can understand and who seem to understand us.

Then we have to still fit a particular pattern or niche as we are growing up and also as adults, men usually as husbands who have to take care of a family, women who must take care of their children, just about every minute of the day when they are still tiny toddlers. Then the kids grow up and fly out of their safe nest into the wild world, where we may not be really able to reach them.

At all.

The modern pattern for the carefree niche when the kids are no longer living with their parents used to and maybe still does go by the acronym DINKS (Double Income No Kids). But in many cases it is not a quiet and happy time of our life, as it is period that instead of being carefree and liberating, more and more in our times ends in divorce.

And what comes after that? Retirement, one might say, which should be a blissful time when we no longer have to carry the world on our shoulder as the Beatles put it long time ago because … nobody really needs us anymore.

That’s good, right? Finally, a niche that we can fit into without much effort, as long as we are financially secure. even though we no longer have to work. The problem is that in this niche, we are much more limited by our health, which starts to deteriorate after decades of largely faultless performance for the lucky among us, including myself. But now, like an old car that has too many miles on it and that has been survived a few light or semi-serious collisions, our body no longer works as easily and smoothly as it used to, even if we try to repair or replace old and broken parts, never forgetting an oil change.

And what comes after that? Well it’s pretty clear, isn’t it. Do I need to spell it out? Guess not. After that will come he last niche that we need to fit into in the end.

I have a friend who goes, several times a week, to visit the graves of her husband, who died of cancer quite some time ago, and her son who died at the age of sixteen in a car accident. She could never really reconcile herself with the fact that somebody as young and talented would suddenly disappear from her world as if he never existed. But the last niche that we somehow have fit into is the one reality that is undeniably there, waiting for us all, no matter how much we may try not to think about it.

But in my case, nobody will come to a place where I would be residing in my last niche, the one that we all must fit into when the time comes without even trying, because I decided to have a limited version of Viking’s funeral, which is to say to have my bodily remains incinerated in a mighty fire. POOF. That way, I will be everywhere, because I will be nowhere.

I even put it in my Last Will and Testament, had the thing properly registered with my lawyer and then notarized to make sure that it will be done. Nobody would come to mourn and communicate with me through their thoughts and memories at the cemetery anyway. Old friends that I used to have live on a different continent anyway, as do my children, who are fortunately too busy with their own lives anyway to think about me.

So it’s much better this way.

Posted by: patenttranslator | June 17, 2022

Poetry and Order Is What Gets Found In Translation

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.

Robert Frost

            Of course, much more is lost in translation, although some things that are gained through translation would be lost forever without it. The meaning of what was said or written in one language to people who don’t know that particular language, which in every case is the majority of people on this planet, for starters.

But it is true that poetry is untranslatable. Most poetry in most European languages is supposed to rhyme if it is true poetry. At least I believe so. In classical Japanese, on the other hand, poetry does not rhyme. Depending on the form of the poem, it is supposed to have a certain number of syllables per line and for good measure it is also supposed to have hidden allusions to motives used by ancient masters of Chinese or Japanese poetry that only true connoisseurs of classical verse (classical culture vultures?) will recognize. How the hell do you translate something like that?

In every language, poetry is more a kind of music rather than a kind of text that transfers the meaning from a piece of paper to the perceptive brain and the beating heart of a reader. How the hell do you translate something like that into a different culture that was developing over millennia under different rules of a very different language?

You shouldn’t even try, unless you are insane, because you have a giant ego. Which some people, called translators, of course are, even though not all of them realize that the actual results of their effort will vary.

But just like poetry is not the only thing that is not exactly translatable, other kinds of written texts that most people would not think of as poetry, are not really translatable either. All good translation contains its own poetry. Even technical articles and patents, which is what I have been translating, mostly by necessity to be able to earn a living as a translator, for more than 30 years.

I believe that a good translation, or all translation that makes sense, in itself contains or is a certain kind of poetry. I am of course talking only about human translation, untouched by machines pretending that they can think.

It was Carl you who said “In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in every disorder, a secret order.”

And that secret order is what a good translation, defined as translation that makes very good sense, is helping to discover.

Translators are like detectives who try to figure out whodunit. Except that instead of looking for a murderer, we are trying to discover a secret order of what appears as total, incomprehensible disorder to most people on the planet.

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 7, 2022

Did Machine Translation Finally Killed Translators Like Myself?

Did Machine Translation Finally Killed Translators Like Myself As Was Gleefully Predicted by Some Commenters Already some 15 Years Ago on My Blog?

I thought that it might do that soon, I really did, the arguments of MT enthusiasts seemed convincing, although I tried to counter them with my defense of, basically common sense, or human brain. Common sense was telling me that machines will never be able to think the way humans and translators in particular must be capable of doing to do their job properly. But to be on the safe side, I did file for early retirement when I was 64.5 instead of waiting until the “full retirement age”, which back then was 66.5 in United States.

