Posted by: patenttranslator | November 2, 2019

Who Will Come to Your Funeral?

I buried a friend yesterday.

We have known each other for more than 50 years, ever since we met in school as kids growing up in the town of Český Krumlov in Southern Bohemia. He became a master gardener, maybe because his father was also a master gardener who was taking care of the immense Zámecká zahrada (Castle Garden) which belonged to the castle.

One could walk directly to the garden through a specially constructed covered bridge, covered to protect people from the elements, who could walk from the castle for about 200 meters all the way to the big garden, past the Masque Hall where nobility used to entertain themselves by doing God knows what for a few centuries, disguised in masks, accompanied by musical entertainment and surrounded by somewhat weird scenes of people dancing and having a ball, completely covering the walls.

I guess the real world did not really exist for them. Après nous le déluge and all that. They were almost as rich as some Wall Street hedge fund managers are now, although probably not as greedy and less parasitic. But the real world certainly did exist for my friend because he was the master gardener in this enormous garden and it was his responsibility to take care of the trees, flowers, and bushes in the garden to make sure that they remain beautiful, regardless of the time of the year and regardless of which regime is momentarily in power. Regimes come and go, beautiful gardens will sometime stay, as long as good people take good care of them.  

I took the bus from České Budějovice where I live now to his town, about 30 kilometers south, not far from the Austrian border. Along the way I saw fields, meadows and forests, sprinkled with little towns and villages, which have not changed that much over the years. Lots of cows, sheep and horses, grazing in the silence of the foggy day. Also several big ponds, one of them, the biggest one, with very little water in it because it was about to be “fished out” soon to supply the fish, mostly carps, for the traditional Czech Christmas table.

The ceremony took place in a chapel at the town cemetery above the little town of about 5 thousand people. Under the chapel is buried the family of the Buquoys, originally a French aristocratic family, which came to Bohemia shortly before the Battle of the White Mountain. One of the Buqoys was the commander of the emperor’s army, Karel Bonaventura Buquoy, who was rewarded for his faithful service by emperor Ferdinand II. von Habsburg. The emperor gave him the Nové Hrady castle and estates for his honored services in the defeat of the Bohemian Rebellion of the Estates at the Battle of White Mountain in Prague in 1620, along with several other estates and castles after the Bohemian rebellion was suppressed. This is the town where my friend spent about the last 40 years of his life. So the Buquoys are now buried under the chapel, and funerals are held at the cemetery in the chapel.

Nobody gave a single castle to my friend, and not much else either, although he toiled for about half a century in the two huge gardens, first in the town of Český Krumlov and then in the town of Nové Hrady. But he loved his work and would never have chosen a different career as he told me when I visited him with another friend a few days before his death. He must have been much beloved in the town, because a lot of people came to say goodbye to him, as I did with 3 other childhood friends that I also met at school in Český Krumlov when I was about seven years old.

There were maybe 150 people creating two silent formations in the small chapel, trying to understand the words of a speech that some woman standing next to the casket was making. I was standing all the way in the back of the chapel and could not understand a single word because there was no microphone, probably because crowds like this were unusual in this small chapel.

But I could hear perfectly well the three musical pieces broadcast over the loudspeakers once the speech was finally over: first the introductory, slow part of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, followed by John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, and then some Czech music that I know well, although I don’t know the name of it.

“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky”.

Slightly ironic words for a burial ceremony in an old chapel, I thought, but in my opinion very appropriate for saying goodbye to a friend who did not believe in fairy tales either. I bet he chose the music himself, although I did not ask his wife, who was supported by my friends’ sons, tall and handsome, probably in their late thirties. I did not want to bother her.

I bet I will have a much smaller crowd at my funeral. A dozen people or so, if I’m lucky. My two tall and handsome sons will hopefully come, one from California and the other one from Michigan or wherever they will be living at that point, if they get the news on time. But somebody will have to tell them what happened in English. I only have one niece who speaks English, so it will have to be her.

