Posted by: patenttranslator | May 9, 2020

Human Translation in the Age of Machine Translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legibility Problems

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

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

Problems with Unreliability of Machine Translations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I don’t need to steal from translators.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 1, 2020

Living in a Scary World of Bad and Boring Science-Fiction Movies

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows
I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes, it was my way (Paul Anka)

So how do you like living in this new world of scary, bad, interminable science-fiction movies?

I hope it’s not too bad where you are. It’s not bad here.

Personally, I don’t like it at all, of course, although I don’t really mind the forced isolation that much either. But that’s because I am 67 years old, and given that I am (or was) a translator most of my adult life, my life has been pretty boring anyway and a big chunk of it was spent in unavoidable, self-forced isolation as it was. Being chained to my desk and computer for most of the last 30 years in order to crank out as many words per day as possible, I did not really get to go out too much anyway. Just kidding!

(Or maybe not).

Except, of course, that I did not have to wear a mask up until now. Had I been wearing one a couple of months ago, police would probably stop me because I would look like a burglar. If I don’t wear it now, the police will definitely stop me and give me a fine, because a mask-less person is no somebody with no conscience who is recklessly endangering the lives of fellow citizens.

So I do wear one in this new Fantasy World of Scary Science-Fiction Movies that the whole world is reluctantly inhabiting right now, and may have to be inhabiting for a long time. There may be still a few spots without the plague somewhere in Africa, but maybe not even there. Antarctica is still virus-free, but it is too cold there!

My brother sent me a terminally funny cartoon: It shows a big brown bear peeking out behind a tree with a bewildered look on his face, (I mean around his snout), saying: “One falls asleep for a little while, wakes up and everything around him has changed …. Why do all those people wear masks on their snouts?”

All of a sudden, it’s a crazy world everywhere you go, and not only for big brown bears.

Well, we’ll get through it. We just have to remember that it is important to have fun despite everything.

Some people are much worse off than I am now. What would I do if this pandemic happened 20 years earlier when I had two small children? Work would probably stop appearing in my email, but the bills would still keep coming, because they always do. Which is what many, perhaps most people must deal with right now, unlike those of us who are retired and whose children are adults.

This is just one of the blows that we have to take as Paul Anka says in the lyrics to the song that was made famous by Frank Sinatra.

We’ll take the blow, and do it our way. At least I hope that’s what the record will ultimately show.

The only kind of people who get rich while working in public office are criminals.

Harry Truman

WordPress congratulated me a few days ago on the 10-year anniversary of my blog. During the 10 years that my blog has been in existence, I wrote 763 posts (including this one) and I’ve had about 10,000 comments (2 of them are pending). I don’t know which ones are pending. I normally don’t approve comments for publishing on my blog, they are published automatically, but when WordPress suspects that some comments are junk, it suspends their status and unless I approve them, they will not be published. So I probably forgot to approve these two comments and they will be forever suspended somewhere in the blogosphere because I will never find them.

A lot has changed during those 10 years. I am officially retired as of two years ago, which means that I don’t need to work to pay my bills. I sold my house in Virginia and gave most of the money from the sale of the house to my ex-wife. I never got rich, possibly because I am not a criminal, the house was basically my only important possession, and I basically gave it away to compensate my ex for having to put up with me for 34 years.

I hope she is happier now without me. Towards the end, we basically could not stand each other anymore. I don’t think we humans are meant to stay married to the same person for 30, 40 or more years. The permanent, forever marriage system used to work when most people used to live to about 60 and some change, if they were lucky. But we are just not designed to put up with another person for so many years, which is one reason why most marriages nowadays end up in divorce. I also think that most people who do stay married for a long time mostly just suffer in silence … and then they die.

After the divorce she returned to Tokyo, and I to Southern Bohemia, where I have been living for about the last year and half …. after living as a translator on three continents: for 1 year in Germany, 1 year in Japan, and 35 years in the United States. I may return back to America again if I decide to do so one day, or move to another country if I decide to do that. But it is more likely that my wondering years are over and I will stay where I am now. 

Although I still translate myself and manage translation projects, a decade ago I worked much more than I do now. I also used to write a new post for my blog at least twice a week back then, while now I write something new only about twice a month. Since the average length of my post is about 1,500 words (they used to be much longer during the first 5 years or so), I must have written well over a million words for my silly posts. I know, I can’t believe it myself either.

