Posted by: patenttranslator | September 16, 2018

The Minimalist Business Owner

Minimalism is a very popular trend now. At the moment it has turned into something of a fashionable craze, especially among young people who like to travel and call themselves digital nomads, and who sometimes move to another country or keep moving from country to country while inventing new ways to make a living using simple high-tech tools, such as creating all kinds of different videos. I find it difficult to stay away from the Youtube videos in which fearless nomads, young and old, but mostly young, male and females, vegans and carnivores, describe and demonstrate their fascinating minimalistic and/or nomadic lives and experiences.

Older people sell their houses, which have become too big for them now that they are empty nesters, younger ones give up on the idea of ever owning a big house and move into a small apartment or a tiny house, which is often on wheels so that it can be easily transported. Everything is so well designed and the space available is the tiny houses is so well organized so that all that you need for your life and your work and all of your material possessions will fit more or less comfortably into a few hundred square feet of space.

Such a tiny house, currently a popular feature of the minimalist lifestyle, is not really for me at this stage in my life. After decades of the nomadic existence of a technical translator who was bouncing for more than 30 years between San Francisco and Tokyo, then from Tokyo back to San Francisco, with the last 17 years spent in a typical bedroom community in Chesapeake, Va, creature comforts like a really comfortable bed and a big comfy sofa where I can plop down with a beer and binge-watch another Neflix series on a big screen TV, are much more important to me than they used to be when I was much younger.

Minimalism is also one of a few avenues available to peacefully but effectively protest against an unfair status quo. Most current business models are organized so that regardless of how much we make, we have to pay so much in interest rates and many visible and invisible taxes that in the end we don’t really own anything, usually regardless of where we live. Unless we are very rich, things are set up so that the banks and the City Hall are the real owners of what we may think of as our own property.

One big reason why minimalism is now so popular is probably the fact that probably the only legal way for those of us who are not real estate moguls to pay as little in taxes as possible is to make as little money as possible, while managing to figure out how to live off a smaller income.

For young people who have no children, I think that temporary minimalism is a really good idea. Once they start having kids, it will probably not be such a good idea anymore. Fortunately, as my children are adults now, I don’t really have to worry about them at this point. (Maybe it’s time now for them to start worrying about me)?

For older people whose children have flown the coop a long time ago, a minimalist vision of the way they run their small businesses also makes a lot of sense. A few months ago when I was putting together my tax return, I was telling about my plan to stop working like a robot and to move to a country with a much lower cost of living to my tax accountant. He stopped looking at the numbers on the monitor, looked at me and said “If I could do that myself, I would do it in a heartbeat.” He is about 10 years younger than me, so he might go for it too at some point.

Being a minimalist business owner who now needs much less money than than during the maximizing phase a few years ago, in addition to my modest retirement income and savings, also means that I can be very picky about the clients that I work for because an additional income from my work is no longer a necessity.

I had already fired all translation agencies that I used to work for over the last few years and I now regularly work only for very few agencies, only occasionally and mostly on very small projects (I will do in a pinch, but I am usually too expensive for big projects.)

As a result of the bloodbath in the “translation industry” over the last two decades that pushed the rates per translated words down even for highly specialized translations, the ability to slowly transit to a more minimalist approach to making money could not have come at a better time for me.

I think that what the “translation industry” is doing by aggressively competing on prices and volumes while all but ignoring quality is crazy. The agencies may be making money in the short term by using a number of tricks such as “post-processed machine translations” as if they were the same thing as real human translations, or outsourcing work to amateur translators in invisible “back offices” in low-cost countries, but in the long run, the industry is digging the grave not only for us, translators, but ultimately also its own grave.

What the so-called translation industry has been doing for the last two decades by constantly devaluing its own product, which used to be recognized as important strategic information, and replacing valuable information by billions of cheaply generated words, many of which are copied and discounted because they don’t necessarily have much to do with the original information since they were generated by machines and sub-prime translators, and then measuring its prowess by the number of often meaningless words generated by algorithms, is clearly not in its own interest.

But the industry does not care. Everything is sacrificed in the interest of short-term profit.

There are very smart people in this industry and many of them must understand that this is the case. But they do not care, probably because it is greed (not love) that in the end conquers everything (Omnia vincit avaritia). I write about the peculiarities of the greed in the new “translation industry” all the time on my blog, so I will try not to repeat what I have said here so many times already in today’s post.

Can a small business owner who is a single translator resist the overwhelming pressure of the industry, which is urging us all to shut the hell up and join the faceless crowds of thousands upon thousands of propagandized and constantly manipulated, disposable translators who are forced to work for a suicidal industry (while it is still around) for lower and lower rates?

I believe that the best way to resist the modern business trends is to make the industry irrelevant by avoiding the worst actors in the industry and concentrating on highly specialized translations for a few direct clients, who need exactly the kind of translations that we are able to provide and who pay much better rates than what is available from the so-called translation industry.

It takes perseverance, a lot of effort and usually a long time to find such a client, and there is no single recipe for achieving a good result, because different rules apply to different people and types of translations and there are also many other variables.

There is no website or blog that would describe what to do and how to do it. The advice that I have been so selflessly dispensing for free on my silly blog here, along with inspirational Youtube videos for quite a few years now, is in any case now dated and possibly not very relevant anymore given the constantly changing landscape in the translation business.

Scio nihil me scire (I know that I know nothing). A strategy that worked for me 30 years ago may no longer be applicable to present time.

But since the rates that good direct clients (and they are out there if we can find them!) will pay are multiples of what the industry is generally able and willing to pay, a minimum number of good direct clients is all that a minimalist business owner such as myself needs to live and work, while keeping some money in the bank for a rainy day, and also to have some time for other things than just constant work and hustle to find more work.

Once a few such good direct clients have been found and won over, only a minimal effort is usually needed to keep the business of a minimalist business owner running more or less smoothly most of the time.

The alternative is to give up trying to establish long-lasting relationships with direct customers and join the ranks of thousands of disposable translators working very hard for less and less money for higher profits and greater glory of the “translation industry.”

And the inescapable fact is that every translator who depends on the middlemen, (or “intermediaries” as one of my blog’s readers likes to call them), becomes disposable as soon as another translator offers to do the same work for less money.

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What translators are saying is that machine translation should be forbidden and only human translations should be allowed,” said a commenter on a Facebook group of translators recently.

