Just like it’s a good thing when a flower or plant is repotted after a while because the nutrients in the original soil tend to become exhausted, I believe that it’s generally a good thing for people to also transplant themselves every now and then, perhaps every decade or so, into a completely different environment.

Already as a child for some reason I wanted not only to see other countries inhabited by people who spoke other languages, but also to live in those other countries and really experience the world those other people saw, while speaking to them in their own language. I didn’t want to simply travel, I wanted a chance to become somebody else in one lifetime, preferably several times.

Is that too much to ask? It probably is, but I didn’t worry about it.

So I bravely repotted myself a number of times, first from Prague to Nurnberg to Germanize myself for a while, and then from Nurnberg to San Francisco to become an American, maybe for good, while still in my twenties. Then the delicate flower that I was then (and still am now!) repotted itself after several years spent in the magical San Francisco soil (it would be eventually a total of 10 years in the city of San Francisco and 19 years in California) into the soil of a very different flowerpot in Tokyo.

If you’ve studied a difficult language like Japanese, the country and its language and culture are for a long time just an abstraction in your brain. Then you suddenly find yourself in Japan, surrounded by a language and culture that is very real and concrete, and it’s a major shock to the system. But it’s a beautiful shock making you see everything that you know of the cultures and languages of your own country or countries in a different light.

The process of jumping out of one flowerpot and into another one is relatively easy if you’re young and nobody depends on you. It’s much more difficult as you grow older because once you’re a little bit older, you first have to convince your spouse and children to go with you. And the thing is, most people will end up with a spouse and children without really trying too hard. That’s just how things tend to work out in life.

As one gets older, the safety of what’s familiar and comfortable suddenly becomes much more important, and so do simple but important pleasures and creature comforts that one often has to abandon when moving to an unfamiliar country, or even moving to a new place across the country.

I remember how once on an office lunch break I wandered into an electronics store in the Hamamatsu-cho section of Tokyo near the office where I was working at the time to look longingly at big new TVs. It must have been at the end of 1985 or the first part of 1986. All the TVs were showing a new film with Sylvester Stallone—Rambo II—on the big screens. I wanted to finally have my own place so badly, with a comfortable sofa in a comfortable house and a big TV to watch dumb movies on it to my heart’s content.

Instead, I was living in a tiny Japanese room at my in-laws house, sleeping on a mattress that was rolled up and stored in the closet every morning. Even though it was a big house by Tokyo standards, there was no space in the room for a comfortable sofa. The only piece of furniture was a Japanese kotatsu, a small lacquered table covered with a blanket (the room looked almost exactly like this picture from Wikipedia, including the tiny TV in the corner, except that the blanket was purple-brown, not blue). Based on the heating system used 30 years ago in Japanese houses, you stuck your feet into the kotatsu and turned on the kotatsu’s electric heater when you were cold in the winter. On the plus side, the system was very environmentally friendly. On the minus side, your feet were hot, but the rest of your body was cold.

Since in addition to my regular office job, I was also typing my translations on Saturdays and Sundays on a small word processor placed on top of the kotatsu, you could say that the kotatsu was both the heating system and also my first translator’s office.

At first I was immensely enjoying the novelty and challenges of my new exotic Japanese flowerpot. Those floors with tatami mats were so different from what I knew in Europe and America. The whole room was saturated by a strange but pleasant smell emanating from the rice straw that is used to manufacture the mats. But when you have to commute in crowded trains to your work in downtown for an hour and half each way, as I had to do five or six days a week, and leave the house at 7 AM only to get back late in the evening, it wears you down pretty quickly.

About six months after my Rambo II reverie on a lunch break, I was on a plane back to San Francisco, with my wife, who curiously didn’t try at all to convince me to stay with her in Japan, even just for a few more years, although at first that was plan A. She must have been secretly relieved that I had finally had my fill of Japanese culture.

No matter how fragile and delicate flowers we may be, most translators really have no choice but to move to a foreign country and live there, preferably for a few years, if we are serious about the language or languages that we are studying. There simply is no other way to learn a foreign language well.

Non-translators don’t really need to do that. In some countries, people stay in the same flowerpot their entire lives. When I was growing up in a small town in Southern Bohemia called Český Krumlov, I had four very good friends. We hung out together all the time, from first grade until graduation from high school. We were the Five Musketeers.

When I visited the town nine years after I left once the communist regime finally fell and I was able to return, I didn’t know where my friends lived. But I figured, well, it’s Friday night, Bohouš will probably be in a pub in the town square that used to be his favorite place. So I went to the pub – and there he was at a table in the middle of it, grinning from ear to ear and waving at me to join him and his buddies. Two of my old friends still lived in the same tiny town and two of them had moved: one about 15 miles south, and one about 15 miles north. I am pretty sure they still live there now.

When it comes to moving long distances, America is very different from a small European country. People here move all the time from one state to another, often hundreds or thousands of miles, without giving it much thought. That too has its disadvantages: for example, I would like to live not too far from my children, but at this point I have no idea in which state my two sons (who are now in their mid twenties) will eventually live.

In a big country like the United States, and maybe other big countries like Brazil or Australia, you can transplant yourself into a very different flowerpot without leaving the country, that’s how big the differences are between different states. And there is also a huge difference between living in a big city and a small town.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who also happened to be a stoic philosopher, wondered in his book Meditations written about nineteen hundred years ago what it is that makes people move from one place to another. I can’t find the exact quote on the Internet, but one thought from his book that I still remember, although I read it decades ago, is about how futile it is to keep moving from place to place if you are moving in order to escape yourself. You can’t escape yourself, wrote Aurelius, because wherever you go, you will be taking yourself with you [paraphrased].

But is that really true? I thought so when I read the book as a teenager. But a few decades later, I would disagree. I didn’t move to different countries to escape my old self. On the contrary, I was moving from place to place not only to learn new languages, but also to find myself in this manner.

Had I spent my whole life in the same flowerpot as the rest of the Five Musketeers did, I would have been a very different person now. I don’t know whether it would have been better or worse had I stayed put, but I do think that jumping from one flowerpot to another, and doing it in one lifetime, is probably much more fun.

It may even mean that you live more, or somehow manage to squeeze more than just one life into what was originally supposed to be only one lifetime.

Posted by: patenttranslator | February 2, 2016

An ATA Chronicle Issue That Is Actually Worth Reading

Most of the time I just leaf through the venerable but usually quite boring newsletter while looking for an interesting article. And most of the time I do so in vain because the majority of the articles seem to be written for indoctrination of poor translator “newbies” to turn them into even more productive bees ready to serve “the translation industry”, for instance with articles explaining how to prepare a résumé or invoice to please translation agencies. The entire frustrating exercise usually takes less than three minutes.

This time it was a little bit different. Already on page six, there was a letter from Linda Marianiello, a translator from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who took exception to what was said in an article in the last issue (November-December) of the ATA Chronicle, which was inspiringly titled “PEMT Yourself!”. The title must have been based on the popular English idiom “Go F*ck Yourself” because, what else could it be?

Unlike when articles in the ATA Chronicle are criticized by Mad Patent Translator, Linda Marianiello was very polite and respectful in her assessment of the article. But she came to the point straight away:“My colleagues in the GLD [German Language Division] stated that they had tried post-editing. In the process they found that the amount of work involved was not worthwhile for them with regard to the rates offered. This is not an example of being closed to a relatively new profession option. They tried it and found that the negatives outweighed the positive.”

To my knowledge, this is the first time that the self-described Voice of Translators and Interpreters has published an opinion of a translator rejecting post-editing of machine translation as a viable “new professional option”, which happens to be an opinion that most translators share. As I commented on my silly blog here, here and here, all the other articles published in the ATA Chronicle were written by cheerleaders with commercial interests in PEMT who were not surprisingly in favor of subjecting human translators to this cruel and unusual form of punishment, only a step above water boarding.

Then on page 10 there was an article titled “Business and Marketing Tips for Translators: Direct Clients Contact Ideas” by Jesse Tomlinson, an interpreter and translator from Canada who lives and works in Mexico. It’s not easy to give tips to translators on how they can wean themselves off dependence on translation agencies because a good strategy will depend on many variables, such as one’s personality, strengths and weaknesses, the working language or languages of the translator, where the translator lives, and also the current state of the translation market, which seems to be changing almost overnight.

But I very much agree with the main point that Jesse Tomlinson is making in a paragraph titled SHIFT YOUR FOCUS: “When you market your services as a translator, consider shifting your focus away from telling prospects about your business and services. Instead, how about learning about the companies your clients run and how they are organized”?

Most clients don’t seem to know anything about translators or translation, and why should they? Contrary to what some translators seem to be thinking, in my opinion it’s not our job “to educate clients”. They have better things to do than learn about the difference between the words “translator” and “interpreter”. You know, things like running a business and making money.

It’s our job to figure out what it is that they do and need. It is absolutely not their job to “become educated” about us.