10 Days Later – Corona Virus Now Attacks Also My Little Bohemian Kingdom

For some reason I could not think of what else I to write about, so I put the post aside, and now it’s 10 days later and just like the rest of the world, my little neck of the woods is too under attack from the corona virus.

Being a retired freelance translator, not that much changed in my world. The only thing that changed so far is that I can’t go to my local restaurant on Saturdays and Sundays as was my habit because restaurants are closed now, at least for the next three weeks or so.

Otherwise, it seems that unlike the rest of the young, working and active population, we retired translators are well positioned to deal with the latest plague.

I don’t really have to go anywhere, unless I want to. Most shops are closed anyway, with the exceptions of grocery stores. People here are encouraged not to go out for any reason unless absolutely necessary. I am having lunch delivered Monday through Friday because I don’t know how to cook (didn’t have to for 34 years). I am too lazy to learn and I have been ordering groceries delivered from Tesco anyway for over a year. The three local grocery stores in my neighborhood are still open, so after I finish and publish this post, I will go and check out whether they are still open and how well they are stocked. They had plenty of everything yesterday and the only difference was that some dude was disinfecting the floor with some kind of a noisy washing machine.

My son told me yesterday that it’s pretty crazy in Los Angeles and that there is no toilet paper available in the supermarket. Plenty of everything here, including toilet paper.

That is, plenty of everything except for what is needed the most: face masks and respirators. We are supposed to wear face masks or some kind of a scarf or shawl or something over our mouth when we go outside. But the masks are not available yet and I don’t have anything suitable at home to cover my mouth, so I will ignore the order until the masks are available. Hope the police will not be shooting at me (just kidding, I hope !!!)

Have you seen the movie “The Postman” from 1997 with Kevin Costner?  I loved the movie, saw it twice. It’s beginning to look kind of like a scene from an apocalyptic movie now here too, but it seems that the virus might peter out after a few weeks. I hope this movie will not last too long.

I certainly do hope so. But like I said, as a retired freelancer translator, I am well positioned to survive the latest pandemic, or at least I hope so, although I belong to the group that is most at risk (people over 60).

I wonder how and where and how the virus originated and who are the people who are getting rich from this horrible situation, while thousand will die and untold millions of people may be going bankrupt. I can’t think of all kinds of scenarios, but I think that we will probably never find out.

I hope you are doing fine, wherever you are, that better, less scary news will be available soon, and that I will be able to write my silly blog for at least another 10 years.

Posted by: patenttranslator | February 6, 2020

The Wise Warrior Avoids the Battle

(I borrowed the title of my post today from The Art of War by Sun Tsu, a book written by a Chinese general, military strategist, writer and philosopher, 544-496 BC).  

I sometime receive requests to quote a price for a patent translation from all kinds potential customers, some of them a little shady. That is I either ignore some of them, or ask them for full payment in advance, which almost always means that I never hear from them again.

Good riddance, I always think.

Here is a part of what the latest patent inventor that I ignored wrote to me.

“Dear Sir or Madam, [my name is not actually Sir or Madam, so he must have sent it to a lot of people to find the cheapest bid].

I’m looking for an experienced software patent translator to translate my patent application from English to Japanese.

It would be great if you can give me guarantees related to the two points mentioned below.

1- “Understand Patent Law:
Patent laws vary from one country to another, so the legal translator should be well-versed in Japanese regulations. A Japanese translator has to do more than just change the language on patent documents. If it’s an application procedure or lawsuit, the translator must comprehend the corresponding regulations. He/she should understand the structure of the document and its relevance to certain processes. A skilled translator should know which of Japan’s patent laws apply in varying circumstances.”

2- “Accuracy
Another element that characterizes a good Japanese patent translator is accuracy. As with any other legal field, patent law is full of jargon that can easily get lost in translation. Mistaking even a single word can alter the entire meaning of a document. Such errors can result in severe legal consequences. There is also the risk of conflicts, misunderstandings, and financial penalties. Besides the legal jargon, a translator should be able to place location context correctly when converting patent documents. Location-specific references in patent papers can influence the patent application process heavily. Translators should also be up to date on technologies and cultures that may affect the accuracy of their translations.”

Your quick reply will be greatly appreciated
.”

