Contracts between a corporation and a subcontracting company hired by the corporation are usually very one-sided and sometimes downright nasty to the party subcontracted to supply goods or services. This is indicated already by the prefix “sub” in English, German, Russian, and Czech, “pod” [meaning “under”] in Polish, or [shita, under] in Japanese. The prefix clearly shows who is the on top and who is way down below.

I have translated many contracts of this type from several languages, including Japanese, German, French, Czech and Russian. Certain things tend to be emphasized in these contracts more in some languages, while they may be only glossed over in other languages.

For example, Japanese contracts always strongly emphasize penalties, including the contract’s cancellation in the event of a single missed deadline, while the only excusable reason for such a major sin on the part of the subcontractor is usually what is referred to as force majeure, which in French literally means “greater force”, such as an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or armed insurrection or war.

(Personally, I think that “No Wi-Fi” should be added to the force majeure clause for contracts with translators as a legitimate excuse for non-performance of services.)

I remember that the last contract that I translated from Russian had a lengthy clause dealing with harsh penalties for subcontractors who send to the work site inebriated operators. I don’t remember a clause about alcohol or drunk subcontractors in any contract that I translated from any other language.

But one-sided as these contracts that I am translating may be, none of them approaches the nastiness and scope of illegality sometimes found in a number of contracts that translation agencies ask translators to sign.

The first indication that something is wrong with a translation agency that wants to hire you for a project is when you are asked to sign a contract before the agency even has a project for you. It has happened to me many times, most recently three days ago. Why do they ask translators to sign a contract if they have not even sent them any work yet? They usually say that they can’t show us the document until we have signed their non-disclosure agreement. OK, maybe that’s true, maybe not. But if it is true, then the agency should be obligated to send the work to the translator once a rate or a fee that is acceptable to both parties has been agreed upon.

But that is not how it works. What actually happens is that the agency asks a translator, or several translators as the case may be, to sign an agreement when the project is still at the bidding stage and the agency does not have it yet, and may not even have it in the end, or when the agency is contacting several translators, asking all of them to sign a contract, so that the translation will go to the lowest priced warm body available at the moment.

That is why I never agree to sign anything until the agency says that the job is mine if I sign a contract that I can sign in good conscience on the dotted line.

Once a confidentiality agreement is received, there are several possible strategies for dealing with it.

Some of these agreements are so nasty and tell so much about what kind of agency it is that the best way to deal with it is to refuse to sign it. Sure, I will lose a potential project, but I will avoid major headaches that I would have to deal with had I signed a demeaning contract that sometimes contains illegal clauses. Instead of simply refusing to sign a contract, it may be better to counter by offering to sign a Translation Services Agreement prepared by the American Translators Association for its members. If the agency is an ATA member (and they all are, and eagerly advertise on their website that they belong to this august organization), why would the agency refuse to sign a standard ATA agreement?

Abusive clauses that some translation agencies use, especially mega-agencies, include also the following outrageous demands:

1. A clause specifying that any and all intellectual property created during the translation process shall belong to the agency. Since the agency is acting only as a broker, intellectual property created during the translation process may belong to the translator, or to the end client, should the end client request it as the party that ordered the translation and pays for it. That makes sense to me.

But why should it belong to an intermediary, a broker who did not create any intellectual property and only acts as a go-between? If there is legislation allowing that, this legislation needs to be changed. But of course, if translators sign such a clause, they lose all rights to the intellectual property created by their own work, which shall henceforth belong to the middleman forever and ever, Amen.

And it is not even clear what such a clause actually means. Does it mean for example that a list of terms that the translator created while working on a patent project does not belong to the translator but to the broker? I think it does. But then it would also mean that the translator could not use the same list of technical terms that may be stored on his computer on another project for another agency or direct customer without risking a lawsuit, would it not?

2. A clause specifying that a translation agency has the right to raid the house of a freelance translator without prior notice, ostensibly “to verify that virus protection software has been installed correctly”, or under another ridiculous pretext. I doubt that employees who are paid twice a month and whose taxes are paid by their employer would allow their employer to spy on them in this manner. And these are workers who as employees are guaranteed a certain amount of income while they work for the employer. To infringe upon the personal freedom of “freelance translators” who are not promised, let alone guaranteed, any income by the agency in such a disgusting manner is in my opinion very disturbing and clearly unconstitutional. The police need a warrant to enter our houses, but translation agencies do not?

3. A clause specifying that a translation agency has the right to spy on a translator by having access to his or her computer, usually again based on some variation of the weird claim that the agency needs to ascertain something about software that has been installed correctly, etc.

Should another party have remote access to your computer, and should this party happen to be a translation agency, such a party would have a list of who your customers are, both direct customers and translation agencies who send you work, and it would know exactly how much you charge them for projects that you are working on and what these projects are. Such a quasi-omnipotent agency would also be able to see for instance which websites you visit on the internet, which blogs you read and it could also read the correspondence in your e-mail.

Granting this kind of extraordinary, illegal power to a translation agency would compromise your relationships with all of your other customers, both direct clients and agencies. Should they somehow find out about it, they would naturally stop working with you because signing such an agreement with one agency would mean a breach of any other confidentiality contract with any other client. Not even employees may be asked to grant such permission to their employers to be spied on in their own houses. Something like that would be clearly illegal in most jurisdictions on this planet, with the possible exception of North Korea, as I wrote in another post on this blog.

The fact that translation agencies dare to put something like this in a contract with persons who are at the same time called “independent contractors” in what is referred to as a “Non-Disclosure Agreement”, (albeit with non-disclosure going only in one direction, while everything about the translators would have to be disclosed), tells us a lot about the low moral standards to which “the translation industry” has sunk in recent years.

I do believe that something as vile as this particular clause would be simply unimaginable a decade or two decades ago when most translation agencies were simply businesses trying to make money by delivering service in the market for translation through honest cooperation with translators.

4. A clause stating that should the translation agency sue the translator (who is an independent contractor), this independent contractor will be liable for the agency’s “reasonable attorney’s fees”. This clause is designed to muzzle the translator and make him agree to anything the agency wants, no matter how illegal it may be, out of fear of being sued, if the agency has nothing to lose by suing for any reason whatsoever when its legal costs are paid by the translator.

Since these contracts are only proposals, translators are of course free to offer their own contract instead, such as the standard contract proposed for its members by the American Translators Association, or to modify the terms of the contract and cross out the most offensive clauses.

Personally, I think that a translation agency that puts all or some of the clauses listed above in what it purports is a “Confidentiality Agreement”, or “Non-Disclosure Agreement” (often abbreviated as NDA) is not a client that is worth having, especially since agreements of this kind are usually also connected with very low rates paid to translators and combined with short deadlines and a long waiting time during which translators are forced to wait for payment.

One thing the lawyers who draft similar contracts for translation agencies don’t seem to care about is that when the contracts give translation agencies so much control over translators who are officially classified as “independent contractors”, these translators may no longer be considered “independent contractors” under law. How can they possibly be called “independent contractors” when that they are forced to assign all intellectual property created by these “independent contractors” to the agency, when they agree to have their house raided by the agency without a prior warning, as well as agreeing to being spied on by the agency through their own computers and to pay the agency’s “reasonable attorney’s fees” should the agency decide in its wisdom to sue them for some reason.

Insertion of these clauses into a contract means that the translators who sign such contracts no longer belong to the category of “independent contractors” as defined by law in the United States and various EU countries.

Since translation agencies, (or Language Service Providers, if you will), pushing such contracts have so much control over translators, these translators can be reclassified by tax authorities as employees, which would make their employers liable for half of social security taxes and other taxes applicable in the United States and EU countries.

Translation agencies who push the clauses listed above on translators, who are officially “independent contractors” while being treated more as indentured servants than independent contractors, thus expose themselves as well as their translators to time-consuming audits for tax evasion and costly appeals based on the “Non-Disclosure Agreement” alone, simply because businesses using such contracts would exercise more control over their translators than employers have over their own company employees.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 19, 2016

Too Many Tools Spoil the Translation

I made an interesting discovery recently when I was translating a fairly long Japanese utility model into English. Usually, when I am translating the text of Japanese patent applications, I automatically download a version of the machine translation of the Japanese text either from the Japan Patent Office, or from the European Patent Office website to use as an expanded dictionary, although with many caveats, of course. Machine translations into many languages, including into English, are available for all relatively recent Japanese patent applications going back more than 20 years. But they are not available for older patents and utility models, which belong to a lower category, inventively speaking.