We have to try and figure out where the direct clients might be and then go after them in order to replace low-paying translation agencies by much better paying direct clients. This can be done in many ways, but the first prerequisite is figuring out where our direct clients are hiding and what it is that they need from us. In my case it’s not very difficult to find them. Since I mostly translate patents and articles from technical journals, my most important clients are patent law firms, and the easiest way to reach them is through my website.

Different strategies will work for different translators, of course, but it’s important to realize that even if you work mostly for translation agencies, the agencies represent only one segment of translation work, a segment that many translators are able to ignore completely because from the beginning they focused their marketing efforts like a laser beam on direct clients. It’s much more difficult to find direct clients than to find translation agencies, but the effort is well worth it.

In another interesting article, Michael Farrell, a freelance technical translator and transcreator who lives in Italy, describes how to find out about our clients’ satisfaction with our work or the lack thereof in “Client Satisfaction Surveys for Freelance Translators”.

It actually never occurred to me that I could find out from my clients what they think about me and my services by simply sending them a short “Client Satisfaction Survey”, for example with a completed job, although it would be quite a simple thing to do.

As Michael Farrell put it in a paragraph called GOALS: “What I really wanted to accomplish by sending out this survey was to discover if my clients were still my clients, to find out if they had gone out of business, and to provide them with a reminder that I was still on the market. It was also a way of giving my working day a purpose, rather than just twiddling my thumbs until work arrived”.

It indeed seems like a much better idea than sending an e-mail saying: “Hey, why is it that you stopped sending me work?” Doesn’t it? And yet, one can obtain information in this manner, without losing face, by communicating to our clients that we care about them and their needs, instead of stupidly asking them why they seem to have stopped caring about us.

I just may do that and send a “Client Satisfaction Survey” to a couple of clients who used to be important suppliers of translation projects for many years but suddenly fell silent for some reason last year.

Another interesting article that gave me some food for thought, called “Do You Have an Emergency Business Plan?”, was written by Sarah Lindholm, a freelance translator from Japanese specializing in anime and films. It lists nine possible disasters that can unexpectedly strike our business, from natural disasters, fire and sickness, to loss of power and Internet, hardware failure, or to subjects such as “what if something goes wrong while I am traveling” and “knowing where to turn for legal and financial advice”.

I am a great believer in having several plans, at least a Plan B and Plan C, for situations that hopefully will not occur, because I’ve learned through painful experience that disaster sometimes does strike when you least expect it.

My own solutions are somewhat different from those proposed by Sarah Lindholm, because we all live under different conditions.

In these uncertain times, it’s definitely good to have a plan for example for how to keep your business afloat if you get sick, or if a constant stream of work from well established customers suddenly becomes a tiny trickle or dries up completely.

To go and “PEMT Yourself”, as William Cassemiro so eloquently put it in the November-December issue of the ATA Chronicle, does not sound like much of a plan to me, except perhaps a plan to delay inevitable bankruptcy by maybe a year or two.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to add that I know two of the writers of the articles that were mentioned in my post today.

I’ve never met Jesse Tomlinson, the Canadian translator who lives in Mexico, but she has been commenting on my blog for a year or two and is presently editing my blog posts and putting together a book from these posts which will be hopefully published this year.

And I did meet Michael Farrell, the British translator and transcreator who lives in Italy a few months ago at the Third IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters) Conference in Bordeaux, France, where we had an interesting discussion about the political system in the Venetian Republic during the Middle Ages and its possible parallels in modern world.

An innocent albeit somewhat flippant remark that I made online was relatively recently used, by a person that I was trying to have a civilized conversion with, to turn me into Public Enemy Number 1. All I really did was suggest that while what this person was saying did make sense, at least on the surface, it was also possible to view the issue from a very different viewpoint and that in my opinion, that different viewpoint made more sense.

And this was interpreted as a declaration of war.

Since I have been writing my silly posts on Mad Patent Translator’s blog for almost six years now – there are 585 posts and 7,451 comments on my blog, and it has well over half a million views – I have had a number of these kinds of exchanges with people who have expressed intense hostility to whatever it was that I was saying in such an extreme manner that I consider these people trolls, which is to say that I’m not interested in talking to them anymore as it’s a waste of time to try to discuss anything with an angry, combative troll.

I can think of perhaps five instances of people who were trying, for a number of reasons, to attack me in any way they could imagine, instead of trying to have a civilized discussion from which both parties could benefit. It should be a self-evident truism that the losing party in a discussion gains more than the winner because that’s the party that learns something new. But that truism can only be true of course when further discussion is still possible. Maybe it’s no longer true. It’s definitely not true in the mass media, where winning a shouting match is indeed not just everything, but the only thing that matters.

I think that it’s interesting that two of these five people that I consider trolls were originally enthusiastic readers of my posts and occasional commenters, until I said something that they just couldn’t stomach, although it didn’t relate to them personally, at which point they decided to become my sworn enemies.

Another two of them went to the trouble of creating different WordPress pseudonyms for their personas, also known as “sock puppets”, in order to continue attacking me while pretending that they weren’t who they really were, just to be able to do it from a safer, more anonymous space. One of them admitted that this was indeed the case when I called her/him out on it, which I consider kind of classy. In fact, having done so, (s)he is probably no longer in the troll category. The other one didn’t admit anything, which I consider kind of cowardly, but did seem to have disappeared after I called his/her bluff, possibly out of embarrassment at being caught.

Are these people still reading my posts? I don’t know. For the sake of their sanity, as well as mine, I hope they aren’t. Life is too short to fight wars with imaginary enemies. There will be plenty of real wars in life that will need to be fought. We need to pick our battles carefully and try to conserve our strength for fighting wars that are indeed necessary and worth fighting.

I generally know when I am about to get into trouble already when I am writing a post. For some reason, I do it anyway. For example, when I came across a study by Jeremy Brunson from the Department of Sociology at Syracuse University with statistics indicating that the overwhelming majority of sign language interpreters are women, I concluded in my post that the real reason for this is that women like to be the center of attention, and being a sign interpreter is a good way to have your face shown on TV while you are so cleverly interpreting in your new clothes.

It was a joke, of course, but as expected, I was immediately attacked by women, and some men, who called my post ill-informed and worse, as if they truly believed that I had seriously meant what I said in it. I was asked repeatedly, by several people, months after I wrote my post, to delete the post or take back what I had said or else! The truth is, it’s OK when women are making fun of men, but it’s strictly forbidden in our culture for men to make fun of women, just like it’s forbidden for white people (but only for white people) to use the n-word. Making fun of women in any manner whatsoever is politically incorrect and terribly sexist, hence the general uproar after a post that contained so much misguided cheekiness. But the post was very popular, it got hundreds of likes on Facebook, so somebody must have liked it.

We translators just love to agree with each other! I don’t know whether it’s true about blogs on topics other than translation, but many translators’ blogs contain preachy advice for translators that I find mostly useless because what is expressed in their posts is simply common sense. But many translators love to read similar posts, which is evidenced by the number of commenters who eagerly chime in to express their absolute (100%) agreement with everything the blogger said. I call these comments “Dear Melanie comments”, because they are often posted by women, usually young women, who like something that another young woman said (darn it, I think that I’ve just said something politically incorrect and extremely sexist again!)

If on the other hand what you say is not in complete and absolute (100%) agreement with what the other person said, you risk stirring up a hornets’ nest.

I noticed for the first time how intolerant some translators can be to an opposing view when I wrote a post titled Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Other Translation Memory Tools. This was in July of 2010, about 5 months after I started blogging, but this old blog post still has a lot of views just about every day, dozens of comments and the comment section keeps growing. Not surprisingly, the guy who made the last comment only 7 days ago too simply can’t believe that anybody would be so dumb as not to see the obvious advantages of CATs, and Trados in particular, because it works for him so well.

Trying to explain to CAT lovers that those damn CATs don’t work for me and that I need them about as much as I need a hole in my head is like trying to convince citizens of North Korea that their beloved Chubby Leader probably is not really a genius. It just can’t be done: the crowd absolutely hates it when somebody dares to say something that is incompatible with the wisdom of the crowd and you run a serious risk of becoming Public Enemy Number 1, whether you dare to question the genius of The Chubby Leader, or the wisdom of using The CATs.

The problem is, if there is pressure on blogging translators not to dare to express views that might be somewhat controversial, not to make fun of sacred cows because some people might be offended by it, and if nobody dares to resist this pressure because it could be risky, most of what is said on our blogs will be very boring.

In closing, I apologize in advance to all women named Melanie who feel offended by my post today, especially the young ones, but I’m not taking anything back.