Although the penalty for doing so was about 12 percent of the actual pension amount (if I remember correctly), I thought it was worth it, as the amount of work coming to me became a relative trickle after 2016 compared to the feast in previous years. I had to be realistic about my future.

I am now into the sixth year of my retirement period, and because my plan for a “post-working” period was very realistic, I don’t need to work at all as all my expenses are covered quite nicely by my pensions. This is partly because I am no longer married, my children are independent, and I live in a less expensive part of the world, compared to California or Virginia where I lived and worked for most of my life.

But although I work much less now that I am officially in retirement, I am still translating German and Japanese patents now in 2022, which is what I started doing when I lived in a small apartment on California and Seventh Avenue in San Francisco in 1987 …. or more than 35 years ago.

The fact is that although machine translation is incredibly sophisticated compared to what it was 30, 20, or 10 years ago, it is still not translation. It is still only a translation tool, a tool that to my old clients – and I only work now for old clients who have been sending me work for more than 20 years – is really not all that useful on its own. Although machine translation (MT), or artificial intelligence (AI) or whatever else we want to call is unrecognizable compared to the situation 35 years ago, it is still only a translation tool that DOES NOT PROVIDE AN ACTUAL TRANSLATION.

And I am still arguing, as I was 35 years ago, that it will never be able to replace human translators. Well, never say never, since I don’t know what may happen in future, but definitely not in my lifetime, which to me is the same as never.

I don’t know what happened in the meantime to the numerous schemes hatched by entrepreneurial translation agencies and would-be agencies that planned to use “post-editors” to massage machine translation into something that would more closely resemble human translation because I stopped following this issue more than a decade ago. My guess is that most of these outfits soaked up a lot of capital from new investors … only to go bankrupt after a while. This is not a way forward, as I was saying all those years ago because real “editing” would be even more time- and knowledge-consuming than an actual translation from scratch.

One thing that strikes me in the machine translation age on an emotional level is how this so-called artificial intelligence is a perfect fit for our new world in which truth, reality and real information, as opposed to vile propaganda, is no longer appreciated or even preferred. As a modern journalist or expert, you can lie as much as you want, it makes absolutely no difference how much actual truth or actual information is contained in your bunch of lies and how far actual information is stretched to fit the narrative. When the winds shift so that what you were saying yesterday is no longer tenable, you can just shift your explanations and instead of recanting yesterday’s truth, or lies to be more precise, you can just say that yesterday’s lies were marketing and that “the science has changed”.

Machine translation offers a perfect tool for an easy manufacture of ever changing shades of narratives. Just add in another mix of well sounding lies, mix it up further with a few semi-truths and then use a cool algorithm to arrive at a predetermined result.

The result may be very different from what you were saying yesterday, but hey, most people are so dumb, they won’t even notice, so as long as your bills get paid with the new, officially accepted truths an d algorithm, who cares.

Although my own example may show that human translators such as myself have not been killed off yet by machines with algorithms, It may be better to use machine translation for processing of information in our age than an actual human brain. It is definitely cheaper and there is no need to feel guilty about the resulting untruths and lies, when lies can be simply defined out of existence and called for instance yesterday’s marketing.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 17, 2020

The Incredibly Stupid World Makes Me Glad I Am Too Old to Care

History is a collection of lies commonly agreed upon. Voltaire

2020 will go down in history as the year of the mildest pandemic in the last 2,000 years.

It’s demonstrably true. Even those of us who tend to believe the BS that we are being fed on daily basis by mainstream media, and there are fewer and fewer of them among us, probably know in their heart of hearts that something is wrong with the numbers of “positive cases” that the mainstream media is beating us over the head with on a daily basis.

What is wrong with those numbers? How about everything? How many of these “cases” are in fact sick? How many of them even have any symptoms? And how many of those who have symptoms or are sick will die of this virus? Very few, and virtually all of them are quite old, seriously overweight, or have their immunity seriously compromised.

As I wrote in a post earlier this year, a few months back I still believed in the mainstream BS, and back in March we all believed it and we were all shitting our pants, including myself.

I’m pretty sure that I caught the virus in February, back when the nasty bug was supposed to be only in China, a couple of months before it became “a thing” also in Central Europe and elsewhere.

It was quite painful, especially the headaches were horrible, as I wrote in this post. I kept wanting to (but could not) vomit, but it never really occurred to me that I might die from whatever it was that I had. And in 3 or 4 days, the extremely unpleasant disease was gone. And at 68 years of age, I am in the age group that is supposed to be most at risk from the virus. My son, who is 29, caught the same virus in Chicago, suffered symptoms quite similar to mine and his immune system dealt with it also in about 3 days.