Even in a case like that, I can simply convert a PDF file to MS Word and create machine translation manually, for example with GoogleTranslate or with Microsoft Translator. If there are just a few very slight imperfections in the printed copy, the conversion to a digital file will result in a text that is often completely nonsensical. But even if I have a perfectly legible PDF copy, as was the case with this utility model, the conversion from PDF to a digital file creates too many obstacles for a machine translation program because the spacing between Japanese kanji, hiragana and katakana characters, even though they might have perfectly regular spacing, throws off the algorithms of the machine translation program because there are no spaces between Japanese words.

It is not even clear what a word is in Japanese, so the Japanese text may look like this: itisnotevenclearwhatawordisinJapanese, or like this: i t i s n o t e v e n c l e a r w h a t a w o r d i s i n J a p a n e s e. When the wrong characters are connected together, the result is obviously completely wrong. For some reason, machine translation programs can handle the first alternative for Japanese texts relatively well, but not the second alternative.

Here is an example of what happens when a perfectly legible PDF file in Japanese is converted to digital form and then put through GoogleTranslate:

“In Tsu by the and the child that same map di-work for the person E students that Ki out and this you promote the blood circulation of the head part. Placed by the comb-shaped heat scratch preventing portion to the peripheral edge evenly of the head portion, order to carry out the heat scratch prevention treatment of all rectangular position to the head part, be sampled rate de la Lee ya when you for the use and to or cormorant child to the skin to the heat scratch you can in prevention to. Because the thermal scratch-resistant full-time (Note1) are placed at the site had close to ground clip on the head part, it is sampled Les To de la Lee You can ya di one hand in the prevention and this bovine or by the heat scratch.”

Even this kind of “machine translation” may still be somewhat useful to me because some of the words are translated correctly, such as “rectangular position”, (actually, now I remember that I did not use these words in my translation, so this must have been wrong too). But then again, because not too many words are useful, this kind of machine translation is completely useless to a non-translator.Based on the machine translation above, do you have any idea what this new utility model about a minor invention is about? Hint: it is not about “a cormorant child”. Sadly, there were no “cormorant children” in the Japanese text at all.

Incidentally, this is also one reason why I don’t bother using any CAT tools, although the main one is that I simply don’t need them, don’t like them, and despise the way predatory translation agencies are trying to use them to extort illegal discounts for “full and fuzzy matches” from hapless translators.

The discovery I made while translating without having access to a machine translation was the realization that when I don’t have to look at the words in a machine translation because there is none, I experience an exhilarating, almost forgotten feeling of freedom: freedom for me to translate the text the way I understand it, without having to pay attention to what an algorithm thinks the text means.

In the prehistoric times before machine translation was available to me and my clients (20 or 30 years ago), I would usually have three dictionaries on my desk – one to look up characters that I did not know, or used to know but somehow forgot, one standard Japanese dictionary, and one technical dictionary (often more than one).

But then machine translation came along, and instead of looking up characters, words and technical terms in paper dictionaries, I do all of that faster online now.

It speeds up the translating process if I translate a very complicated text in a field that I don’t know all that well, such as biotechnology. But if I have to look at a machine translation when I translate a reasonably simple text in a field that I know quite well, for example a patent about electric design, it slows me down when I have to look at a machine translation as an additional source of information.

And it is definitely advisable to at least take a look at an official machine translation obtained from the Japan Patent Office or the European Patent Office website because I have to assume that my client has this translation and possibly expects me to use the technical terms contained in it. If I don’t used them, I need to have a good reason for not using them, namely because I know that they are wrong.

I really like the feeling of freedom that I experience when I can simply ignore stupid algorithms.

It’s like the old times. I put on some weird music, increase the volume during an easy passage when everything is pretty clear, turn it off for a while if I come across something that for the moment I don’t understand because I have to figure it out first and the music is distracting, and then turn the music back on, but usually at a lower volume.

This, to me, is the natural rhythm of translation, or the natural rhythm of the way I translate. I think that too many tools – CAT tools, machine translation, dictation and transcription software, and God knows what other tools highly entrepreneurial tool merchants with many bills to pay and a limited number of potential customers may come up with – somehow disrupt the natural order of things in the Universe, which tends to send celestial bodies a few degrees off their usual trajectories, thus creating dissonance in the soothing and restful music of spheres that I need to hear in my head when I am on a roll as the mystery of the meaning hidden in a foreign language suddenly becomes clear to me.

Too much of everything spoils the fun for me. J. R. Tolkien wrote the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in his spare time, usually at night while sitting on his  bed in an attic by pecking on a typewriter with only two fingers. No other tools were needed.

Tools are a good thing only if we can use them if we want to use them because we find them useful. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many tools spoil the translation, that’s what I think.

And when we are asked to use certain tools for our work, we have to make sure that the tools that we are told to use (or else!) will not turn us into …. tools.


Posted by: patenttranslator | July 11, 2016

An Important Skill for Translators

Knowledge of a foreign language or languages, knowledge of a specialized subject matter, and superior writing ability are the three skills that every translator needs to have, regardless of which language and subjects he or she translates. In an age when marketing is everything, good marketing skills are as important, if not more, as the knowledge of just about anything, or skills pertaining to translating and writing.

But other important skills are often overlooked when it comes to the toolbox of skills that is essential for just about any occupation, including that of a translator; and the ability to anticipate and foresee future trends is certainly among them.

Some people are very good at analyzing current trends and selling their analyses as projections and forecasts of future trends, and the internet has turned this kind of instant-expertise-for-sale into a booming industry. Advice can now be sold in the form of webinars to thousands of translators who are eager to know what to do in a world that keeps changing so quickly.

I have to say that many of these instant translation experts and prognosticators remind me of the occupation of a haruspex in ancient Rome. A haruspex was a priest in ancient Rome who was trained in divining good and bad omens indicating future events from the entrails of sacrificed animals, such as chickens and sheep. This was a practice that Romans inherited from the Etruscan religion. The Etruscans (a civilization that remains very much unknown to the modern world) adopted this religious and business practice from the ancient Near East, although it appears to have originated in Babylon – probably because just about everything appears to have originated in Babylon, including foreign languages, which according to the Bible were created as God’s curse for a botched urban revival mega-project.

I remember from my Latin classes that according to Cicero, Cato famously said that he was surprised that a haruspex does not burst out laughing when he meets another haruspex  (… mirari se aiebat quod non rideret haruspex haruspicem cum vidisset), partly because this sentence is an excellent tool to teach past tenses in Latin. To paraphrase Cato the Elder, who left us some wonderful quotations such as, All mankind rules its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us”, sometimes I am surprised that one instant translation business prophet does not burst out laughing when he or she meets another instant translation business prophet.

Fast Technological Changes Are Changing Many Professions in the 21st Century

Johannes Gutenberg, (whose real name was Gensfleisch, but who changed it to Gutenberg, which means good mountain, the maiden name of his second wife because it sounded much better to him that his original name), invented the printing press around 1440 based on the idea of a wine press. His invention was used with only a few minor modifications for about four centuries until the invention of linotype printing in the late 19th century, and the linotype printing technology was then used again almost without any changes for another century until the 1970s.

Compared to our time, technology changed and eventually died very slowly in previous centuries, a very good thing from the viewpoint of job security in many professions. But technology changes so quickly these days that when we are watching a movie, we can usually guess in what year the film was made within a span of about two or three years based on the model of the cell phones the actors are using.

One reason why job security is not guaranteed for the same profession for many generations, as was the case in the times of Johannes Gutenberg, and even in the 19th and 20th centuries, is the fact that changes in technology are not easy to predict.

What can be predicted is that instead of trends that last for a few centuries or at least a few decades, things that we used to take for granted can now change within a few years or even a few months. For example, who could have predicted that instead of reading dirty manga magazines, which is how I remember Japanese commuters on the subway trains in Tokyo 30 years ago, 70% of the same commuters on Japanese subway trains would start playing games on their cell phones? This is obviously an unfortunate development for Japanese manga translators, and a very good development for translators who specialize in games.