It should be noted that when I took a look at who this person was, I saw that, purely coincidentally, this person who infiltrated a number of groups for translators although he himself is not a translator, was selling his own customized machine translation system.

What he said was of course a lie. That is not what translators are saying. At least not translators who still have a functioning brain. Only a total moron could believe that anybody has the power to “forbid machine translations”, especially since most machine translations are free. Not even translators are probably as stupid as the above-mentioned troll suggested.

What we are saying is that machine translation is only a tool and not translation.

We understand that machine translations are very useful, not only to translators, but also and especially to non-translators. The problem is that people are led to believe by the “translation industry” that machine translations are actual translations, because they are constantly bombarded by insidious propaganda of the “translation industry” whose aim is to erase in the minds of most people the difference between human translations and machine translations so that the machine translation snake oil could then be sold to clients as real translations.

After all, machine translation is so much cheaper than actual human translation!

Machine translations may sometime look like real, i.e. human translations, which happens once in a while when the stars are aligned just right, which is to say when an algorithm found a previous translation of a human translator that happens to be perfectly compatible with a document “translated” by the machine translation tool. But as anybody who has dealt with machine translations knows, looks can be deceiving.

“Human Parity of Machine Translation” Is a Myth

According to a recent article published on September 7, 2018, by Gino Diño in Slator, which criticizes among other things the transparent hype created around “neural machine translation,” so-called human parity of machine translation is not what the words seem to suggest, as is often the case when we talk about misinformation launched into the world by the “translation industry.”

As the same Slator reporter wrote in a previous article titled “In Human vs. Machine Translation, Compare Documents, Not Sentences,” Microsoft authors claim in their paper that human parity is achieved “if there is no statistically significant difference between human quality scores for a test set of candidate translations from a machine translation system and the scores for the corresponding human translations. In other words, if a bilingual human evaluator judges the quality of human and machine translations as equal (difference in scores are statistically insignificant), then the machine has achieved human parity.”

On surface, such a claim appears to be reasonable. But as an English politician put it a long time ago, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” When a group of independent researchers, Läubli, Hennrich and Volk, from Standford University, University of Edinburgh, and Zurich University, respectively, who were not paid for their research by Microsoft, looked more closely at Microsoft’s human parity claim, they found some very interesting facts:

“Microsoft followed current research standards in their methodology, where usually, “raters see single sentences – one by one, from any of the test documents, in random order – and rate their adequacy and fluency on a scale from 0 to 100.”

However, in this process, Läubli said it would be “impossible” for evaluators to detect certain translation errors, and thus they were unable to properly take these into account.

He pointed out some of the major problems in Microsoft’s process, among others:

  1. Evaluators were bilingual crowd workers, not necessarily professional translators.
  2. Evaluators only assessed adequacy, not fluency.
  3. Evaluators “never directly compared human to machine translation.” They looked at them separately and assigned scores.”

It’s no surprise to me that these evaluators reached the conclusion that Microsoft wanted them to reach. A translation that purposely ignores context is not a translation. Such a translation is bound to result in major, unforgivable and meaning-changing errors because context is the oxygen without which the meaning of the words, the sentences and of the entire document suffocates and dies.

Läubli, Hennrich and Volk further write that the NMT evaluation methods need to be changed, and even state that “Spreading rumours about human parity is dangerous for both research and practice: funding agencies may not want to fund MT research anymore if they think that the problem is “solved” and translation managers are not going to be willing anymore to have professionals revise MT output at all.”

Let’s say that a well researched scientific paper of several thousand words that is based on the Microsoft style statistical method for machine translation results evaluates the prospect of mankind to survive World War III in a document that is translated from Chinese into English. Even if the conclusion of the article in Chinese were to be that humans WOULD NOT survive such a catastrophic event, based on the statistical evaluation method that compares only words in separate sentences, without paying attention to context (since the meaning of the context is something that cannot be programmed into an algorithm), the result of the machine-translated version could be easily that humanity WOULD survive such an event.

A mistake like this can happen very easily in a machine translation. I have seen it dozens of times in machine translations of German patents when the word no (nicht), which can be in German hidden at the end of a long German sentence where the verb is sometime found, was wrongly assigned or missed by the software, although such a mistake would not be missed by a human translator who understands and pays attention to the context.

Machine programs for Japanese suffer from a similar problem with verbs that can change the meaning of an entire paragraph and are hidden in places where algorithms fail to find them, as well as with continuous series of characters which are often interpreted erroneously, just like compound nouns are often misinterpreted by super-cool MT algorithms in German.

In fact, the more translators use computer tools, for example to ensure consistent terms, the more their translations may be exposed to grave and really stupid errors caused by non-thinking algorithms. Just yesterday I was proofreading an excellent translation of a patent into German in which there were many “compound nouns” containing prepositions and articles that were run together and joined with nouns. After talking to the translator, I discovered that the problem, that was initially invisible to the translator in MS Word, was probably caused by the CAT tool that he was using (the much beloved and celebrated memo-Q in this case).

IT that Helps People Work Better and IT that Replaces People

There is a difference between IT that helps people to work better and IT that replaces them. Computers and IT have been affecting the work of all of us for several decades now, regardless of what we do for living. There have been many articles claiming that most doctors and lawyers will be replaced in the next few years by IT as some professions have been already, and it is likely that, for example, an anesthesiologist could be replaced by a specialized computer as described in this Washington Post article which is already three years old.

After all, a state-of-the-art machine is much cheaper than a doctor!

But would you want to be diagnosed by a machine before an operation that could (or not if it is based on incorrect information) save your own life?

I would want the anesthesiologist to have the best equipment with the best software currently available to do the job. But I would not want to have a machine diagnose me before an operation instead of a doctor because I happen to think that the chances that replacing an experienced and highly educated human called anesthesiologist by state-of-the-art equipment with the best available software would kill me are unacceptably high.

The chances of replacing an experienced and highly educated human translator with a tool that most translators have been using for quite some time, called machine translation, will kill the meaning of the translation are equally high.

But that is not how the “translation industry” looks at machine translation and what it can and cannot do, because the industry is only interested in maximizing its profit.

So it is only natural that the industry would design an evaluation method according to which “bilingual crowd workers”, whatever that means, compare human translation to machine translation by looking only at separate sentences and assigning points to them without looking at the context or at the meaning of the entire article and without actually comparing the human translation to the MT result, so that they (“the bilingual crowd workers” who are not translators and who don’t consider the meaning of the entire document) would find MT to be “equivalent” to human translation.