Posted by: patenttranslator | January 23, 2016

The Hierarchy of Beehives and the Inevitability of Enthusiastic Dancing

There are 3 castes in a honeybee colony: the queen, workers and drones. The queen lays all the eggs (except in queen-less hives, which will probably die), drones (the males) mate with virgin queens (if they’re lucky), and workers do everything else …
When the hive gets too big, it swarms. The old queen and half the workers leave to find a new hive. Workers decide where the new hive will be by consensus. Scouts go out to find new locations. When they find a really good place they come back and tell the swarm by dancing where it is. Enthusiastic dancing gets other scouts to go check out the really good places. The best place is decided upon when the majority of scouts are all dancing for the same location.

So essentially it’s the workers who decide when the hive will reproduce (swarm), where they will go when they do, the ratio of workers to drones, and more, including all foraging decisions, regulating the temperature of the hive, what is allowed in the hive, when the drones get kicked out in the late fall, and when a queen is no longer viable. Honeybee workers do all the work, but they are also in charge of all the decision-making as well.

Katie Buckley, Entomologist, Knitter, Martial Artist

Today’s silly post was inspired by something somebody said in the comment section of my blog post about translators who endlessly complain about translation agencies on social media, while many translators chimed in. The commenters were all commiserating with each other, saying how awful some translation agencies are, especially the big ones, how ignorant their project managers are, how they pay low rates which seem to keep getting lower and lower, how they take forever to pay, and things like that. You can read similar comments on social media just about every day if you have time to waste and the stomach to digest it.

Suddenly, there appeared one discordant note in the endless torrent of complaints of poor exploited translators. It was an agency operator, apparently a small agency owner, a cheeky woman who said something like this (to the best of my memory):
“You guys complain way too much! Your job is to work and work and that’s that. You are the worker bees who produce the honey. So stop complaining and get to work!” The worker bees immediately attacked her, which shut her up. She never said another word, but her comment got me thinking about the similarities between a beehive and an association of translators.

Translators’ associations are structured similarly to beehives. When the worker bees start building the initial structure, the beehive is small and buzzing with purpose and life. The worker bees go out and find the most succulent flowers in the fields and meadows of the business world. The honey hidden in the flowers takes on many forms in the business world. In my world (the world of a technical translator who specializes mostly in patent translation), worker bees like myself who translate mainly patents mainly diligently pollinate and cross-pollinate mostly technical concepts. Remember what a cell phone used to look like five years ago? How about 10 years ago? Or 20? I’m very happy and proud that I was one of the worker bees who had something to do with the evolution of portable phones. At this point, what is still called a phone is used for making a phone call only occasionally and the one function that is still missing in it is a built-in shower.

Some translators’ associations don’t seem to realize it, but when the association beehive is too big and the queen and drones are indifferent to the problems of the worker bees, when the ratio of association members, i.e. drones who don’t produce honey and who only live off the honey produced by worker bees, is too large, the association, which is the queen for the purposes of this post, is no longer viable for the worker bees. When that happens, it’s time to send out worker bees as scouts to look for a good place for a new beehive … and that’s how a new association is eventually born.

As the ratio of drones, who instead of working as translators just keep merrily mating with the queen, keeps growing in some associations, the worker bees are constantly encouraged in these beehives to become more productive. Higher productivity of workers bees can be achieved in many ways: for example by ordering the worker bee translators, especially impressionable, naive newbees, to use certain types of computer software that will eliminate (from the final word count) a type of honey called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”. The drones generally get paid for honey wrung out from these fuzzy matches, even for full matches, but since worker bees don’t get paid for their work, or not nearly as much as they used to, more honey is left for the hungry drones.

Another good method to increase worker bee productivity in translators’ associations is to order workers bees to process machine-translated words through their tiny worker bee brains.

Great savings can also be achieved in this manner because if for example the payment for one word translated by a worker bee is 10 smackerels, the payment for a word that has been thrown by a machine at a worker bee translator to arrange it in such a way that it would make sense (more or less) in the overall structure of other words, would typically be only ones smackerel. Most of the honey from the work of the poor worker bees, who usually have to retranslate everything, while it may take even longer to arrange the words properly if the result is to be accurate, will again go to the drones who are fortunate to have such a warm, cozy relationship with the queen. The workers are constantly hungry because there is almost no food left for them, but who gives a damn. Not the queen bee, and not the drones–that’s for sure.

You can tell a hive that has a high ratio of parasitic drones to busy worker bees by the fact that the queen keeps increasing the ratio of drones to worker bees because she really, really likes her drones.

In translators’ associations, new beehive layers, specially constructed for the drones, are called divisions. New divisions are thus constantly being created in translators’ associations for drones who don’t translate and mostly just menacingly hover above worker bees.

These new divisions may be called for example Machine Translation Division, Language Technology Division, or Language Tool Division – divisions for tools intended to be used to control worker bees to make them more productive, which in the context of translators’ associations means to produce more and more words for less and less money.

On top of the structure of new divisions for these special language tools, generally referred to as “language technology”, new divisions are also created for The Government in some translator association beehives.

When The Government has its own division in the beehive structure, a structure that originally used to belong mostly just to the worker bees, The Government can obviously exercise much better oversight, along and hand in hand with the big, hovering drones, to make sure that worker bees will work even harder and that they will think twice before they dare complain about anything. Everybody knows that it’s usually dangerous to disagree with The Government, regardless of where the beehive is located, which is to say regardless of the country where the worker bees live.

When things are developing in the beehive like this, the inevitable result is that some worker bees in the end determine that the structure of the beehive, which originally belonged mostly to them, can no longer be fixed, that the ratio of parasitic and menacing drones to workers is too high and that the old beehive is no longer viable for them.

And since the worker bees no longer have much influence on what is going on in their old beehive anyway, scouts are sent out to find a good place for a new beehive, a new association in which the worker bees will be again in charge of all decision-making.

After a while, sometimes a long while, the scouts come back to announce with enthusiastic dancing that they did indeed find a good location amidst fields and meadows where colorful, luscious and succulent flowers grow, and where a new beehive structure can be created for an association that will work mostly for the worker bees rather than mostly for the drones.

And because this is how it has been for millennia not only in the secret world of flowers and bees, but also in the world of humans, this is how new associations of humans are eventually created– by consensus among the worker bees/human workers, because the honey bee workers who do all the work also need to be in charge of all the decision-making.

This is how it works not only in the secret world of flowers and bees, but also in the world of humans. And as the stoic philosopher and playwright Seneca put it two thousand years ago: Natura duce errare nullo pacto potest (You can never go wrong when nature is your guide).

As I was watching the Democratic party candidates’ discussion last Sunday night, I almost fell off my comfortable sofa when Bernie Sanders pointed his finger at Hillary Clinton and said to her with his trademark scowl on the flushed face of an infuriated septuagenarian, topped by a crown of receding white hair: “The leader of Goldman Sachs is a billionaire who comes to Congress and tells us we should cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Secretary Clinton, and you’re not the only one, I don’t mean to just point the finger at you, you’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year. I find it very strange that at a major financial institution that pays $5 billion in fines for breaking the law, not one of their executives is prosecuted, while kids who smoke marijuana get jail time.”

Jim O’Malley managed to make a noise that sounded like he was either agreeing with Bernie or clearing his throat. Which kind of made it an unfair fight for Hillary. She had enough on her plate as it was, trying to defend her “progressive” creds while fending off mad Bernie all by her lonesome. There are supposed to be only two parties to a fight in a fair duel.

I turned on my TV about 30 minutes prior to the debate to get a taste of what the various assorted pundits would be saying about Hillary and Bernie. And there they were, our beloved pundits were going at it tooth and nail and pontificating on four or five channels on my TV – including CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox and other channels.

But at 8 PM when the debate started, they were showing taped programs on all of these channels on my TV instead of the debate. Why did my teevee behave like a teenage girl that at first starts kissing and embracing a teenage boy to build up the sexual tension only to then run away from him when he needs a release? I think it was because the people who own our TV channels had a pretty good idea that Bernie would be Bernie again, and we aren’t supposed to be able to be exposed to Bernie virus and hear what he dares to say on our TV. It’s safe to allow us only to hear what the pundits have to say about what he said.

Otherwise, how could the owners of our TV channels control what we think? After the debate, the pundits came out of the woodwork again on all channels to do the job that they are so well paid to do. But during the debate, which was held on a Sunday night while the debate was televised only on one channel in a time slot carefully selected by the Democratic party, a time slot when the female half the country would be watching Downtown Abbey, while the male part of the country would be watching a football game.

It took me a few minutes to establish where the debate was allowed to be televised: it was on only one channel on my TV, the NBC channel, which I normally never watch. But I did find the channel and Bernie gave me my money’s worth.

Although nobody is allowed to talk about it publicly on our carefully controlled mass media, everybody knows that Wall Street has bought and paid for the Democrats, just like the Republicans. The bankers did not give 600,000 dollars to Hillary Clinton for three short speeches for nothing. They know that she will pay it back with a lot of interest if she becomes president.