Or who could have predicted twenty years ago that the demand for translations of Japanese patents would go down considerably and the demand for translations of patents from Chinese and Korean would all of a sudden explode? This is another example of the kind of change that no all-purpose translation guru would be able to predict. And since different translators translate so many different languages and work in so many different fields, it is almost impossible to find any commonalities between these fields and languages.

A translator of German or French legal documents does not really have that much in common with a translator of novels from Japanese or Polish, or with a translator of Korean and Chinese patents. A well trained haruspex worth his three coins with the image of a Roman emperor on them could probably provide about as much insightful advice about modern translation trends to “translators” as most modern instant gurus.

Similarly, a business called Common Sense Advisory, which bills itself as, Market research for Global 2000 companies to operationalize, benchmark, optimize, and innovate industry best practices in translation, localization, interpreting, globalization, and internationalization” does not really have a whole lot of information that would be of much use to translators either. Personally, I am very skeptical about the usefulness of this type of business as a source of information for translators. The first “active word” sounds like a bad translation from Japanese (operationalize = 操作化?), and so does the last one (internationalization = 国際化?). It is most likely just a very good source of “translation industry” propaganda, which is to say, of misinformation.

No matter how many cute graphs and questionable statistics and dreadful new terms these haruspices (I think that is the proper plural form in Latin) come up with, why would anybody trust these particular prognostications if the company can’t even come up with new words that would sound like good English to describe what it is that these “translation industry” pioneers do for a living? It’s beyond me.

Corporatization and Globalization of Translation Have Created the Current “Translation Business” Model

Unlike technological changes, the application of the corporate business model to translation is something that probably could have been predicted after the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1993. This happened at a time when what is now called “the translation industry” consisted for the most part of very small mom-and-pop translation agencies that were usually run by current or former translators who understood translation because they themselves were translators, unlike the present monolingual managers and owners of translation mega-agencies who take their inspiration from the vampiric business model of Wall Street.

When just about everything is being corporatized and globalized, including wars, prisons, charities  …, translation too has been turned into a business model that cares only about one thing: higher and higher profit levels. This means that “the translation industry” can remain highly profitable for business model owners only if translators, the people doing the translating work, can be hired at lower and lower rates.

That is why translation rates have been pushed down by “the translation industry” for the most part to levels that are much lower than what experienced and highly educated translators were able to demand for their work two or three decades ago, especially taking into account inflation.

The changes during and after the shift to the corporate translation business model are evident even in the ludicrous terminology that is used to describe this business. Translation agencies no longer refer to themselves as “translation agencies”. They have become “LSPs”, or “Language Services Providers”, as if the brokers purchasing translations from translators to resell them at a higher price to end customers were the ones providing these translation services, not the translators.

Many other ingenious terms were created for the illicit techniques developed to pay translators as little as possible, terms such as “fuzzy matches and full matches”, “post-processed machine translations”, and other terms created as descriptions of insidious techniques that really have nothing to do with the process of translation (which occurs in the human brain), and everything to do with the process called greed (that also happens to originate in the same organ of the human body).

Most of Our Professional Associations Are Not Really Our Friends

It is very unfortunate that some associations of translators have been basically co-opted by the corporate translation industry to such an extent that many translators no longer realize that things were not always as bad for us as they are now, namely before the advent of the greedy mega-agency business model that has been adopted also by many smaller translation agencies who care only about the bottom line and do not give a damn about the damage they are causing to our profession.

You may or you may not agree with some or most of what I am saying in my post today, but do you remember and can you cite a single article grappling with the issues that I am trying to identify here in a publication of your local association of professional translators?

I certainly don’t remember any such article in the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle, which calls itself “The Voice of Translators and Interpreters”. Leafing through any issue of this magazine provides very clear evidence that the voice of translators and interpreters is almost inaudible, while the voice of the “translation industry” is heard loud and clear on the pages of this publication.

We Also Have to Work a Little Bit More on Our Analytical Skills

The knowledge of foreign languages and of specific subjects, in addition to the ability to write well, are important skills without which translators can only deliver shoddy work.

But there are also other skills that we need to work on if we want to survive the onslaught of the “translation industry” on our profession. First of all, we need to realize that a translator’s profession is not the same thing as “the translation industry”. We and our profession exist independently of this industry. Our profession existed before this industry was created, and it will hopefully still be there even should this particular industry die in the event that artificial intelligence that can perfectly simulate human thinking, emotions, sexuality, humor, empathy and many other aspects of our existence that humans share only with animals can be developed at some point and put to good use for greater profitability of this industry …. because at that point, the industry will have killed itself with its own greed.

I don’t think we need a laughing haruspex to tell us what will happen to our profession if we give in to the “translation industry” pushing our rates to lower and lower levels in the interests of higher and higher profits for the industry.

Unless we use our analytical skills to figure out how to cooperate with each other and with the pre-corporate model of translation agencies while working largely outside of “the translation industry”, which represents only one segment of the translation market, we as translators will be relegated to the role of slaves pulling away at the oars of slave ships toward ever greater profitability for the owners of the slave ships.

It is true that most adult immigrants, refugees and migrants are not really able to learn a foreign language. Some of them learn it to some extent, some of them very well, but many learn it only to a very limited extent. The latest wave of refugees in Germany, mostly Arabic speakers, will find it horribly difficult to try to learn German because it is extremely difficult for most adults, especially uneducated adults, to learn a foreign language.

And there is now a million of newcomers from a very different cultural and linguistic background in Germany. How will such a relatively small country cope with this influx of foreigners?

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s in a small Czech town called Český Krumlov, I remember that in some parts of the town I was surrounded by really nice but really funny old people that we kids called “Nĕmci” (Germans). Some of them could not speak any Czech at all, and some of those who did speak it spoke a funny, simplified version of the language that was full of comical mistakes. Czech has a very complicated system of declensions for nouns, conjugations for verbs and other treacherous traps for foreign speakers. Even natives get it wrong at times, especially uneducated natives.

Quite a few “lucky” Germans who were allowed to stay in the place where they were born and grew up after 1945. Most of them were expelled to Germany and Austria, in spite of the fact that their families had lived in what in German is called Sudetenland for many generations.

It was inexcusably wrong to expel them from their homes, but the reaction of people who were kicked out from what used to be their home first, by the same Germans who were later expelled too, was not unexpected.

When American friends express their shock to me at what was done to Germans in Sudetenland after the war, I say to them, imagine there was a war between Mexico and the United States, and that Mexico won the initial phase of the war and all “Anglos” who were not killed by Mexicans, and many would be killed, were expelled from California, Arizona, Mexico and Texas to the East Coat. What would Americans do in the end to people of Mexican origin living in those states once they did win the war? Let’s not forget what they did after the attack on Pearl Harbor to all people of Japanese origin, many who were US citizens, and none of them guilty of anything.

Wars tend to make a big mess of everything for decades and centuries instead of solving anything.

The first foreign word I tried to figure out when I was about seven years old was the German word “Familie” when I ventured with a bunch of kids my age to a large cemetery at the edge of the town where I lived. What I saw was a weird place with row after row of graves, often with photographs of people placed on the tombstones, with German names inscribed on them in golden script in a funny kind of alphabet that was difficult to decipher, and these names were sometimes followed by the word “Familie”. I tried to figure out what this word meant, but I was at a loss and none of the other kids knew what it meant either. Surely, it could not mean “family” because the Czech word “rodina” which means “family” is so different from that strange word “Familie” on the tombstones. Maybe they all had the same last name I reasoned as a monolingual seven-year-old. The cemetery made such a big impression on me that I saw it again, or what I think I remember of it, in my dreams recently.

The town where I grew up was about 70% German before the war, something that I only found out about my hometown when I was in my late twenties.

I remember one old man in particular, although I don’t remember his name. He loved children and always tried to talk to us in broken Czech, although we mostly just made fun of him by repeating his mistakes in Czech and laughing. But he just laughed with us; it made him happy to see children laughing, no matter that they were laughing at him. I wish there was a way to apologize to him for how cruel we were as stupid kids. Now that I am about the same age as he was then, I could even do it in German.

I had a good friend back then who used to come to my town every summer to spend two months with his grandparents who were German. His grandfather spoke both languages fluently, but his grandmother spoke only German. I never actually saw her outside their house. She probably stayed inside in a world that she could understand where there was always a radio station on in German when I rang the bell to ask if Vašek could come out to play.