When I googled the text above, I quickly discovered that the guy simply copied (without attribution) all of it from boastful, smooth, but very vague propaganda contained among other verbiage in the “guarantees” of other miraculous qualifying characteristics of “its translators” on the website of a translation agency that has very a pretty website. The problem that I see here is that this text has been written by somebody who in my opinion has no understanding of what a patent translator really does and must know, as the text was probably originally written for a patent law firm’s website, and then it was copied and used for the usual propaganda on a translation agency’s website.

I think that it is likely that this text was “purloined” from the website of a patent law firm because these are characteristics of a good patent lawyer, not really a patent translator. And a good patent translator is not necessarily a good patent lawyer, just like a good patent lawyer would not necessarily be a good patent translator, because although these two jobs share some similarities, they are also quite different.

I did not want to further waste any more of my time trying to track down the “provenance” of the text because life is short and then you die. But I did notice that although this translation agency has a well designed website, at least from the viewpoint of what a modern graphic design should look like, the website only had an email link and a phone number, but no actual address. So the translation agency could be located just about anywhere, although Chindia would be my guess.

About 20 years ago when many websites of brand new translation agencies from China started appearing on the internet, I found one that copied not only a lot of the text of my own website, but also stole the actual design of my website. It took me a lot of time to think of what to put on my website back then, some two decades ago and the Chinese translation agency obviously saved a lot of time when they simply stole my idea, along with the ancient design. I have been meaning to update for about the last 15 years, but never quite got around to it …. which probably means that since I have all the work I want, it does not need updating yet … maybe in another 15 years if I am still around.

There used to be a saying that on the on the internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog. There could now be a new one, namely that on the internet, everybody knows when you steal something and where you stole it from.

I tried to find a little bit more about the patent software inventor, but the only thing that told something about him, such as whether he would likely have enough money to pay for an expensive translation of a very long patent, all I could find was several references to his Linked-in profile.

Which was not very impressive, if I may say so.

Being mindful of what a wise Chinese general wrote some twenty five centuries ago, I decided not to fight the battle to win over this potential customer.

Although I often have to fight battles to win over a new customer, some battles are best avoided, and this was one of them.

“Whoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” Aristotle

The occupation of freelance translators, including patent translators, is possibly one of the most financially perilous occupations on the planet. There are really no safe language combinations anymore. I used to think for a long time that my job security was more or less guaranteed thanks to the fact that I was able to translate Japanese patents into English, not a very easy thing to do. And this assumption turned out to be true, for me at least, as I had plenty of work most of the time for more than 20 years.

But nothing lasts forever. Something changed in the demand for patent translations when about six or seven years ago, I noticed that two decades of more or less constant supply of work were replaced by haphazardly occurring periods of feast and famine. I was still able to make enough during the feast stages to stay afloat and continue paying my bills during the famine stages, but not enough to pay my taxes. Every April 15, the Tax Day in United States, I ended up with a large overdue tax bill that I had to pay over time, with interest.

Most people think that the sudden lack of demand for translation of patents from Japanese was and is due mainly to competition from very inexpensive Chinese translators. They may not really know that much Japanese, or English for that matter, but they do understand kanji (characters) and their translations are probably still much more reliable than machine translation output, which is free, or than “edited machine translations”, which are very cheap, but unreliable in a sneaky and unpredictable manner.

I think these were certainly major factors, but that there were also other important factors, including the loss of predominance of Japanese technology in so many high-tech fields as Japanese high-tech companies who ruled the high-tech world for several decades now have to compete with less expensive high-tech technology products being available from their counterparts in China and Korea in the 21st century.

I think that the availability of better, although still unreliable, machine translations also played an important role in the reduced demand for translations, namely in translation of Japanese patents for litigation purposes in my case, as opposed to translations of patents for filing purposes rather than for information only. Machine or inexpert translations are not suitable for filing in English patents originally published in a foreign language.

For a very long time I was translating patents for litigation purposes, mostly for US-based patent law firms, because translation of Japanese patents for filing was and I believe still is being done mostly in Japan.

What saved me during the first and second decade of this century was the fact that fortunately for me, in addition to translating Japanese patents to English, I was also increasingly translating more and more German patents to English. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another door opens, and so it happened that in 2017-2018 I was suddenly swamped with German patents, so much so that within a few months I was able to pay off my past-due tax bill and I started saving money for my upcoming retirement. Better late than never, right?

We are supposed to start saving for our retirement from a young age, but who can really do it, especially if you are the sole breadwinner in a family of four, right?