So far I have met only one person who needed to be hospitalized for several weeks because of the virus – a taxi driver who sometimes drives me when I need to go somewhere in a hurry. He is only about 45, but his system is probably severely compromised because he is quite obese. I’d say he used to be at least 30 kg (65 lbs) overweight, but after the disease, when he had to spend several weeks at the hospital, he is now only about 20 kg overweight. He should really find a better, less painful and less dangerous way to lose the extra kilos!

Because I am 68, I am supposed to be in the most vulnerable group of older people who are at the greatest danger of dying. But I’m pretty sure that although I did catch the virus back in February, I am still alive and kicking now as if nothing happened. So what is going on here?

I don’t think it’s such a mystery. When in doubt which version of the official truth is correct, I recommend to cut through the BS with Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor is a philosophical principle, named after a medieval monk who invented it, that says that when there are several competing explanations for something, the more complicated ones should be cut away because the simplest one is almost always the truth.

Given how complicated are the explanations given to us for what the politicians are doing (to us) and how they try to explain it – for example, large chains owned by multinational corporations should remain open, because the virus will not dare to attack us there, while mom-and-pop stores should remain closed until mom and pop die, because otherwise we will die a horrible death – it is clear to me that the bastards are lying to us in order to gain more power and more money.

They are not trying to kill the virus, they would probably not try to get rid of it even if they knew how to do it, which they don’t. They are trying to kill small business, because that is what they are being paid to do by big business.

It’s not really all that surprising that by now they are pretty good at this sick game, they have been lying to us, stealing from us and craving more and more money and power for themselves at our expense for centuries. This is such a perfect opportunity to turn all of us into scared, obedient slaves, how could they possibly resist? As long as they can keep us in the prostrate position, continuously shitting our pants, they can continue cheating, stealing and lying even much more than before … hopefully forever. From their viewpoint, they would have to be totally stupid to allow such a wonderful opportunity to go to waste.

I no longer watch news on teevee because I don’t have the stomach for the simplistic, one-sided, and downright idiotic news designed to keep us scared. I used to watch BBC, ZDF Heute and news on French stations, but I can’t do it anymore because I don’t trust them anymore. No news is good news these days for me.

Fortunately, I am already pretty old and even though I am not exactly ancient yet, fortunately I am not financially affected by this new worldwide scam. My two pensions still regularly hit my bank account and my old customers still keep sending me enough work to keep me busy and even if they had no more work for me, I would still be fine.

So I just look at the world and wonder, like the Fool on the Hill in the old Beatles song …what will the end of it look like … if there ever is an end to this hysteria.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 23, 2020

2020 Is Such a Weird Number for a Year!

Wouldn’t you agree? It is an uncommon number, for counting years, anyway. The last time we had a very similar number to the one we have now was 1010, which was a very long time ago, basically still in the early Middle Ages, and the next one would be 3030.

But after relatively peaceful and almost idyllic Middle Ages (compared to our times), we managed to screw up our world so perfectly that it is pretty clear to me that there will not be a 3030 year for humans on this planet. All humans will be long gone by then, erased from the face of the Earth by a major nuclear conflict, or some sneaky diseases that will eventually turn a few hundred survivors into disgusting, flesh-eating zombies, until there is no trace of what used to be called human civilization.

Oh, well, who cares. We will be all dead by then, along with our children, grandchildren, and their grand-grand-grandchildren. All we can do is hope that the zombie era is not going to surprise us much sooner than I would be expecting it.

So, after this optimistic celebration of is year with its unusual but no doubt highly significant number, I will try to sum up what the last year brought to me. I obviously have no idea what the year 2021 will be like, but I can say a few words about this year, soon to become the last year.

As far as my translation business is concerned, the year 2020 was not much different from 2019, or 2018 for that matter. After I moved from Eastern Virginia to Southern Bohemia at the end of 2018, I thought I would be retired and not working much now, but that is not the case.

After I finish my silly post today, I will have to proofread two translations done for me by other translators before delivering them to clients, unless I decide to do it tomorrow morning, which is always a possibility, given how lazy I have become. Despite my perpetual laziness and the ever-present sentiment of all-encompassing general procrastination, this year I will probably make about twice as much from my translation income as last year, but the main reason for this is that one large order that I am getting every year now was about three times as big this year compared to last year, mostly because in addition to the usual kind of materials, I had to translate new materials relating to the Covid insanity of this year

I do hope that there will not be any new Covid-related translations for me next year as well, although it is probably just a pium desiderium (wishful thinking called in Japanese a sweet thought, 甘い考).

As I have said a number of times in my recent posts, my two pensions (American and Czech) are more than sufficient to cover my needs where I live now, not really because I am particularly frugal, but because I downsized after I retired or semi-retired, after getting rid of my wife who moved back to Japan, etc. I must say, a wife is a major drain on one’s finances, a drain that in my case lasted three decades and a half. Once a person solve the wife-spending problem, all of a sudden, instead on having to borrow money to pay the bills, for some reason one is unable to spend the money one keeps making.