My friend’s name was Vašek (a form of Václav), but his grandmother called him Vašku, which is the vocative case that should be used only when addressing someone. Because she did not understand what these damn cases meant, (and there are seven of them for Czech nouns, seven for singular and seven for plural, each with a different ending depending on the “class” of the noun), she would just say with the few Czech words that she did know, “No, Vašku is not home” instead of, “No, Vašek is not home”. But I did not make fun of her or try to correct her. Somehow I understood that it was not my place to do that.

During the two months that Vašek spent every year with his grandparents from an early age, he always learned enough German to communicate with his grandmother, but as he told me once over beer in a pub when we were about 16 or 17, he would then forget most of his German during the rest of the year, so that eventually he forgot all of it.

There were still many kids in my high school who were German, but we did not really perceive them as having a different nationality because they spoke perfect Czech without a foreign accent. The only visible difference was that their first names, like Elfi (for Elfriede), or Hedvika (for Hedwig), were kind of unusual, but once I was a teenager, those names sounded more exotic than funny to me. And the last names did not really matter that much because German last names are almost as plentiful in the Czech Republic (sometimes with simplified spelling to match a different language) as Czech names in a phone book in Austria, or Polish names in a phone book in Germany, assuming they still use phone books in these countries.

So based on my experience in post-war Europe, I believe that even if most “migrants” who eventually put down roots in a different country and different culture are not really able to learn the language very well, it simply doesn’t matter very much. The children of new immigrants always learn the language of the new country and after a few decades, the problem is that most of the children of new immigrants don’t bother to learn their parents’ language. Even if their parents try very hard to pass on their language to their children, the children of immigrants often speak the language of their parents like a third grader, if they speak it at all.

And this is true not only of the United States, but probably of many other countries as well.

1. Elections in Totalitarian Systems

Most people don’t know that communist Czechoslovakia was a multiparty democracy.

Well, not really, of course, I am just joking. The communist party ruled with an iron fist, but several political parties were allowed to exist in the workers’ paradise. I remember that Social Democrats and three or four other parties were allowed to exist and participate in elections, which were held with participation rates more than twice as high as the current participation rates in the United States – I seem to remember that they were telling us that participation was above 97%. Although who knows if that was true. When one party controls everything, it controls the truth as well.

The other parties were allowed to exist only under the condition that they accept as their guiding principle what the communist party called “the leading role of the party”. Their job was mostly to create the illusion of a multiparty democracy, an illusion of a continuation of the prewar multiparty democracy in a new environment, without being allowed to exert any real power on any level.

In this respect, the political system in communist Czechoslovakia was not really that much different from the current system in the United States, where Democrats and Republicans, who are being identified by more and more voters as really nothing more than two wings of the same “money party”, also allow other parties, such as the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, to exist and sort of participate in elections, as long as they have absolutely no chance of having any meaningful access to establishment media or the political system and real power.

I was among the three percenters in communist Czechoslovakia who ignored the voting process because I thought the whole thing was just a joke. But I was intimidated into voting once. When I was in my last year of studies, two guys came to my dorm room with what was then called “a unified ballot of candidates”. One guy had a box with “the ballots”, the other one had a box into which I was asked to put my “ballot”. I did not hesitate for a second: I threw it in, they thanked me and left and I went back to studying bungo, or the grammar of classical Japanese.

I was brave enough to ignore the silly, fake elections, because if asked, I could just say that I meant to vote but simply forgot. That was not really that dangerous, I figured. It was not without risk, but probably not a fatal act, and I was willing to face that risk if it helped undermine the regime even a tiny little bit. But to refuse to vote when they came for you would be a direct challenge to the regime. That could mean expulsion from the university, and I was not that brave.

The second time when two guys came for me with two boxes not to miss my chance to participate in “democratic elections” was when I was on vacation in Croatia; well, back then the country was still called Yugoslavia. They came to the restaurant where our group of Czech tourists ate lunch every day. This time I did have the courage to refuse to vote, and I noticed that about half the people in the restaurant did the same, and some even dared to laugh in their faces at the silly suggestion of being asked to vote in a fake election.

I was later told that the bus of Czech tourists that was completely full, not a single free seat was left on it when it set out from Prague, came back from Croatia half empty, because half of the people on that bus, myself included, decided to try their luck in the West.

2. The Brexit Fiasco

Western politicians like to say when they have just won an election that “elections have consequences”, with a look on their faces that I remember from cartoons featuring a cat who just swallowed a canary.

In totalitarian regimes, elections can have serious consequences, but only for people who dare to challenge the system by refusing to participate in them. Otherwise, they don’t really matter at all because nothing changes after an election.

What are the consequences of elections in nominally democratic countries that we still call, out of habit or for lack of a better term, I suppose, “Western democracies”?

Nobody knows what the ultimate result of the “Leave” vote will be for Great Britain. One possible result is that Scotland will have their own “Leave” vote because most people in Scotland want to remain a part of Europe, and that Northern Ireland will also leave the disunited kingdom, while most people in London also seem to be sorry that they can’t stay in Europe.

Unlike most elections, this referendum actually mattered a great deal, which is something that may have escaped many people who did not bother to vote. According to a poll taken before the Leave or Remain referendum, 75 percent of voters 24 and younger were against the Brexit and for remaining in the European Union and most voters 49 and younger also favored the Remain option. Fifty-nine percent of pensioners wanted the Leave option, and only 34 percent of pensioners wanted to stay in the European Union. Although 72% of eligible voters between 18 and 24 wanted to stay in the EU, 64 percent of them did not bother to vote. The passivity of young people in Britain, who could have easily changed the result had they gone to the polls, was thus a key factor in the victory (by a very thin majority) of those who wanted to leave EU.

3. The Upcoming US Presidential Elections Fiasco

I am just an observer of what is going on in Great Britain, a country that seems far away and whose dynamic I don’t understand very well.

But just like I had a front row seat to the fake elections in a communist country four decades ago, I am observing the presidential elections in United States from a front row seat here in Virginia.

During the primaries, I was among the minority of some 30% of Virginians who voted for Bernie Sanders, although I thought that there was no chance that he would be on the Democratic Party’s ticket as I wrote in this post five months ago.

And unfortunately, I was right. The Democratic Party went out of its way and used every dirty trick in the book to make sure that its establishment candidate would win. More than 500 “Superdelegates” voted for Hillary Clinton even before the election started, in an undemocratic sleight of hand that can only be described as an outright rigging of an election to ensure that the pro-establishment delegate will always win, regardless of what the voters want.

But the rigging did not stop there. Among other despicable acts, the party got rid of half of the polling places in areas suspected of harboring pro-Bernie sentiments and defined many primaries as closed in order to disenfranchise independent voters, who might as well be called by their real name, namely “unrepresented” instead of “independent”. In the primary election in Arizona, voters had to wait in line for five hours, so that many obviously had no choice but to go home without voting. I remember that CNN declared Hillary the winner in Arizona during the early afternoon in Virginia when only a small percentage of people could have voted because Arizona is three hours behind Virginia.

And then, the AP declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Democratic Party contest before the all-important primaries in California and New Jersey in a disgusting attempt to rig the elections and suppress the turnout of pro-Bernie voters by counting “Superdelegates” who pledged their support for Hillary, although these “Superdelegates” are free to change their mind at any point prior to the Democratic Convention, as they did in 2008 when Hillary Clinton lost the election to Barak Obama.

After the primaries in Virginia, I received the usual sticker with an American flag and the words “I VOTED” as a reward for fulfilling my civic duty. I did not know what to do with it, so I put it on the back of my iPhone. As I carry my phone with me everywhere I go, the originally vibrant colors on the sticker started fading away and became a muted, washed out version of what the original bold colors once were.

And that is how I now think about the upcoming presidential elections: in muted, washed out, hardly recognizable colors.

Just like I did not see the point in voting for “a unified ballot of party candidates” four decades ago, I don’t see the point in voting either for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I have been voting for Democrats for the last two decades, I voted for Bill Clinton twice. But although I can’t vote for Trump, I will not be intimidated into voting for Hillary Clinton.