Well, one of the things that happen in this world to people, who like me were unwilling to spend most of their life not too far from where they were born as used to be the case for many centuries in Bohemia, and instead decide to try their luck on several different continents, three in my case, but then decide to return to the place where they were born, like salmon and a few other species and some humans, is that along the way they lose most of their friends.

There were five of us roaming the Castle Gardens 50 years ago, listening to the Beatles, the Hollies and the Monkeys coming to us on a transistor radio from Radio Free Europe in Munich, playing cards and talking about this and that.

So now there are only four of us.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 29, 2019

Keeping the Hustle Going After All These Years

The first time I moved my translation business was in 1992, during the pre-Internet era. Most people, including myself, did not really understand what this humbug about this thing call Internet was all about. I thought it was useful only for email. You could not even send large files though the thin copper wires of telephone lines, so what good was it?

But I did know that raising two small kids, they were 1 and 3 back then, in a two-bedroom San Francisco apartment in the Richmond district, cozy, convenient and close to all kinds of Asian restaurants as it was for us when we had no children, would drive us crazy. San Francisco has probably never been a good place to raise children. So we packed our possessions and moved across the Golden Gate Bridge into the heart of North Californian suburbia to a pretty small town called Petaluma, just 40 minutes north of the foggy city where all of our friends and many of my customers lived.

At that point we had been living in San Francisco already for 10 years. That was the place where we both arrived at the same time in 1982. Before Internet, where you lived was very important because your location determined not only access to friends that your felt good with, but also access to information that was indispensable to your business.

I used to have a lot of friends who were also Japanese translators when I lived in San Francisco, and through the grapevine from these friends and acquaintances I would often find out about nice translation projects in and around the City, especially in Silicon Valley, not far from us.

I remember, for example, how once when I owed a lot of money for last year’s income taxes, I found out through a friend of mine about a lawsuit involving translation of thousands of pages of handwritten research reports in Japanese. I called the law firm located in downtown San Francisco and next day I had in my office a whole box filled with pages for translation. It took me three weeks to translate all those pages, but after barely three weeks, my problem with back income taxes was gone.

Incidentally, no translation agency was involved in this particular project, there was just one paralegal at the law firm’s offices, a pretty young Japanese girl who looked like she was eighteen. She looked like a beautiful Japanese porcelain doll. This is how big translation projects were handled in the pre-Internet era, which to me confirms the fact that for most projects, translation agencies are not necessary.

It was difficult to keep the hustle going, which is to say to keep business flowing in at a nice clip, after I moved from San Francisco, because in the pre-Internet era, you lost access to friends who were in the same business and had information on where the work is. I remember that I had almost no work for several months after I moved to Petaluma, until I drummed up new business from new sources. I tried not to worry about it too much, busy as I was discovering the wineries of the wine country, walking trails and an old lighthouse in the Marin County, the Valley of the Moon drive among the wineries in Sonoma County, the beach in Bodega Bay that I saw for the first time when I was about 15 in a Hitchcock movie.

Now let’s fast-forward from early nineties to the fall of 2018. The wife, now ex-wife, has gone back to Japan, the kids are gone too, one lives in California and one in Michigan, and I am moving my senior ass after more than 35 years in the States from Virginia to my native Southern Bohemia. I am a recently retired, happy recipient of two retirement incomes, one a decent one from US Social Security, after paying into it for 36 years, and the other one, small but welcome too, including monthly payments of my Czech healthcare system premiums made for me by the Czech equivalent of Social Security, into which I also paid for 10 years.

All of my earthly possessions that I was bringing with me from the Norfolk airport were in two pieces of luggage, which contained mostly underwear, shirts and pants and such. Oh, there were two Japanese-English and one German-English dictionaries in there two. I just could not part with those, even though so far, I have not really needed them.

More important than our earthly possessions, generally speaking, are streams of income that we can either generate or count on until we drop dead, and I was not in a bad position in that respect. In fact, from that point on, I clearly did not need to work anymore, while I could live modestly but quite comfortably in my new/old country.