Wall Street also knows that its investment in mighty Big Pharma and private insurance companies will be as safe with Hillary Clinton as president as it has been under Barak Obama’s presidency. It’s not for nothing that Wall Street, Big Pharma and private insurance companies continue giving through lobbyists hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democrats in Congress, and just as generously as to the Republicans. This money, which should be called what it is, namely an illegal, dirty bribe, is a very wise investment on the part of Wall Street.

Healthcare was another big topic for Democratic Party presidential candidates last Sunday. Bernie’s proposal for an expanded Medicare system, or a Single Payer System that would guarantee access to healthcare as a right of citizenship to every American, the way it has been a guaranteed right of citizenship in “socialist” countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia for many decades.

Barak Obama touted a Single Payer System too when he was a candidate in 2008, which was the main reason why I voted for him in the Virginia primary.

I remember that one of the things he said was that we had to learn from the mistakes that the Clintons made in 1993 when both Bill Clinton, for whom I voted twice, and Hillary Clinton, for whom I would never vote, were trying to fix the broken healthcare system in this country all those years ago.

One of the things that candidate Obama said in 2008 that really resonated with me was that the biggest mistake that he thought that Clintons made in 1993 was that their proposal for a new healthcare system was designed by a few Democratic consultants behind closed doors. That’s not how democracy works, said candidate Obama. When I am president, discussions about the new healthcare system will be held in public and they will be televised on C-Span, said candidate Obama. (C-Span is a public news and information system financed by a small tax paid by all cable subscribers. I prefer to watch C-Span instead of the alphabet soup “news channels).

But that wasn’t what happened when Barak Obama did become president. Instead, the discussions were conducted again secretly, behind closed doors, among a few carefully selected Democratic functionaries and representatives of private insurance companies.

When a group of doctors and nurses campaigning for a Single Payer System that would finally get rid of the parasitic private insurance companies tried to join the discussions, the Democrats had them promptly thrown out and arrested.

Despite candidate Obama’s rhetoric during his campaign, once he appointed Senator Max Baccus to be the Democratic Party Committee’s Chair in charge of crafting a new healthcare bill, the results were easily predictable. Senator Max Baccus received more money during his political career from Big Pharma and private insurance companies than any other member of Congress. The architect of the new healthcare legislation, Elisabeth Fowler, the chief healthcare policy counsel of Senator Max Baccus, was doing her job so well that she was later given a cushy job with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

That was how the ironically named Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act became law. Unlike candidate Obama, president Obama never mentioned the Single Payer System again. The discussion was steered instead by Democratic politicians and pundits to a weird creature called “a public option”, which was something that was supposed to compete with private insurance companies “to keep them honest” as candidate Obama originally put it before he changed his mind when he became president.

After the election, president Obama and Democrats changed their minds and decided to kill even the tiniest “public option” alternative, which never made it into the absurdly named “Patient Protection Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act”.

I happen to know from personal experience that the “Patient Protection Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act” is a completely absurd, unashamedly propagandistic name for the law because when I tried to figure out whether it would make sense for me two and half years ago when it became law, I saw that I would have to pay 17,650 dollars to the private insurance companies in monthly premiums, copayments and deductibles first before the private insurance companies would chip in to cover any healthcare expense whatsoever. Even after that, only 80% of expenses over that amount would be covered, as I wrote in this blog post when “Obamacare” became law.

I might or might not be able to receive some assistance under Obamacare in the form of a tax refund amounting to perhaps 200 dollars of the 500 dollar monthly premium for “the bronze plan”, which kind of makes it seem affordable. But that is only an optical illusion because no assistance is provided for the rest of the amount of at least 17,650 dollars, which was the cheapest plan that I could find on the government website as you can seen in my post from 2013.

The “Patient Protection Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act” was clearly designed to maximize profits of private insurance companies. It may provide some help to people who have no money because even private health insurance companies can’t figure out how to get money from people like that, but even this help is probably only temporary. At some point, the healthcare “industry” will figure out how to get rid of these people. It’s not personal for them, it’s business.

It makes much more sense for 39,000,000 Americans to risk facing sudden bankruptcy if they become sick rather than a slow but certain bankruptcy over time whether they get sick or not if they buy “the bronze plan”, the only Obamacare option that most people can afford. The problem with Obama’s “bronze plan” is that the people who pay for it, and it’s not cheap, can’t afford to use this “insurance” due to the high deductibles and copayments. There are no numbers in mass media, but most people among the 8,000,000 people who have newly gained health insurance probably have “the bronze plan”. Moreover, 39,000,000 people still have no healthcare insurance whatsoever, not even “the bronze plan”, because they can’t afford even that illusion of health insurance.

I am one of them. Because I can’t afford health insurance, I had to pay a tax penalty last year, which will be doubled next year, and tripled the year after that. Fortunately for me, I’m healthy and will turn 65 in a year and a half, at which point I’ll be eligible for “socialized medicine” for senior citizens, called “Medicare” in this country.

The main purpose of Obamacare was to prevent any meaningful reform of the broken healthcare system in this country by creating an illusion that progress has been made with the “Patient Protection Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act”. The system cannot be fixed without getting rid of private insurance companies and without at the very least giving the government the power to negotiate the prices of pharmaceuticals. Since the government is prevented by law from even negotiating with Big Pharma, compared to other countries, Americans are forced to pay astronomical prices for their medications.

Hillary Clinton vehemently defended the “Patient Protection Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act” as the greatest achievement of Obama’s presidency, and even Bernie Sanders, who voted for it in the end too, is afraid to call Obamacare what it is – the bailout of Big Pharma and private health insurance industry, not that much different from the infamous bailout of the Wall Street for which Obama voted along with enough Democrats to guarantee its passage.

If Hillary Clinton becomes president, some symbolic gestures may be made to curb the power of the Wall Street to appease the voters, not only Democrats, but also Republicans and independents. But almost certainly nothing will be done about the broken healthcare system, which is completely dysfunctional with or without “the Patient Protection Affordable Healthcare Insurance Act”.

That is why it is extremely unlikely that Bernie Sanders will be on the Democratic Party ticket. He is not one of them, and they know it. Unlike Hillary, he actually means what he says, and that is a major problem for the Democratic Party.

I am surprised that the Democratic party establishment hasn’t yet figured out how to kill Bernie’s candidacy. Remember the famous scream of Howard Dean back in 2004 when he was high in the polls because he was the only candidate who was against the invasion of Iraq? The entire scream was completely manufactured by the mass media in order to kill his candidacy, and they kept running it on every alphabet TV news channel for days on end until all the viewers could think about was a madman screaming for no reason when they thought about Howard Dean, who lost the battle and later became an obedient party apparatchik.

The Democratic establishment must be busy now designing ways to kill the candidacy of Bernie Sanders who is very popular even among Republicans. (One of my neighbors told me that he will be voting either for Donald Trump of Bernie Sanders. Everybody is tired of phony candidates, that is why both Bernie Sanders and Trump are so popular). The Democratic establishment understands that discussions between Hillary and somebody who is able to tell the truth – because he is not really a Democrat – are very dangerous. That is why the Democrats try to limit them as much as possible.

I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I am surprised that it is taking the Democrats so long to figure out how to get rid of Bernie. They need to manufacture another scream of a mad Bernie instead of mad Howard this time, or find an illegitimate child or something like that. Wall Street, Big Pharma, big corporations, and the private healthcare insurance companies can’t afford to have Bernie in the White House, they absolutely need Hillary to be on the ticket for the Democrats. It doesn’t matter to them whether Hillary wins, or whether it will be Donald Trump or one of the Republican candidates.

That’s why I’m so surprised that Bernie Sanders is still allowed to talk on TV, even if it’s only very sporadically and only on one channel, and that newspapers sometimes still cover his campaign, although it is usually only a small paragraph among big advertisements on page three or four, where he is given less than 10% of the coverage so generously afforded to Donald Trump.

Needless to say, I will be very happy if it turns out that my prediction was wrong.

In one of my silly posts in which I was complaining about how sick and tired I am of being surrounded by marketing everywhere I go and everywhere I look, I said that after World War III, only two things will remain on this earth virtually intact: cockroaches and marketing. That’s how I feel about marketing. There’s just too much of it in this world. When my children told me that several of their friends majored in marketing after graduating from high school, I thought to myself: such a nice kid, what a waste of life. Almost as tragic as joining the army. Why didn’t he decide instead to do something useful with the rest of his life?

But the fact is that although there is too much marketing everywhere, we all have to market ourselves and do it well if we want to be able to pay our bills. The only other alternative that I can see is to go completely off the grid, say goodbye to our current existence and live off the land somewhere in a little log cabin in the wilderness. But I don’t have the survival skills to pull off something like that. I need my high-speed Wi-Fi, and anyway, I’m too old for that stuff now. So instead of offering a few tips on how to “go off the grid” and live happily ever after, I’ll offer a few thoughts on how translators can market themselves based on the currently popular marketing term “USP”, which means Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Point.