This may be why my two sons, both in their early thirties now, are still single and show no interest in changing their marital status any time soon. On the one hand, I understand and support completely and wholeheartedly their mental processes. On the other hand, it would be nice to have a grand kid or two, and I have none at this point. It is one of the things I failed to achieve so far in my life, but then again, it’s something that does not really depend on me that much.

So what I want for next year to bring to me would be a gradual disappearance of the nonsensical Covid rules (face masks on, face masks off, depending entirely on the mood of our wise lords and masters in our respective clueless governments), and the ability to fly to United States without any problems, such as a useless wet rag on my face, to see my sons again after more than two years – nothing more and nothing less.

Wish me luck!

It has been two years since I did what I put in the title of my post today. People who follow my silly blog regularly may remember that after I moved, I was kind of running out of steam and inspiration when I was asking whether I should continue with my blog at all. I am happy to say that nobody told me, Steve, give it up already, 10 years is long enough to be running a blog about translation.

You must have exhausted all mildly interesting subjects. You had your moments of exaltation when the view count went through the roof, such as with this blog post, as well as your fair share of nasty trolls that you should have ignored … but didn’t. It took you a while to figure out that ignoring them is the best thing you can do. One woman who followed my blog and incidentally still does, I think, offered to marry me … but then she said that it was a joke, hahaha, common in her country. Back then I was still rather unhappily married anyway, and would remain so for a few more years, so it really was just a joke.

But I should write about moving a translation business to another country, another continent and maybe I will write about the cosmic jokes that life plays on each of us some other time.

If you are a translator who works mostly for translation agencies, it’s really quite easy to move to a different town, or even a different country or a different continent. You just do it and then let them now your new address and phone number. They don’t care where you live, work is received and translations are delivered through email, so you might as well be living on the Moon and if you had good wifi connection in your new abode among the stars, nothing would change.

But since I mostly work for direct customers, and nowadays I work more as an agency than a translator, I knew that I had to be careful to make sure that my direct customers would be able to reach me and work with me as easily as when I still lived and worked as a translator and then also as an agency in US, which was from 1987 until 2018. So I kept my Virginia phone numbers, including my 800 number in US. I also kept a mailing address in US. It is in fact my son’s address in Chicago and hardly anybody ever sends anything there. But if something important had to be mailed there, he would let me know.

It’s not very expensive to keep my old US numbers even though I don’t live there anymore. I keep three US phone numbers through Ooma so that they ring in my office here in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, which costs me $45 a month. Once your direct clients know that they can reach you in case of a problem with a translation as easily as before, such as a very tight deadline or a missing email, they don’t really care where you live either, just like translation agencies.

One problem that all US citizens have is that they have to file a tax return not only in the country where they live, but also in United States. Most people don’t have it as good Donald Trump, who has not paid any Federal income taxes in many years and is proud of it … that is a perk that is available only to very rich people. I think that none of the multi-millionaires and billionaires pays income taxes in US, not just Trump. But even regular people like myself get a generous credit for taxes paid in another country, so the hassle consists mostly of having to file two tax returns.

My US phone numbers are also important for maintaining my two bank accounts in United States, because the bank computers know the original number and I don’t have to go through the hassle of proving my identity to them. Since my old age Social Security pension is also sent to my US bank account, I recently found out how important my business debit card is. I lost access to my money in the US bank after my debit card was past the expiration date, which I completely forgot about.

It took me two months to get a new card: First, the bank sent a new card by regular mail to the right address, except that it was mailed by regular mail to a country called Czechoslovakia, which ceased to exist three decades ago. So the post office did know where to send it.

The second time, the bank sent the card to the right address by Federal Express, but because it was addressed to the name of my business, which is not listed at the door registry, and the phone number listed on the envelope was the number of the bank instead of my number, the poor Fedex guy had no way to deliver it. So it was sent back to America again.

I finally received the debit card last week by UPS when all the information listed on the UPS package was correct. Three times is the charm as the saying goes.

I can also use regular checks written on my bank account in Virginia to avoid high fees and other hassles when paying through Paypal subcontractors who work for me and live in US or Canada. I just stick a check in the envelope, put it in the mail box and I’m done. But I still have to pay through Paypal freelancers who live in other countries. It’s expensive, but fast and easy.

There will be some things that will work differently after you move to another country. But in most cases, only a minor adjustment will be required to make your translation business functioning as before, while the most important data (as far as your business is concerned), such as you email, website and blog address, and even your telephone number will not change at all.

Actually, by far the most important thing is your intimate knowledge of the translation business market in the country where you used to live for many years or decades, and your relationship with the best translators that you have known for many ears.