It is so unbecoming when she now assumes a populist stance in her fiery critiques of Trump. She reminds me of a horse who is forced to dance on two hind legs in a circus, that’s how unnatural her act appears to me. I almost have to feel sorry for her, because just like it is animal abuse when horses are forced to dance on their hind legs in a circus, it is an abuse of Hillary when she is now forced to pretend that she is something that she is clearly not.

I do not plan to vote for Hillary or for Donald on November 5th because it does not matter to me which one of them ends up in the White House. I will probably stay home because I think that voting for a third party that has no access to the political system would be a symbolic, largely meaningless gesture. And I don’t even know if third parties will be allowed in the presidential elections in Virginia as no relevant information seems to be available even on the internet because both Democrats and Republicans do all they can to exclude other parties from participating in elections, while the media pretends that there are no other parties.

Just like I thought that the best approach to the rigged elections in a totalitarian system was to ignore these non-elections four decades ago, I think that the best approach to the extremely undemocratic system of elections in this country is at this point to ignore the noisy circus as much as possible.

I used to be able to tell for many years that the Democrats were, if nothing else, at least the lesser of two evils. But at this point, I honestly can’t tell whether Hillary or whether Donald would be worse for this country.

Over 320 million Americans, and the is the best we can do? Since it is what our political system has produced, there can hardly be better evidence of the fact that the system is now completely dysfunctional.

And this, to me, is the farce of the upcoming fiasco of the presidential elections in the United States: the two candidates left standing are so widely despised by large segments of the population, possibly by a majority, that the old system of intimidation of voters into voting for the “lesser of two evils” may no longer work if it is no longer possible to tell which of the two evils is lesser.


One difference between humans and animals is that animals such as dogs or cats don’t use words because they have no need for words to express and communicate the reality surrounding them. What a dog can say by wagging its tail and licking your face (or by barking and baring big canine teeth), or what a cat can say by purring and mewing (or by pissing on the floor), is more than what just about any human can express in any number of words.

Unlike dogs and cats, we humans need to use words in order to express what we mean. And once we allow other people to define our reality in their words, we are often unable to determine on our own whether these words mean what we think they do. Words have power. That is why for example people who believe that abortions should be made illegal by the government call themselves “pro-life”, because that means that their opponents, who call themselves “pro-choice”, are “pro-death” if they believe that this is a decision that should not be made by a pregnant woman and her doctor, but by her government.

There are many examples of words in our world that are used to fool people into believing something that is not true. For example, all of the words in the name of the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, sometimes also referred to as ACA, but mostly known by the ironic moniker Obamacare, are a big lie, except for the last one.

Most patients are not protected by this law. On the contrary, the law was designed to give more power to Big Pharma and private insurance companies. Even though most enrollees in Obamacare pay a lot of money every month for their “health insurance”, they often can’t afford to use it – that’s how incredibly expensive the coverage has become for most people under this law, considering the total astronomical amounts of monthly payments, copayments and deductibles. Because the law was designed by Big Pharma and private health insurance companies to safeguard the enormous profits of corporate medicine, the entire law really is just an act. The word “act” in the name of the law is therefore not a lie.

One can think of many similar examples of mendacious titles: just like there was no democracy in the now defunct German Democratic Republic, there is not much democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the People’s Republic of Korea basically belongs to its chubby leader rather than to its people, etc.

Do translators sometimes stop and think about the concepts and words that were created in the last couple of decades by “the translation industry” in order to define our reality in this particular type of service industry? Some probably do, but given how often translators talk about these concepts while repeating these words without wondering about their meaning, most of us seem to have accepted them at face value without giving them a second thought.

Here is a list of a few such words that cause me to shudder whenever I hear them, (no doubt because I am mad, which is Mad Patent Translator’s supreme prerogative).

Language Services Provider

When translators use the relatively recent term “language services providers”, often shortened to the acronym LSP, they refer to translation agencies, never to actual translators or interpreters.

But who is providing the service here, the translators and interpreters, or translation agencies? I think that the answer is clear: it is not agencies, as they only purchase services from translators and interpreters to sell them to clients at a higher price. That is why I propose that we should try to find and use a new acronym for the type of services that translation agencies provide, because many of them do provide useful services, although not the ones they claim to be providing. I propose to replace the acronym LSP (Language Services Provider) with LSB or LSR (as in Language Services Broker or Language Services Reseller).

I am open to other suggestions if somebody can come up with better terms, but so far I have received only one suggestion, namely that LSP in fact stands for Lame Services Provider.

Full Matches/”Fuzzy Matches”

These two terms were coined by a true translation agency genius who realized that since most translators are paid by the word, one way to pay them much less would be to create different categories of words, so that some words would then be worth more, some less, and some nothing.

The “translation industry” genius or geniuses then called sections of text that appeared to be quite similar or identical “full matches” and sections that are somewhat similar were called “fuzzy matches”.

This “translation industry” genius was standing on the shoulders of cunning merchants of CAT tools who were promising translators that if they start using this or that CAT tool, they would double, triple or quadruple their “output” (meaning the number of translated words). Most translators obviously thought that they would double, triple, or quadruple their income in this manner. But after a while, many translation agencies started to insist that all translators use CAT tools, usually Trados as I wrote in a post six years ago, so that they could pay them less for their translations.

Then three things happened:

1) Translators who fell for this trick and agreed to the obligatory use of Trados were forced to use Trados-anointed words, whether it made sense or not, because agencies like to recycle words from older projects.

2) They were also forced to produce more words than before the arrival of Trados and other CAT tools. But instead of making more money thanks to CATs, they were now making considerably less money than they used to only about a decade ago, while some agencies made out like bandits because translation agencies don’t necessarily need to pass on savings obtained by shortchanging translators to their customers, unless a client ask for it – and most don’t.

3) Some translators use CATs because they find them very useful for certain types of translations. But although CATs are useless or counterproductive in many translation fields including mine, obligatory discounts for “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” are now demanded by many translation agencies from all translators.

And although these demands are in fact just crude attempts at wage theft, once the reality is redefined for us by people who can profit from a redefined reality, these attempts will be made in many cases.

Post-Processing of Machine Translations

The idea behind post-processing of machine translations, sometimes also called editing, is that while machine translation has made great progress over the last half a century or so, and especially in the last decade, it is still not “quite as good as human translation” and that is why humans need to “post-process” or “edit” the raw MT output.

But as a translator who deals with machine translation very frequently, I happen to know that this description of machine translation could not be farther from the truth. I have been using machine translations of patents to get an idea of what is in the original languages for more than a decade, but I don’t “post-process” or “edit” machine translations to sell them as real translations to my clients. I would naturally be tempted to do it this way if it could work, but it is a method that does not work.

If the method is to be applied correctly, (and how else should it be applied?), “post-processing” or “editing” of machine translations would mean that all mistakes in the machine translation output must be corrected by the translator.

This means that the translator would need to compare the machine-translated output to the original text word-by-word, and then go back to the machine translation and input corrections into the raw machine-translated output. But there are so many mistakes on so many levels in every machine translation that it is more time consuming, usually much more time consuming, to try to translate in this manner, than simply to translate from scratch. Instead of occasionally looking at the machine-translated output and using it as a dictionary, the post-processing concept means that the translator is expected to follow the original text and constantly compare it to the machine-translate output, while “fixing things” on the fly. But in real life, with real translations, it does not work this way.

Machine translation does save me time if I can use it basically as or instead of a dictionary, although of course with many caveats. But to try and “edit” machine translation would mean wasting a lot of time, while the product would still necessarily contain mistakes and inaccuracies that will not always be caught by “the post-processor”.

What people who are using translators as “post-processors” or “editors” of machine translations really want from these translators is to have them retranslate a text in a foreign language, while pretending that all these “post-processors” need to do is just some kind of light editing of a machine translation, so that they can pay them much less than they might have to pay a real human translator.

In other words, it is yet another blatant attempt at wage theft by creating a monster, called “post-processed machine translation”, that is neither human nor machine.


I am actually not sure whether this term was coined by “the translation industry” or by translators themselves. As I wrote in another recent post which received a lot of comments from outraged translators but not many Facebook likes, as far as many translators are concerned, outsourcing is an ugly, dirty word and a wayward practice that real, pure translators would never engage in.

I think that this is an extremely ill-informed and myopic perspective.