First you design a method that is guaranteed to prove your point and then you publish the result of your impartial test with great fanfare.

After all, that is how the “translation industry” has been selling its snake oil to gullible customers for quite some time now.

The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

In a funny and terminally cute clip on Facebook, four babies in pink and white baby clothes who have apparently just learned how to walk can’t get enough of sharing their love for the world and humanity by enthusiastically hugging each other. Each baby hugs another baby for a couple of seconds, and then the hugging partners are switched until the hugging endurance of each of the babies has been sufficiently tested and proven to themselves and to the world, or at least to the watching public.

This clip was recently used by a translator on a Facebook group for translators as an advertisement for the next ATA (American Translators Association) conference, which will be held at the end of October in New Orleans.

The association of the image of an ATA conference with cute babies greedily, joyfully and incessantly hugging each other is in my opinion a good one. As I wrote in a previous post almost four years ago, the central team of that promotional video clip from a previous ATA conference emphasized creating bonds between what in the ATA parlance is called “newbies and buddies”.

Newbies would in this case be relatively recent translators who can be likened to a somewhat grownup equivalent of the babies from the cute baby-hugging video clip, and a buddy would be an equivalent of a benevolent parent making sure that the newbie-babies eventually grow up as suitable members of the ATA.

Who is suitable material for a new ATA member, you might ask?

Based on what I read on social media, an ideal candidate for a new ATA member is a baby-translator who in addition to sincerely trying to figure out how to make enough money to pay the bills by translating, something that I have been trying to figure out for the last three decades, is not only eminently huggable, but also eminently amenable to the corporate propaganda of the “translation industry” which is dutifully disseminated about once a month on the pages of the ATA Chronicle to its paying members.

By the term corporate propaganda of the “translation industry” I mean at least readiness, if not necessarily eagerness, to obediently accept every new invention of the “translation industry” imposed on impressionable baby-translators, such as readiness to accept demeaning, immoral and illegal “Non-Disclosure Agreements”, which are very different from what one would generally think of as a Non-Disclosure Agreement, willingness to accept reduced payment demanded by some players in the industry for repeated words (called in the agency lingo “fuzzy matches and full matches)”, or to perform as a human robot processing for the equivalent of minimum wage machine-translated detritus to make it look like a real translation.

All of these relatively recent gimmicks of the “translation industry” have been propagandized and celebrated on the pages of the ATA Chronicle for the last two decades, while to my knowledge, not a single article critically analyzing these shady practices has appeared in the ATA Chronicle, which calls itself  “The Voice of Translators and Interpreters.”

Although the ATA calls itself a professional association, it is obviously nothing of the sort, as anybody can become a member of the association upon payment of membership fee, which at just shy of 200 US dollars is neither too high, nor too low.

This is not the case with any other generally recognized association of professionals, at least none that I can think of at the moment, such as lawyers, writers, or painters. Lawyers need to have a law degree to be admitted to the American Bar association, writers need to have written some books or movie scripts, and painters need to have created at least a few paintings to be considered for admission to their respective associations.

Not so with the American Translators Association.

ATA’s often recited professionalism is not even aspirational – you can be a life-long, completely and proudly monolingual individual, for instance an owner of a translation agency, a PM (an agency’s project manager), or an employee of a company who is perpetually hunting for fresher and cheaper translators and who could not translate his birth certificate into another language if his life depended on it, and still be a card carrying member of the American Translators Association.

The fact that anybody and his dog can be an ATA member upon payment of membership fee is very much against the interest of us translators, because if anybody can be admitted to the profession (if I dare to call it that), then there simply is no profession.

I don’t think that I am exaggerating here. If you want to test what I just said, give your dog a last name in addition to his first name, call him for instance Muffin Whittaker, send a check to the ATA, and your monolingual dog, Muffin Whittaker, will become a new valued member of this association.

I do believe the ATA will take your money if you don’t tell them it’s a dog (although it would be a waste of your money, of course.)

Which is not to say that being a member of the American Translators Association is necessarily a complete waste of your resources. It may not be the best way to use your money, but probably not the worst way either.

Remember the hugging babies video? We can all use a hug every now and then, and the sad truth is that none of us is hugged nearly enough once we are no longer babies and our mother is no longer there to give us a hug every once in a while!

If you are an ATA member and a translator who, like most people, is suffering from a hugging deficit although you are still quite huggable, you are in luck!

All you have to do is add another thousand or two thousand dollars (depending on how far you live from New Orleans, how soon you send your registration money in (early registrants get a discount), and what kind of hotel you want to spend a couple of nights during the ATA conference, and you’re all set for an orgy of hugging and receiving hugs from fellow translators (for the most part) at the next ATA conference.

It is quite unlikely that you will find direct customers at the conference,who are looking for seasoned translators and willing to pay good rates at the conference, although you will be exposed to many specimens of representatives of the modern form of translation agencies who are looking for cheap new translators among the many newbies, as I was when I went to an ATA conference many years ago in San Francisco.

But you will be able to finally  quench your thirst for hugging and being hugged, a largely unrecognized human right and a a primal, essential, physiological need that most of us have been unable to satisfy since we were babies.

Posted by: patenttranslator | August 23, 2018

Rampant Theft of Translators’ Identities Is a Major Problem

It’s better to be a monster than being useless and weak, and that’s because being useless and weak makes you a worse monster than a monster.”

Jordan Peterson, Canadian psychologist.

It is a well known truism that eighty percent of new small businesses fail within the first three years. The failure rate depends on the type of the business, of course; with restaurants, it is said that fifty percent of them fail within the first few years.

We all notice how the names of restaurants keep changing after a while when we drive past them and we usually don’t pay much attention to such a mundane fact of life. It’s all just a part of the scenery, like cherry blossoms in the spring, a flock of geese slowly crossing the road (why don’t they fly? Is it because they have their goslings following them?), or the homeless who are sprawled most of the time in some of the downtown streets of most cities.

I am not sure what the failure rate of new small translation businesses would be, including one-person businesses. Well, I know that they sometime fail too, but I don’t know how long it takes before they bite the dust.