So during an extended period of famine toward the end of 2016 when I barely saw any Japanese patents at all, I got so scared that I filed for Social Security payments more than a year early.

I should not have done it because the early filing for retirement income resulted not only in a permanent reduction of my Social Security pension, and two months after I filed for Social Security payments, I was swamped with many long German patents for translation for filing from a new customer, and this supply of German patents lasted for about a year.

But since once you file for Social Security, you cannot “unfile”, the result was that instead of owing a lot of money for past-due taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, I suddenly owed 20,000 US$ to the Social Security Administration (SSA) because the SSA “overpaid” me with the pension I received for fiscal 2017. It took me eight months to pay this amount back, but fortunately it was not too bad, because all I had to do was just had to forego my Social Security pension payments for 9 months, and during that period of 9 months I was still making more than enough money to pay my bills and taxes.

The occupation of a patent translator is not only financially perilous, but it also often leads results in isolation loneliness, when the translator is working in quiet solitude for days, weeks and months on end in his cozy, silent home office.

But the world around us is anything but cozy and silent. As things in the world around us change, the Universe is constantly sending us messages letting us know about changes that we need to deal with. Sometime we don’t hear the messages at all, sometime we do hear them but choose to ignore them, out of laziness or because we can’t believe them for some reason, sometime we hear the message and choose to act on it.

It is important to try to listen to and understand these messages, because only if we understand them and know how to react to them, our future may become a little bit less unpredictable.

Posted by: patenttranslator | January 16, 2020

My Limited Experience with Narcissistic Trolls on My Silly Blog

Everybody who has been running a blog for a while has had his or her share of trolls and I am no exception.

Some people just can’t be happy, get no satisfaction as Mick Jagger would put it, unless they can put somebody else down by showing how dumb and uninformed a certain blogger is. They have a burning need to show the world how much more intelligent, educated, smarter and knowledgeable they are, especially compared to a poor schmuck who dares to be writing something on a blog.

The funny thing is, not always but often, in my case at least, they start commenting by saying how much they like what I am writing and then they often add something that would in their opinion make my blog even more fun to read. And then I foolishly start assuming that they seem to have something to say, they are open to discussion. But nothing is open to discussion with them. Unless I agree 100 percent, more like 1,000 percent, with everything they say in their comments, I immediately become their mortal enemy, especially if I start making fun of something (mostly in a nice way, I think), of anything they said.

At first it was a shock to me, because as I said, the general response to my blog was very good, surprisingly so and pretty overwhelming to me.

I will digress a little bit now … but not too far.

A former girlfriend from a long time ago visited me once here. Well dressed, wearing bright, warm colors that I still remembered warmly, in an expensive, comfortable and spacious American car.

We talked about this and that, and when I started telling her how much I enjoy the little bit of muckraking (I think that’s the proper term) that I get to do regularly on my silly blog, she said: ‘Well, I know you enjoy your little blog, and you get so excited about the ten brave readers who sometime comment on it’, blah, blah, blah.  Although she never even read my blog, she could not help herself to start putting me down even before I finished my sentence. Old habits die hard. That’s how some women are, it makes them feel so good, so damn superior when they can put down other people, especially those close to them!

Although I write now much less than I used to, every silly post I write, even the dumbest one, is read over time by hundreds or many thousands of people as the view count slowly climbs to the one million mark. This despite the fact that what I am mostly writing about in my posts is …. ugh … translation!

The fact is, she can’t even read what I am writing about, because she never learned English well enough to follow what I am saying. Or any other foreign language, for that matter. She got her PhD a long time ago, just after we split, but as far as I am concerned, knowing a few languages really well, especially the important ones, is worth a thousand PhDs. It opens whole new worlds to you. It gives you more than one life. We never agreed much on anything, except that we really hated “the Bolsheviks”, as we used to call them. I hated them enough to move to another country as far away as possible, 5,000 miles away. She preferred to stay.

But let’s now get back to the topic at hand.

What a good troll and a typical nasty girlfriend love the most is when they can put somebody down in a scathing, derisive and scornful manner to show how infinitely superior they are to the other person. Some, or possibly all of them, seem to think that they are superior to basically anybody on this planet. They can’t ‘not think’ that about themselves, it’s a disease, often discussed on social media and elsewhere, called nowadays ‘narcissism’. It has been with us probably forever, ever since the original Narcissus, the son of God from Greek mythology, fell in love with himself, or rather with his own reflection in the waters because he was so damn handsome, and then drowned in the water.