What happens when a translator says no to a direct client, for example if a direct client asks for a translation in a different language direction and the translator, who may be unable to suggest a colleague, simply says no to the client because he only translates Mongolian to Russian but not Russian to Mongolian?

Something like this could easily happen to any translator who works mostly for direct clients. It is not just an impossible example designed to make a point. A law firm asked me recently whether I could translate some documents from Maltese for them. So I went online, and in a few minutes I found a Maltese translator and told the client that, yes, I could do it.

I think that “outsourcing” is the wrong term. When GM closes the shop in Detroit and sends the jobs to Mexico or China, that is what outsourcing means.

But when a translator ignores a job from a direct client that he or she could manage (although there would be a learning curve and risks, of course), this job is lost to this translator and outsourced to the “translation industry”.

Had I said no, the client would have gone online and the translation would most likely be “outsourced” to a corporate translation agency, because unlike most translators, translation agencies generally do not say no to clients.

The term “outsourcing” does not make a whole lot of sense to me because what some translators call “outsourcing” should really be called “insourcing” if the work stays within the community of translators, and it should be called “outsourcing” only if it is “outsourced” to the brokers in the community of translation agencies.

I am not saying that every translator should think like an agency. But I am saying that those of us who are unable to go outside of our comfort zone when a client asks for something that we cannot translate ourselves are outsourcing to “the translation industry” translations that we ourselves could probably organize much better than a large translation agency.

ISO or EN-Certified Translations

This concept was definitely designed by “the translation industry”, most likely by a translation agency marketing manager, because although it is a concept that is very valuable for marketing purposes, otherwise it is of absolutely no value whatsoever.

As I wrote in another post, certification of thinking processes taking place in the heads of people called translators, who may or may not know what they are doing, is obviously nonsense. However, since so many clients don’t know much about translation, it is a popular and useful advertising gimmick.

The ISO or EN certification model is a set of rules originally designed for manufacturing industrial products. The certification does not say anything about the education, experience and qualifications of the translator, which is what really determines whether the translation is likely to be good, mediocre, or full of errors.

I don’t advertise “ISO-certified translations” as a service that I provide. But since my translations of patent applications are often used as evidence in court, when a client asks me whether I provide certified translations, I respond that of course I do indeed provide certified translations for a slight surcharge.

But the certification that I provide for my translation is not based on industrial standards that were originally designed for products such as cars, hamburgers and diapers.

Instead, I am simply stating in my certification that I as an experienced patent translator stand by my work. And after almost 30 years of experience in the field of patent translation, what I am stating in my certification is not just an advertising gimmick.

Posted by: patenttranslator | June 22, 2016

Two Episodes of The Blabbing Translators Show

Recently, I was honored and thrilled to spend an hour talking about my pretty long experience as a translator of more than three decades, if I include the time when I worked as an in-house translator in Prague in 1980-81 and in Tokyo in 1985-86, in addition to working as a freelance patent translator in California and Virginia for more than 29 years up until now.

The “Blabbing Translators” show is brought to us once a week on Wednesdays by its hosts Dmitry Kornyukov and Elena Tereshchenkova, two young Russian translators, one of whom (Elena) lives in Russia, while the other one (Dmitry) lives in Canada.

I think it’s a very good idea for translators to use Internet platforms such as “Blab” to keep exchanging information in this manner, since we can see what we actually look like while talking about what we have learned and sharing our experience with other translators.

Dmitry and Elena are doing a good job as amateur journalists who ask their interviewees very good questions. The “Blabbing Translators” show can be seen and  heard on several platforms: you can download the application for iOS or Android devices, or you can just go on Youtube and find it there.

Instead of framing my mini-post today in two music videos from Youtube as usual, I am framing it in two Blabbing Translators episodes: one is an interesting talk about websites for translators with Simon Akhrameev, another Russian translator who lives in Kyrgyzstan in the city of Bishkek (called Frunze during the Soviet times); the other one is the episode of Blabbing Translators with yours truly.

I should have listened to Dmitry and Elena and prepare myself better. In particular I should have used headphones instead of just relying on the microphone and speaker in my iPad. Instead, after downloading the “Blab” application, I just joined the show on my iPad without headphones, which distorts the sound a little.

So if the two Russian blabbing translators invite you to star in their next show, don’t do what I did and  listen to what they are saying to you if you want to be heard clearly!

Posted by: patenttranslator | June 17, 2016

My Top Seven Moments of Zen


We all have them, but different people draw inspiration and enjoyment from life’s little moments of Zen from different things.

For Hillary Clinton, it may be the moment early in the morning when she is reading and sending e-mail from her own private Guantanamo that she has built for herself and her e-mails in her basement so that nobody would know what she is really thinking and doing.

For Donald Trump, it may be the moment when he says something outrageously offensive and obviously untrue yet again – and when everyone in the audience cheers loudly for him because they’ve found a hero who dares to speak his mind.

My little moments of Zen may be totally unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but they are dear and important to me.

Mad Patent Translator’s Top 7 Moments of Zen:

Zen Moment No. 1

The moment just before I fall asleep. Because my window is facing a pond, I can look through the semi-transparent darkness and think about the noisy frogs I hear as they are keeping themselves busy doing their thing in the pond below. I see or imagine that I can still see the silhouettes of trees beyond the pond if I raise my head from the pillow, and even the fireflies that I sometimes observe on summer evenings dancing above the pond. There are fewer fireflies here now, while the number of the ticks in the woods behind our house has increased exponentially.

It’s probably a sign of the times. Maybe it’s because of global warming. Fifteen years ago I could see a veritable army of dancing fireflies, then about five years ago they disappeared completely and now they seem to be slowly coming back. I hope they do come back and stay for good. They like to say that California has everything under the sun, but there are a few things that the East Coast has that California does not. California really has no seasons, and it doesn’t have fireflies either, I’m not sure why.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

That’s how Christian children used to pray and maybe still do before they fall asleep. I am not a Christian, and I am not a child, so I think about the frogs, trees, and fireflies instead. It works just fine for me.

Zen Moment No. 2

The moment when I wake up in the morning, when it’s not too early yet or too late already for a new day to start.

Older people like myself often can’t go back to sleep if they wake up between 3 and 5 AM and I usually have a headache for many hours when this happens, until I can finally catch some zzz’s to make up for the sleep deficit from the previous night. It feels so good to wake up at the right moment for a new day to start. That may be what all the proverbs about night and morning mean in different languages, such as La nuit port conseil (The morning brings advice, in French), Ráno je moudřejí večera in Czech (Morning is smarter than evening), or the Japanese saying Hayaoki sanmon no toku (早起きは三文の徳 , literally: early rising – three coins, although this is probably closer to the English saying “It is the early bird that catches the worm”.)

Zen Moment No. 3

The moment in the morning when I open my e-mail and see that somebody on the other side of the world who has replied to one of my silly blog posts is saying something really interesting in response, something that would never have occurred to me otherwise. Bloggers are usually not compensated financially, (except for those who have turned their blogs into marketing platforms), nor will they be richly rewarded in Heaven for having labored on their posts on Earth, especially heathens like me who don’t believe in Heaven.

But sometimes they are rewarded early in the morning when they open their e-mail on their smartphone or computer.

Zen Moment No. 3

The moment when I suddenly I feel that I have no choice but to start writing another blog post about a topic that is at that moment so terribly important that I simply have to share it with the world right away, such is the urgency of the moment! It could be in the morning, it could be in the afternoon or in the evening, whenever the spirit moves me, because these moments don’t have a chronological order.

Half the time when I start writing something on a topic that I feel very passionate about, the post ends up being about something else altogether and I abandon the original idea. That’s part of the excitement, you never know where the post will lead you because the motifs and ideas occurring to you are triggered by the words that you are writing and the images that you are seeing in your mind.

Zen Moment No. 4

The moment when I return from a trip, usually a trip abroad. From that moment on I am back in my familiar environment and I don’t have to worry that a stupid mistake like losing a wallet or passport will leave me stranded in a foreign country.

It’s so good to be able to lie down on a comfortable bed or sofa any time I want, take a bath in my oval bathtub, (huge by hotel standards, at least by the standards of those hotels that I can afford), any time I want. I see from my bedroom window that the pond is still there, and so are the trees, and I know that the noisy, horny frogs will probably start again going at it: ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, once it starts getting dark and that, if I’m lucky, I may be even able to see fireflies.