And this knowledge will stay in your head until … your brain is “verkalkt” as they say in German, or calcified as in eaten up by Alzheimer’s. But the longer you keep your brain busy by continuing to work on your translation business from your new location even though you may be technically retired, the longer you should be able to enjoy life in all (or most of) its glory despite the many changes that will come at you unexpectedly with advancing years for many, many years.

Somewhat to my surprise, my small patent translation business is doing quite well, definitely much better than I thought it would, given the big changes in my life over the last three years, including the fact that officially I have been retired for three years now.

After being married for 34 years to the same person, I could no longer stand my wife, and she could no longer stand me either. So one morning when she gave me a hateful look as I was going down the stairs and called me a “lemon”, which she never did before, although she was not shy about giving me nasty names, I promptly suggested a divorce. We discussed the terms (money, there was nothing else to discuss) and within three months we were no longer burdened by being married to somebody we did not even like anymore … at all!

Shortly after that blessed event, I reached the long-awaited FRA status (full retirement age, which was 66 back then in US, it is 67 now and pretty soon it may be 70), we sold our lovely and beloved but now that our kids have been out of the house for more than a decade unnecessarily spacious house, my ex of course quickly grabbed most of the money from the sale (although she never paid a single cent for it) and ran away with it all the way back to Japan, while I moved back to Southern Bohemia, where I have been living for almost two years now in the fair city of Ceske Budejovice, a stone’s throw from my hometown of Cesky Krumlov.

Patent Translation Seems to Be a Fairly Covid-19-Resistant Occupation

After about half a year of Covid-19 hysteria which I followed in a number of languages on TV, in newspapers and in online media, designed to scare the general population as much as possible, I noticed that last month was the busiest month for me during the first eight months of this year and this month is pretty busy too. Fortunately, you don’t need no freaking mask to translate! I am still translating patents, although now I am doing a different kind of patent translation work, which I am not really at liberty to discuss here. But it’s still patent translation and it keeps me busy and happy.

I talked to a number of severely embittered people, some obediently wearing ugly muzzles on their faces, some defiantly unmuzzled, who were telling me how the government (the Czech one in this case) is for reasons that are difficult to understand intent on killing their business and deprive them of their livelihood. In case you are wondering, Mad Patent Translator, who ought to be retired by now but isn’t really, is more or less in compliance with various regulations, regardless of what he thinks of them. So I too am muzzled occasionally now, but only on public transportation and in some stores.

At first I thought that the strict and frequently changing regulations were for our own good and in the interest of public safety. I did not really mind them too much because I was scared, intentionally and mostly needlessly, I think, like everybody else. But now I am properly pissed at dumb rules that appear to be more and more arbitrary and too absurd when one thinks about them.

But I am doing fine, the pension keeps hitting my bank account on time, and my business is doing well too.

Although, judging by what happened so far, 2020 is probably going to turn out to be a jinxed or even cursed year. Hopefully just jinxed and not cursed. After all, it is such a weird number for a year!

Wouldn’t you agree? It is an uncommon number, for counting years, anyway. The last time we had a very similar number to the year we have now was 1010, which was a very long time ago, still in the early Middle Ages, and the next one would be 3030, if humans are still living on this planet by then. Right now, it looks kind of very unlikely.

After relatively peaceful and almost idyllic Middle Ages – compared to our times, there were just a few bubonic plagues, some interesting witch hunts, silly wars with totally primitive weapons compared to our advanced weaponry and other relatively minor glitches, while we have now managed to screw up our world so perfectly that it is pretty clear to me that there will be no year 3030 for humans on this planet. All humans will be long gone by then, erased from the face of the Earth, if not by a major nuclear conflict, then for sure by some sneaky, disgusting and painful diseases that will eventually turn a few thousand survivors into crazed, flesh-eating zombies, until there is no trace on the blue planet of what used to be called human civilization. The blue planet will probably think, if planets think “good riddance”.

Oh, well, who cares. We will be all dead by then, along with our children, grandchildren, and their grand-grand-grand-children. All we can do is hope that the zombie era is not going to surprise us much sooner than we might be expecting it now.

Unlike our wise, learned politicians, I obviously have no idea what the rest of the highly significant year 2020 will be like. But it seems clear to me that no matter what happens, there will still be plenty of translating work for me to do if I am interested until …. well, until all of us have been eaten up by flesh eating zombies.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 9, 2020

I think the virus caught up with me in mid February

I think the virus caught up with me in mid February of this year, devastated me pretty bad and stayed with me for most of the week. I cannot really be sure about it, although I see in my trusty Letts of London diary that shortly after that I cancelled a Japanese lesson that I was supposed to give to two students because I did not want to give it to them in case I really did have something like that. Mid February was kind of early for Covid-19 here in Czech Republic – nobody really worried about the virus here too much then, it was thought that it was still in China and not here, and the government introduced obligatory wearing of face masks in the country only about a month later.   