Narcissists nowadays don’t drown so much anymore; instead they just go on social medial to seek out people who will worship their genius and failing that, destroy, DESTROY!!! anybody who happens to disagree with any part of what they say, no matter how minute and unimportant a part it may be, or other people who just happen to be there as convenient victims. That is how modern trolls were born.

When you have a planet with plenty of water, sunshine, oxygen and mud, sooner or later the water will be teeming with microorganisms who a few million years later will become fish, the fish will then start walking on dry land a few million years later and the land will be ruled by dinosaurs for hundred million years or so, before they become extinct to be replaced by woolly mammoths, who will also become extinct after a few thousand years, to be replaced by other animals and humans … who will most likely eventually erase all forms of life from the planet.

When you have social media with Youtube channels, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, vlogs, and many other forms of digital life that allow anonymous bullying of other people, narcissistic trolls will very quickly start coming out of the woodwork, because abusing other people is what they live for. Deep down inside they must know that they suffer from a major inferiority complex and that they have to compensate for this feeling of inferiority and overcome the pain in their soul that is caused by this complex by “destroying” other people.

The trolls are always anonymous and they often use strange pseudonyms. Not every anonymous commenter on the internet is a troll, there are sometime very good reasons to stay anonymous, but trolls are anonymous because they are cowards. They know that they would not be able to defend their argument, such as it is. They just want to disrupt the discussion, attack, humiliate and cause as much injury as possible, so they need to be anonymous. It’s safer for them that way.  

Several trolls whose presence I was immensely blessed with on my silly blog came back in different incarnations after I called them out on this or that, or after I banned them from my blog. But I can almost always tell which troll it is, even if he is using a different pseudonym now.

Even if I expunge their comments from my blog again, they sometime come back under yet another pseudonym. They can’t really help it, it seems that they don’t really seem to have a life worth living outside of their miserable troll life.

Do not hate nasty trolls. Instead, say a prayer for anonymous trolls who leave poison on your blog. It’s not really their fault that they can’t have a normal discussion with other people. Their trollish existence is probably karmic punishment for horrible things they did in their prior lives.

They do not deserve to be forgiven, they deserve to be pitied.

This translation is machine-generated. It cannot be guaranteed that it is intelligible, accurate, complete, reliable or fit for specific purposes. Critical decisions, such as commercially relevant or financial decisions, should not be based on machine-translation output.

(A warning notice displayed prominently above the machine translation function on the recently redesigned website of the European Patent Office).

The European Patent Office recently updated the design of its search pages.

I remember two contradictory feelings that I had when I saw that the machine translation function improved quite dramatically on the European Patent Office (EPO) and Japan Patent Office (JPO) websites about 15 years ago. The first feeling was one of elation, when I realized how useful much better machine translations would be to this human patent translator.

The other feeling, however, was a feeling of dismay mixed with trepidation. Will my services still be needed if my clients can figure out the meaning of complicated sentences in patent descriptions from much more accurate machine translations? This second type of feeling was further aggravated by defeatist comments of some readers of my frequent posts about machine translations when I started my new blog, the one that you are reading now, about 10 years ago.

It actually annoys me when the European Patent Office, Japanese Patent Office or German Patent Offices website update their web pages, because I have to learn yet again new tricks to quickly achieve the same searching results that I have been used to having in a few seconds for a long time. Sometime it feels to me like they are doing it to me on purpose out of Shadenfreude.

Since I have also been putting links to various search functions of several major Patent Offices also on my website to facilitate searching for patents, for instance for legal secretaries and inventors, this means that I need to update the links again.

Having machine translations available for translation of patents is very useful to human translators for a number of reasons. Not only because we save time because translators can see based on the machine translations which technical terms can be translated in a certain manner, which is the most obvious advantage. Incidentally, it should be said that translators are nowadays more or less forced to use terms listed on the website, because these may be the only terms available to our clients, who may be sharing them with their clients.

An important advantage of machine translations is that while they always contain mistakes, they usually do not contain mistakes that are typically made human translators … precisely because they are created in a mechanical manner by machines using algorithms, without ever getting tired as a human translator would.

Mistakes that are typically made by human translators, including by this patent translator, are for example these:

1. Misreading a number, for instance misreading the number 3 as number 9 or vice versa.

2. Skipping a number, a word, or for instance an entire line with 5 to 10 words on it depending on the format of the patent publication, when the translator must continue translating despite being tired and then skips a part of the text and continues on the next (wrong) line.