But it would be incorrect to say that my possession were what I was schlepping with me through the Newark and Prague airports in my two pieces of luggage. My most valuable possession was information that was more or less safely stored in my head and on my laptop – the business connections to customers who needed the kind of services that I have been providing to them for more than three decades and the knowledge how to get the work done, either by myself, or through other translators working for me.

In a way, it’s not that I have to try to keep the hustle going, the hustle will not let go of me, regardless of how old I am and where I live now, as long as I continue saying yes to customers.

And why would I say no? It gives me something to do and I enjoy both the work and the money.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 15, 2019

Retirement without Work Is a Boring Pre-Cremation Vacation

A relatively new trend in creating new, profitable tourist traps is planning of so-called procreation vacations. These special deals are offered by hotels to couples who want but for some reason cannot conceive a child. Why has conceiving a child become recently a stumbling block for so many young couples hoping to create a new famil?

As you might have guessed, I do have a few thoughts also on this subject.

As we are being fed beautifully looking but nearly tasteless food by giant agribusinesses, colorful and beautiful food that is stuffed with chemicals that make it look so enticing but that tastes so bland, something happens to our health. My secret theory is that it’s the chemicals present in most of our food, not really hormones as some people think, that make modern women, young and old, so much crankier and less fun to be around than they used to be two, three or four decades ago. The hormones have been with us for millennia, right? These hormones haven’t changed, what changed is the stuff they put in the food that they are selling to us in supermarkets in most countries of this chemical-laden world.

Some of the problems that men have are also connected to what evil corporations put in our food. I don’t have any hard data supporting my secret theory, and this is not really my field, (although I have of course translated a couple of studies in this field), but it is known that for example, the sperm count in modern men is quite a bit lower than it used to be, and I believe it has been proven by scientists that there is a link between the phenomenon of low sperm count and the chemical-laden junk food that we are willy-nilly consuming.

So the cheap, tasteless but highly profitable food that agribusinesses make us eat now is pretty horrible both for women and for men, and thus also for the future of our civilization, or what’s left of it.

But that’s not really the main subject of my post today. What I want to do today is take a look what is called retirement from a slightly different angle through the lens of Mad Patent Translator in retirement.

To be sure, our whole life can be seen as just a pre-cremation stage which starts the moment we are born. But it’s easy to ignore this fact, partly because we don’t know much about anything such a heavy subject at first, partly because that stage is relatively long, generally several times longer than the last stage which is spent in retirement, and last but not least, because our working life is usually not much of a vacation, as we are usually responsible for other people during our productive life, which means that we have to work during our most productive years to support these other people, usually our children, both emotionally and materially.

During retirement, most of us are finally free of the responsibilities that we were burdened with in prior decades. During the last stage of our life, other people, usually our children, should really assume the responsibility of taking care of us in our old age, as used to be the case for many centuries in many countries and cultures. This happens sometime, in some cases, but I am pretty sure that it will not happen in my case given that I live thousands of miles away from my children, on a different continent.

I think that I will be OK even without my children or family because I can pay for long-term care for my self from my own funds in my new/old country, without burdening anyone, even should I stop working completely. The funny thing is that instead of being happy not to have to work and fulfill requirements put on us by other people, such as people who send us work, most retired people try to work as much as possible, or at least to some extent, also during the final period of pre-cremation vacation.

When I have no work at all now, I am bored and I struggle to fill the hours from morning to night with something meaningful to me. When I do have work, I usually put it off because the fact is that I don’t like to work all that much, but once I start working, I am in my element again, and feel young and happy.

Every morning I delete the junk mail in my mailbox, looking for a new translation job and I am happy if I find a couple of them hiding in there.

For some reason, I can only enjoy my dolce far niente during my pre-cremation vacation if I know that a little bit later, I will be working again, although I don’t really need the money and although I did not need to accept the work in the first place.

Why is it that some of us are unable to enjoy our life unless we have more work to do? I wish I knew.

Now that I have been living here in Czech Republic for almost a year, I feel that I have sufficient experience and enough facts on which to base such a personal comparison.