Maybe it was just some kind of a really nasty flu, or some variety of the damn virus, or something else, I can’t be sure. Later I talked to a number of people who experienced something similar, some in December, some in January or February. I did not cough and did not have any breathing problems either, which are supposed to be some of the main symptoms, but I had plenty of other problems. I probably had a fever, but I could not take my temperature as I had no thermometer (and still don’t have any). Those few days in mid February are now just a foggy memory wrapped up in a strange haze in my mind, not unlike a memory of a severe hangover.

 I remember that I was very weak. On the worst day I took a bath in the morning but I was so weak in the knees that when was I trying to get up from the bath tub, I slipped and fell on my ass so hard that the bone back in there, whatever it’s called, then hurt for several days. I managed to get up on second try. If I die here now, it would take a few days before my body is discovered, I thought. I have been living alone for about the past two years, so my neighbors would probably only find out that something is wrong from the stench.

I remember lying on the sofa where I normally read a book, but reading books was the farthest thing from my mind. What I really wanted was for the unbelievably painful headache that I had for about two days to finally go away. I could not eat anything, was not really hungry and did not have the energy to go to the kitchen to fix up something to eat. I could not sleep for most of the night, except for fitful periods of micro-sleep that did not really appear to qualify as sleeping. I felt the urge to vomit, but when I made it to the kitchen sink, nothing came out, although I tried a number of times to purge my insides of the angry demons inside me.

When I got a little bit better on the second or third day, I had more energy, the migraines were much less severe, and I started curing myself with the same medicine that I’m always using if I have an attack of a bad flu, or whatever the hell it is, which happens about every 10 years or, I think … a few cups of tea with lemon and honey, supplemented with Ibuprofen to help with the headache.  

After a few days, the disease was gone. There were no signs of it, at least not in my apartment, except for the fact that I lost a kilo or two. The Big and Well Meaning Brother ordered us all to wear the menacingly looking masks that turned us all into potential burglars, but they were not available for sale anywhere. Fortunately, one of the ladies that I am still kind of dating brought me three hand-made ones, so I would be able to go out. Only one mask at first, and two more a few weeks later.

Outside, it was all of a sudden a very strange world. A mad world, really, because although everything looked just like before, green grass, green trees, cars on the streets, stores open, senior citizens slowly walking their aging doggies, somehow everybody felt … no, knew! that this was a different world, full of mortal danger.

With the precious face masks I was able to buy groceries by going to the corner store or the local supermarket and take the bus to the bigger shopping mall in downtown across from the train station to get my money from the ATMs there. What I do is I withdraw money from my account to which the caring US government deposits my pension in dollars, after 37 years of working and paying taxes in US. I can withdraw the money in Czech crowns from any bank ATM here (they call them bankomats here) and then make a cash deposit to my Czech account here and use a debit card to pay for most purchases. I just have to remember NOT to accept the Czech bank’s conversion rate and choose a blind rate; otherwise the bank would steal 15% of the money.

At first, very few people dared to take the bus that I am always taking to downtown. It’s bus No. 5, the one that I always take because it runs every 5 or 10 minutes or so on work days and takes me to straight to downtown in 12 minutes. Initially, only about 5 people would dare to take the bus with me instead of the usual about 10 to 30 or so before the virus. People were dutifully camouflaged in face masks; women, especially older ones, often also wearing disposable gloves, while men never seemed to bother, although the Big and Well Meaning Brother kept recommending it (but not ordering, fortunately). For some reason the image of a woman who suddenly produced a big bottle of something and sprayed plenty of disinfectant on her hands and then also on the hands of her two kids stays in my memory.

After 3 months, the order to keep everybody muzzled, just in case, was lifted. Everything now looks pretty much like before, and on Saturdays and/or Sundays I am having my lunch at my favorite restaurant again, admiring the slim figures of the waitresses bringing the beer and food and making sure that I leave them a 25% tip. I pay for the lunch with my card, but the tip I leave in cash, to let them know how much I appreciate their welcome presence in the newly almost normal world.

And they appreciate me more now as well, I think. Before the virus, sometime they would just mumble an almost incomprehensible “thanks” to me after I paid, but now, they all say “WE THANK YOU” to me, enunciating every word very clearly.

It is a new world now.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 9, 2020

Human Translation in the Age of Machine Translation

I have been writing on the topic of machine translation and how MT is likely or unlikely to influence human translation for a very long time now. This was one of the subjects that I used to discuss endlessly with many commenters on my silly blog for more than ten years now. But even before I published my first post on my blog, I used to write among other subjects about machine translation for publications for translators online and on paper since the early nineties, for example online on the Translation Journal, on paper in the ATA Chronicle, the Translorial (publication of the Northern California Translators Association), the Gotham Translator (publication of the New York Circle of Translators), and other publications.