3. Mistyping a word without realizing that the wrong word has been used.

There are quite a few mistakes human translators sometime make, especially when they are very tired, for example when a client insists on a rush delivery. But despite the fatigue caused by rush work that is often inevitable, a good human translator should be able to catch all of his or her mistakes later during the proofreading phase, preferably after a good night’s sleep.

Machines don’t make these mistakes because unlike humans, they never get tired. Machines keep mechanically processing the texts for as long as they’re turned on. Humans always get tired after working for a certain period of time, and that’s when mistakes like this start creeping in.

But even after more than half a century of constant and clever improvements in the development of machine translation, the designers of machine translation packages seem unable to fix the same dumb mistakes that machines do, obvious mistakes that from the perspective of a human translator would seem inexplicable.

I will point out only one particular problem here, a problem that is often overlooked in patent translations, to keep my post short and sweet today.

Apart from obvious errors, such as when a completely nonsensical word is used for a particular technical term when an algorithm goes haywire for some reason, it often happens especially in long patents that the same terms indicating the same parts or elements of the invention are very often translated with different terms. This must be very confusing because it is then not clear to the reader of patent specifications whether these are the same or different parts and elements, which is one reason why a patent translation is then unreliable, even if it may be understandable.

While obvious mistakes can be easily fixed by a human ‘post-processor’ with so called ‘post processing of machine translations’, a technique enthusiastically embraced by some translation agencies as a time and money saving technique, the truth is that an extremely time consuming process, in fact so much so that proper “post processing” would take longer, often much longer, than a complete retranslation from scratch.

The problem with the ‘post-processing’ is that it can be only done by a human translator, as we cannot expect a faster computer equipped with better software and better algorithms to fix the mistakes that often occur in the machine-translated text. To do something like that properly means that the fixing would need to be done by a qualified and knowledgeable human, who unlike machines, who unlike a computer understands the meaning of the translation.

Machine translation software can only find similar texts that have already been translated by a good human translator and insert them into the machine translation output at lightening speed. That is why the translation may look very good. But unfortunately, or in fact fortunately for translators like me, because even a very similar translation will not be exactly the same as a previous real (i.e human) translation, in fact the very opposite might be meant by a very similar text, ‘It cannot be guaranteed that [a machine translation will be] intelligible, accurate, complete, reliable or fit for specific purposes [and why] … Critical decisions, such as commercially relevant or financial decisions, should not be based on machine-translation output.’

In other words, machine translation is an excellent, time and money saving solution … but this solution can be used only if it does not matter that the machine translation may have the opposite meaning than- that of the original text.

Although thanks to much improved software design, machine translations look often now like real translation, because the degree of reliability of a machine translation has hardly improved over the last half a century at all, they should be only used when the reliability of the translations is not really an issue.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 12, 2019

Invisible Translators Continue to Stay Invisible

In the beginning, there were no Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). People seemed to trust each other more at one point, or maybe it’s just that translation agencies were not as much concerned about direct competition from individual translators as they are now, when individual translators can become quite easily as visible on the internet as mega agencies if they put some effort into becoming visible.

If there was an agreement, it was usually referred to as a Confidentiality Agreement (CA), which was drafted to protect confidentiality of clients who needed to entrust confidential documents to a translation agency. These agreements were very short, under one hundred words. Basically, all the translator had to do was to declare that the confidentiality of the documents to be translated will be respected.

I am talking digitally prehistorical times when I describe the period when I launched my translation services, namely the late nineteen eighties, from my apartment on 5th Avenue in San Francisco. The rent for the convenient and fairly spacious two bedroom apartment was 750 dollars a month; it’s probably at least four thousand now.

Next to dozens of Asian (although mostly Chinese) restaurants, there was a handy public library branch near Clement Street. So to become a little bit more visible on the early landscape of translation services, I went to the library, pulled out from the book shelves a few Yellow Pages books for San Francisco and other major metropolitan areas to start sending my resumés to translation agencies listed under letter T, which came just after Transmissions.

There was no Internet yet, although the US army was already using an early version of it as a military communication network, but otherwise nobody knew what the word meant. I certainly did not, all I knew was how to use email over a dial-up line with a special communication software.