I have been able to survive more than three decades as a translator. But given the current dire situation, I am not sure whether I would have survived what I call the “translation industry” (2.0)  had I launched my tiny enterprise three decades later, which is to say just about now.

Fortunately, I am already semi-retired and since I am no longer responsible for the wellbeing of my grown children who have left the house many years ago, I don’t need to make that much money anymore.

As if the situation for relatively new translators who are just trying to establish themselves in the translation field was not bad enough, they now have to compete, in addition with free machine translations and with very low rates being paid by the “translation industry” to many human translators, also with a rampant translators’ identity theft.

I see the evidence of this rampant translators’ identity theft almost daily in my email box, which is periodically filled with emails with attached fraudulent résumés of “translators” based on résumés of real translators that were stolen by outfits specializing in creating fake résumés.

I know that many of the résumés that I receive are from an outfit based in Gaza, or possibly somewhere else in Middle East, because I can identify several peculiarities typical for this outfit.

A telltale sign of this particular crook who is targeting my email box is that whoever puts together the fake résumés uses wrong names for the would-be translators. For example, translators into French never have a name that one would expect from a French person, a first name like Claire or Hélène, and the last name is also funny, not something that would resemble a common French name.

Or a male Japanese translator who supposedly translates from and into Japanese has a female Japanese first name and the last name does not sound Japanese either. And he is so good that in addition to Japanese, he can translate also into Chinese and Korean!

The crooks who specialize in manufacturing fake résumés based on stolen identities sometimes also make other stupid mistakes: for example, I received a résumé from a geographically confused would-be translator who supposedly translates Czech and Polish to English and lives in “Wroclaw, Czech Republic,” (although Wroclaw is in Poland.)

This to me is a clear indication that whoever is running this fraudulent enterprise is not a translator, or at least somebody who would know something about foreign languages. These people are simply ignorant crooks and fraudsters pretending to be something that they are not. They know nothing whatsoever about foreign languages.

I can’t help thinking, the funny thing is that in this respect these people are not really very different from a typical translation agency translating pretending to be able to translate “all subjects from and into every language” in our wonderful “translation industry.”

If you read my silly post today this far, you must be wondering whether I fell for a fake résumé at some point myself, and whether this might be why am I so keenly aware of this problem.

The answer is of course, yes, I did fall for it several years ago. That résumé looked so perfect and the rate was so reasonable, I simply had to give it a try! But when I received the short translation, it was garbage and I had to have it retranslated by a real translator, which means that I had to pay for it twice.

I only found out that the person who pretended to be somebody else was an imposter when I was paying the would-be translator. I paid for the garbage that I so foolishly ordered by PayPal, and because PayPal verifies identities of persons who want to have a PayPal account, I saw that this person had an Arabic name, which was not the language into which the translation was delivered, with the abundant aid of machine translation.

The best way to find a new translator is when a translator is recommended to you by another translator. The worst way to find a new translator is to trust the résumé of a very promising translator who offers a reasonable rate that somehow ended up in your mailbox.

Unless I can verify the identity of a would-be translator by going to his or her website, and unless I see that this translator went to the trouble of at least paying for a website and for an email that is attached to this website, I simply assume that the résumé that just turned up in my email box, which does not indicate a website, and which only has a free throw-away email, is a monstrous fake.

Posted by: patenttranslator | August 1, 2018

It Makes No Sense to March in Protest on a Cul-de-Sac

My silly post today was inspired by a comment on Facebook in which an American poster said in an international forum something like this (I could not find the comment anymore so this is just what I remember from it):

“I have been in Spain for only one week, but so many people are telling me that what we are seeing in America is the beginning of Fascism, and that people should be marching in the streets to stop it. They lived under Franco for a very long time and they know what they are talking about”.

But it’s hard to march in the streets in America.

Unlike in the old continent of Europe, in the United States, we only have actual streets where it would make sense to march in the downtowns of a few old cities like New York or San Francisco. So that’s where most marching takes place, to the extent that it does.

In old Europe people can march in protest in the streets of their pedestrian-friendly old cities to demand to get something back for having to pay high taxes (which is called “socialism” in America), or to demand democratic elections where they can actually choose from several different parties the party they think will represent them best, instead of being forced to participate in the “lesser-of-two-evils scam” that we have here.

In most of this country, we have suburbia consisting of “gated communities” guarded by armed personnel protecting the affluent ruling class, and “subdivisions” full of “quiet cul-de-sacs” for the rest of us.

The cul-de-sacs are not suitable for marching because they are closed off at one end. It does not make sense to march in a circular, dead-end street where people never go unless they happens to live there.

Suburban houses located on cul-de-sacs are particularly prized among what is left of the middle class because they are perceived as giving people “more privacy”, which means that neighbors don’t really come into contact with each other much if at all, except when they walk their dogs on the sidewalks of the subdivisions, often talking excitedly on the phone. In addition to streets with no exits, the privacy is also enhanced with big front yards and big back yards, putting even more space between neighbors who really prefer not to come into eye contact with each other.

As a young person living in Europe, I always said “hello” if I met an older person who happened to be a neighbor because my mother told me that not to do so would be impolite. Children and teenagers living in America’s subdivision pretend not to see their older neighbors. I am not sure what their mothers tell them about older people, if anything.

The front yard in particular is mostly just a major hassle for the suburbia inhabitants because there is so much grass on it and people have to water it and mow large spaces containing nothing but green or dying grass on Saturdays and Sundays. In addition to being highly environmentally unfriendly, the gasoline-powered mowers are also very noisy and smelly. But since everybody wants to have a big front yard and most people have to work long hours during the week, on top of an hour or two wasted in commute on clogged highways, the cul-de-sacs and other streets in the subdivisions are on the weekends as noisy as the traffic on highways.

For some reason, the term “cul-de-sac” has no equivalent in English and it is thus available only in French, like quite a few other words or phrases that are originally French, such as bon apétit, touché, or cherchez la femme.

My theory is that the term “cul-de-sac” was not translated into English so that people would not think too much about what the term means. The French words, whose exact meaning is probably understood by very few people, look much better printed on real estate brochures than “dead-end street”, don’t they?

The Japanese love to introduce foreign words from other languages into their beautiful, colorful and complicated language. There are many Japanese words originating in foreign languages including German, Dutch and Portuguese (for historical reasons), but especially in English. These words are in Japanese called “gairaigo”( 外来語), which literally means “words that came from outside”, usually translated as loan words).