Some of my predictions turned out to be not exactly accurate, to put it mildly and gently. I definitely underestimated how quickly would MT be getting better after its pitiful beginnings once it became widely available for commercial purposes some three decades ago.

MT is of course much better now than three or two decades ago. It is so good now that it removed from my desk and the desks of other human translators a fairly large portion of material that we used to be translating in the BMT era (the era Before Machine Translation, which incidentally lasted several thousand years). Because of that, I don’t know whether I would be even able to pay my bills now from translation alone. Possibly not.

Fortunately, I am retired now, I was able to downsize and my two pensions are more than sufficient to pay the bills, which are fewer and smaller now. But I still work, mostly just because I like to work, although also because I like the money, of course. So, what kind of work does this human translator do now, and why all of this work has not been swallowed yet completely by MT?

I still translate mostly patents, and there is still a considerable amount of patent translation work for which MT is and will be mostly useless for a very long time, definitely for a longer time than what is still left for me on this planet, I think. So why are some of my clients, mostly patent law firms, spending even now thousands of dollars for human translations of patent documents for which very good machine-translated version are and have been available for free for decades? I don’t ask them, of course, I’m just glad that they still keep me busy.

There are several main reasons for the need for human translations of patent documents that I can think of; one group of them is related to the form in which the patents were published a relatively long time ago, by which I mean mostly legibility problems rendering MT unusable, while the other one is related mostly to the purpose for which a translation is to be used.

Legibility Problems

I sometime receive very poorly legible Japanese patents or utility models for translation that are 30, 40, or 50 years old or even older. Back in the sixties and seventies for example, Japanese utility models in particular were printed out by an applicant using a noisy dot matrix printer or later a fuzzy thermal printer and then faxed to the Japan Patent Office (JPO) to be filed. The legibility of the documents received at the JPO was good enough for the eyes of the Japanese employees, so they accepted and published the documents on the JPO website “sono mama” (as they were).

But because even the best MT package developed more than half a century later is completely useless when it is unable to read the fuzzy characters, these kinds of old documents sometime still end up on my desk. Not even the best algorithm can figure out what an illegible blob in a series of Japanese characters is supposed to mean. I can’t really see the illegible character either, but after 33 years, this human translator simply knows, or thinks he knows, what it has to mean for the whole thing to make sense. There is still a big difference between a human brain and a machine’s algorithm and that will never change.

Problems with Unreliability of Machine Translations

The other kind of patent documents this human patent translator receives relatively often are recent or brand-new patent applications that every machine translation package would have no problem processing, but that still need to be processed by human brain because of their purpose.

The clients sometime even include already with the document for translation also a machine translation available for free on the patent office website of the JPO, EPO (European Patent Office), or WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) websites, or on official patent office websites of the respective countries.

I am not sure whether the clients send me the prior art documents for translation because they simply don’t trust MT, or whether legally they cannot hold their discussions of the minute but extremely important differences between the designs described in American, Japanese, or German patents on the basis of pseudo-documents created by machines. It is probably a mixture of both.

Although in these cases a “pretty good” machine translation is available to me as it is to my clients, it actually takes me significantly longer to translate these patents because I have to try to maintain consistency with the machine-translated text as much as possible. When I translate without an MT backup, I follow in my mind only two trains of thought: the original text and the text that I am creating in my head. When I need to compare these two trains of thought to an MT pseudo-document while trying to catch every mistake in it, it naturally slows me down. But it is interesting work anyway, although as I said, the translation usually takes a long time. Just because MT-generated text looks very, very good, it does not mean that the “translation” is actually accurate. Unless and until the text is “validated” by being processed through the brain of an experienced human translator, it cannot really be called a translation, which is why I call such “documents” pseudo-translations.

A special subcategory of patent documents that should never be translated with MT only are translations of patent applications that are used to file in English a patent application that was originally filed in another language.

I never get these kinds of translations of Japanese patent applications, called for filing, as opposed to translations of patents for information or prior art research. I understand they are being done mostly in Japan. But some years I receive in addition to translations of patent applications for prior art research quite a few requests for translations for filing of patent applications from German.

Just after I had filed for retirement during a slow period two and a half years ago, a new client found out about my services and I was suddenly swamped with translations of German patents for filing that I was receiving from a law firm for close to a year in a field that I particularly enjoy. Had I known that this would happen, I would have waited a little bit longer to further increase my retirement income. But unfortunately, I had no idea.

It would be very dangerous to use MT for translations that are used for filing, foolish even, because mistakes generated by a machine in conjunction with an algorithm could eventually prove very costly to the owner of the patent rights. I don’t think many patent law firms would dare to use MT for filing the text of a patent in English in United State or in Europe, but how do I know what is happening in the mad universe of machine and human translation these days?