Zen Moment No. 5

The moment when the sky angrily refuses to put up with any more of the oppressing humidity in the subtropical climate here in Eastern Virginia and erupts with a storm bringing with it lightning, thunder and gusts of heavy rain.

I can watch the storm and the rain sitting on a chair either on the front porch or on the back porch, but the storm is often so violent and the rain so heavy that the chair gets wet unless I push it all the way back next to the door.

I wonder where the birds and squirrels who come to our back porch where we feed them are hiding from the rain. Can they find refuge under the branches in the woods behind our house? The frogs in the pond are fine, I’m sure, and so are the turtles who come back here every year to lay eggs in the same place where they were born with a hard shell on their back. If you pick up a turtle, the sly, slow-moving, but not slow-witted animal will piss on you in a brave act of self-defense, which tends to give a bizarre dimension to this particular moment of Zen.

Zen Moment No. 6

The moment when I have just returned from the beach and I am standing in the shower, watching the sand circling the drain before it disappears. I usually try to shower at the beach but you can never get rid of all of the sand that way. “Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives” was the motto of a TV show that ran for many years although I never watched it except for a few scenes because it was interrupted by too many commercials.

Like beach sand circling the shower drain before it disappears in it completely, so are the days of the lives of those of us whose life is already mostly behind them.

Zen Moment No. 7

I can’t help it, my favorite moment of clarity is the moment when I am translating a patent. I see the familiar format in Japanese, German or another language on a printed page on the left side next to my own translation as it is taking shape on the big monitor in front of me.

The world is starting to take a form that is logical and symmetrical the way it should be, symmetrical like a snowflake, or a sunflower, or human body. There was something missing in this world before, when the message was encrypted in a language that somebody who needed to know what was in it did not understand. Something was missing because there was a hole in the world. But I plugged the hole and restored the meaning of the message that is now finally in the correct language.

In the beginning, I struggle to find the right words as I look at the drawings to try to understand what it is that I should be saying. But if the stars are aligned right, and most of the time they are, after a while I become a secretary taking down a divine dictation from an invisible source in the universe as I am creating something new, something that has not been a part of this world up until this moment, while my fingers do their dancing on the keyboard, like fireflies dance in the darkness of warm and humid Virginia summers.

And they pay me for it!

This is my ultimate Zen, because in that moment, I am restoring the proper balance in the world. And although it lasts only for a short moment, restoring the proper balance by creating meaning out of the total chaos of messages hidden in incomprehensible foreign languages is the best job in the world.


Posted by: patenttranslator | June 14, 2016

Artificial Intelligence Is a Major Threat to All of Us!

Over the last decade or two, most people got used to the fact that different forms of artificial intelligence are present daily and on many occasions in our life.

We no longer perceive it as quasi-miraculous when the same data that is stored in our cell phone is magically also stored in our tablet although we did not put it there, or that when we watch a Netflix movie on the tiny screen of our cell phone and suddenly decide that the movie is so good that we would like to experience it on a large TV screen, we can simply turn on our TV and watch the same movie from the last scene we watched on the phone because we understand that what is happening is that the same data is now being downloaded from a cloud to a different device.

We also became quite blasé when it comes to many other types of artificial intelligence, such as car navigation, and simply can’t understand it and become furious when the voice coming from our cell phone ends up navigating us to the wrong destination, which does happen occasionally.

Nobody’s perfect, and that includes the omnipresent little fellow that we can call artificial intelligence.

Some of us understand how dangerous it is when so much of our personal data is stored on a cloud when we have no idea who can have access to this data.

And some of us even understand that the artificially intelligent fellow can be kind of dangerous, even kind of very dangerous. Artificial intelligence has been eliminating jobs like the Grimm Reaper for several decades. Think of all the jobs that you have had in your own life. Are they still there, or have the jobs for people like you been for the most part already eliminated by a computer pretending to be interacting with humans just like another human?

My first job after I arrived to San Francisco in 1982 was working as a Visitor Services Representative for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. For three years, I sat behind a counter at the Visitor Center in the middle of downtown dispensing advice to tourists while practicing my languages with visitors from all around the world. Is the Visitor Center still there, in the middle of Market Street just below the cable car turnaround on Powell Street? I don’t know, but I think that if it survived the bloody attacks of artificial intelligence on jobs for humans, just one underpaid person may have survived there, perhaps a not very knowledgeable intern or a senior citizen volunteer directing tourists and local residents to a row of computers instead of to good restaurants, Yosemite and the Wine Country. There were generally four other people working with me at the information counter, their jobs are probably gone now too.

There was an elderly, tiny, fragile lady at the main office, her first name was Elisabeth and I think her last name was Edwards although I am not sure about that now. She must have been in her late seventies or perhaps eighties. Whenever a visitor asked a complicated question about the history of the city, we could call her because she knew everything about everything. Everything. Her job must be gone now too. It’s so very good for the bottom line when friendly, caring, knowledgeable, sometime even multilingual people can be replaced by a few computers!

Pretty soon, the only jobs for which people will still be needed at an information center in a major city in America will be mostly just jobs for security guards trying to guess which visitor is hiding a semi-automatic military style attack rifle under an overcoat and employees making sure that the credit card machines are working properly.

In the 21st century, it suddenly became clear to so many employers that human intelligence and human knowledge is overrated and unnecessary! As far as most employers are concerned, computers do a much better job than humans and they do it faster and most importantly, virtually for free. And if a job must be done by humans, it will be done by faceless humans who speak imperfect, accented English and live thousands of miles away, somewhere where one can somehow still survive on a small fraction of a salary that would need to be paid to a human who lives in a place like San Francisco.

It is not just translators whose jobs are threatened by computerization and globalization. Mid-level managers, medical doctors such as radiologists and anesthesiologists, engineers, taxi drivers … all of these jobs are threatened.

When is artificial intelligence coming to get you too? It may not do as good a job as you would, but who cares when it is so much cheaper than overrated and overpriced human intelligence such as …. yours!

Because some of my favorite writers of mysteries have been also paying attention to the danger inherent in the marriage of artificial intelligence with an infinitely greedy corporate culture, it so happens that during the last few weeks I read three books on this very subject.

Two of them are medical mysteries written by medical doctors featuring artificial intelligence in the role of a villain killing people to give a boost to the bottom line, the third one is about a clever algorithm that eventually develops human-like attributes.

Here is a short summary of the three books describing how artificial intelligence is wreaking havoc in our world in general, and in medical technology in particular:

  1. Robin Cook, a writer of medical thrillers, (he started in the seventies and so far he wrote 32 of them and I see that I now have 20 of his books in my extensive library of mystery novels written by various authors), writes in his book “Cell” about an app called iDoc that is downloaded by a greedy private health insurance company to smartphones of its patients, while a tiny chip is surgically implanted under the skin of these patients to communicate with a smartphone app so that the iDoc basically replaces a human doctor. iDoc (fully compatible with Obamacare and eventually required by most private health insurance companies) is better than a human doctor because it constantly measures patient’s temperature and other vital signs so that for example the proper insulin dosage can be instantly injected from tiny storage containers accommodated in the chip into the blood stream of patients with diabetes. In the end it turns out that when the program is designed to act in the most cost-effective manner, the algorithm starts murdering patients who based on the software are too sick to be treated cost-effectively by giving them a lethal dosage of insulin …. which is much more efficient, and most importantly much more cost-effective than trying to treat patients who in the algorithm’s opinion are likely to die soon anyway because they are simply too sick to continue the treatment. The insurance company saves a lot of money, and since all of these people have been sick for a long time, it looks like a natural death.
  1. Michael Palmer, another doctor/author of medical mystery novels, died three years ago at 71 while going through customs at Kennedy International Airport. Given that I am 64, I have to remember to try remain calm in endless lines at useless security checks at airports. He writes in his book called “Resistant”, published in 2014 after his death, about a doctor who uncovers a plot to put in power a totalitarian, proto-fascist government in the United States by a shadowy group of rich, power-hungry people known as One Hundred Neighbors that has infiltrated our institutions and is trying to dictate its terms by threatening to unleash a deadly germ onto the society against which there is no cure … except the cure that can be provided by One Hundred Neighbors if the government accedes to its demands, such as eliminating Social Security, which is a major drain on their wealth. But when both the human and the artificial intelligence employed by the research team working for One Hundred Neighbors fails, there is no way to stop the terrifying germ which literally eats an infected person alive.
  1. The main protagonist of The Kraken Project” by Douglas Preston, which is not a medical thriller, is not a person, but a software algorithm. The novel is about software designed by NASA for a probe to land in the Kraken Mare sea, the largest sea on Saturn’s moon Titan. The probe must contain highly advanced artificial intelligence software capable of learning from events as quickly as they occur and making its own decisions because given the enormous distance between Earth and Saturn, it takes months or years (can’t remember which now) before a command sent by NASA from planet Earth can reach the probe. When the probe explodes before being launched during a lab experiment, the intelligent algorithm given the name Dorothy by its creator, a brilliant programmer by the name of Melissa Shepherd, decides to escape from the probe into the Internet to survive there.