But they went ahead and translated the term “cul-de-sac” into their own language as “fukuromichi” (袋道), or literally a “bag street”. So unlike in America, most people in Japan do understand that fukuromichi means a dead-end street and that there is no exit from such a road. When you’re stuck in a bag, you’d better get the hell out, or you’ll be stuck there for the rest of your pathetic life living in a bag that has no exit, just like there is no exit from Hotel California.

The subdivisions are connected by highways where you can’t march either because it would be both dangerous and illegal, and now people can hardly even drive there because, unlike a few years ago, they are charged new tolls based on what is called “public-private partnership projects”.

Not just the political system in which two wings of the same good old money party put on a jolly good show very roughly approximating a democratic process during elections, but even the infrastructure on the ground is thus becoming more and more suitable for a new era of fascism, more properly defined as “corporatism”, or merging of corporate and state power (which could be also described as a “public-private partnership project”).

If the moral depravity of ripping crying children who can’t even speak yet from the arms of their mothers and making five-year-old kids defend themselves in court proceedings against judges in their sixties, who are so ably and valiantly protecting the state from these kids in a court, is not barbaric fascism, then I really don’t know what fascism means.

It’s clear to me that marching in circle on our cul-de-sacs and voting for one of the two parties that are so far still allowed here, mostly because it makes almost no difference which one is nominally in power, is not going to stop fascism.

So, I would like to ask people in Spain, France, Italy, Poland and other countries in the old continent of Europe where people can still march in the now obsolete streets of their cities to demand change when they get really angry at what their governments are doing to them, what should we do here in the United States to get back to a more democratic system, which I think was the original idea behind “a more perfect union”, given that here we are stuck in a bag that is closed off on one end?

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 28, 2018

The Divine Madness of Youth

There is some evidence that Mick Jagger once uttered the following words: “I’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” when I’m 45.” Opinions differ on exactly how old he was at the time; 25 is frequently cited as the correct age.

He probably meant it – we all totally mean what we say when we are 25, although not much of what we say that we will do when we are 25 usually comes to pass. I remember that I decided to learn Chinese when I was 25, but of course, I never did learn it.

There seems to be a time limit to how long rock musicians are able to write and perform good music. I think that what they need to compose good music and perform really well is divine inspiration that comes to most of us only when we are still young and the world is new and fresh. Perhaps it is a kind of inspiration that could be called the Divine Madness of Youth – hence the title of my silly post today.

I am imagining Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen riding together in the same car, driving to some place, maybe a concert, and Leonard Cohen says to Bob Dylan: “So, Bob, when did the madness finally leave you for good?” And when he receives his answer in Bob Dylan’s drawl, Leonard Cohen says: “Yeah, it was about the same for me too.”

Composers of classical music get a much better deal from the Man Upstairs, also known by the name God, when it comes to better timed distribution of divine madness. J.S. Bach, who lived from 1685 to 1750, wrote some of his best known and most loved works after he turned 40 in 1725. The beauty of divine madness seems to follow composers of classical music from a young age well into middle and old age and the same is also true about some lucky writers and painters.

I think that the beauty of divine, inspirational madness accompanies also those of us who from a young age find irresistible learning of foreign languages. In those among us who have been chosen for this particular madness, the divine disease generally starts in youth, or even in sweet childhood.

We can’t help it, we are attracted to another language like a serial killer can’t help looking for another suitable victim when the Moon is full.

Fortunately for us, the madness of immersing ourselves for inexplicable reasons in a foreign language, a madness that is completely legal, can continue unabated for many decades and keep us young well into middle and old age, possibly because it is more like classical music, writing, or painting, than rock & roll.

People who care don’t about foreign languages – and they must be thinking, why the hell should we? … when we have our own, perfectly good language that works very well for us – sometime look at us with an awe that seems to be mixed with a kind of veiled scorn with which most people view autistic children, who are able to calculate complicated formulas in their head, but unable to function well in simple situations requiring social interaction.

But we know better than to worry about the strange looks that some people may be giving us, don’t we?

So we have become translators, interpreters and language teachers because we try to share our love for the intimate foreignness of a foreign language that feels so right to us with other people … because, just like real love, another kind of divine madness that hits us unexpectedly like a cannon ball when we are still very young, it is one of the best feelings in the world and one has to feel sorry for those who never experienced it.

A life lived in one language and one language only is a life that has been lived only some of the time, a part-time life at the most.

Such an incredibly boring kind of life could not really bring much satisfaction to anyone, could it? That’s why we have to keep doing what we are doing, just like Mick Jaggers has to keep jumping up and down on the stage while swinging the microphone and his hips, in pursuit of the Divine Madness of Youth for as long as possible.

Although I am not that old (sixty something is the new fifty something, right?), I remember well the pre-globalized, pre-corporate phase of the so-called translation industry in the eighties and nineties of the last century.

I think that it could be said that the last two decades of the 20th and the first years of the 21st century were a golden age for technical translators and for patent translators in particular. When I look at how much I was making month after month (thanks God!) while I was a single earner in a family of fourth, some 15, 20, or 25 years ago, which, fortunately for me, is no longer the case, I keep thinking to myself how incredibly lucky I was to have started my business before the globalized phase of the “translation industry” turned so many of us into underpaid indentured servants who have to follow the rules created by their monolingual handlers at translation agencies, nowadays called “Language Services Providers” (LSPs).

I know that the main reason why I was so busy working at pretty high rates several decades ago was that I was able to offer my translation business to direct customers, without the interference of corporate agency behemoths in the pre-corporate phase of what is now called the “translation industry”.

Prior to the corporatized phase of the “translation industry”, roughly from about the year 2000 BC until about Anno Domini 2000, most translators were thought of as people who were running their own small businesses.

If you worked mostly for translation agencies, as I did at first in the nineteen eighties and even into the nineties, there was also a major difference between how the agencies treated you then and how they treat you now. Back then, huge translation agencies with offices in a number of cities and many more virtual “back offices” created in third world countries ad hoc for various projects to be hidden from the prying eyes of clueless clients, simply did not exist yet.

While a friendly or at least very civil, mutually beneficial relationship between a translator and a translation agency was the cornerstone of what the concept of the translation business was up until about the year 2000 or 2010, in the current form of the “translation industry”, or version 2.0, the fact that human translators are vital for creating a high-quality final product called translation is seen by the captains of the “translation industry” as a bug rather than a valid feature of their quasi perfect, highly automated digital systems for delivery of translations mostly by monolingual managers.