In some respects it will not be a good match between the two places mostly because when I moved after living in Northern California, first in San Francisco and then Santa Rosa, since 1982 until 2001, to Chesapeake, which is a city of about 100,000, I was married, which meant that I had a wife, two small children, three dogs and an Australian reptile, and as a sole provider in a family of four, I had different needs and requirements than now that I am a recently divorced pensioner.

My housing cost is much smaller now because I moved from a large house of some 3,800 square feet (about 350 square meters, with 8 rooms and 4 bathrooms), which I owned with my ex-wife in Chesapeake, Virginia, to a much smaller apartment, which I am renting here in the city of Ceske Budejovice, also about 100,000 people, a little over 2 hours by car, bus or train, south of Prague, not far (about 10 miles) from my hometown of Cesky Krumlov, or from the Austrian border.

Instead of having to pay the mortgage on our house in Chesapeake, which was $1,200, plus taxes of about $400 (each month!) and the home owners association fee of $75, not to forget home insurance and flood insurance (we were a few hundred yards from the Elisabeth River and not too far from the Chesapeake Bay and the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean), for a total housing cost of about $1,600 before utilities, or well over $2,000 with utilities.

I now pay 8,500 Czech crowns, or about 370 US dollars, to rent a much smaller apartment of 60 meters, or about 650 square feet, which is also quite comfortable for me now that I am single again. The utilities on my apartment are about 150 US dollars, while the utilities on our house in Virginia were more than 3 times that much.

I do miss a little bit our spacious, very comfortable American house in beautiful Virginia, but not too much. Just like in Virginia, I have stunning views of trees, woods, hills with blue skies with big birds hunting smaller animals and birds from every room in my apartment (the living room, the kitchen and the bedroom), partly because I now live on the fifth floor on a street with small buildings and only 2 relatively tall houses of 6 floors, one of them being the one where I live now. As I write another silly post of mine, I see a hot air balloon from which sightseers are admiring the the rolling, green South Bohemian landscape. Right now they seem to be aiming toward the picturesque Hluboka castle, perfect rendering of a fairytale castle in the wedding cake style architecture, situated about 10 miles east of here.

When I still lived in Virginia, I made an estimate of the kind of costs I was expecting to have here in Bohemia.

Here it is:

Basic Expenses in Czech Republic Estimated from US

A Housing (Crowns / $) Monthly in Crowns In US$
1 Rent 15,000 ($650)
2 Utilities 3,000 ($130)
3 Water + garbage 1,000 ($45)
4 Phones + Internet 4,000 ($170
5 Food + restaurants 8,000 ($350)
6 Books, taxes, travel. 6,000 ($250)
7 Total expenses 37,000 crowns $1,600

It turns out that my actual expenses in Czech Republic were very close to my original estimate a year ago, done still in US.

 A Housing Monthly, $ / Crowns Partial subtotals and the total
1 Rent $370 / (8,500) 8,500 ($370)
2 Utilities ($150) $150 / (3,500) 12,000 ($520)
3 Water, garbage Included in utilities Included in utilities
4 Phones, Internet) 4,000 $180 / (4,200) 16,000 ($700)
5 Food + restaurants $600 / (13,000) 27,000 ($1,200)
6 Books, taxis, travel $200 / (4,500) 32,000 ($1,400)
7 Total basic expenses 35,000 ($1,520) 35,000 ($1,520)

The main difference between my estimated and actual costs is that I overestimated how much I would need to spend on rent and underestimated how much I would need to spend on food and restaurants. I could (and everybody tells me that I should) save on food and restaurants, but that would mean that I would need to start cooking, and at this point in my life I don’t feel like I need to learn more than how to slap together two pieces of bread with some more or less edible stuff like cheese and salami in between them.