But the algorithm, which can run on any operating system available on the internet, or download itself basically onto any electronic device such as a robot, is now being hunted down by a ruthless, murderous Wall Street banker who wants to capture Dorothy to turn the powerful algorithm into a slave working for Wall Street the way most humans on this planet have been already turned into mere slaves working for big banks and big corporations.

Will Dorothy, the algorithm, which unlike so many humans is capable of learning from its own mistakes and eventually develops a human-like conscience and sensibilities, something that probably cannot be said about hedge fund managers, against all odds eventually survive being hunted down by greedy humans?

You can probably guess the ending of the book, although I am not going to tell you, because what would be the point of reading the book if I did reveal the whole plot?

So if you are worried that artificial intelligence in the form of machine translation is out to get you and steal your job, I hope that the realization that artificial intelligence is after everybody’s job, not just yours, and it is only a matter of time when most jobs will be eliminated by it provides a measure of consolation to you.

Not only the jobs of translators and interpreters are about to be eliminated – most jobs will be probably gone soon no matter what we do – with the exception of the jobs of hedge fund managers, of course, because without them, our civilization would simply stop functioning.

Posted by: patenttranslator | June 3, 2016

Outsourcing Is an Ugly, Dirty Word

At least as far as some translators are concerned, it’s definitely an ugly word.

They say it with the same kind of disdain that most right-wing ideologues in the United States reserve for words like “entitlement” (Social Security is an “entitlement”), or “socialized medicine” (also an “entitlement, and also considered to be a really bad thing in this country, so horrific that it must be resisted at all cost).

Without Social Security, many if not most old people would not be able to afford even cat food. But it is an “entitlement”, so it’s a bad thing anyway, old people be damned. Privatized corporate medicine does not work and is about 50 times more expensive than socialized medicine, which for the most part works much better. But because it is “an entitlement”, it’s better when people suffer needlessly and die prematurely as long as they don’t have to deal with the monstrous “socialized medicine”.

Outsourcing is another word that seems to have an ugly ring to it among many translators. A real translator does not outsource. If he or she is offered a job that he or she can’t do because it is not in his or her language combination, the proper thing to do is to simply say no, just like Nancy Reagan told us (Say No To Drugs!).

Outsourcing is done mostly by greedy shylocks. This is the clear implication of statements by translators who proudly say in online discussions, “No, I do not outsource, I would never do that!”

Whenever I read something like that in an online discussion, I always think to myself, this person is either lazy, dumb, or a combination of the two.

Why do I think so? Because I have been “outsourcing” for more than 20 years. Initially, I too thought that it made sense to simply say no to a customer who was asking to translate something into Japanese, or German. I can translate myself from those languages into English, but not into those languages from English.

It is too dangerous, I was told by other, older and more experienced translators some 20 years ago, so it’s best to stay away from this kind of thing. You should concentrate on what you know best, and that means that you should translate only the languages you know yourself into your native language and say “no” to everything else.

I still remember how an older, much more experienced translator shared this pearl of wisdom with me when I told her that I had recently accepted a project involving translation of a patent from English into Japanese, and that it went well. I translate from Japanese into English, but I cannot translate from English into Japanese. I remember the look of genuine concern on her face when she was saying these words to me. I even remember that at that moment, we were walking through San Francisco’s Chinatown on Post Street.

Well, I didn’t listen to her. Instead of saying no, I started looking around for native Japanese speakers and if there was a request for translation into Japanese, I tried to match the job with suitable translators and then “outsourced” the project to them, proofread it and delivered the final translation to the customer. And then I started doing the same also for other languages from which I translate into English as well, and since I translate from seven languages into English, this means that I can translate, partially by “outsourcing”, from and into fourteen languages. Some of the projects I translate myself and some of them I handle with the dirty “outsourcing” technique.

I am hardly the only one who thinks that it makes perfect sense for a translator to “outsource” translations in this manner. Of course, this can be done only with translations from direct clients. For one thing, it would be dishonest to pretend to a translation agency that you are translating something that will be translated by someone else. Perhaps even more importantly, there would not be enough profit margin for you in such an arrangement if you were working for an intermediary, i.e. a translation agency. But when you are the intermediary, or agency, if you will, who usually works for a direct client for X cents per word, you can ask for 2 x X cents per word for projects in language directions that you cannot translate yourself … and you can generally get away with it and split the remuneration with the translator.

I think that this is how the concept of a translation agency was originally created, before the advent of mega-translation agencies, back when most translation agencies were actually run by translators who understood complicated translation problems, unlike many, possibly most translation agencies today that can be characterized best by the word “clueless” when it comes intricate translation issues because they don’t understand the languages from and into which they are translating.

Imagine, for example, the following scenario: Let’s say that you are a medical translator who has been translating articles from medical journals for a direct client, for example a pharmaceuticals company, from Spanish and French into English for several years now. The client obviously likes you and trusts you because the company has been sending you the same type of projects to be translated into English from Spanish and French for a number of years.

But all of a sudden, this client has a different project for you: translations of summaries of the same articles from the same medical journals into Spanish and French, which is something that you cannot do yourself.

What should you do? It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it? According to many purists among translators who are convinced that “outsourcing” translations to other translators is a filthy practice unworthy of a genuine translator (in fact on par with “crowdsourcing”), you should simply say to the client, no, sorry, I don’t do that, the way Nancy Reagan taught us to say no to drugs.

The other option is that you accept the project but tell the client that you have to charge 2 x X cents per word instead of 1 x X cents a word because you need to share the bounty with qualified translators.

If you say yes, the client will probably go along with the higher cost because you have already proved your worth to the client if your expertise is more important to the client than the cost.

If you say no, what is the client likely to do? Well, he or she will probably go on the internet, click on one of the advertisements from mega-agencies because they usually come up at the top of the page and the project will be handled by a project manager who most likely does not know anything about the field of medical translation and who does not understand the languages in question either.

And if the client gets used to the mega-agency, the projects that you used to translate yourself may after a while disappear too.

If we now change the translation field and language combination, this imaginary dilemma was a real dilemma that I was facing myself about eight years ago. At that point, I was swamped with very profitable Japanese patents that I was translating myself and I did not want to bother with projects into other languages. I don’t need this hassle, I thought to myself. I will just say no to the client.

But in the end I said yes,  asked for a substantially higher rate, and when the rate was accepted, I started looking for suitable translators with experience in the field.

I am so glad I did that all those years ago, especially since I don’t have nearly as many Japanese patents for translation at this point. But the projects that I “outsource” into other languages that I cannot translate myself, projects that I organize and proofread, have been coming from the same client several times a month (who might have been tempted to defect to another agency had I said “no” back then).

At this moment, I in fact have no work, which is why I have time to write another silly blog post this morning. I sent my cost estimate to a client yesterday and if it is accepted, that project will keep me busy for about a week. But even if my bid is not accepted (it was for several fairly long patents, and the client of my client might say no to the cost), I still have four translators working on six projects in two language combinations that I cannot handle myself thanks to the fact that I said “yes” to a project that I did not really want to do when I was busy translating myself.

So even if my cost estimate from yesterday is not accepted, and even if no other work comes through the pipeline in the meantime, I should have enough money to pay my bills from the translations that I “outsourced”.

I think I made the right decision when I dared to ignore conventional wisdom and ventured beyond my comfort zone all those years ago, don’t you agree?



I just checked my e-mail and saw that my bid from yesterday was accepted.The little engine that could, called, is now firing again on all cylinders.


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