If they have their way, one day soon they will get rid of translators altogether.

It could be said that while the old version of translation agencies was quite translator-friendly, the new environment created in this century by the “translation industry” is toxic to us, translators.

The industry is treating us as if we were servants rather than independent business owners.

Even before we accept a translation job, no matter how tiny, called nowadays an “assignment”, we are required to sign agreements in which we must promise, under the penalty of heavy fines, that we will never, ever attempt to contact an actual client who orders a translation unless we are explicitly asked to do so by the agency. And even if we are asked by the clients themselves to do the job without the intermediary of the agency, we are supposed to turn such these clients down in a clear violation of antitrust legislation, at least based on the laws here in the United States.

The reason for this is clear – the agencies know that should a direct connection be established between a translator and a direct client, the client may get rid of the translation agency next time when a translation is needed ….. unless the translation agency provides an important service, which is sometime true, but not very often.

The agencies have been demanding for a long time now – with some success, especially with less experienced translators – that translators must purchase, learn and use word count-stealing software such as Trados, so that the translators could be very significantly shortchanged and more money would be left for the middleman, in clear violation of the  rule of the New Testament stating that “the laborer is worthy of his wages”.

It is very unchristian of the agencies to insist that full and partial “matches” must be obligatorily deducted from the laborer’s wages by word count-stealing software.

Maybe they’re all run by atheists.

Increasingly, we are also being asked by translation agencies to offer our services as “post-editors” of machine translations, so that instead of charging for our work based on the number of words that we translated ourselves, we will charge a low fee based on a predetermined number of hours.

This is because we can then be forced to charge a very low hourly fee, or a ridiculously low per word rate, determined by the agency, for what is in fact a mind-numbing, full retranslation of what a series of algorithms provided for free determined to be a “translation” by the agency. Something like that usually takes more time than a translation from scratch, but the agencies simply ignore this simple fact.

To its eternal shame, the ATA (American Translators Association) has been propagandizing for many years now the notion that translators need to participate in this scam designed to eventually get rid of translators all together and turn them into “machine translation post-processors”.

I have read in many articles published during the past decades or so in the ATA Chronicle that post-processing of machine translation is “a useful skill” that all translators should acquire and gratefully offer to translation agencies.

Not a single, non-propagandistic article has been published in the ATA Chronicle that would seriously examine the issue of what machine translation really is, namely that it is only a tool that is useful for translators and non-translators alike, but not an actual translation, let alone an article explaining how harmful attempts at post-editing of the product of this tool are to an actual translation.

So, thanks God for translation blogs, Facebook groups and other social media!

It is a tragedy that we, translators, have no association of translators that would really represent our interests, instead of representing the interests of the “translation industry”.

I hope this will change one day, because nothing stays the same forever, but seeing how bad the things are at this point, it may not change within my lifetime.

In view of all the bad news for translators, and I only managed to scratch the surface in my silly post today, I have to ask myself the question in the title of my post today: Can an individual translator survive “translation industry” (2.0), and perhaps even compete with the greedy corporate industry Leviathans?

I obviously don’t know the answer to this question. But I hope that some of us will survive the current form of the “translation industry”, namely those of us who will not follow the propagandized and confused herd of translators, also called newbies, who accept the present conditions on the ground as immutable facts imposed upon us by a more advanced, predatory alien civilization.

After all, I’m still here, doing my thing pretty much the same way as three decades ago, aren’t I? I may not as busy right at this moment as I was ten or twenty years ago when I had to work seven days a week at very high rates (compared to rates prevalent now) to meet the demand for services that I provided then and still provide now.

But last year was one of the best years for me ever in terms of how much I made (and I never had to pay as much in taxes as I did last year).

The balance of power between translators and agencies has changed and the agencies are now much more powerful than they were a decade or two decades ago, partly thanks to our “professional associations”, most of which will take money from anyone because they don’t give a damn about translators.

But that does not mean that we are powerless. What gave me the power some three decades ago to compete with much larger translation agencies was the fact that I found a few domain names that were very suitable for the services that I was providing (although it was mainly the domain www.patenttranslators.com), and with a powerful domain, I was able to offer my services directly to patent law firms, without having to go through the intermediary of translation agencies as I wrote in several posts on this blog.

I am sure that this can still be done today, although it is much more difficult to find a good domain name now than thirty years ago, of course.

But there must be also other lines of attack that may have to do with things like using social media or blogs in ways that I don’t know much about, attending conferences for specialists and conferences for translators, creating specialized Youtube channels (for which you can also get paid if you have a lot of views), and other strategies that I can’t even imagine.

Somebody much younger than me will hopefully figure out again how to beat the system by using modern technology before somebody else gets the same idea, and get as lucky with a new mousetrap as I did three decades ago.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 18, 2018

The First Time I Saw a Box of American Cereals

I still remember when I saw a box of American cereals for the first time.

It was in the spring of 1982 and I was eating my breakfast in a military dining hall in Kaiserslautern, West Germany, where I was working as a civilian employee for the US Army while waiting for over a year for an immigrant visa to move to America. My benefits included not only free healthcare and vacation, but also free meals three times a day as long as I lived close to the military base.

All of us working there were recent refugees from Central Europe, mostly Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and one lonely Hungarian, whose name was of course Attila. That was where I started learning Polish – Poles appreciate it very much when you try to talk to them in their own language, even if your Polish is pretty horrible. Every nation in fact appreciates foreigners who bother to try to learn their language.

The cereals tasted pretty awful, but only because coming from a country where cereals like this did not exist yet, I did not realize that I had to add milk. I should have bothered to read the instructions to the end.

But I ate about a half of the small box of dry cereals anyway, so big was my admiration for America, the superpower that had the courage to stand up against another big superpower that was at that time occupying my country with more than two hundred thousand soldiers and five thousand tanks, that I would not admit to myself that the stuff tasted just awful (which, without the milk, it sure did).

A Polish guy who was also working with me for US Army in Germany while waiting for immigration to Australia pointed at the back cover of the box, where all the ingredients and the country of origin were listed …. Actually, I remember now that although I met some Poles who emigrated to Perth, Australia, this one was waiting for an immigrant visa to Ontario, Canada, where he had a sponsor.