For 34 years, up until the fall of last year, I was married to a Japanese chef who saw it as her sacred duty to prepare two meals a day for me …. Well, she would have to cook them for herself anyway, right? So, it was not really that difficult for her to manage that particular sacred duty, to basically just double the amount of food that she would need to cook without me. Plus, when we were fighting, which happened at least once every two months, she went on strike, i.e. she would cook only for herself for a day or two to show me who’s the boss here. So, I never learned how to cook and probably never will (and it’s her damn fault too).

What I did not know until coming here was that there are many companies here in Czech Republic providing inexpensive meals to customers, mostly senior citizens who like me are too lazy to cook for themselves. The meals, consisting of a passable soup and a fairly good main meal delivered right to my door Monday through Friday at the cost of about US$20 per week, are most of what I need to feed myself during the week and on the weekends I go to an inexpensive restaurant, where a “main menu meal” with a good Czech beer costs under 150 Czech crowns, or about US$ 6.50, including the tip. In US it would be at least twice that much.

So that is how I replaced my private, in-house Japanese chef, whom I originally and for a very long time thought of as quite irreplaceable, but who turned out to be quite easily replaceable, at least as far as cooking is concerned. I never liked sushi too much anyway, although of course I never dared to tell her that.

Another major change was that I don’t have a car anymore. In US, at one time I had to pay for 4 cars when my kids were teenagers, and for several cell phones as well, which of course they kept breaking and loosing too, for instance when they were “surfing” above the crowd of other teenagers at rock concerts. At this point in my life, I don’t know if I will ever get a car again because although I still have a valid US driver’s license, I would need to get a Czech one, and it would be a major hassle.

But unlike in US, public transport here is very good and since the distances are much smaller in such a small country, I can get just about anywhere using public transportation that is very cheep or free for senior citizens. I have two cards for public transport, meaning buses, trams and metro, one for Prague and for Ceske Budejovice, where I can now go anywhere with these two cards for free. When I travel by bus or train, as a senior citizen I get 75% off the cost of the ticket, the rest of the cost is reimbursed to the transport companies by the state (I personally heard from several cheeky teenagers that the state is just wasting money in this manner on idle seniors, although they don’t seem to mind that children have the same privilege here, up until the age of 18 if I am not mistaken).

For example, the bus or train ride from Ceske Budejovice to Prague, about 100 miles from here, which takes 2 hours and 10 minutes, costs me the grand total of about one or two dollars, depending on which bus or train company I use. Taxis are also cheap – here I use a taxi service called Liftago, basically the same thing as Lyft, which I used in Virginia. I use Liftago mostly at night when the bus intervals are up to 20 minutes, and it costs me to travel just about anywhere in the city of Ceske Budejovice about US$5.

So, there you have it. I still might move back to the states again to be closer to my kids because I miss them something terrible. But if I did that, I would either have to start working very hard again, or live very modestly off my Social Security pension. So I will probably just visit them once a year or so and hope that they will visit me here too sometime.

Living here, I don’t have to work (even though I still have to do one translation today), because my pension covers my expenses very comfortably. Most importantly, I don’t have to worry about how am I going to pay bills. I could even save quite a bit of money by trying not to exceed the basic expenses too much on a month to month basis … or I could waste most of my income by spending it on things that are enjoyable, although perhaps not really necessary.

I plan to do the latter.

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

Le soleil n’y entrera plus

Tu ne m’aimes plus

Là-haut un oiseau passe comme une dédicace

Dans le ciel

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

Le soleil n’y entrera plus

Tu ne m’aimes plus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings to you,

Hope you are well.

I am V., Vendor Manager at XYZ Internationals.

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

We need your help with following:

Language Pair: Russian-English

Word count: 100

Budget: 0.03 USD per word

Deadline: ASAP

Are you interested? 

You may ignore this email if you are not interested.

Best regards,

V.

Vendor Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: patenttranslator | August 4, 2019

The Machine Translation Time Bomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 23, 2019

You Can Obtain Your ID at the Magistrate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another revealing quote from the paper:

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

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

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

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

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

That is so efficient, isn’t it?

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

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

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

Posted by: patenttranslator | June 14, 2019

Home Is Where They Have To Take You In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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