Work started coming in from translation agencies in the area and elsewhere, by mail, Federal Express and fax. I used to get so excited when my fax machine started spitting out pages with Japanese text on them! Oh, those were the days. Little by little, as I was increasing my rates to the new agencies and dropping the lower payers, within a few years, I more than doubled the rates that I was able to charge to translation agencies.

About 5 years after the bold launching of my expert translation services originally aimed only at translation agencies (because they were easy to find and reach), I started increasing my visibility among potential direct clients by mailing letters offering my translation service to the early version of high-tech companies in the San Francisco area, especially to patent law firms when I realized that patent law firms in San Francisco and San Jose might be my ideal customers, especially when it came to translation of Japanese patents to English, which was my specialty.

Whenever I had no work during the week, I would start cranking out letters offering my translation services to patent law firms. As I was able to crank out about a hundred letters a day, all of which had to be printed to include the and addresses of the lawyers, signed and then stuffed into addressed envelopes, most months I mailed a few hundred letters in this manner. I think that the letters were opened mostly because they looked like they could contain new business, which was the plan. Slowly but surely, I started receiving email requests for price quotes, and more often then not, I would in fact in the end get the job. Although my roster of patent law firms who became my clients grew, about 60 percent of work that I was receiving was still from translation agencies, obviously at about half the rate that I was charging to my law firm customers.

But this changed after year 2000, when in order to further increase my visibility on the market for patent translations, the spirit moved me to start looking for domains suitable for my business and I found about half a dozen of them, the most effective of which turned out to be patenttranslators.com.

For about the first year or two, there was almost no response to my new website, which I linked to the domains that I bought. But then, as my website became visible to Google, I started receiving many more requests for price quotes, so many that I no longer had the time for my mailing campaigns. I also more or less stopped working for translation agencies, with the exception of a few of them, most of which were small and run by  people, often also translators or former translatos that I considered more friends than just work suppliers.

I keep meaning to update the design of my website. It has a fairly prehistoric design now, but I don’t do anything about it because I am a lazy, parsimonious (frugal to the point of stinginess) person, but the main reason why I enjoy my decades-long procrastination is that the design still works and brings in new customers. I think that I would become more visible and I would probably be much busier if I finally spent some money and did something to jazz up the site a little bit, but the thing is, I don’t really want to be very busy. The work I do have now is enough to keep me happy (for some reason I am still unhappy if there is no work). After all, I am officially retired, and as I have two retirement pensions from two countries, I don’t really need to work at all.

If you type into Google or another search engine certain key words such as “Japanese patent translation”, or “German patent translation”, my website should come up at the top or towards the bottom of the first search page depending on where you are and your previous search history.

For many years it used come just about always on the first, second, or third position of the first page, even if you typed just “patent translation” into for example Google, but that, I think, is no longer the case. So in order to reinforce my visibility on the internet, some ten years ago I started writing my patent translation blog, and because I do write about translation of patents in some of my posts, the blog sometime comes up before my website in some web searchers.

So I do have the visibility that I need without doing anything right now.

I do want to say that I don’t understand why so many translators who for years remain completely invisible to direct clients don’t do anything about it, except for bitching on social media about how horrible translation agencies are these days.

Something like that may make them feel a little better about their miserable rates and miserable life, but how is that going to increase their visibility among potential customers, if that is what they need and want?

If they continue to stay invisible, I think it is for the most part their own fault.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 24, 2019

Is Monopoly Possible in the Translation Market?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke, Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher, 1729 – 1797.

An important feature of a well functioning economic system that is based on capitalist economy, is or at least used to be, unimpeded, free competition and access of many participants to a robust market for products and services. This was in fact the Achilles heel of socialism, Soviet style. Because Soviet style plants and companies set fixed and rigid production quotes and prices without needing to compete with each other as the prices and production quotas were set by highly placed apparatchiks who were sometime total morons, this “socialist economy” was beset by many problems, not the least of which was an almost constant lack or an insufficient amount of goods available to consumers, including goods that are simply necessary for normal life such as sanitary napkins and toilet paper. 

After the collapse of Soviet Union and the communist governments in its satellite countries, central planning was replaced by economy that is based on capitalist enterprise, which is in theory based on competition ensuring low prices and abundant supply of goods and services for all consumers.