He told me that the law for all food sold in America said that all the ingredients and the country of origin had to be identified on the product. Wow, what a country, I thought to myself. That’s how democracy should be working. To my knowledge, no such law existed in communist countries, although some products were provided with some pretty descriptive information already back in 1982.

Although the Poles and Czechs who were working for the US Army in Germany were civilian employees, (basically all of us were trying to get immigrant visas to America, Canada, or Australia), we were issued US military uniforms and we wore them while working at the military bases.

Once when we were being transported in open military trucks to another town in Germany in our US uniforms without any insignia, (my official job designation was “cable splicer”), we saw a van coming from the opposite side, full of cute, young girls.

We had no idea who these girls were until they started pointing at us and talking excitedly among themselves in Polish. Some of the girls were waving at us – the US Army was very, very popular in Poland back then. I wonder whether this is still the case.

This was during the time after the Polish communist ruler general Jaruzelski had declared martial law in Poland in the December of 1981, while Soviet tanks were waiting for instructions to cross the border at the Polish border and start dispensing “fraternal aid” to their brethren in yet another country again.

Some among us started yelling in Polish at the girls that we were not going to let the Russians do in Poland what they did in other countries. The girls stopped talking. They were looking at us with big eyes, unable to speak, finding it impossible not to believe that the US Army was moving Polish-American troops to the German border to support the pro-democracy Solidarnozc movement should the Soviet Union try to quash the timid beginnings of democracy in Poland with its military might the way they suppressed similar movements in other countries.

They were probably wondering: “Is this the beginning of World War III?”

Fortunately, it wasn’t the beginning of World War III. The pro-democracy movement was quashed by Polish police and military, general Jaruzelski made sure of that. But the communist regimes were living on borrowed time. The Berlin Wall fell seven years later, the dysfunctional economic and political systems were dismantled in all of the client states of the Soviet Union and I was finally able to see my mom and my sister and brothers in Czechoslovakia again, after nine long years during which we all thought that we would probably never be able to see each other again.

Since Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia joined NATO and then European Union a few years later, I guess it could be said that those of us who were sitting in the US military truck that day, yelling at the Polish girls that we were going to stop the Soviet tanks, were just a few years ahead of our time.

I did not know it back then, of course.

Neither did I know that more than three decades later when I would be buying a box of cereals at Aldi, Inc., a German supermarket chain in Virginia, the country of origin would no longer be listed on the box as it was (because the law said so) when I opened a box of cereals for the first time in 1982, and that the place of “distribution” would be indicated instead as “distributed by Aldi, Inc., Batavia, Il., whatever that might mean.”

They don’t tell us anymore where our food comes from, only where it is “distributed from”, without saying what it might mean, most likely because if we knew the origin of the food that we eat ourselves and give to our children and grandchildren to eat, we might decide not to buy the stuff, no matter how cheap and well packaged it may be.

And if they don’t have to tell us anymore where the food comes from, I wonder whether the box really contains the ingredients that are listed on it.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 8, 2018

Digital Nomads Are a Reflection of Our Random, Chaotic World

The world is neither cruel nor joyous. It is simply random, full of particles hurtling, chemicals mixing and reacting. There is no real order. There is no preordained cursing of the evil and protecting of the righteous.

Chaos, baby. It’s all about chaos.

Harlan Coben, The Innocent, page 36.

 

I have been thinking of myself as what in modern parlance is referred to as a digital nomad for at least the last 30 years. Except that unlike modern digital nomads, I don’t travel very often, I usually stay put in one place for quite a few years …. but then I have to move again.

My occupation of a freelance translator made it quite easy to live like that for a long time, although I am not sure if things can still work the same way for freelance translators in the age of “translation industry” (2.0), which to me is just one, relatively recent and quite repulsive facet of corporate fascism.

Because I tend to spend a relatively long time in one place, I don’t really live like a typical nomad who moves all the time. I settle in one place and pay the taxes there for quite a few years.

After I moved to the United States from Germany 36 years ago in 1982, I moved first from San Francisco to Tokyo in 1985, then from Tokyo back to San Francisco in 1986, and from San Francisco to Petaluma, California, in 1992.

Then there was another very short move from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California, in 1994, and then, after a total of 19 years in California, a long, weird trip of 3,000 miles with a wife, two kids, three dogs and one snake (just kidding, it was really just a big lizard that kind of looked like a snake) from Santa Rosa, California, to Chesapeake, Virginia, in 2001, where I have been sitting on my derriere, working and paying taxes ever since then for the last 17 years.

(I am planning another move again, but that’s not the subject of this post.)

So that would be seven moves in thirty six years, which as I read somewhere is about how many times an average American moves in a lifetime – namely seven times. For the purposes of this blog I am ignoring how many times I moved when I lived in Europe. I don’t know how exactly it works in other countries, but I think that an average American moves quite a bit more often than for example an average Japanese person or an average European person, if there is such a thing.

Based on my experience, Americans will move thousands of miles for a slightly higher salary, or a slightly bigger house in an area where real estate prices are slightly lower without thinking twice about it, while people in European countries, for example, are more likely to stay where they are, or move just a short distance from the place where they grew up and where their family and friends live. One reason is of course, that most European countries are so small that you can’t really move too far unless you emigrate to another country.

Another difference between average persons and digital nomads is that while your average American or European has to first find a job before moving, or find it rather quickly after moving, digital nomads don’t need to worry about such annoying details.

Things can get complicated if a digital nomad gets married, because if you are married, you have to persuade (or cajole) your spouse to agree to your plan. This could get quite complicated and in fact, so messy that it often turns out to be impossible.

But there is a way to go about it that has been working for me very well.

You have to put the germ of the radical idea that the best thing to do now would be to move into the unsuspecting head or brain of your spouse or partner – without, of course, making her or him aware that this is what you are doing – and then you acquiesce, after a while, when they tell you that they came to the conclusion that it is time to move.

The idea of moving is even more complicated for the digital nomads among us who are married and have children. Children tend to go school and have friends, and it is clearly an awful thing that you are trying to do to them if all of a sudden you tell them that they may never see their friends again.

So basically, you can do something as drastic as that only if the children are still very small and have no say about anything, approximately before the age of ten, before they realize that they too have rights, including the right to disagree with your stupid idea and the power to make you feel so guilty about it that you will have no choice but to give up on the whole idea. But even if you go ahead with the plan while they are still quite young, keep in mind that they may blame you and possibly hate you for it once they are a little older.

