Posted by: patenttranslator | August 5, 2011

A Translator’s Office Is A Virtual Playground

At least mine is and has been for a very long time. Now that our children moved out a few years ago (that was so liberating after more than two decades!), I selfishly and gleefully installed two desktops in their rooms and work from their rooms now when the spirit moves me. Each room has a completely different view. We still call them Casey’s room and Andy’s room, but the whole first floor is all mine now, of course, in addition to my original office, which is pretty big by itself. If you have to stay with your spouse in the same house 24/7 year after year, decade after decade, it’s best if each spouse can lay a legitimate claim to 1 floor of the house. She got the first floor, of course, because that’s where the kitchen is. Plus the room that has the best view of her garden, which everybody says looks like a Japanese garden, although she always protests and says that it’s not that at all. But it is, anyway.

My original office was and still is in what they call here in the South FROG (Finished Room Over the Garage, nothing to do with French people here), which is usually the biggest room in the house because most people need to park in their garage two or three carbon spewing SUVs that look like tanks and an ozone piercing lawnmower that looks like a tractor. In San Francisco, all I was allowed to use for my office was half of a bedroom. But the weather was better there. So good, in fact, that you did not need air conditioning. Here, without air conditioning …. YOU DIE!

In addition to three desktops, I also have a laptop, an iPod, Zune, Kindle, an Internet tablet, 2 Internet radios, 2 regular radios, 2 big stereo systems and 2 big TVs upstairs in addition to the one downstairs which is only 42 inches, I think. So when there is not much to do, I can kill time by writing something for my blog and playing with my computers and other gadgets. I put on Zune a collection of my CDs and my son puts new music of the type that his generation likes on my iPod every time when he comes back from college for summer or winter vacation.

A translator’s office is a virtual playground also because just about everything about his work is virtual. Work is received from Internet in the form of PDF files or MS Word files, usually while I am listening to music or to a talk show on radio, Internet or TV.  I pound on the keyboard to respond to e-mails and check websites for existing translations of Japanese and German technical terms. A few years ago, translators were using much more tangible objects like dictionaries, but my guess is that more of them will simply search for le mot juste on the Internet instead of using dictionaries, although I still use dictionaries to some extent. Even if I don’t use them much, I somehow feel safer with a couple of dictionaries next to me, just in case.

There are only two other tangible, non-virtual objects required for the daily activities of this translator: paper printouts of translations that I use for proofreading before discarding them, and paper checks that eventually appear, often after a long, long time in my mailbox. I never discard those.

I used to mail a printed copy of my translations to patent law firms to make sure that they get them because sometimes they don’t even bother to confirm receipt of the e-mailed files. But now I am only mailing my invoices in addition to e-mailing them the translations. I can save on postage and a few trees will be probably be saved too because of that.

Everything is so virtual in my life, it is kind of scary and unreal. When the real world intrudes upon the virtual world that I created for myself, I don’t know what to do.

Today, for example, we lost power for about an hour. It happens here often in the summer, usually during a big storm and we have major storms here from May to August. But it was sunny today.

I tried to read a book, but I could not concentrate. What would happen if the power was off for a long time? I would no longer be able to retreat to my virtual world, and that is pretty much the only world that I know these days.

But since my virtual world was lost only for an hour or so today, I was able to proofread a Chinese translation and write this post.

It seems that the final meltdown has not arrived yet, although it is probably well on the way.


  1. I agree that it’s important for everyone to have their own floor when working from home. I have the ground floor, my wife has the middle floor for her celebration cake business and my 2 year old son basically owns the top floor. I don’t think I’d be able to function as a translator without this sort order. My only “distraction” is my 20 year old cat, who insists on being with me during the working day, but we even have a system for that.


  2. I suppose one of your wife’s jobs is to make sure that your 2 year old lets you work, which is why she is strategically located between you and him.

    When my children were small, I was renting an office in California for more than 10 years as I could not work at home at all because of them.

    Once they become teenagers, they lose all interest in their daddy, at which point it is safe to move the office back home again. But sometime I miss the freedom of having my own office outside of the house as I did in San Francisco, Petaluma and Santa Rosa.


  3. Fortunately, we have a large 3 storey house, so space isn’t really a problem for just the 3 of us. My son is either at nursery or at a parent & toddler group for much of my working hours, so my main distraction is the aroma of baking cakes wafting down from the middle floor. I find myself drifting up the stairs in search of off-cuts more and more often these days…


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