But is that what really happened? Yes, in a way. Just about anything that you can buy in Western Europe or the United States can be also bought for about the same price in the previously communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

But if one takes a closer look at the products that are available in the supermarkets and hypermarkets for example in Czech Republic, the situation is not as rosy as one might think. For example, a few months ago I got totally disgusted after watching on internet an advertisement of the Gillette Company portraying men as pitiful sex hounds who cannot control their impulses and who therefore must be educated by enlightened lesbians (the marketing director of the campaign is reportedly such a person) to start treating women as enlightened lesbians think women should be treated, whatever that means.

So I decided to do my bit by no longer patronizing Gillette. But although several types of razor blades and shaving creams were displayed on the shelves in my store, it was for the most part just an illusion because all of the products for sale in my local supermarket were made by the Gillette Company. So, no choice, I either have to grow a beard or buy the stuff that Gillette sells, until I find a better source.

In the post-competition world of modern capitalist economy, the strategy of big multinational corporations is simple: kill off your competition to the extent possible and establish a monopolistic position by selling at first at a loss if necessary. A good example of this strategy would be for example the Microsoft Corporation. Once upon a time, while Microsoft was still establishing its monopolistic position for MS Word and Office, the Microsoft license that you bought for your software was good for as long as you wanted to use the software. Now you have to buy it again, again, and again every year … until you drop dead or switch to a Microsoft compatible Free Office product, whichever comes first.

Fortunately for us, translators, the translation market is quite different from the market for shaving cream or razor blades. The main reason for this, I believe, is the fact that while there is not much difference between two cans of shaving cream or two razor blades, provided that the shaving cream feels smooth and good on the skin and works well and the razor blade shaves well and close to the skin, there is a world of difference between two ‘translations’.

More like a universe of many differences, depending on whether the translation is a relatively simple translation of a letter from a long-lost relative in a foreign country, an advertising blurb, a cooking recipe, or an article from a scientific journal or a patent application. I have translated all of these subjects in small and big ‘niches and sub-niches’ of translation markets… with the exception of cooking recipes. I don’t remember whether someone asked me in more than 30 years to translate a cooking recipe, but I would most likely have turned it down. I don’t cook and I’m pretty that sure that I would make stupid mistakes even in a pretty simple translation, simply because I know about cooking about as much as I know about ladies fashion, which is to say nothing.

Some translators argue that translation is not really a specific field, but instead a specialized sub-field of many other specialized fields. I see their point and agree with them, up to a point.

My field, the main one, the one that I deal with now about 95% of the time, has to do with patents: both translation of patents for research and litigation purposes and for filing purposes. I mostly translate patents into English by myself; into other languages always through other translators, highly qualified and experienced and native in respective languages into which they translate. I know several other languages than English well enough to check the work of people who work for me, but not well enough to translate into these languages.

As I was saying, I think that it is for the most part essentially impossible to become a monopoly like Gillette or Microsoft for a large translation agency, nowadays called ‘LSP’ as in ‘language service provider” (as if the services were provided by the agency and not by a translator), because this damn thing called ‘translation’, which is not really a field as such as some people are saying and not without good reason, because there are enormous differences between different fields of translation. Despite this simple fact, all or most translation agencies claim to be able to translate anything and everything in any field and into and from any language.

Because as far as most translation agencies or ‘LSPs’ are concerned, translation is basically about replacing words in one language by words in another language, most of them do a piss-poor job at it and don’t even know it. Don’t even know it because they have no way of evaluating their own work – for that, they would need to know all the languages they claim to be expertly translating. So if they need to evaluate ‘quality’, they have to ask a translator, probably without realizing that many translators may not have a good reason to be straight with an ignorant agency.  

The best evidence that monopolization of translation services is impossible is the fact that after decades of mutually destructive internecine warfare intended to kill off competition the way Amazon or Microsoft has done it, the market for translation is still a famously fragmented market with a great number of participants in it, big and small, including yours truly. I am happy to say that my business has not been affected much by what I consider an insane price competition in the general translation market.

Although many large translation agencies are attempting to become a major force in the translation market and some have become very big by buying out competitors based on the time-tested big-fish-eat-small-fish method, if they do become a major player, they are that only in their relatively small niche, such as fast an cheap translations of corporate propaganda that nobody wants to read much, often performed by students or beginners, or by fast and cheap translators living in countries with a low cost of living.

For a more complicated kind of translation, customers still need to turn to a specialized supplier, either a specialized translator, if they can find one, or at least a specialized translation agency that does not pretend to be able to ‘do any type of translation from and into any language’, which is what every big fish must be doing to survive

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