Whenever I watch something on TV, for example “breaking news” about yet another scandal or mass shooting on one of the alphabet cable news channels here in United States, I automatically hit the mute button or switch to something else the moment they hit me with another ton of loud, obnoxious commercials. Most people probably do it too. But I do have a few exceptions to this rule.

A few advertisements are actually so funny that I don’t want to miss them. I don’t mute Geico commercials because I find the British accent of that green cartoon creature that Geico uses for its ads absolutely fascinating (is it Cockney)? And they are usually funny too. In one of the Geico commercials, a pig driving a car is stopped by a stern looking cop who says to the pig “Do you know why I stopped you?” And the pig deadpans without missing a beat: “Because I’m a pig driving a car?”

If we do have to advertise, let’s use humor instead of loud and bombastic claims. Humor generally works much better.

Small translation agencies and individual translators also have one major advantage over large translation agencies. “The translation industry” uses (on the Internet) mostly fake photoshopped images of sexy, smiling young people along with descriptions of an awesome working process. According to claims the industry makes, everything is translated, proofread, checked and rechecked by at least three translators, preferably four or five translators, all of them eminently qualified professionals. This is complete fiction because the basic premise on which “the translation industry’s” business concept is built is: buy low and sell high. Since four eminently qualified professional translators would cost four times as much as one eminently qualified professional translator, the descriptions of such a working process are not compatible with the basic facts of the real workflow in “the translation industry”.

I think that individual translators and small translation companies should stress on their websites and blogs that we are not really a part of the “translation industry”. A good way to distinguish ourselves from “the translation industry” is to tell the truth about what it is that we do and how we do it, which is to say how translation really works. Truth in advertising creates an expected effect, similar to the effect created by the pig who gave the cop the obvious, most likely reason why a cop would stop a pig driving a car (if such a thing should happen).

Here is a short list of seven truths about the way translators really work:

1. We do not translate everything and anything from and into any language

We know that it is possible to translate anything from and into everything, but unlike “the translation industry”, we also know that it’s not possible to do something like that well. That is why we specialize, and unlike “the translation industry” which “specializes in everything”, we only specialize in languages that we actually understand and subjects that we have been translating for a long time. We are not just middlemen whose main expertise is in how to buy low and sell high.

2. We use only one proofreader because we can trust our translators

Unlike “the translation industry”, we understand that two, three, four or more proofreaders are not going to improve a bad translation. On the contrary, just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many proofreaders are likely to ruin a perfectly good translation. We understand that a proofreader is like a person who turns the pages for a concert pianist, a nurse handing the right scalpel to a surgeon, or a boxer’s trainer giving advice to a tired boxer during a break.

If you pick the wrong pianist, boxer, or translator for the job, the concerto will have a lot of false notes, the boxer will lose the fight, and the translation will be full of mistakes. If you need a really good translation, you need a really good translator because that is where the magic happens, not during the proofreading part. The proofreader can help, but unless his or her job is mostly to look for typos, that means that the wrong translator was picked for the job. A new translation would make much more sense than when several people are supposed to correct a poor translation.

3. We do not promise to save our clients money by using “language tools” instead of human translators

The term language tools mean in the industry newspeak mostly CATs (Computer-Assisted Translation) and machine translation. Some translators, good and not so good, use CATs, and some don’t. But it’s important to remember that when CATs are used by “the translation industry” to “save money their clients”, the money savings are realized by refusing to pay the translator for what the industry calls “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, which means repeated words, or “fuzzily” repeated words. Most translators willing to accept such an arrangement, even though they make less money in this manner, are often desperate for work, any work, often because they are not very good.

Machine translation is another “language tool” that some translators use for an initial introduction to the text they are about to translate. But to use machine translation that is edited by human translators as a substitute for a real translation can only result in a robotic and inaccurate translation that is likely full of mistranslations that the tired human assistants of machines working for incredibly low wages are quite probably going to miss.

4. We are not “ISO-certified” because we understand that industrial standards of ISO certification are not compatible with intellectual activities

According to Wikipedia, everybody’s favorite resource because it’s free, “The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on 23 February 1947, the organization promotes worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial standards.”

While the concept of the application of industrial and commercial standards makes very good sense for example with industrial production of duffel bags, dog food and diapers, the application of the same concept of industrial and commercial standards to the intellectual activity called translation is something that only a translation agency advertising manager could come up with. ISO certification is just a marketing gimmick because it says absolutely nothing about the education, qualifications and experience of the actual translator.  An ISO-certified translation is simply a big lie. But it’s a useful lie for marketing purposes, which is why quite a few translation agencies have jumped on the ISO-certified bandwagon.

5. We are not just clueless coordinators and sales people – we are the actual translators working on your project

Contrary to what the marketing propaganda of large translation agencies says, proofreading of translations is most of the time done in “the translation industry” by a coordinator who works with the client and the translator. Based on my experience of three decades, this coordinator is almost never really qualified to proofread the translation because in order to do that well, he or she would need to speak both languages. In some cases the translation is in fact sent out for proofreading to another translator to have some safeguard against mistranslations (since the coordinators may have no idea what’s in the translation). But this takes time and costs money, and it can also cause a whole host of other problems – see the proverb about too many cooks spoiling the broth, which exists in many languages. To avoid potential problems, it makes sense to work directly with translators and proofreaders who understand the language and the subject rather than with sales persons and coordinators who don’t really know what is in the translation.

6. We make it possible for our customers to avoid the typically high overhead of “the translation industry”

The dirty secret in the translation industry is that most of the cost of the translation is often not due to the remuneration of the translator, but the result of high overhead costs. Large translation agencies sometime maintain offices in several locations, they must pay salaries to their sales managers, accountants, lawyers and people who profit from the business model of the industry. As a result, some translation agencies are using new, innovative techniques to save money on payment to translators to preserve a healthy profit margin. They are outsourcing translations to third world countries where wages are low, even though the translators may not know either the source or the target language very well, let alone understand the subject in question. Other translation agencies are sending machine translations to human translators while pretending that these are real translations of real human translators and that all that is needed is some minor editing by another human translator at this point. These and other industry’s innovative cost saving techniques do indeed result in considerably savings so that more money is thus left for the industry’s overhead. But they also usually result in inaccurate translations and mistranslations that often remain undetected.

7. We are not cheap – but neither are we expensive

Translations of educated, competent and highly experienced translators may not be as inexpensive as translations that can be obtained from hundreds of fly-by-night agency operators who compete mostly on cost. Human translators have bills just like everybody else, and those of us living in the developed world must pay high prices for just about everything, on top of high taxes.

Fortunately, our business model structure allows us to offer our services at a lower cost than a large translation agency because most of the inefficiencies causing the high overhead of a typical translation agency in “the translation industry” don’t exist in our model. Because we do the work ourselves, those of us who can figure out how to find direct clients without a middleman do not need to pay a middleman.

The business model for translators who work also as small, specialized translation agencies also has less overhead for their model. Because more money is left in this model for the actual translator, better and more experienced translators are much more likely to be willing to work for a specialized agency that pays a good rate.

Although the so-called translation industry is trying to envelope the entire world in its marketing tentacles and acts as if it were the entire world, the industry represents only one option for customers dealing with an important translation project.

In my opinion, “the translation industry” option is not a very good option for most customers and most projects.

Articles in mainstream media that are ostensibly analyzing the problem of machine translation almost always try to confuse the reader by pretending that the real problem is not with the frequent occurrences of mistranslations that may be very difficult to detect, but with the style of machine translations. I see this as a misdirection that is used to turn the audience’s attention away from the possibility that the fatal problem could be the basic premise of how machine translation works.

According to a New York Times article titled “Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem” that was linked by a commenter in the comment section of my last blog post, “Warren Weaver [described in the article as a founder of the discipline] conceded: “No reasonable person thinks that a machine translation can ever achieve elegance and style. Pushkin need not shudder.”

“The whole enterprise introduces itself in such tones of lab-coat modesty”, continues the article.

Pushkin need not shudder? How original (it’s usually Shakespeare who is put down in this manner in these types of articles, at least in English). What a pretentious thing to say! It’s like saying that you can’t defeat a mighty army equipped with tanks, bombs and machine guns with ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. Gee, who would have guessed?

The problem with machine translation is not style. Unlike in the days of Jane Austen, style means very little in modern society. The article in the New York Times then goes on to say, among other things, this in a paragraph describing visionary machine translation developers:

“But human translators, today, have virtually nothing to do with the work being done in machine translation. A majority of the leading figures in machine translation have little to no background in linguistics, much less in foreign languages or literatures.”

Unfortunately, the author of the article doesn’t seem to know anything about translation either. When I Googled the author’s name, I discovered that “he lived in San Francisco, Berlin and Shanghai”. But based on how the problem with machine translation is presented in the article, I would bet a farm (if I had one) that he does not speak German or Chinese. You may be able to form your own opinion about foreign languages when you live abroad for a while. But foreign languages cannot be learned by osmosis. You have to work on them, often for decades, and that would be just too much to ask from people who write articles about translation for The New York Times.

