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

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 quotas 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

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 2, 2019

Who Will Come to Your Funeral?

I buried a friend yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now there are only four of us.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 29, 2019

Keeping the Hustle Going After All These Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 15, 2019

Retirement without Work Is a Boring Pre-Cremation Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

Basic Expenses in Czech Republic Estimated from US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I plan to do the latter.

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