So tread carefully. It gets really complicated if you want to share your nomadic life experience with your children!

There are so many disadvantages to living the nomadic lifestyle, even if you move only every few years or so, that most digital nomads should probably ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing.

Especially as we are growing older, we become attached to the creature comforts that come with living in a comfortable place that we know well and where our friends and family live too.

An equally and possibly even more important disadvantage is that creature comforts that are generally available only to people who can live in one comfy and familiar place for a long time, such as a spacious bathtub, the calming view of a pond and green trees from our window, or our favorite pillow, become much more important to us than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

Well, of course, the reasons for why we do what we do depend on the person.

My theory for why I have the need to keep moving from one place to another is that I am trying to make sense out of a random, chaotic and nonsensical world.

If you stay in one place all or most of your life, you don’t have any other place to compare it to.

If you move at least half a dozen times, preferably more than that, you have many samples to compare them to the world where you happen to be living at the moment.

And if you keep your eyes open, you may even discover that the world is not really as chaotic as it may seem at first to the casual observer who is bound to one place and one place only, and that, as Horatius put it “est modus in rebus” (there is a meaning in all things.)

And what is life about if it is not about discovering the hidden meaning in all things?

Well, then it probably is about having more money than other people when you die.

“Failure to Launch” is a really funny movie with Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker about a guy in his mid thirties who does not want to leave the house of his parents. I saw it some time ago and then all but forgot about it.

But not completely because I keep being reminded of how the central theme of that comedy is relevant to major shifts that are now seemingly inextricably woven into the modern society in ways revealing the changes that we have been going through in the last few decades.

I love my sons and I miss them something terrible now that they live thousands of miles away.

But at the same time, I am so glad that both of them left our house a decade ago at the tender age of about 18, driven by the incredible drive that pushes young almost-adults toward freedom, which to them means to be who they want to be. It felt so good to suddenly have the whole damn house to myself (upstairs) and my wife (downstairs) once they were gone.

I remember how a neighbor of mine, who at that time had two very young daughters and a slightly older son living with her and her husband, asked me with what I thought was a melancholy smile with a touch of envy when we met by chance at a supermarket, “So, how does it feel to be empty-nesters?”

It felt pretty good, I told her, with a grin on my face.

The failure to launch the career of a talented, new college graduate is now also a common result, after years and years spent studying subjects referred to somewhat disparagingly as “humanities” such as history or linguistics, for too many young people who decided to follow their passion and majored in what attracted them to their chosen profession.

But an economic system that places a high value on technical subjects and especially on mathematics because they are so useful for the casino games played on Wall Street, makes it now so difficult for these young people to find their place in life that many of them simply give up and instead move back to the their parents basement. The way this relatively recent phenomenon is put in English speaking countries, namely that the adult children live “in their parents’ basement”, while in some languages, for example in German, or Czech or Slovak, the expression for failure to launch adult children’s lives is referred as having children who are still living in the “Hotel Mama”.

In some countries, especially in Asia and South America, it is quite common for several generations to live under the same roof and share the same house. In the past, this usually meant that the parents who became grandparents wanted to live with their adult children to be close to their grandchildren and in return, their adult children were able to help them as they aged and tasks such as shopping for groceries became too difficult for them.

In some countries, even in countries such as Japan where the tradition of extended families living under the same roof in the same house has been much stronger than in many European countries, aging parents and mothers in particular are now frequently complaining on social media about their inability to get their adult children to find a well-paid job, get married and finally move out of their parents’ house.

The children sometime don’t have much of a choice: the jobs are not nearly as easy to be found as they used to be, and those that are available don’t pay enough to support a family.

So the children usually get to stay in the “Mama Hoteru” for as long as they need to (and sometime much longer), until they are ready to launch their own career. But what options do recent graduates with a degree in languages have these days to launch their careers? Not many, unless they are ready to start slaving their lives away in underpaid jobs in the “translation industry” where they can mostly work either as project managers, or as “machine translation post-processors” for the greater profit and glory of the “translation industry”.

When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, there were quite a few jobs that I could and did choose from right after graduating with a degree in Japanese and English studies. My first job was working as a translator for a major news agency, and in the second one I was working as a research assistant at the Oriental Institute in Prague.

After I decided that I needed a radical change of scenery, it took me just a few weeks to find a job as a multilingual Visitor Services Representatives at the Convention and Visitors Bureau in San Francisco, and yet another radical change of scenery resulted in a job as a translator for an import-export company in Tokyo, until I finally launched my own translation business after my return from Japan to San Francisco more than 30 years ago.

Although all of these jobs were entry-level jobs that paid a relatively low salary, the jobs were there for language majors. The money I made was enough to live on while I was still single, and in each of these jobs I kept learning more and more about what I really wanted to do with my life, until I understood that what I wanted to do was to launch my own translation business and did that more than 31 years ago.

But what about the recent graduates with degrees in languages? What choices do they have?

After several decades of internecine price wars in the “translation industry”, so destructive both to translators and the quality of translations, during which translation work was outsourced by many translation agencies to several layers of what is now called back offices located in third world countries where translators are much cheaper than in Western countries, translators from Western countries with university degrees are now too expensive for the “translation industry”, even if they just finished their studies and are willing to work for what is not very much money, as I was all those years ago.

I saw somewhere on the internet that universities that teach linguistics and languages nowadays have in the curriculum seminars on “new occupations that do not exist yet” for students majoring in languages, such as post-processing of machine translation, which is described as a “promising career” for young graduates.

Wow! What a great career for a recent graduate with a PhD in linguistics!

After about two decades of mutually destructive price wars among agencies big and small in the “translation industry”, I think that had I been born four decades later and had I launched my translation business in the year 2018 instead of the year 1980, my amazing and daring adventures in the land of translation, which took me from Europe to America, than to Japan and then back again to America, would probably never come about.

Everything would be so much harder for me that I would most likely failed to launch a successful translation business and I would then have no choice but either to become an underpaid agency slave, (a fate worse than death), or to return to “Mama Hotel” to try to figure out my next move.

Oh, and as much as it pains me to say it, I am so glad that my sons did not follow their father’s example and chose a different career that has nothing to do with translation.

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