Why is it that it’s always non-translators who are asked to ponder the mysteries of machine and human translation on our mass media? How could they possibly know anything about something they don’t understand? Why is it that you don’t need to know anything about languages, let alone translation, to write treatises on human and machine translation that apparently deserve to be taken seriously?

A 14-year-old virgin, writing an advice column for married couples on sex for The New York Times, or pretending to be a sexologist worthy of being listened to by grownups, would probably not be taken seriously. Because if you’ve never had sex, you obviously cannot possibly know anything about it. The 14-year-old virgin’s musings might be of some value to psychologists studying issues related to mental health of children, but probably not a whole lot.

But when you see an article about machine translation published in lame stream media such as The New York Times or The New Yorker, it’s always written by people who can’t translate and generally don’t know anything about foreign languages.

And if an article about machine translation is published by a translators’ association, it is invariably written by somebody who is obviously trying to ride the gravy train of “the translation industry” by selling machine pseudo-translation as a viable alternative to real translation, which is to say human translation. It’s an unfortunate fact that the ATA Chronicle, which bills itself as “The Voice of Translators and Interpreters” has now become “The Voice of the Translation Industry”. The truth is, while the Chronicle has been publishing articles selling machine translation for years, it has never published an article that would attempt to critically analyze the faulty premise that is at the root of the obvious problems with machine pseudo-translation.

But let’s get back to the article in the New York Times. I would like to suggest to its author another reason why translators generally don’t join the ranks of machine translation developers, unless they see it as an easy way to make mucho dinero by promising their clients that they can turn mud into gold.

The reason why human translators don’t want to have anything to do with machine translation is that unlike non-translators, they understand that MT is being sold to an unsuspecting public in a quest for an easy way to turn mud into gold, or a quest for perpetuum mobile, by charlatans who are trying to sell MT to gullible clients as a new business model while falsely promising to save a lot of money with machine translation.

True, you can save a lot of money if you buy the concept of machine-pseudo translation as a realistic alternative to human translation. The question is, how much money will you ultimately lose if your advertising, strategic decisions, and other information are based on undetected mistranslations?

You can turn mud into bricks and build beautiful houses from mud that has been only slightly post-processed by heat. But you cannot turn mud into gold, although charlatans called alchemists were able to make a very good living at various courts in Medieval Europe for quite a few decades by claiming that they will soon be able to do that. And there is no perpetuum mobile beyond Sun, wind, and oceans, and never will be, although some people are still looking for it.

What machine translation developers are trying to do is to convert with fast computers and beautiful algorithms “linguistic corpora” into something that will mean the same thing in the translation as it did in the original language. But it cannot be done because in order to do that, you need a tricky, ephemeral ingredient called “meaning”. Unfortunately, this tricky ingredient has its origin in the human brain, which is the only place where meaning can be created, and then recreated in another language.

Translators understand this simple fact. Computer programmers and greedy salespeople of machine pseudo-translations stubbornly refuse to even acknowledge it.

Machines need not apply for a job that would require them to understand and evaluate what is being said or written. Regardless of their processing speed, their systems of algorithms, and a quasi infinite linguistic corpora that may be stored in the cloud and made available to these machines, they will never be able to do that.

Machine translation sometimes makes very good sense, and under some predefined circumstances it may even make sense frequently. But it can only make sense if the input (the text fed to the machines) is controlled by humans, the same humans who will then still be very busy massaging the ingredient called meaning into the output end of the machine translation perpetuum mobile.

If machine translation is to make sense in another language and mean the same thing as the original, the input must be strictly and restrictively controlled, and the output (the resulting translation) too must be controlled by humans, namely translators who understand this original text, who some people in “the translation industry” would love to turn into post-processors of machine translation.

In other words, the same information must be retranslated by humans if what you need is a real translation rather than just machine translation.

Translation is both “a math problem” and “an art problem”. This is not an “either/or” problem as the article seems to suggest. The problem is much bigger than that, as just about every translator will understand, immediately and intuitively. The reason why computer programmers and mathematicians working on machine translation solutions keep firing human translators is very simple: human translators keep telling these computer programmers and mathematicians that the problem cannot be solved with technology and algorithms, and the programmers don’t want to hear it because technology and algorithms are the only things they know and understand.

It may take a few more decades before most humans realize that just like it made very good sense to stop looking for ways to turn mud into gold (because something like that isn’t possible) and that it might be better instead to look for ways to create better bricks from mere mud, it also makes much more sense to stop pretending that machine translation that is just as good as human translation (except maybe for the style)  is just around the corner. We must look instead for machine translation that will simply be a better and more accurate tool for humans, translators and non-translators alike.

Let’s stop pretending that machine translation will soon “be just as good as human translation”, except maybe for a slightly deficient style. We can start by realizing that the false modesty of an MT founder who is graciously willing to allow Pushkin for time being to sleep his eternal dream when he says that the Russian literary giant need not shudder in his grave as a result of his depressing thoughts in the netherworld about the linguistic, contextual and stylistic superiority of machines over the human brain is in fact haughty arrogance of a pretty foolish person.

Technology has been disrupting traditional business models and obliterating entire professions with brutal efficiency for many centuries. The disruption of well-established business models has picked up speed considerably at the beginning of the 21st century, in particular in connection with the ubiquity of cheap or free Wi-Fi Internet connections.

Technology first replaced the majority of human bank tellers over the last few decades with much cheaper ATM machines. ATM machines are very reliable and unlike some humans, generally quite honest when it comes to manipulating cash. But ATM machines are now serving fewer and fewer customers per hour as they themselves are being replaced by a different technology because more and more people are using their smartphones to deposit checks to save time-consuming trips to the bank.

Five years ago, very few people were using their phones to deposit checks. Five years from now, it’s likely that very few people will be still using ATMs and that the humans left on the other side of the bank counter will be mostly managers specialized in different types of services offered by banks – generally the most lucrative types of services.

To miss the significance of a technological change often means buying yourself and your business model a one way ticket to oblivion. Because the management of Blockbuster Corporation failed to realize quickly enough the importance of a somewhat unreliable technology called streaming for its own business model which was based on video rentals, Blockbuster stores have disappeared from the landscape of American cities, and this had already happened starting quite a few years ago. By the time Blockbuster’s management tried to reluctantly incorporate streaming into its own business model, it was too late to prevent the company’s bankruptcy.

Similarly, the Blackberry brand is no longer king among cell phones because the company’s management insisted for too long that its own type of tactile keyboard coupled with a small display is the best option for all of its customers.

Publishers of maps and dictionaries have been hit particularly hard by GPS technology and multilingual Internet databases and search engines. Why spend money on paper maps and paper dictionaries when you already have a phone that lets you use all kinds of maps and all kinds of dictionaries in many languages?

Examples of traditional types of services that have recently been very seriously disrupted by the Internet also include taxi and hotel services. Since just about anybody can drive a car, and many people who have a spare room in their house might be willing to rent it occasionally to guests in exchange for reasonable remuneration, new startups called Uber and Airbnb have quickly sprang to life, complicating the life of cab drivers and owners and employees of traditional hotel and bed and breakfast establishments and threatening the very existence of their professions.

Cable TV is in big trouble too, because young people no longer watch cable. My son came from the university of Michigan where he is working now to spend a week with his boring parents over the New Year period. I set the TV in his room to a channel that I like to watch but that I knew he would not watch (HGTV with House Hunters and House Hunters International). When I turned the TV in his former room on after he left, it was still on the HGTV channel, which must mean that he never even turned it on.

One could go on and on listing examples of even more pitiful carcasses of formerly unbeatable business models strewn along the highway of technological progress.

It seems only logical that the profession of human translators should soon go the way of human bank tellers, most of who have been replaced by machines. Given that machine translation has been easily available to just about anyone mostly for free for at least a decade now, it’s kind of inexplicable that every year when I prepare my tax return, I still list as source of all of my income “translation”, and human translation in particular.

After all, machine translations of most patent applications have been available on the websites of the Japan Patent Office, European Patent Office and World Intellectual Property Organization for well over a decade now, and one of the first things that I do after I have downloaded the text of a patent application from one of these websites is that I also download a copy of the machine translation. But my customers still pay me a lot of money for some reason for human translations of the same patents, although they too obviously have had access to free machine translation for a long time now.

The problem is of course, that “machine translation is not quite there yet”, although we’re constantly being told that, “it will be just as good as human translation a few years from now”. That is what we’ve been told, mostly by people who don’t know anything about translation and people who are selling machine translation, at least since the 80s or the 90s.

Mad Patent Translator is in a small minority of people who keep saying that machine translation will not be just as good as human translation in a few years from now, be it five years, 50 years, or 500 years from now. It’s natural that most people expect instant miracles from new technology, including machine translation. We’re all in awe of recent technological miracles, technology that is making our lives much easier on the one hand, while on the other hand is also putting us all in danger, as we are mostly unable to protect ourselves from being illegally spied on and exploited by powerful corporations and almost equally powerful government, not to mention the cops, or even our neighbors and people who simply want to rip us off because that is the business model that they use and that is how they make a living.