I am just a lowly peon who has been translating patents for profit and for fun for over 33 years, and I consider myself very fortunate that nowadays the for-fun part is even more important to me than the profit.

The Water Keeps on Flowing, a folk song from Slovakia about two former lovers.
Posted by: patenttranslator | April 17, 2020

You Are Young and Dumb, I’m an Old Cow!

There is an old Czech song by Voskovec and Werich from the nineteen thirties about a young donkey who is being coached by an “Uncle Ox” and an equally mature and even more experienced “Auntie Cow”. In the old song the bovine relatives of the young donkey explain to the inexperienced newbie the best strategy for achieving success in life.

“Keep to the road in the middle”, says Ox. It’s always been the golden road. “You are young, you are dumb”, chimes in Cow. I am an Old Cow!”

The donkey, mindful of the sage advice received from old, experienced relatives, keeps to the road in the middle. Unfortunately, as all of the grass along the road in the middle has been eaten up by too many hungry young oxen, cows and donkeys who dutifully listened to sage advice, the poor young donkey dies of hunger.

I am often reminded of the words of this song, for instance when I read blog posts of older, experienced translators who offer advice to newbies, sometime in paid seminars, on how to contact translation agencies, nowadays called “LSPs” (to avoid the much more understandable but somehow dirty term “agency”), in our beloved “translation industry”.

If one were to believe the propaganda of the “translation industry”, the industry seemingly consists basically of “LSPs”, while individual translators are never mentioned, not by name anyway, as the really important actors in the translation process, regardless of how well educated, skillful and experienced they may be in their particular field of translation.

We, translators are considered by the important, almost always monolingual people who profit from our work only as anonymous and easily replaceable cogs in the machinery of the “industry”. All they really want to know about us is our “rate” and how soon we can translate x thousand words for them.

Oh, yes, nowadays also how many months are we willing to finally get paid and whether we are willing to use CAT tools like Trados so that only certain words will be eligible for remuneration, while other words are expected to be thrown in by a lowly translator who should be grateful to have any work at all for free.

As far as the “translation industry is concerned”, all words are equal, but some words are more equal than others!

The advice that I have been trying to impart to translator newbies on my silly blog over the last 10 years is to ignore the “translation industry” as much as possible, or in fact figure out how to avoid it like plague, which is what I have been doing for about the last two decades.

To me, to work for the “translation industry” is to slavishly follow the wide, well-trodden middle road where you are told that every translator should go to earn a living from hard work. The problem is, since so many translators, would-be translators and not-really translators are walking the same dusty road, looking for rare patches of dusty grass to graze on, and competing with each other who can do the job for less, there is less and less green grass left for them to graze on and the road is littered with corpses of translators who tried to walk the road they’ve been told to follow by their older peers.

Their corpses will be left unnoticed and unmentioned along a road that will be stretching out seemingly into infinity.

What is going to happen now to the “translation industry” as a result of a worldwide pandemic is not difficult to foresee. In order to lower the costs the “translation industry” will start firing people who work as PMs (project managers) from their home offices and in the industry’s offices and exerting pressure on freelance translators to “lower the rates”.

There will be even less grass to munch on, that’s pretty clear to me.

But not every translation agency follows the horrible model of the “translation industry” that I have been criticizing in hundreds of my silly blog post over the last ten years.

There are still a few translation agencies who buck the overall trends of the industry and treat freelance translators with respect, which is to say that they don’t employ dirty tricks to to steal their money by forcing them to use wonderful tools like Trados, and pay them fairly good rates and quickly.

How do I know that? Well, now that I am retired or semi-retired, although I I mostly work for direct customers, I now only work regularly for one agency. I finished a few thousand words of a Japanese translation for them two days ago, and they paid me the next day. When is the last time something like this happened to you? If you can’t remember, that probably means that you have been working for the “translation industry” a little bit to much and for too long.

If I remember correctly, I started working for this particular agency in 1994, so that would be 26 years ago, before the modern “translation industry” was even born.

Every year I still do at least some work for them, although not nearly as much now as two decades ago. So an alternative “translation industry” model is possible and it still exists since this agency survived and still operates in the same manner as decades ago.

I actually make most money now from being a translation agency myself than from being a translator. I am now old and lazy, I don’t really need what I consider additional income, and it’s of course much easier to work and make money this way if you know what you are doing.

I also pay the few translators who work for me, or rather with me, within a few days, without forcing them to use word count stealing tools.

Why am I doing it and how can I do that? Well, unlike modern translation agencies that are based on the rules of the modern “translation industry”, just like some other agencies that are based on an older, more honest model, I have enough money in the bank to pay translators who work for me before I get paid.

So I don’t need to steal from translators.

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