But Wi-Fi streaming is not a miracle, nor is the General Positioning System (GPS), or high-speed wireless transmission of images of checks a miracle. They’re just a few of the recent technological developments in a few fields of technology spurred by the Internet, logically following the development of hardware and software that controls Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).

If you take a closer look at what happened to humans working in the banking industry, you will see that many humans are still there on the other side of the counter, smiling courteously and graciously at customers entering the bank to get them to part with their money. The only human tellers who were replaced were those who weren’t able to figure out much more than how to accept deposits and hand out cash. All of those human tellers have already been replaced by machines. But although we don’t see it, many new humans were also hired by the same banks. You can’t simply leave for example the decision of whether somebody’s signature on a check is genuine to a machine. You need a human to make important decisions, a human who is often assisted by any number of machines, because machines, smart as they are, are also incredibly stupid.

If you gave a highly intelligent, self-recreating machine an instruction to ensure that no humans will be harmed in the future by highly intelligent machines, one possible decision that such a machine could make would be to put something in the water ensuring that no new humans are born. After all, since nobody can harm unborn humans, the instruction would be executed perfectly. By the time humans had realized what was happening, it might be too late for machine-trusting humans to survive.

Some of the most nefarious actors in “the translation industry” love the new tools of what they now call “language technology”. They love the concept of machine translation not as a tool to be used to empower human translators, but rather as a tool empowering the middlemen to exploit human translators. The basic concept of the strategy on which “post-processing of machine translation” is based is to make it possible to control people with technology forcing humans to assist machines instead of using technology to assist human workers.

Many new startups are jumping at the chance to exploit human translators in this manner, and more will do so in the future. As I wrote in another post, a brand new translation agency called last month to offer me a chance at “a copy editing opportunity”.

When I asked how long the company had been in business, the woman who called me said, “We have just bought the website”. In other words, they don’t really know anything about anything, including translation. When I went to the new startup’s website, I saw all kinds of typical agency propaganda about teams of translators working selflessly and tirelessly together to craft the perfect translation in record time. But I also saw that the company intends to basically use available machine translation engines such as GoogleTranslate and Microsoft Translator, and then to throw the machine pseudo-translations at human translators whose job would be to retranslate texts full of MT errors and MT gibberish into something that would resemble a real translation.

That was the exciting “copy editing opportunity” that the company was offering to me, at the rate of one cent a word.

A similar approach to translation is really nothing but a blatant attempt at wage theft. I don’t know whether an attempt to reclassify translators as “copy editors” or “post-processors” in order to pay them a fraction of what they should be paid for their work is even legal, although I do know that it ought to be illegal.

Unfortunately, “the translation industry” apparently has such a stranglehold on some translators’ associations in some countries that that they have been turned into a handy propaganda arm of “the translation industry”. As I wrote in the same post linked above, the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle has been publishing articles celebrating the progress of post processing of machine translation and advocating its use for many years now. Not once has it published an article that would question the greedy premise behind the logic and usefulness of this fatally flawed approach to intellectual activities represented in this case by translating and writing.

If human translators fall for this trap and cooperate with “the translation industry”, they will not be eliminated by highly intelligent machines who may decide that the best way to protect human translators is to make sure that no new translators are born. But they may eventually be eliminated by greedy, ignorant and selfish humans who may decide that the best way to make profit from machine translation is to eliminate human translators by turning them into “post-processors”, “post-editors” or “copy editors” of machine translation, because that would be a very good way to force human translators to retranslate the result of regurgitated machine detritus at the rate of one cent a word.

The business model of human translation is not being disrupted by new technology. On the contrary, new technology, including machine translation, is an excellent tool that can be used by many human translators.

But the business model of human translation is now being threatened by greedy operators in “the translation industry” who are trying to capitalize on new technology and use it in order to turn us into slaves.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 28, 2015

A Look Back at 2015

THESE are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

Emily Dickinson

The end of a year and the beginning of a new one is celebrated by most people all over the world for good reason. We should all be grateful at the end of each year that we have not yet been swept off the surface of the earth by a hurricane or tornado, buried in a mud slide, drowned in a flood as water levels are rising everywhere, or killed by a less biblical but equally deadly event, such as a heart attack.

I too am certainly grateful to still be here, that I’m able to enjoy in peace and good health Christmas and the New Year with my family in a country that welcomed me and has been really good to me ever since I came here in 1982, already more than 33 years ago, soon almost 34 years ago.

The end of the year is also a good opportunity to examine what happened in the year that is about to become the last one and to try and gauge what next year may bring.

So what was the year, soon to be the last year, like in my translation business?

My translation business is like a somewhat unstable three-legged stool supported by three legs representing different types of work and functions that I perform throughout the year:

1. My work as a translator when I work for translation agencies,

2. My work as a translator when I work for direct clients, and

3. My work as a highly specialized translation agency owner, project coordinator and proofreader when other translators work for me on projects for my direct clients.

Translation Agencies – The Wobbliest of the Three-Legged Stool That I Sit On

After I started my translation business in 1987, I was working only for translation agencies for about the first three or four years of my pretty long career as an independent translator. Every other translator I knew in San Francisco where I was based for the first five years was doing the same thing. Translation agencies weren’t particularly beloved by translators, but they weren’t hated yet by translators the way they’re hated now back before concepts like nasty, demeaning and dangerous 3,000-words-long “Non-Disclosure Agreements” and “fuzzy and full matches”, or “post-processing of machine translations” and “cloud workers” were invented by the most predatory actors in “the translation industry”.

Back then agencies simply took care of the supply of work for us, we the translators took care of the translating and everybody seemed to do quite well in the end with this arrangement.

Not knowing where the next check would be coming from, (when you have a wife and two small children to support on one income), was like staring into an abyss, an abyss that eventually starts staring back into you as Nietszche put it. But there was generally plenty of work for people who could translate technical Japanese into English, and I was one of those lucky people.

Luckily for me, my reliance on the wobbliest leg of income from translation agencies has been diminishing over the years, from 100% in the beginning, to 40% or 30% about a decade later, to the extent that at this point I only have one steady client that is in fact a translation agency.

But it’s an important client because this single translation agency has been generating about 15% of my income for the last three or four years, and also because it pays me like clockwork twice a month on the first and fifteenth of each month by wire transfer to my bank account, the way traditional employees used to be paid when the “market-based” economy was relying mostly on the traditional employer-employee structure.

Clearly, all translation agencies are not the same.

But although I hope that this leg of the rickety three-legged stool will not be pulled completely out from under me in the next year, I won’t be very surprised if it does happen. As translation agencies have unwittingly created an extremely competitive shark-eat-shark market for themselves in the red ocean and yellow ocean segments of the market, they constantly demand lower and lower rates from translators, which is why I think it would be foolish of me to rely on any of them for a steady supply of well paid work.

Direct Customers – The Second Leg of the Three-Legged Stool That I Sit On Is a Bit More Steady

I see from my records that I probably lost at least one direct customer, a subsidiary of a major corporation that used to pay me very good rates for a long time for my translations of patents that used to be frequently required. I started working for this company about ten years ago, but the last time I worked from them was in December of 2014. I wonder what happened. Perhaps I should ask, but I’m not going to. I still have them on my list of customers to whom I send crass Happy Holidays greetings for Christmas & New Year while shamelessly exploiting the Christmas tradition, but they must have found another source of translations.

As most of my direct customers are patent law firms who usually deal with foreign patents only occasionally, sometimes they have a lot of work for me and sometimes I don’t hear from them for several years. The years in which one or several of my customers are working on a major project with lot of translations are exceptionally good years for me.

But since only two customers sent a whole batch of long patents for translation this year, it was an average year for me at best. The interesting thing is, however, that the first six months of the year were quite slow and then I got very busy and stayed very busy from June until November, while December was sluggish again. The ebb and flow of the patent translation business tends to be unpredictable.

Because clients may come and then they may disappear again, it’s important for me to make sure that new clients will be found to replace the old ones who no longer seem to require my expert translation services.

Although I don’t advertise anywhere anymore, not even on search engines, Google and other search engines find new clients for me every year. So far this year they’ve brought me a total of 12 new clients who have found me through the PRICE QUOTE REQUEST link on my website. These new clients, some of whom will hopefully become repeat clients, were this year located in Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, South Carolina, New York, Switzerland and Sweden.

While the 12 new clients from 2015 represented about 30% of my income this year, only six clients, representing about 7% of my income last year, found me through my website in this manner in 2014. I’m afraid I have no idea what is happening. As I said, I don’t advertise and I did not lower my rates.

At one point, about 30 – 40%, and one year as much as 50% of my income was generated by new direct clients who found my website thanks to its ranking on Google and other search engines during the 2007 – 2010 period. After that, the new client acquisition rate was fluctuating between 15 – 30%. The lowest rate of new clients created in this manner was last year, while this year the rate was up dramatically again compared to 2014.

I wish I knew why this was happening. It’s possible that I was just unlucky last year and more lucky this year, but it’s also possible that the shark fights in the red ocean segments of the market are at this point making clients weary of the hungriest and meanest sharks and trying to identify more reliable sources of translation services.

I certainly hope that this is the case. It would be a good development for me.

Patent Translation Agency Work Is Another Stable Source of Work for Me Now

The patent translation agency leg of the tripod on which I am sitting when other translators work for me was also quite stable this year, especially compared to the shaky and insecure leg represented by my work for other translation agencies.

About eight years ago, a patent law firm for which I translate patents into English needed me for a continuous translation project, but this time they needed translation from English into other languages. My first impulse was to say no, sorry, I only translate into English.

I almost did say no because that was what I had been doing up until that point. But then I realized that I would probably be much better able than your typically clueless project manager of a typical, generic translation agency, who usually doesn’t even understand the languages that she is handling, to organize this kind of translation project and then to proofread the translations.

And I also realized that if I said no to this client on this project, he might turn to another source also on translation projects that I can do myself. So I said yes and became a project manager, although it meant leaving my comfort zone.

When you work as a translation agency project manager, your most important task is to find a translator who is up to the task. All this idiotic talk about having translations double-checked and triple checked by several translators is just mendacious propaganda aimed at unsophisticated clients who don’t understand how translation works.

The truth is, if you fail at the task of picking the right translator, the result will be a disaster no matter how much proofreading and editing may later be applied.

But if you pick the right person, all you have to do is proofread everything slowly and carefully, look for omissions and inconsistencies, fix typos and numbers, because there are almost always typos in every translation, and check questionable technical terms to make sure that the translator got everything right.

I can usually find answers to my questions when I proofread translations of other people on projects for me after a while online, which means that I can make minor changes in the translation myself without bothering the translators. Major changes are not required. Occasionally, I have to ask the translator a question when I’m not sure about something, but it doesn’t happen very often because I know how to pick them.

I think that it’s likely that this kind of work will be becoming more and more important for my translation business in the years to come. I was initially reluctant to become a project manager instead of always only being the translator because the risk to me is much greater in this case. Even if for example I picked a deadbeat client, or the wrong translator, I would still have to pay what I owe to the translator.

But so far I have been good at picking both clients and translators, and at matching projects with the right kind of translator.

I wish more translators would realize that one way to change the way power is distributed in the relationship between translation agencies and translators is when translators themselves become translation agencies. A highly specialized translation agency, even if it’s just one person, especially if it’s a translator who has a lot of experience in a given field, is more likely to do much better work than an agency that claims to be able to translate all subjects from and into all languages.

I think that mega-agencies in particular are likely to deliver poor results. The most important rule of the corporate translation agency model is maximizing profit as much as possible, which often means that highly experienced translators are excluded from this model because “they charge too much”.

But although profit is obviously very important to me as well, making sure that I have really good translators working for me is even more important, because that is the best way to avoid potential problems.

Three Legs Baaaad, Four Legs Better?

So what is my final conclusion at the end of my backward look at 2015?

I don’t really have one. But since “four legs gooood, two legs baaaad” was how George Orwell put it in “Animal Farm”, maybe I should leave my comfort zone again and try to figure out a fourth leg on which my business could be resting in a more stable and comfortable manner.

Isn’t a chair with four legs likely to be much more stable than a stool with only three legs?

Maybe I should do what so many translators are doing these days, proclaim myself a wise translation guru and start charging impressionable newbies for invaluable advice about “the translation business” dispensed by a clever guru in online seminars?

But I know that this is something that I wouldn’t want to do. As long as I can continue writing my silly blog posts and people continue reading them, I will be happy sitting on my three-legged stool in 2016 and hopefully for quite a few years beyond that, enjoying my adventures in translation land, while being grateful at the end of each year that I haven’t yet been swept off the surface of the earth by a hurricane or tornado, buried in a mud slide, drowned in a flood as water levels are rising everywhere, or killed by a less biblical but equally deadly event, such as a heart attack.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 23, 2015

You Will Only Find What You Bring In

You will only find what you bring in.

Master Yoda

About seven or eight years ago, I was asked by a translation agency in the UK bidding on a tender for translation services to send them my CV, samples of my work and a copy of my university diploma. Although I had never done this before, and although I had never worked for the agency before and didn’t know anything about it either, I sent them what they wanted. What do I have to lose? I thought to myself.

After the agency received all of this information from me, they thanked me for sending it, but after that I never heard from them again.

Now I know that I was very naive. Stupid would be in fact a better way to put it because I did have a lot to lose. When people you don’t know have a lot of information about you, they might misuse it and what you will lose in such a case is your good name.

What probably happened in that case seven or eight years ago was that the agency submitted its bid and either failed to win the tender, or won the tender based on the qualifications of translators who like me obediently supplied them with information about their education, experience and other qualifications, and then decided to go with cheaper translators.

There is absolutely nothing preventing a translation agency from doing that and many are doing exactly this. This kind of professional identity theft, for lack of a better term, is very popular in “the translation industry”. Personal information and translator résumés now represent a valuable commodity that is used not only by real businesses, but also by any number of fly-by-night operations, say, a guy sitting with a laptop in a kitchen, not a very clean kitchen at that, who may be promising to successfully undertake and complete a very complicated translation project for a few pennies a word based on a few résumés obtained in an unsavory manner and a completely made up Internet identity of a translation business that doesn’t really exist. A made up business that exists only temporarily on the Internet and that can easily disappear without a trace and leave you holding the bag, which is exactly what dozens of them do.

What should you do if an unknown translation agency contacts you with an urgent request to send them your information, a copy of your college diploma and translation samples to help them win a potentially lucrative project?

I don’t think that giving your information to a complete stranger e-mailing you out of the blue from “the translation industry”, which Master Yoda would describe as The Dark Side, is a good idea. I did it myself, but only once and I will never do it again. It could be a guy sitting in a kitchen with a laptop who may do serious damage to your reputation. Even if you do the work and do it well, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get paid for it.

I prefer not to give a lot of information about myself or my services, even to translation agencies that I know that really exist because I worked for them at some point. I’ll quote them a rate and a fee for a project if they have one and show it to me, but other than that, I ignore them. Sometimes I ignore them even when I know them, or because I know them.

Yesterday I received another e-mail from an agency in Europe that I did some work for about five years ago.

Dear translator,

I hope you are well.

Last week I contacted you in regards to a tender we are applying for … The translators should have previous experience working for UN organizations (WHO, UNIAIDS, EMA, etc.) within the fields of medicine, pharmaceutics, life sciences and similar … I am really looking forward to your reply as I think your profile would match this project well!

I didn’t respond to the e-mail from last week and I’m not going to respond to this one either. I translated several long Japanese patents for this agency about five years ago and they eventually paid me, although I see in my files that I had to send them a reminder before I finally received the money.

But back then the Euro:US dollar rate, which is today about 1:0.92, was about 1:1.37 which means that my fee would be 26% higher at the same price in US dollars, and thus most likely too high. So even if my résumés helped the agency to win a bid, they probably couldn’t afford me anymore even if it isn’t one of the many dishonest brokers who at this point seem to represent the bulk of “the translation industry”.

After my initial patent translations for the translation agency in Europe, I’ve periodically been receiving e-mails from this agency in which a project manager was asking me again to send him or her my résumé and my rates. Because I have been receiving these inquiries about once a year and every time it was a different project manager, the manager burnout rate at this agency must be pretty high.

I ignored these e-mails as well because even if I did send them my information, and even if the agency could afford me, next year there would be a different project manager asking me the same information again.

As Yoda put it, “You will only find what you bring in”. And the problem with so many translation agencies these days is that they expect everything from us translators, without bringing in anything. There are so many “linguists” in their database, they don’t even bother to remember who you are anymore.

The project manager who needs my résumé to bid on a translation tender didn’t even have the time to input my name in the e-mail that she sent to me. How long would it take to use a name instead of saying just “Dear translator” when you send the same e-mail to a dozen translators? About 3 seconds to input the name, x 12 = 36 seconds.
But according to calculations of the corporate business model in the current version of “the translation industry”, a dozen translators aren’t worth even half a minute’s time of a project manager, who is probably young, underpaid and who will be probably replaced in a few months time by another project manager who will be younger, cheaper, and even more clueless.

I will end my silly post today with another inspirational saying of Master Yoda, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

Once you start down the dark path of trying to please people who never really bring anything to a transaction between two parties and never really try to establish a real relationship with their translators because to them translators are interchangeable and easily replaceable cogs in the magnificent machinery of corporate profit, mere translators who to the translation agency are just as easily replaceable as its project managers, consume you it will.

Better to stay away from the Dark Side.

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